A Big River and Romance in Futaleufu

Futaleufu (say that 5 times quickly after a few pisco sours) means “big river”. It’s an isolated pueblo which was primarily the Chilean side 20131231_125215of a border crossing to Argentina.  It’s recently been discovered as one of the best rafting and kayaking locations in the world, and tourism is blossoming.  Until sometime in the 1980’s, the only access on the Chilean side was by horseback, and it was a 3 day ride. It’s located here. (Ya, Google says this is Palena – It’s actually Futaleufu). The scenery is non-stop mountains, rivers and waterfalls, with quite a few trekking, fly fishing, horseback riding and whitewater opportunities.  Word to the wise: try to visit when it is not raining!

A raft busts through a wave.  This photo is from the web.

A raft busts through a wave. This photo is from the web.

The Futaleufu is indeed an incredible river!  It is sparkling clear, the gradient is steep and consistent.  As you’ll see in the photos, the color is a light turquoise blue.  Dan had an opportunity to take a raft trip when one of the rafting companies needed an additional paddler to round out a raft’s crew.  It was like running all the bigger Grand Canyon rapids in an hour and a half.  Boom..Boom..Boom, each immediately after the prior.  At the end of a rapid named “Condor” we looked up, and there was a condor soaring overhead.


Safety kayakers and catamaran raft that accompany paddle trips. This photo is off the web.

The rafting company did several things to make the trip as safe as possible.  There was a safety kayaker for every raft, and a safety catamaran for every two rafts.  Before starting we practiced flipping the raft, swimming under the raft, and pulling each other aboard.  Above and below the section we ran there are plenty more rapids and beautiful sections of river.  The day after Dan’s trip, the rafting companies suspended rafting trips for awhile, because there was so much rain that the river level rose to a dangerous level.

Caren and Lisa

Caren and Lisa

We stayed in Futaleufu for 4 days,, in a pleasant hostal full of young voyagers planning kayak, bicycle, and trekking expeditions.  As an example, a German woman named Carren and a woman from Portland named Lisa, who had connected on the Couch Surfing website, had stopped in Futaleufu on their hitch hiking trip down the Carretera Austral.   Another couple had hitch hiked in with a kayak – that took awhile.   It was a very social environment, as there was a large and comfortable kitchen, eating and living area where we would gather for meals or in between activities or waiting out a rain storm.

One evening the hostal manager hired a

Rubin carrying the sheep to slaughter.

Rubin carrying the sheep to slaughter.

gaucho named Erwin, and his buddy Ruben to slaughter, butcher, and cook a sheep, for a Chilean style asado (barbeque).   We had met the sheep in the parking area, and it had “baahed” at us several times before its demise, so we felt a little sorry for it.  This preparation of the sheep required lots of time and even more beer as we stood around a fire in a shed watching the process as the rain poured down around us.   Erwin asked Caren if she had a boy friend.  When she said no, he took his knife, cut out the sheep’s heart and handed it to her, saying “you have won my heart”, all in one smooth motion.  Soon afterward we ran out of beer.  Erwin offered to take Caren on a beer run, on horseback, in the rain.  She said yes, enthusiastically.  Ruben helped

Erwin, offering Caren his heart.

Erwin, offering Caren his heart.

Caren swing up onto the horse, which had only a Chilean bareback pad.  Fortunately, she was an expert horsewoman and pretty comfortable riding bareback.  Then Erwin put on a pretty good show, charging up and down, and opening the gate, on his black horse who was skidding in the mud.


Caren and Erwin head out on a beer run, bare back.

Just before leaving on this trip a woman named Eunice had given Dan a solar rechargeable light, and asked him to pass it on to

Erwin with his new solar light for his cabin.

Erwin with his new solar light for his cabin.

someone who didn’t have electricity. Dan’s been searching all through Ecuador and Chile – it seems that the power companies have wired up some incredibly remote homes, but Erwin was the perfect customer. He lives about 3 hours by horse NW of Futaleufu.  He says his house has no electricity, no phone, no internet, and no gas.  It just has a wood stove he uses for cooking and heating.  He was thrilled to receive the light.


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