I consider myself to be a fairly adventurous person who likes to try new things and if those things involve a bit of adrenalin, then even better. I didn’t think twice before deciding to bungee jump off the Vic Falls Bridge for my birthday a few years ago or to tandem sky dive where I could enjoy amazing views of South Africa’s Garden Route coastline. Or traveling along Ruta 40 in the Argentinean Patagonia in a 1970’s Citroen 3CV, which remains the craziest adventure of my time in South America so far…
But through all this, I have always been adamant that white water rafting was one adventure I was happy to skip. Every time I have visited my brother in Zimbabwe and Zambia, he has tried to convince me to raft the mighty Zambezi, but I have always managed to avoid it. I am just not a water baby, and even less so when the water consists of massive rapids, whirlpools and perilous rocks.
But that changed recently when my brother, Rodrigo, Beth and I headed to the little village of Futaleufu in Patagonia and they convinced me to do a short rafting trip. I had my doubts, but didn’t want my fear to be the reason that Robert and Beth missed out on rafting the most famous river in Chile.
On the bus from Chaiten, we caught glimpses of the Futaleufu River from different bridges and the amazing blue water and the scenery along the river looked so spectacular that it made me really want to see more…and there is pretty much no other way to really explore the river than by rafting.
The view of the river from the Futaleufu Bridge
I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t extremely nervous at the beginning and the safety talk did little to put me at ease. But our guide Christian (the owner of Patagonia Elements) kept assuring me that “swimmers are bad for business” and his main aim is to keep everyone in the raft throughout.
Practicing on a calm stretch of the river before heading towards the first rapid
After paddling around on a calm section of the river and practicing recovering someone from the water (for which I was the guinea pig), we headed towards the first rapid, which was a Grade V based on its technicality. After surviving this first challenge I began to feel a lot more comfortable, especially since I realised that with my feet wedged securely in the boat, I was a lot less likely to fall out.
Before I knew it I was having a great time and with each rapid I felt more at ease and able to enjoy myself. About half way through we even swopped positions on the boat and I was at the front. I thought it would be a lot scarier to see what we were heading into with each rapid, but it was actually really awesome to see the waves and dips coming. I wasn’t too chuffed with the full on waves in the face and water up my nose, but it was great to see how different the experience is from different places on the raft.
We did 12 rapids all in all, with one of them being a Grade 5 and the rest grades 3 and 4. I am happy to say that our boat never flipped, although we did have one close call on the Mundaca Rapid (Grade V). The only time I did end up in the water was entirely voluntary when we got a chance to jump off a 4m high cliff into the river. I have never jumped into water with a helmet and life jacket on and it was a pretty weird experience to come bobbing back to the surface so quickly.
A close call – our near flip on the Grade V Rapid “Mundaca”
The other boat that was with us did end up flipping and it was at a point when the rapids were extremely close together with little or no calm water in between. When the safety cata-raft indicated to us that the raft had flipped, Christian straight away switched into rescue mode and told us all to get ready to try and pull the guys out of the river. It seemed like a life time, but was probably only a minute or two of chaos and we had three of the four guys in our boat and the fourth was on the safety raft. But while the guys were getting their breath back we hit the next rapid and Christian was shouting “forward paddle”. We made it through fine and stopped on the side to get the other boat in order.
Just before the flip happened Christian has switched the Gopro camera from the top of his helmet to the front of the boat and we caught the whole episode on video. It would be impossible to find the words to try and describe the action in this post, but watching the video afterwards we had a good few laughs. Especially at the part where my brother tried to help Beth pull one of the guys out of the water and instead all he managed to do was yank Beth across the boat and almost out the other side. Poor Beth was about to grab the guy by the life jacket and the next second she was sprawled across the other side of the boat.
But I am happy to say that we made it safe and sound to the end and enjoyed a well-deserved beer in celebration. And best of all I think I am over my fear of white water rafting…although I still have my doubts about the mighty Zambezi.
Celebrating our amazing journey down the Futaleufu
A big thank you to Christian, Nacho and the rest of the Patagonia Elements team that made the experience so unforgettable. If you ever find yourself in the beautiful little village of Futaleufu and are keen to explore and appreciate the river in the best form possible, I highly recommend Patagonia Elements. You will not regret it. For more information, their website is http://www.patagoniaelements.cl