Jondachi Fest 2015 | Rapid Magazine | Rapid Media
Jondachi Fest 2015 Photo: AZ Andis

Celebrating a legendary free-flowing river

In 2008, in an inspiring and novel political statement, Ecuador built into its national constitution an acknowledgement of the rights of nature (personified as Mother Nature, or pachamama, in the indigenous Quechua). Not five short years later, the same government passed legislation that all but outlaws citizen protest against environmental injustice. Ecuador is a place of contradiction, of beautiful chaos, of uniquely abundant natural resources and unregulated environmental exploitation. The thousands of kayakers who visit Ecuador each year are acutely aware of the very visible threats to its rivers. Illegal gravel mining, overly enthusiastic gold dredging, devastating deforestation in riparian zones, contamination from the byproducts of oil exploration, legions of new hydro projects…the list is long. 

In January 2015, the river town of Tena hosted the first-ever Jondachi Fest. The opposite of a protest, Jondachi Fest was a celebration of the free-flowing Jondachi River, which is threatened with imminent hydro development. Kayakers from around the world competed in the class V Upper Jondachi Race. Galen Volckhausen of White Salmon, WA took first in the men’s division and Hannah Kertesz of Idaho won it for the ladies. An overnight retreat on the Lower Jondachi allowed over sixty paddlers and rafters to experience the endangered river corridor together.  At the confluence, the Jondachi opened up into the dramatic big water of the high-volume Hollin, and the crew paddled through sheets of afternoon jungle rain. In the flat water beneath the Hollin’s biggest rapids, the clouds broke to reveal a most perfect rainbow, reaffirming the underlying sentiment of hope for the future of this phenomenal river corridor. 

The Ecuadorian Rivers Institute is working to promote consideration of the value of tourism and recreational river use in the planning and development of hydro projects. The ERI has filed a legal opposition to the Jondachi project, and its development is currently stalled out in this process. The ERI has presented the Jondachi-Hollin-Misahaulli-Napo Ecological Corridor as an economically viable alternative to the dam. If the Jondachi is designated as a “wild and scenic” river in Ecuador, the precedent may be set for future protection of endangered rivers across the globe.  

In the meantime, as we await the Ecuadorian government’s final ruling on the fate of the Upper Jondachi River, please start planning your paddling trip to Ecuador. The local people are warm and accommodating, and the scores of whitewater rivers that run from the Andes to the Amazon Basin will not disappoint. And if you are free in January 2016, come on down to the second incarnation of Jondachi Fest, as it will be a strong and clear indication that this celebration was successful, that the Jondachi is still flowing freely. 

Chandra Brown is the communications director of the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute and a co-organizer of Jondachi Fest.

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