Futaleufú - Rodeos and rafting first class, hippy style

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February 21st 2013
Saved: November 6th 2013
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When we set out on the Carretera Austral, we had never heard of Futaleufú and when we did Arnout and I weren't sure if it was a Chinese martial art or a South Pacific Island, which of course it was neither. A Dutch girl in the last hostel had strongly recommended the rafting there and said that it was some of the best in the world. On looking at this on the internet, I could see that this was certainly true, it appeared high in all the lists we could find of top ten rafting spots and was therefore something that we would have to dig deep into our pockets to try.

Fiesta in Futaleufú

As it happened there was a rodeo and fiesta in town starting the day we arrived. The fiesta started that night and the rodeo the next day. Arnout and I felt obliged to go ;-)

As with the rest of the latin speaking world, the fiesta didn’t really get going until the early hours of the morning and when I would naturally normally be safely tucked up in bed, but I was here to try it all so hung on to see the place pack-out and take-off.

Yeehaa, rodeo!

The rodeo was the next day and it was everything you might expect from a rodeo, with cowboys (known as Huasos in Chile), a small rodeo arena, beer and cooked meat for sale and all of this of course came with a Chilean flavor.

The rodeo consisted of two Huasos on horses working together to herd a cow round the edge of the ring in semi-circles. One rider would ride behind the animal driving it forward, while the other would work to ensure that it stayed inline and didn’t bolt backwards or sideways. The Huasos at the side would canter the horse sideways, a trick they had obviously taught the animal and practiced a lot. When they reached the end of their semicircle, the rider to the side of the cow would stop it dead by pushing it up against a padded wall. They would then turn the cow round and do it again. As far as I could tell, they were awarded points for style and speed and penalized for errors.

Some got away, but only for a short while... After
Chilean cowboys known as HuasosChilean cowboys known as HuasosChilean cowboys known as Huasos

Taking it easy while watching the show.
a while you did find yourself cheering when one broke free. One cow could have joined a hippy peaceful resistance movement, as it laid down and refused to move despite a great deal of cajoling from the hands and cowboys. When it did finally get up it charged one of the hands how ran and then ducked behind a gate which lead to cheers from the audience!

Riding the rapids

After booking our place on a raft, we stopped for a beer and met a Norwegian man, that became know as ‘The Vortex of Death Man!’. He showed us photos of his trip on the rapids and said that it was amazing but, in hushed tones, “...dangerous...”. He went on “There were vortexes that if you fall in them, then you're are a gonna!“. He dramatized about how the vortexes take you down into and through rocks, never to return. While concerned, we weren't convinced and after he left couldn’t help laughing at the image... I had the distinct felling that he was trying to make us scared...

The guide steering our raft was called Josh and he instructed us calmly in an American accent
Rafting - setting off, this is easy!Rafting - setting off, this is easy!Rafting - setting off, this is easy!

There were 6 passenger in the raft, two Israelis, two Australians and Arnout and myself. There guide steering the boat’s name was Josh.
on how to paddle forwards and backwards and want to do if you came out of the boat. We were thrown into the thick of it, literally. Having had no contact with rafting before and after our discussion with the Norwegian man, I was a little nervous but also excited. The water quickly picked up and were soon raging around us and we came to the first big wave called ‘The Pillow’.

As we hit it the front of the boat turned up. Arnout flew across the boat and collided with the Israeli in front of me. Like dominos he then collided with me behind him. All three of us were in the water and my heart was pumping fast as I scrambled to get back to the boat in the ice-cold water. We were told to remain calm if we went in the water as panicking did no good, so I just about managed that but was thinking to myself “This isn’t good...”. I used the paddle to bring me back to the boat through the churning waters and then struggled to get into the boat. A true lifesaver, the big Australian who was still in the boat,
Raft and back-up canoe and kayak - maybe not so easy...Raft and back-up canoe and kayak - maybe not so easy...Raft and back-up canoe and kayak - maybe not so easy...

There was also Bonnie from the UK in a canoe and Mark from the USA on a catamaran, there to help us if in the event that we fell out and also to help navigate the rapids.
grabbed me by my life jacket and hoisted me in. The others made it in also. Josh parked the boat for a few minutes to let our hearts get back to a reasonable pace and the beating sun to warm us up a little. I thought I was going to die, but I didn’t. There is nothing like a near death experience to help center you and snap you into the moment... :-)

We headed off again to a section called ‘The Magic Carpet’ and this time the Australian guy fell out and was taken under for a few seconds. He was picked up by the Catamaran and we circled back round, which was permissible by the currents and hence why the section had its name. We did The Magic Carpet a few times more and each time we nearly came out and I realized that Josh was giving us a crash course in dealing with the rapids and what to do if you fell out. He knew these waters and the risks involved and as we were all suitable kitted up with helmets, lifejackets and wetsuits and knew we would be fine. It was better that we had this experience before heading on and it made it much more of a thrill which was great.

With greater confidence as to what this was all about we headed on and took on other sections. In places we were lucky to stay in the boat, but that was all pert of the fun...We took turns in different parts of the boat and I found that I preferred the front. This was the place that you were most likely to fall out from as you took the full force of the waves and the boat was more prone to bending and flipping up there. I found though that I liked to see what was coming and if you you through you oar, weight and commitment into the wave, you were better anchored and less likely to taken by the waves.

Up to now we had been doing mostly class 4+ rapids in the standard section know as ‘bridge to bridge’, not surprisingly from one bridge on the river to another. The extra section had some class 5 professional rafter rapids and my adrenaline levels were rising. Before each of these we got out to look at them and they explained the dangers and pitfalls. That was a nice way to do it to understand what you are taking on but it gives you time to think about what you are doing rather than just do it, as we had up to now. Time for uncertainty to creep in... This was a further notch-up on the adrenaline stakes...Just to keep our adrenaline levels up there, the frame around the boat that held Josh and his paddles in place, was falling apart and one section had become disconnected. Josh just looked at it and smiled when we pointed it out...Funnily enough, the day before in the hostel I had watched a scene in a film where a gymnast was on some gymnastic equipment and a screw had come out. The gymnast trod on the screw during an exercise and iy lead to a sequence of events that resulted in the death of a gymnast. Could something similar happen here...?!!! :-(

The first class 5 rapid didn’t present problems as Josh carefully navigated us through them. When we stopped at the next I was nervous because up until now the water had been high and little rock was exposed, meaning that if we fell in, we were only going to be wept downstream and if really unlikely, under for a five or six seconds until the we were spat back out again. We would not be sucked into the underwater rocks as the Norwegian man had lead us to believe. Now there was a rapid with rocks exposed and I joked to Arnout that this was the ‘The Liquidator’ after the Norwegian man’s comments. The real concern for me was that in Brazil, I had almost died on some rocks kite surfing and still winced at the thought of being thrown onto some again...I asked Josh if this was a particular dangerous section because of the exposed rocks? He just smiled cheekily and I knew I would be OK :-) The currents took us straight at the rocks but then at the last minute we flowed with the water round them.

We then headed for a while in calmer water floating down the river to the pick-up point. We took off our wet-suites and could see that Josh was in great shape. He was totally ripped and if Bruce Lee had lived to his age, the could have had a competition to compare muscle and abdominal definition...Bonnie asked how old we thought he was? I said 50, but it turned out that he was 61!

We were taken back to Josh’s ranch, a nice wooden structure next to the river. As we sat there we let the experience settle inside of us, I saw a rafting magazine on the table beside me with Josh’s face and mop of grey curly locks on the cover. As he sat there quietly in front of me resting, I opened the magazine up and read the article about him. We had been rafting with a rafting legend from the USA whose full name was Josh Lowrie. This made me smile as I had met Steve Sneider in Torres del Paine and now Josh. Chilean Patagonia seems to be where these legends live and play. Josh had a great story; as a young man he had dogged the draft into the army by going to live in a hippy community for ten years. While there he learned and mastered rafting and spent the rest of his life dedicated to it. He later discovered Patagonia and never left. He gained notability in the rafting world, by being the first person to raft many of the rivers high up in the mountains.

Dinner then arrived which consisted of vegetarian pasta, salad and bread. It was great food and we were famished after our exertions. The other tour companies would have whisked us back to the hostel and got a second batch of customers out the same day to maximize profit. Josh wasn’t trying to get rich, he was still a hippy at heart and was just trying to live his life doing what he loved and share this passion with the people he took out. The good food and down time were both part of the day’s experience that they laid out for us.

In the end...

We hadn’t heard of Futaleufú before we got there and were rewarded with both the rodeo and rafting. Sometimes its all about turning up with your eyes open, seeing whats there and taking the opportunities when they arise. We got involved in the local traditional festivities and also saw the skill that was required for herding animals. The best part for me though was the roller coast ride of the rafting, which was something completely new for me and I enjoyed being in the thick of it for the ride. The way the experience was laid out was great. They took us up through different levels of rafting experience and then didn’t just drop us off at the end, but gave us some time to let those experiences settle and food so that we were full and left wanting nothing from the day. It was the complete package beginning to end, first class, hippy style!

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Futaleufú signFutaleufú sign
Futaleufú sign

Futaleufú here we come!
Wooden stirrupWooden stirrup
Wooden stirrup

Not quite a Hush-puppy...
Water canonWater canon
Water canon

The water canon used to wet the ground also needed corralling...
Beer anyone?Beer anyone?
Beer anyone?

Some of the youngsters had beer!
Arnout and Chilean flagArnout and Chilean flag
Arnout and Chilean flag

Arnout climbs the flag-pole on an excursion
Religious signReligious sign
Religious sign

"Its time to grow"

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