how do you do the Fu?
Futaleufu Travel Blog› entry 4 of 9 › view all entries
i think i am in love.....
This would have been one of my best weeks ever. All was perfect. I had heard about the Futaleufu, Chile, river before arriving in South America as one of the best white water rivers in the worls. And it was one of the few things on my list to do. I found an absolutely awesome company Bio Bio (and i need to share this one - www.bbxrafting.com ) and booked on an 8 day trip. They have a 4/5star style camp where you sleep in large safari tent-bungalows, a hottub (so important!), a sauna, a open bar with good spirits and way too much pisco!, a great chef and we feasted the entire time, massage, yoga every morning (well the 2 of 7 mornings i could get out of bed in time after a too-fun night).
The week starts after a 5 hour bus trip to the middle of nowhere. Here there are small wooden homes with only electricity from a generator, sheep in the paddocks, dirt roads, cooking on fire stoves, chileanos riding horses on handmade sheepskin saddles and in their berets, and oxen working the farms. It is stunning. It feels like a step back in time in a very secluded place, still untouched by the tourism that comes through a couple of months a year. And through it all the Futaleufu River runs fast and very blue.
We arrive at Bio Bio Camp, very excited and it starts off well: introductions, then in the hottub with a bottle of wine, great people, chatting easily, good food, open fire, more wine.... MaryBeth is the other single and my other half, a couple, and a family. And then the guides - all such big characters, great fun and awesome guides.
The following day they show us a taste of what is to come, the final frontier - The Terminator! dadadada..... - it is the largest rapid we run on the river and it is surging. Huge holes, big rocks, massive waves and a very long run..... But back to reality, we´re not quite ready to face that yet.... we don wetsuit, helmet and jacket, and get in our rafts to tackle good 3 and 4 rapids. just warming up, but the safety net of kayakers and catarafts surrounding us already. The following day we tackle the same rapids and head down to the Mas o Menos (IV+) and then Casa de Piedra a grade 5 rapid littlered with massive rocks that we power through, narrowly avoiding a huge boulder. Love the grade 5´s - the heart races, you get wet and dont feel it, everything focuses on the next stroke or holding on. Its a great adrenalin rush and then to spend the evening drinking in the sunset bar and salsa dancing with the latino guides and dancing "something else but not quite salsa" with the American guides.
Ah, take a breath and a little change of pace. We move to tiny rapids and learn hard shell kayaking. It is amazingly difficult to keep the little kayaks straight and you feel every ripple of the rapid. The kayak threatens to flip or spin in a circle every second moment. But it is great fun and a real challenge learning this. I spend 2 half days learning the precise strokes and tackling 1-2 grade rapids. Not quite at the rapid surfing or doing flips like the guides, but give me another week or 2.... After trying the hardshells it is a truly fun and easy experience getting into the inflatable kayaks and "duckying down" the rapids. Its great having my own boat that i can control (more or less). Getting stuck on rocks midway down a rapid, going down mini waterfalls and bobbing up at the other end, ramming into the kids of the group, accidentally going down that rapid backwards, giggling and screaming (as I do), and just floating and chatting in between.
One of the true highlights is exploring the beautiful and tranquil Futaleufu valley by horseback. Horses that are not the usual trail horses i am used to but horses that are well trained and want to ride and run, saddled with sheepskin and homemade bridles. So, looking at a rafting guide with a cheeky grin, i ask "wanna run?" and that set the tone for the day. The horses went so easily and happily as we passed through paddocks dotted with sheep, past wooden farmhouses with smoke coming from the chimney, under the blue sky, the Three Nuns peak in the distance and the grass and trees very green. Following the blue blue Rio Azul and chasing wild pigs. Lunch in a beautiful setting by the river and a walk up to a waterfall. Then finishing the day with a wine and cheese tasting night with wonderful wines from Argentina and Chile.
2 days left. And they are big days. We enter Inferno Canyon on our rafts, stop and scout the rapid. Deep breath and we plunge in. "Forward!" "Harder" The raft speeds into the whole and starts heading out the otherside, getting higher and higher. The raft ends up vertical. I fall backwards, the person behind falls back a seat too. Marybeth falls out. We teeter with nose in the air and then crash down the otherside of the wave and speed down the rapid, MB somewhere ahead of us. MB blames my "big ass" for knocking her out of the boat and jokingly threatens retribution for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately karma seems on her side. Then the next 4 rapids, all class IV+ to V. Dynamite with a huge churning drop, Exit with a massive hole and all in a narrow canyon, one after the other. Adrenalin pumping and then a long relaxing float with the fishing rods out and food to feast on before the last few rapids of the day.
Last day - Summit Day. We stop in Terminato - dadahdadah - and the guides scout the rapid, the tension building. Jonny comes back and offers us option c - easy left, Option B - slightly harder right, or Option A straight down the guts. "Option A" we say, trying to sound enthusiastic. Its a lucky choice as it is the only line jonny really knows and was going to go that way anyways. We get a new safety talk. "dont try and swim back to the raft, if you fall out tuck into a ball (dont try floating on the top) and look for the safety net at the bottom." Ok, now we are nervous... We dig in hard, concentrated effort at getting past the massive hole in the middle that would throw us around, skirting the rock that is the next obstacle, over the massive wave... on and on... and then we make it. Hi5, hug, hug again! The we hit more rapids classes 4 and 5 for the rest of the day, hitting as much white water as possible.
Loved it so much i actually went back for a second week just 3 days later. But this time more partying as it is their final week, more salsaing, more pampering and more great food. And a delicious asado (bring-your-own-knife-style) at a neighbouring farm with the locals singing fireside songs that got a raucous response from those that could really understand their spanish.
And this time we ride harder lines and Jorge is the guide. It is an awesome week with a great raft, we nickname us the "Drinking Team" for the efforts of almost every evening, and also for the big hangover some of us were nursing the first day. But more spanish speakers so the commands were "Adelante" "Atras" etc.
MaryBeth gets her retribution even through she is not here, this time the raft flips on Entrada rapid. This is where MB fell out and this time I swim! We make it through the rapid and hit the canyon wall at the bottom of the rapid and flip. I fall into the eddy and get stuck as it sucks me off the canyon wall i desperately try to cling to as i yell for help, it spins me around in a circle until i can grab the wall again.... about 5 times. Later I am compared to one of those carousels at the circus going around and around - the other raft could see my bright yellow helmet making circles from the top of the rapid. The whole raft swam and now we are nicknamed the "Swimming Team".
Paige and I head off with Myhenny who is the horselady in search of the horses for the ride. She is beautiful, Chilean and doesnt say much. She sends the dogs searching for the horses as we ride, Myhenny riding bareback most of the day, through the trees and paddocks looking for the horses. It is astounding that when we find them all it takes is a few hisses and words and to send them in the right direction, and they get themselves the next couple of kms home. We have homemade lunch in her little casa and then explore the region, borrowing horses from neighbours and searching for the others, passing farms and taking all the little backtrails. Its a whole day on the horse, tiring but a beautiful way to see the area and a great experience.
We finish off with a talentshow where i got to embarrass the guides by making an improv blinddate show "so now you can fund the window on Terminator, can you help me find my window?" and "so I know you kayakers like to wear skirts.... does that mean I get to wear the pants?" and of course followed by dancing, drinking, a shotgun of beer, hottubbing, saunaing, jumping into the cold river, and dance the night away, not wanting it to end.
I helped pack up the camp and it was sad to say goodbye to Futaleufu. I head off with some of the BioBio crew on a little roadtrip next.