Out of all the travel on my list of 101 Dreams Come True, Futaleufu, Patagonia Chile was the number one destination I wanted to see. Tucked in the Andes close to the Argentine border, the entire town can be walked in ten minutes. There's no gas station, one bank that only takes American Express, and only one hotel and a few pousadas. So why did I want to explore this area? As an eternal white water junkie, I'd heard of the pristine aqua river with huge class V rapids. But whenever I looked into going to this region the cost for one week with plane tickets was over $6000. For almost ten years, I would look at the trip, drool over the pictures and then realize it just wasn't feasible.
When I decided to travel through S. America my budget for two months was a little over $8,000 so a tour company was out of the question. There was little on the internet on how to get to the area and places to stay were expensive unless I was willing to stay in small youth hostels in shared rooms.
After hours of research, I finally found a rafting company called Patagonia Elements that did day trips instead of an organized tour. Through email I learned how to get to the region by bus, taxi, foot, and a car picking me up on the other side of a border crossing. They offered a room for rent in their friend's home for $20.00 per night and my dream of seeing Futaleufu and rafting the rapids began to take form.
I arrived in Bariloche (one of the gateways to Futaleufu if you fly into Buenos Aires, Argentina) the week before and made a reservation for a bus the following week to Esquel. Without the ability to speak Spanish I had my concerns. My adrenaline was running high the day I left the safety of my resort. I sat in my seat on the panoramic double-decker bus and began my five hour drive.
Mountains and lakes spread out before me as we traveled through Argentina. A few hours into the trip, through my usual miming and Pictionary I asked the bus drivers to let me know when we reached Esquel since this bus was taking a twenty-four hour drive all the way to the end of the earth in El Calafate and I didn't want to go that far.
I arrived in Esquel without any problems and missed my connecting bus to Trevelin by ten minutes because I thought I had to buy a ticket before getting on the bus. But no problem, there would be another in half an hour.
Next stop Trevelin, Argentina where I would have to call for a taxi cab and make an international call to Chile to tell the people from Patagonia Elements when I would arrive at the Chilean border. Trevellin was too small to have a bus station and when the driver got off the bus, grabbed my luggage, and motioned for me to get off, I was rather nervous. There was one park, a few restaurants, and he pointed me to a house and left.
What could I do? I walked to the house, realized it was the tourist help center. Once again, I played charades, pointed to maps, and handed over my international calling card. The man and his wife were very sweet and they made phone calls with concerned looks on their faces. At this point I had learned enough Spanish to hold a five minute conversation with their four-year-old daughter. They pointed to the clock, explained what I thought would be a two-hour wait and then took my luggage into the back of their home.
Without anything to do, I went to lunch, got some ice cream, and hoped that I was on the right track. Two hours later my luggage was out in front of the house, a beat-up Nissan that had a cracked windshield and wreaked of gasoline was waiting for me. There was no taxi sign and the man didn't speak English, but what could I do. I got in, and we drove into no-man's land on a rocky back road through a mountain pass along a beautiful aqua river.
An hour passes, I hadn't been robbed, left on the side of the road, nor has the car broken down. But now I'm being left at the border crossing. The road is not only dirt, but rocky and I have two rolling suitcases and I need to walk half a mile to the other side of Argentina to Chile. I start laughing at my predicament. There's no way I'm going to be able to drag these bags down the road.
Then two men show up in a station wagon. They go inside the border control, get their passports stamped, come out, load my bags into their car and tell me to get in with hand gestures. Well what the heck? They can only go as far as the border.
I got out at the Chilean border, they helped me with my customs forms, asked in Charades (my new found language) if I wanted a ride into town? I said, "No, I have a ride." and then they left. My ride didn't show up for another half hour but five families offered me rides.
But this is Chile in Patagonia - warm, friendly, helpful, and giving. So nine hours after my departure from Argentina I arrived in Futaleufu, where the adventure really began. But you'll have to read the next blog for that story.