H20 + Wine + Adrenaline = Futa Spine Tingler
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Epic Rio Futaleufu
I was very lucky. The grey Patagonian sky began to clear soon after other guests had left Puerto Montt airport in a van. They would have a scenic but tiring three-hour drive to our riverside hideaway. Harvey King, trip leader, informed few of us remaining that we would actually get there first. Hearing good news, we picked up our bags as, outside terminal, twin propellers started turning.
Fly In & Walk Home
“Chile lies at end of all roads,” writes Isabel Allende in her lovely memoir, My Invented Country. “No one passes by casually, however lost he may be.” Why were we northerners traveling to this most southerly of nations? If you’re a whitewater enthusiast, you’ve no doubt heard Mapuche Indian word “Futaleufu” (pronounced fu-ta-le-FOO). It means Big River.
Into The Andes
The flight through Chilean Andes reminded me of Pacific Northwest. The two landscapes are shaped by same volcanic, tectonic, and oceanic forces. When I say “through” Andes , I mean it: for half an hour we craned our necks as rocky peaks loomed above us on either side. Then we looked down as plane dropped into a placid valley, and beside sparkling Futaleufu was our destination, lodge at Antucamay. As we ambled up gravel road from airstrip, a guest named Michael remarked, “You’ve got to love a place where you fly in and walk home.”
Antucamay, another Mapuche word, means “God’s Creation.” H2O Patagonia created central “quincho” in traditional style, with a roughly circular main room built around a large fireplace. Outside is a wooden patio with a hot tub. A second building contains bathrooms and showers, and a third is dedicated to massages. Closer to water are comfortable sleeping cabins. Even if you’re not tuckered out from a day of rafting, riding, or hiking, sound of river will lull you quickly to sleep.
In Southern Hemisphere familiar things that you’ve seen all your life are turned upside-down and are suddenly new. The sun curves differently across sky. The stars are shifted, and you see Southern Cross instead of Big Dipper. It takes at least a day’s flying to get down here, but in that one day you’ve gone from winter to summer — and it’s time to get in water.
It couldn’t happen in a dangerous-sounding rapid like Chaos, Puma, or Condor. It had to happen at Pillow Rock. This innocently named Class IV rapid was actually most challenging of our first day. The river flows around a huge boulder, with enough of current pouring over it to form a “pillow” of water on top. I shared bow of raft with Bob, an experienced paddler. Our guide Stan said goal was to slide around pour-over, hit hole below rock as squarely as possible, and battle our way out. When we hit, raft lurched violently left and dump-trucked us right into river. It was a good learning experience on this training day, but it felt embarrassing to be beaten by a pillow.