Antisana Volcano magically appeared yesterday morning…looming majestically over the Quijos Valley in all its snow-capped glory.  Granted, in order to finally come out of hibernation it first had to take a snow blower and wipe the skies clear of the rain that had locked in on the Oriente for the past five days.  But if you follow the traditions of the Oriente here in Ecuador, the rain had arrived with last week’s moon cycle—luna tierna (the growing moon). 

The Andes mountain range divides Ecuador into three distinct regions: the Sierra, which is the north/south spine of the Andes; the Costa—the western side of the country falling to the Pacific Coast; and the Oriente, the eastern slope of the mountains that drops into the Amazon basin.  Where back home phases of the moon come and go quite unnoticed, in Ecuador’s Oriente Region the phases are followed religiously.  Trees are cut, thatched roofs are woven, and crops are planted and harvested…all depending on the moon phases. 

When we first landed in Ecuador eleven years ago, we sought to understand the variable weather patterns we were dealing with.  Our understanding was that the ‘dry season’ of the Oriente was December and January.  So we were confused when we would find ourselves sitting in the middle of a rain storm so powerful that the rivers would go up to flood level over night.  We soon realized that while January is the driest month of the year, average rainfall in January is typically 9-12 inches of rain!  And locals always explained to us that any fronts that blew in were attributed to the luna tierna–when the new month begins to grow each month.

So yesterday when we woke to blue skies and just a smattering of small powder puffs dancing on the horizon around Volcano Antisana, we knew we were past the tierna stage for the month!  And driving to the put-in on the Lower Quijos, the difference in a week’s time was remarkable. Last week we tried to paddle the Lower Quijos, but when the small creeks and tributaries we drove by had more volume than the Quijos normally, we opted for alternate runs on those days.   As quickly as rivers rise here so do they drop. And the advantage we had last week is that a high-water day in the Quijos Valley did not mean high-water in the Tena region, so we just flip-flopped our schedule a bit and played the Jatunyacu and Mishaulli until there was no more play to be found.

We spent a luxuriously long day on the Lower Quijos yesterday, running classic big water rapids that climaxed with the infamous “gringos revueltos/scrambled gringoâ€? rapid; and then switched gears and went into creek mode today on the Cosanga.  For Maggy and Ashley—both having grown up paddling rivers of the southeast, there was a feeling of familiarity on the Cosanga (and when we say ‘grew upâ€? that is a literal statement, as they have been part of ERA since they were ten years old!).  Running the Class III-IV middle canyon of the Cosanga also gave us the chance to see our second Gallo de Pena or Cock-on-the-Rock bird of the week.  Not that kayaking on the rivers leaves a lot of time for bird watching (by choice mostly!), but we have scored in the bird department this week. The bright orange Gallo de Pena is ardently sought after by Amazonian bird watchers and the Cosanga River is a nesting ground for them.  The Cosanga is also a play ground for Torrents—small birds that do better swimming Class IV rapids than most kayakers.  We stopped to scout a rapid but were distracted when two male torrents came zooming upstream at turbo speed.  It was a great day.

And as much as we hated leaving the Quijos Valley, it was time to head to Tena to paddle and play with the monkeys for a day or two!