We never did a proper recap of the 2019/2020 Ecuador season. Don and Darcy’s return to the USA in early March was a whirlwind of activity with Darcy launching her book-Amazon Woman-and Don having a ski pass to use and new van to upfit! But, alas, after only 2 days of skiing and 3 book events, COVID-19 put a stop to our plans (no doubt it’s put a stop to everyone’s plans)! So now we have more time on our hands for things like this blog post.
SWA was in a less-than-ideal situation going into the 2019/2020 season because I (Darcy) was out of the guiding scene due to shoulder surgery. Fortunately, Small World Adventures had been training local guides over the past few years and we knew we had a solid team in place to step in and fill the void I’d be leaving. My injury turned out to open the door to many great possibilities and opportunities. Look hard enough and it’s always possible to find the silver lining in any bad situation. We could probably all apply this piece of advice right now.
The first thing that happened was that our top local guides Andres Charpentier and Byron Lopez really stepped up to fill Darcy’s river shoes (sometimes literally when they didn’t want to put their wet shoes back on for the 50th day in row)!
Andres is a super charismatic guy, a natural leader, and a responsible guide. He’s been with us for 4 years training under Don and Darcy and learning the SWA way. He started trip leading right from the beginning of the season allowing SWA to continue running double trips each week. He flawless English skills and knowledge of the rivers allowed him to step into this role quite smoothly.
Byron worked hard on his English skills, his river descriptions, dry-land logistics, and on learning all the rapids on the all the rivers we run. This is a lot harder than it sounds because in a typical week, SWA will run about 70 miles of different rivers and different sections per trip. We have 4 different trips we run on a regular basis-all of them running different rivers. This means that guides need to memorize a minimum of 280 river miles, not to mention they need to know them super well at really low water levels all the way through up through really high water levels because sometimes we get these on the same day! Bryon was Don’s sweep guide for most of the season, but by the end of January, he stepped up to TL as well. Working for SWA is a difficult job and our guides have to do everything from leading on the rivers to executing river rescues, organizing river lunches, helping guests explore the local culture, packing coolers for the take out, and so much more. Our guests loved being with the local guys and learning the ins and outs of our amazing kayaking backyard.
Byron and Andres also started to bring up some young up and comers in the Ecuador kayaking scene like Bladimir, Bryan, and Jair. Now all we need is an Ecuadorian woman guide on the team and we’ll be set!
Another perk of Darcy being injured is that old Small World guides and interns came out of the woodwork wanting to help us out. That meant we got to spend part of our winter with Larry, Bill, Liam and Greg!
Larry-founder and wise sage of SWA-came down for the early part of November.
It’s always great to have his calming presence in Ecuador. When South American scheduling practices are stressing me out, Larry can always find a way to remind me that, in Ecuador, NOTHING IS CERTAIN, BUT EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE. It’ll all work out one way or another. Ah, yes, Larry, thanks for that!
Don’s older brother Bill came down for the 2nd half of November and early December.
Bill is the most mature intern we’ve ever had, and he did a great job always making sure that the beer coolers were stocked. Knowing the suffering Don endures each winter being surrounded by nothing but Ecuador’s Pilsener Beer, Bill packed some California IPAs in his luggage for his little brother. He even made sure the guests had beer for their road trip back to Quito, despite disapproval from Andres!
Then Liam came along in January. His humor, gin and tonic-making skills and his passion for instruction are always welcome around Small World Adventures. We did notice that Liam is getting strict in his old age though, as he decided to make a new SWA rule this season: You aren’t allowed to tell your guide WHY you swam until you’ve successfully made it to the bank, have climbed up, and are totally out of the water and done swimming. Sounds fair Liam!
February rolled around and just as all the guides, drivers, and cooks were starting to get a little tired, Greg Dashper -aka Colorado-aka Gringo Leche- showed up! Greg guided for SWA full time back in 2010-2012, but left the whitewater guiding business to become a nurse. Greg is the most upbeat, positive person I’ve ever met and he can make anyone smile (a perfect attribute for a nurse, or a kayak guide), which he did in Ecuador for his 2 weeks with us. Oh yeah, he’s also a total badass kayaker. It was so great to catch up with Greg after almost 5 years of not seeing each other, and he now plans to make Ecuador an annual working vacation from his snow-bound winter home of Terrace, BC.
I think Don’s life was pretty chaotic in Ecuador this year. Besides his normal duties of lead guide, this year he had the additional responsibility of getting all the other guides up to speed on safety, protocols, guiding procedures, and everything else that goes into this line of work. He did an amazing job of keeping it all together and guiding every single day he was needed. He even broke my consecutive days-in-a-row paddling record. My record was 119 days in a row and Don ended the season with 126 days in a row. I knew someone would break my record someday, and I’m just happy that person was Don!
But that bastardo Byron took advantage of the fact that he didn’t have to fly back to ice-locked Colorado and he just kept right on paddling and ended up with 129 days, breaking Don’s record. But not to worry, Bryon, I’ll be back in fighting form soon and then I’ll launch a plan to take the record back!
Andres’ baby was born 1 day after the season ended. Talk about no rest for the weary! But he’s now a happy papa and at least with the coronavirus lockdown he can tell himself that’s the real reason he can’t go kayaking anymore (too soon Andres?)!
And even though not being on the river sucked for me, I was super proud to see how well the team rallied and stepped in to help out. It did smooth things out operations-wise to have me in the office all the time, and many guests commented on how nice the speedy email response rate was…but I think I’ll need to head back to the water next season!
Love to all of our guides, drivers, cooks, and hotel staff, and to all the guests who came down this season and made 2019/2020 so great!
We are obviously in uncertain times and uncharted territory now and no one knows what the future will look like. For so many reasons, Don and I hope that SWA can have a 2020/2021 season. A lot of people in Ecuador are depending on us for jobs, and a lot of kayakers from around the world are depending on us to take them to the rivers. We will keep in touch and keep posting as the situation develops and the future comes more into focus.