The Original Whitewater Explorers of Ecuador–Orellana and Pizarro

Each year, hundreds of kayakers come to Ecuador to explore it’s many rivers for themselves.  Many of Ecuador’s rivers are known, published in our guidebook, on the web, etc…but many are yet to be explored, and kayakers are still doing 1st descents here.   A recent conversation about this made Larry think back to the history of the first journey down the what would come to be known as the Amazon.  So, guest blogging, from Cabanas Tres Rios, Larry reports on Orellana and Pizarro’s amazing trip from Quito to the Atlantic ocean:
(A beautiful jungle waterfall, just a short walk from our lodge.  Last week we saw a Trogan and 3 Andean Cock of the Rocks up here–take that Orellana!)
Unlike many current first descents, the discovery (by Europeans) and first descent of the Amazon was mostly accidental.  In 1541 Francisco de Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro departed Quito in search of “El Dorado” in northeast Ecuador.   The promise of huge amounts of gold and cinnamon (greed) spurred Orellana to embark on this crazy expedition.  Of course you would not want to go discovering alone back then so they took with them over 200 Spanish Conquistadors, 4,000 natives, 500 dogs to hunt food and more natives, 1,000 pigs, and hundreds of horses.
   (Don’t F$&K with this guy!  He’ll Ultimate Fight your ass)

This week we had an incredible crew of river explorers from a wide variety of places–Oregon, Utah, Caymen Islands, Canada, Colorado and Arizona.  There was Jeff, the Ultimate Fighter (his kick ass shirt compliments of a thrift store–Jeff, awesome buy!), his daughter Madi, David and son Matt, Mike, Peter, Phil and Kayla.

 (Mike enjoying some fun whitewater and pretty scenery on the Rio Cosanga)

But now, more on the expedition from Larry:

Upon crossing the Andes and reaching the lower Rio Coca 3,000 natives and 140 Spanish had either died or deserted. Facing starvation, Orellana and 50 men built a boat and headed downstream with the idea to look for food. Upon reaching the confluence with the Napo river and unable to return against the current, Orellana waited for Pizarro, finally sending back three men with a message, and constructed a second boat. Pizarro had in the meantime returned to Quito by a more northerly route, by then with only 80 men left alive.
 (Madison styling the line at Disco-tech on the Rio Piatua.  We had a great flow on this run, a perfect medium water level and there were big smiles all around)
(Matt–Ottawa paddler–at home in the big water of the Bom Bon run on the Rio Quijos)

At some point along his journey, Orellana encountered the “Amazons.”  According to his stories, the Amazons were giant warrior women who fought fiercely, and whom no men could escape.  Well, no men that is, except for Orellana…
 (Peter showing good form running one the many wave trains on the Quijos–Orellana no doubt saw this section of river although it’s unlikely he boated much of it seeing at the whitewater would have been overwhelming for most boats constructed in the 1540s)
In fact, rumor has it that the Amazon River takes its name from stories of these women warriors.  Orellana wanted to name the mighty river after himself, but people back home thought the stories of the 6+ foot tall fighter women were so hilarious, they decided to name the it the River Amazon as a sarcastic throw back to Orellana and his tale-telling.  Orellana did, however, get a different river named after himself so all wasn’t for naught.

(Kayla basking in the sun on a perfect day in El Chaco Canyon)

Eight months and more than 2,400 miles later Orellana and his men reached the Atlantic, becoming the first Europeans to boat the complete distance of the Amazon, from the Andes in the west to the ocean.  They sailed north to the Caribbean into Spanish territory and eventually Orellana made his way back to Spain with his account of the first decent of the Amazon.  Many people claim the origins of the Amazon to be in Peru since that is where the highest headwaters originate; however, the discovery of the river from Northern Ecuador gave it a legitimate claim as the origin as well.

(Phil testing out the Jackson Villian on the Upper Misahualli River.  Report?  2 thumbs up!)

But, if one thing really separates Small World Adventures’ kayakers from Orellana’s team it’s that he didn’t get a cold beer when he reached the Atlantic!  We don’t want our kayakers suffering like that, so a cooler at the take-out is protocol.

(Tarquino, the best bar tender this side of the Napo River, hooks Dave up with a cold Pilsiner at the end of an awesome big water day on the Lower Quijos)

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