Fly Boston-Cincinatti, Cincinatti-Miami, Miami-Atlanta, Atlanta-Santiago. After all that you're in Chile . Now don't get me wrong, it does not have to be that complicated. It just happened that way for me.
During a week spent in Santiago , the first source of entertainment was trying desperately not to get lost while using the little taxis, called “Collectivos” to run around from the office to the airport as more of the guys flew in. As the week progressed we slowly gained a couple of victories. A notable success was asking for a cardboard box at the supermarket and actually getting what we asked for the first time. Although this was accompanied by some very strange looks and a sub-tle smirk, I felt pretty pleased with it considering this Limeytook German at school and still can't speak a lick of it.
December 1st, the Canadians arrive. Now the whole team is in Chile and we can start our journey down to Futaleufu, 1400 kilometers south of Santiago . We pile into a cube van for the ride across Santiago to the bus terminals. As usual this takes four times longer than it should as the new road system did not open on time and we are taken on a tour through the slums of Santiago . Having never been to a Latin American country this was quite an eye-opener.
Overnight to Osorno, grab some empanadas then bus through Argentina in a tiny little mini-bus. 27 hours later we are sitting in the only bar in Futa swigging cheap Chilean beer called Crystal , not expensive champagne, and scoffing down miscellaneous meat and fries. Welcome to Scorpions.
Futaleufu is a small frontier town that has been pushed into modern life by the kayakers that come to paddle the river of the same name. About a thousand people live in the town during the summer, but most leave for the coast during the winter so the whole family can be near the children as they go to school in the bigger towns. On the whole, the people are courteous and will acknowledge you when you greet them, but it is very much on you to make the first move. Add to this that almost none of them speak English and you end up having a lot of fun.
As the summer progresses all the residents go “out on the town” and start hanging out in the plaza or outside the bakery where the soccer matches are screened. Houses seem only to be used for sleeping and since you can walk everywhere there is a real sense of community.
All of us were new to the river and by Futa standards relatively young, with an average age of 23. Tensions were running a little high as all we had heard was how scary and hard the Fu is. Now it was time to find out for ourselves. There was not going to be any sort of warm up, as Spe (el Jefe) put it “this isn't Camp Cupcake .”
After grabbing some boats we pushed off from the beach at camp and we were off. The beta Spe gave us was not very helpful: “Get left at Terminator.” “Well where is Terminator?”“You'll know it when you see it.” Wonderful.
So after two fairly easy rapids and a bit of flat water we get down to what appears to be Terminator, a riverwide horizon line with no view of flat water at the bottom. I had not had butterflies in a long time, but they were back in full force. We eddy hopped down the left shore as far as we could see and got to our second horizon of the rapid. Jim got out and took a quick scout while the rest of us clung to which-every eddy we had managed to catch. Some quick hand signals and it was time to go. Right, left, right, left. Slater went first, all clear, Frank up next and then me. 200 yards of class 5 that I had not seen, holy hell it went quick. It took several times for it to slow down but the butterflies had a permanent home.
The river just went from there. I learned it quick, ran more stuff blind than I care to mention and got my first experience of paddling class 5 solo. You would think that paddling the same river every day you might get bored, but there are so many lines to try that you don't. Add to that the potential for a sound thrashing at pretty much every rapid and it keeps you on your toes.
There were plenty more exciting times on the river but things that made it worthwhile were the late night camp fires on the beach looking at the clearest stars you will ever see and talking to our chef Pedro about his family history and when his father was “disappeared” by the Pinochet Regime. While we did not get to see all of Chile the part we lived in we knew quite well and all felt at home. I'm just looking forward to being back in Futaleufu soon.