Posted by: adventuressetravels | August 19, 2011

Braving the Rapids

putting the raft on the chiva

“Forward!  Uno, dos… uno dos … uno dos,” Our coxswain barked out directions helping us navigate the little raft through the turbulent waters.  Suddenly a huge wave swept over the boat, smacking me squarely in the face.  I gripped the rope along the side, clinging for dear life and leaning into the center of the boat to keep from being swept overboard.

Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed one of my team members fly backwards

warning sign

over the side of the inflatable raft.  Cringing I watched as his head came mere inches from colliding with the enormous boulder that loomed to the right of the raft.

“Man overboard!” one of my teammates screamed, in case anyone had missed the fact that we were down a man.


Set in a valley surrounded by mountains, and Tungurahua, an active volcano, the little town of Baños is a favorite among tourists.     With array of extreme sports such as bungee jumping, rock climbing, jungle trekking, and of course rafting the town offers enough outdoor activities to satiate the most hardcore adrenaline junky.  We had to get there early though; after all, rafting is an all-day trip, and we had to get a fresh start.

I woke up early the next morning, and gaped at the spectacular mountain view that greeted me.  An almost sheer drop off, carpeted in verdant green trees, was directly outside my window.  Coming in at night, I had forgotten the beautiful countryside surrounding Baños.   Yes, this was a good place to go rafting for the first time.

I strolled along the streets of downtown Baños stopping at one tour agency after another.  Some trips were leaving too late, others had already departed.  At last I arrived at  Adventure Equatorland just in time too:  the expedition was starting in 10 minutes.  After a little bargaining I paid the tour agency my $22 for the tour and went outside to wait for our ride.


I didn’t have to wait long; in a matter of minutes a chiva, (an old-fashioned wooden bus common in Ecuador and Colombia), brightly painted with waterfalls, jungles, and other Ecuadorian scenes, pulled up to the curb.  Our ride was here.  Sliding onto one of the garishly-painted wooden benches, I held on while we jounced our way out of town, stopping only to load several large blue inflatable rafts on the top of our ride.  By the time we bumped our way down the little path to the river, I was sorely wishing I were riding on top with the inflated rafts, or that the wooden seats had a little padding.  But finally getting to ride in one of the legendary chiva party busses was worth it.

all suited up

The chiva pulled up to the river and I slid out of the bus.  The countryside was beautiful: trees surrounded a small clearing where the bus was parked not 50 feet from the river.  Stony shores surrounded that snake of a river winding its way through the mountains.  The water flowed smoothly under the bridge, our starting point.  Almost immediately the current turned tumultuous, splashing over large rocks, turning what could have been a calm st
art into exciting white water rapids.  I felt my heart start to beat faster; I was going on a real adventure!

And then I saw the sign:  “Welcome to the Pastaza River.”  This river is rafting level 4 – 6, if you have not been rafting more than once do not attempt this stretch of water.   My stomach felt like it was somewhere on the ground.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be trying this,” I worriedly told the guide, pointing at the sign.

It would be fine; the guide brushed off my concern.  The part of the river we

were going on was only a level 4, and there would be an experienced guide in each boat.  I didn’t have anything to worry about.  Still, the sign had me on edge.

But I was here to go rafting; no one said adventure sports were easy.  I gulped my fear down and changed into the wetsuit and shoes the guide handed me for rafting.  When all of us had changed we gathered around the instructor and one of the rafts and listened attentively as he started were the safety lesson.

“Row with your body, not your arms, the instructor stressed.  Your arms won’t last 5 minutes out there.”  He showed us how to hold our oar, row right, left,

forward, backward.  And  also sit in the boat, or rather, on the side of the boat,

 with our feet shoved under ropes to keep us secure.  I wasn’t too sure how I felt about having to sit on the edge of the raft.  Even with my feet shoved under a rope that still didn’t seem terribly safe.

Our guide was as much as a coxswain as anything and would instruct us how to row, which direction, and how fast, and we needed to listen to what he told us.  In the roughest of rapids, the instructor told us our guide would instruct us to get off the side and into the boat.  In that case we should get inside the center of the boat, hold onto the rope running around the raft, and wait for calmer waters.


After a detailed man-overboard lesson, he told us what to do if the boat capsized.  Capsized?  I was aghast.

Sure, it happened all the time.  It had happened the last time he went rafting, David told me.  I gulped… the mountain water was above freezing, but just barely.  I did not want to take a dip in the river, but I did have a wet suit and was supposedly trained in what to do in case of emergency.  It was time to get the rafts in the water.

From the moment our blue raft hit the water, the strong current had us in its clutches.  “Adelante! (forward)  Uno, dos… uno, dos” our coxswain barked, sitting on the back of the raft for a better vantage point.  We leaned forward plunging our oars into the water and pulled back in unison using all of our body
weight to help us.

We battled through rapid after rapid, our coxswain skillfully helping us avoid dangerous rocks.  “Fuerte,” (strong) he would shout.  “Uno, dos… uno, dos….”

And then, not 45 minutes into the trip, the team member sitting opposite me on the boat went into the river.  One second he was there and the next he had disappeared overboard.  I didn’t think my heart could beat any faster but it leapt into my throat as I watched the man’s close encounter with a boulder on his way into the water.

It was all the men on the right side could do to haul him over the side of the boat before the coxswain barked out a fevered, “Adelante”.  We were not out of danger yet.

 For another hour and a half we battled the Pastaza River, at each new rapid I swallowed the fear that I would be our next casualty.  Or that our boat would flip over, leaving us all in the river.  My Spanish was alright, but I wasn’t totally sure I had understood all the instructions especially about what to do if the boat capsized.

When the second bridge, our destination, came into sight, I was too focused on rowing in unison with the oar ahead of me to even notice where we were.

Izquierda!” (left) the coxswain bellowed.  We rowed hard, putting our backs

into it.  And suddenly the boat gave a huge lurch.  I teetered for a millisecond before losing my balance.

Luck and caution were on my side.  After our first man in the water, I had

consciously put my weight towards the center of boat.  The jolt threw me directly into the middle of the boat.  Pulling myself onto the edge I helped my teammates get the boat out of these final rapids and onto the welcom

ing shore of the river.

I climbed onto dry land and breathed a sigh of relief.  I was back on dry land and in one piece.   I couldn’t be happier.

Just a hint of danger, a good helping of adventure, and not terribly expensive;  Ecuador really is a fantastic place to get started rafting.


  1. Encore.

  2. funny! I’m actually going rafting in California next month! 🙂

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