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5 Life Lessons from Ecuador’s Jondachi Fest

Hosting a kayak event in the jungle whitewater mecca to protect the imperiled Rio Jondachi

Story by Chandra Brown | Photos by AZ Andis

The jungle whitewater mecca of Tena, Ecuador recently hosted the first (and hopefully not last) Jondachi Fest. Check out the results from the elite-class Upper Jondachi Race, posted on the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute website. Here are some of our favorite take-home lessons from our time on the legendary — and imperiled — Rio Jondachi.

1. Stay positive. New (2013) legislation in Ecuador all but overtly outlaws citizen protest. We found that, in order to be successful as an advocacy event, Jondachi Fest didn't need to protest anything. The proposed dam and all it implies was overshadowed by shared celebration on the river (and the occasional perfect rainbow).

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2. Look to the youth for inspiration. The next generation of Ecuadorian kayakers has been educated by a crew of superlative paddling mentors. Sixteen-year-old local kids gave sponsored athletes from the U.S., France, and Canada a serious run for their money in the Upper Jondachi Race. At next year's Jondachi Fest, our money's on the high schoolers from Tena.

3. Competition breeds connection. Local Tena phenom Diego Robles was favored to win the Upper Jondachi Race. When he and New York native Dave Gardner tied for third place, a connection emerged from the chaos that will likely carry over into future incarnations of Jondachi Fest. The victory and rivalry shared by Diego and Dave represents a classic tradition that defies cultural and geographic borders.

Diego Robles and Dave Gardner at the awards party.

Diego Robles and Dave Gardner at the awards party.

4. Get involved on the local level. Dozens of volunteers, uniformed government representatives, local firefighters, and enthusiastic spectators hiked in to the Upper Jondachi Race finish through several kilometers of thigh-deep mud, lines of fire ants, and blazing equatorial sun.

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5. Remember your purpose. Attempting to put on a world-class kayaking event in the face of complex local politics and an imminent dam project required constant reexamination of why we were all here. Jondachi Fest wasn't entirely about the Class V Upper Jondachi Race. It was about the beauty and power of the river — the elements that transcend societal issues, money, ambition, socioeconomic strata, and political agendas. We were all here to break down those constructions though human interaction and direct engagement with the river.

The Ecuadorian River Institute's goal for the next few months is to continue advocating for the Jondachi-Hollin-Misahualli-Napo Ecological Corridor as an alternative to the two hydro-projects planned for the Jondachi. With a hopeful eye to the future, Jondachi Fest 2016 is already in the works for next January.

Read more about the fight to save the Rio Jondachi and watch footage from the upper Rio Jondachi from our 2013 destination story on paddling Ecuador’s bounty of pristine rivers.

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