Rios Escondidos, Ecuador kayaking at its best

Tim looking small amongst the giant boulders and huge trees on the Rio Chingual
February 5th (yeah, yeah, I’m way behind) brought us a group of bad ass kayakers from Utah, Colorado and Chile.  This group fired things up and completed an incredible itinerary of paddling some the best Ecuador has to offer!
 Marty of Jackson Kayaks test driving the brand new 2011 SuperHero through Piggly Wiggly rapid on the Rio Quijos
So, we left off last time with Texaco now deciding that the world oil situation was favorable to going into the roadless jungles of Ecuador to start operations…The Ecuadorian government was stoked on this plan too as they wanted to finally take control of the eastern half of their country and they had a lot of landless Ecuadorians that they weren’t quite sure what to do with. 
Curtis, always “cool as a cucumber” is lost in the chaos of a stout flow on the Cheesehouse

Ecuadorian government officials, long frustrated by the disconnect between the eastern and western halves of the country, were especially motivated to bring this region under their control in conjunction with the oil boom.  In his 1977 MAG (ministry of agriculture) report, Salvador laments that, “it is not practical that almost half of Ecuadorian territory is permanently abandoned with a scarce population.”  Prior to the oil boom, the Oriente (where we kayak) did not contribute to the national economy, there was no one protecting the borders, and by and large it was seen as an unruly jungle not being utilized to its potential. 

 Don and Marty heading to the Rio Oyacachi with their brand new boats–Villain for Don, 2011 SuperHero for Marty
The national government’s goal in the 1970s was to ideologically transform this region into an unoccupied land, then physically transform this vacant space into a contributing portion of the Ecuadorian nation by bringing, “a land without people to people without land.”  This seemed the perfect solution to Ecuador’s problem of having A LOT of landless people.  Give them free land in the Oriente, it will keep them content and will help the government populate, protect, and make productive the Oriente.  Of course, the land was not acutally without people, but was home to home to eight Indigenous groups, Dominican and Franciscan missionaries and other Ecuadorians. 

Frenchy punching big waves on the Quijos

This very notion of who encompassed a “people without land,” and who received the free land excluded those Indigenous people who would not take up agriculture in the form that the government recognized (clear-cutting the rainforest for a mono crop system of farming).   Indigenous practices of polyculture and growing crops in the forest rather than cutting it down and growing on top of the forest fueled the government’s impression that Indigenous people were tied to the land in its primitive, uncultivated state.

 Curtis drops the Papallacta confluence rapid–that shit it steep!
With the advent of the oil era, the Ecuadorian government needed to simplify the Oriente in order to make it easier to control.  Getting rid of the unkempt jungle was a first step in this process.  Using the Law of Empty Lands to give away land to what they hoped would be productive farmers (a la homesteading in the US), the government aimed to transform the Oriente into a landscape they understood as productive and recognized as Ecuadorian. 

 The gang stoked to be enjoying a little sunshine on the Upper Jondachi

This transformation also meant that the government would have increased control over the region; and, in a moment when oil seemed to literally be spurting out of the ground, control was key.  Requiring that every Ecuadorian cut down half of the jungle on their plot of land, the Law of Empty Lands served to wipe out as much of the unruly, unknown, and seemingly unorganized jungle as possible and to transform it into an agricultural system that the government could measure and understand.

 Mauricio punching the “rodeo hole” on the Rio Chingual
In the early 1970s, both the Ecuadorian government and Texaco-Gulf had serious motivation to bring the Oriente under their direct control.  For the Ecuadorian government, the Oriente had long signified a jungle with all the word’s historic connotations—savage, unruly, dark, diseased, and impenetrable—and in the 1970s, the government capitalized on this image to make their case for recolonization in order to finally overcome this jungle. 

Frenchy “blasting” nice move dude:)

In the 1970s, nature in the form of wild, underutilized rainforests was useless to the Ecuadorian government.  That this “jungle” was also home to Indigenous people did not matter in the face of the development potential on the horizon.  While these people were engaging in myriad activities including certain forms of agriculture, the manner in which they did this did not register with the government as either useful or productive.

 Mauricio checking out a different kind of river technology
The problem with Indigenous practices of agriculture in the Oriente was that they “failed the visual test of scientific agriculture.”  Many Indigenous groups in the Oriente practiced a form of shifting agriculture, using various parts of the rainforest and growing many crops together.  As James Scott explains, this shifting agriculture, “is an exceptionally complex and hence quite illegible form of agriculture from the perspective of a sovereign state and its extension agents.”  The government sought to stamp out this chaotic-looking form of agriculture and replace it with a system of titled plots of monocropped land, a system more suitable to rational control and market exports

Tim and Curtis admiring some unique Ecuadorian geology
Additionally, by replacing Indigenous knowledge, practices, and space with Ecuadorian knowledge, practices, and space, the government sought to narrow Indigenous ability to exist beyond the reaches of the state.  The Oriente, as the government conceived of it, had no room for Indigenous relationships with the land.  In this context, the divide between Indigenous/wilderness and Ecuadorian/civilized grew to enormous proportions.

Paulina and Mauricio blue angel the Oyacachi
 Ecuador was on the verge of becoming an important oil exporter, and never before had it been so pressing for a nation to transform its wild landscape (including the people who constituted this landscape) into something tamed, fashioned, and easy to manage.  In the 1970s, the government capitalized on popular perceptions of the Oriente as a desolate jungle in order to remake the history of the Oriente in a modern image.  By perpetuating the notion that the eastern half of Ecuador was wasting away in a primitive state, the government effectively erased its past and set the stage for a new epoch in the region’s history.  
Tim goes big at the P-cubed boof 
Don getting his chance to paddle the SuperHero.  He says it boofs well!

Marty and Curtis playing together in the “rodeo hole” on the Chingual.  Dude, Marty, you are interfering with Curtis’s ride–only one rodeo star at a time please!

Bear lining up the boof at the Papallacta confluence rapid

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply