rafting the futaleufu

Rafting the Futaleufu - DreamsCo

I can hear the rush of the river as I stand by the aqua water. Mountains rise up around me, some with snow still on their peaks. I'm here, in Futaleufu, and a part of me still can't believe it. I've never seen a place so beautiful, untouched, and a part of my heart feels like I've come home - like I belong in this place.

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I pull on a wetsuit, the water coming straight from the snowpack is cold, and if I end up swimming it's my only protection from hypothermia. In truth, this water is warmer than the American River in California and the heat of the day is brutal. One the wetsuit is on, I jump in and float for awhile letting the water cool me off.

Then we're in the boat and I'm front paddle. Three men and myself along with a guide. We go through the safety practices, falling out of the boat, being rescued by the kayaks and our fellow rafters. Christian our guide explains that the water is very high from recent rain and snowmelt, and Futaleufu doesn't have slow pools. Instead, it runs fast, hard, with large holes that eat boats and spits them out.

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And then we're in it. Powering down the mighty river, paddling hard through massive waves. Think the Perfect Storm kind of waves but in a raft instead of a boat (okay maybe not that big, but in that raft it feels like it). I try to paddle, but the boat is up so high above the bottom of the wave that my paddle catches water instead of air. Then a wave is splashing over me and I'm screaming with joy. It's a rush like no other - nature at it's finest beauty and power and me on its wild ride.

 

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When Christian does pull us into an eddy to explain the next rapid, I stare at the beauty around me. Far away from the craziness of regular life, I feel wrapped in mother nature's heart beat. Serenity fills me and I realize that there are companies out there who desire to dam this beautiful river for profit. For years, the town of Futaleufu and the few N. American rafting companies who run trips five months out of the year, have fought the corporations and government trying to protect this gem. But Futaleufu is tiny, barely anyone lives in this town. Many in the area still live a simple life of farming in this beautiful valley without the need for the outside world. Internet access is available in town, and they have a beautiful school, but life is simple here.

If they dam this river like so many others in the world what will it do to this amazing area. Are we willing to sacrifice our earth, the sanctuaries left, for a few to profit?

And then the boat is taking off again, plunging into waves, running past those huge holes, and I 'm alive, happy, and prayerful that this place will never be harmed.

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Getting to Futaleufu, Chile - DreamsCo

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.