Note: Spending all day on the river does not leave so much time for mastering the finer points of technology…so learning how to post photos with our updates is still on the to-do list.  This is one time the story falls short without the photos we have to accompany it!

 

We have realized that “saving the riversâ€? is a noble goal—but when you are a guest in someone else’s community it is not really our place to “tellâ€? locals what they should do with their natural resource.  But if we can find a way to give back to the river and a community we pass through on the way to the river, it is one time that leaving footprints might be acceptable.
 

Here in Ecuador most of the rivers we enjoy are in the Oriente, the Amazonia area. Much of the Amazonia tends to be comprised of rural native communities isolated from the advancement enjoyed by the rest of the country.  In the Quijos Valley, most folks are dairy farmers, hand milking their cows each day as part of a local cooperative dairy industry.  And on the outskirts of Tena, many of the small communities are filled with barefooted children who learn Quichua (the original Inca language) before Spanish. 
 

Many of the rivers in the Oriente are not threatened by the local community itself.  The community needs the rivers to live.  They wash their clothes at rivers edge, hand-pan for gold, fish and drink out of the river.  The rivers are the lifeblood.  As you cross over the pass into the Oriente, signs are everywhere with reminders that “Aqua es Oroâ€? “Proteje los Riosâ€?, etc…What threatens the rivers are outside projects—gold mines, dams, water for big cities and lack of investment in the commuity to help with septic; oft times the profits reaped off the projects will be diverted to an industrious few investors—not back to the community that loses their resource.    
 

Both here and in Costa Rica, we decided that the best way for us to express our appreciation for the rivers we paddle was to support community efforts to save the rivers and educate young locals on the impact “green tourismâ€? (a term given to ecotourism) brings to their area.  We reach out to support local businesses (hotels, panaderias, sandal makers, restaurants and bars of course!).  And with the proceeds from our special trip t-shirts, we look to make donations to organizations that are bringing attention to the rivers.  In years past we arranged raft trips for students, and recently began sponsoring an underprivileged school each year with much-needed school supplies.  In addition, guests bring toys and coloring books and supplies that we add to the pot.
 

A number of years ago the Rio Napo—one of Ecuador’s largest tributaries to the Amazon River, was threatened with a large gold mining project.  To help the community verbalize their appreciation for their resource, the Napo River Festival was organized by the Ecuadorian River Institute (ERI).  This is one of the organizations that we have committed to donating t-shirt money to support their efforts.
 

This year we found a school that needed attention at the put-in for the Upper Mishaulli River.  Located across a foot bridge, the town is a soccer field surrounded by wooden shacks, many of which are set up with living accommodations for the family upstairs and the animals downstairs.  The “elementaryâ€? school is a one-room school filled with hand-made tables and chairs, adorned with the kids’ arts and crafts.  On the day we arrived with our supplies, there were only about twenty kids present of the forty-seven normally filling the small room.  The “presidentâ€? of the community was called from the river where he had been busy moving rocks at the site of a handmade fish trap.  We presented supplies, including bags of toys brought down by two of this year’s paddlers, Ruth, one of South Carolina’s own and Todd.
 

By supporting a school such as the one at the Upper Miss, we hope that in the future when improvements are suggested that might benefit both the community and tourism (like trash removal or not throwing cut trees into the river) the community will embrace the suggestion.  And that the locals will realize we share the same appreciation for their incredible rivers that they have.