So how/why did kayakers end up in the area of Ecuador they did – the area called “the Oriente?” Back it up….the country of Ecuador is a divided into three geographic regions: the Sierra, the Costa and the Oriente. The Oriente starts on the eastern slope of the Andes and creates the Amazonia of Ecuador. The Oriente is one-third of Ecuador with less than 10% of the population of twelve million plus. Whitewater kayakers have become part of that small population that calls the Oriente home.
Prior to kayakers were the oilmen; and prior to the oilmen were the Spanish. But the original residents of the Oriente were a scattered number of indigenous groups. Most notable of groups included the lowland Quechua, the Siona, Secoya, Huaorani, the Shuar and Achuar, the Cofánes, and other names that are more familiar to kayakers – the Yumbos, Oyacachis, Cosangos and the Quijos. Needing a common language to bring all the groups together, the Spanish conquistadors brought Quechua into the Oriente as the “native tongue” of the indigenous slaves.
To understand the influence rivers of the Oriente had….the Inca language of Quechua is a language of fairly limited vocabulary. One exception is anything to do with water, for which there are a number of descriptive words including cocha – the Quechua word for laguna/lake and yacu – the Quechua word for rio/river. If there was ever an inspiration for expanding on the language of quechua it is here in the Oriente, a place which finds its heart in the rivers that are considered the headwaters for the Amazon basin flowing out of Ecuador.
It is not difficult to see where this inspiration came from. Rivers flow off the eastern slope of the Andes to create the magnificent watershed found in the Oriente. This watershed is influenced by two key geological factors: the snow-capped mountains that tower above the passes leading into the Oriente and the Amazon Basin to the east. Water is collected in the glaciers off of Antisana, Cayambe, Cotopaxi, Tunguragua and Altar. Meanwhile, water is collected in the paramo on top of the Andes.
For new visitors coming over the pass of the Andes into the Oriente, the scenery looks more like the Scottish Highlands. This is the paramo, and it is a rain shield. Because of the high altitude (up to 20,000+), hot humid air coming from the east out of the Amazon and over the Andes rises and forms rain. At the same time, humid hot air from the Pacific travels west until it too hits the Andes and must rise up and form more rain. In other words – the Oriente is hit from both sides of the Andes by weather patterns of rain.
From the Andean glaciers and the paramo, the trails of water begin descending down the eastern slopes. A map of the Oriente shows an amazing network of rivers that begin to come together. The rivers come out of the llanganates, off the glaciers, down from the high altitudes, through the high elevation cloud forests, gathering momentum and volume as they head downstream. All the watersheds of the Oriente head east towards the Amazon itself, which eventually ends at the Atlantic – all 3,ooo,ooo+/- cfs of it.
It is no surprise that the Oriente, which inspired descriptive words from the indigenous, has now become a favorite destination for whitewater kayakers.