Rafting the legendary Futaleufu river!

Sunday 29th November 2015

With Fredrik, we woke up at 7am, had some fruits and headed to Futaleufu town centre to ask other rafting companies if they were going for the full-day. Crossing the gate out of Las Natalias to walk towards the town centre.
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First, we enquired at Bochinche, which is a Tibetan-owned company with which Pranap had been with, a Nepalese traveller living in New York that we had met the night before. Unfortunately, they were only going for half-day.
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They told us to go check with Patagonia Elements. We went there and Cristian, the owner of the agency, told us there were 2 other people interested in going for a full day too who had been waiting for two more to come. Perfect! We told him we needed to confirm first with Outdoor Patagonia that they could not go as we had signed up with them first, went to them, they confirmed they couldn`t, we came back to him and signed up with him. Yihaaa, we were going for the Full Day! 😀
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Now, the funny thing is that what they call “Full Day” is not really a full day, but rather a name given to the fact we do a few more rapids than the “Half-Day” which only goes from “Bridge to Bridge”. Here is a picture of the different rapids. The “Bridge to Bridge” only goes from the Entrada rapid to the Tiburon one, but the “Full Day” one starts gently on the Azul River, next to the A from Azul and includes 4 more rapids which are legendary: Dormido al volante, Terminator, Khyber Pass and Himalayas, plus two more towards the end, Mas o Menos and Casa de piedra. Terminator in particular, is known to be nuts and technical. A pure Class 5 one. Whoohooo, exciting!! Cristian explained he would pick us up around 11.45am at the hostel. Here is the map again of the rapids.
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Walking back to the hostel, we saw a few of these little swallows.
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As it was 9.45am, we thought about going for a little hike before the rafting and took a path to the right located just before Las Natalias. Those sheeps were looking at us.
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They were saying to each other: “Hey who are those guys? Do you know them?” and the other one was “Naaa, don`t worry. Just tourists passing by.”
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We saw the Danish guy who was getting his bicycle ready, just about to live.
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We walked for 10-15 minutes just above the hostel and had a great view of the surroundings. The colour of the river`s water at the bottom was so pretty.
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We went back to the hostel, checked our bags were ready, swimming suit, towel, suncream, sunglasses, water, camera, warm  jumper as we may be freezing when we would get out of the water and who knows if the weather was going to change or not.
We ate a bit more, chilled out. The soon-to-be-our-rafting-guide also named Cristian came to pick us up. We picked up a German girl, Maya and an Australian guy Marcus and off we went. We passed near the Lago Lonconao.
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During the ride, we chatted with Maya and Marcus. Maya was spending 2 months volonteering at Pumalin National Park and was here for the week-end only. Marcus was from Camaya, near Wollongong in NSW and had been living in El Chalten the last 7 years. He was a passionnate and skilled climber and told me he had actually appeared in a short movie of the Banff festival and had climbed with Alex, one climbing legend. After doing an IT degree, he had created a company buying climbing equipment from all over the world and selling it to retailers in Australia, had got bored, gone to South America with the  ambitious idea to go from Ushuaia to Alaska, but once he got to El Chalten, he loved it and stayed there. He had now been living there for the past 7 years, running a climbing agency and setting up new climbs from time to time there. Nepal had asked him if he could setup some climbing routes there to train sherpas so he was now thinking about moving there maybe. So cool, someone living his dream, living his life fully and working in what he was passionnate about! It is always so inspiring to meet the few who have taken the risk and gone for it!

At some point, we passed the Danish guy riding his bike!
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We arrived at the Azul River starting point. Here was the equipment we were about to put on: wetsuit, jacket, shoes, helmet.
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Two guys would be with us, on 2 catamarans, ready to rescue us if something went wrong. We got into our wetsuits, put on the jacket, shoes and helmet and put away our bags. I kicked myself for the fiftiest time in this trip not having taken my gopro. Oh well, another missed occasion to use it. Luckily, Fredrik had a small waterproof camera that he took with him. All the photos taken on the river that I am presenting here are his photos, Copyright Fredrik Backman.

Let`s go!!!
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Off we were on the Rio Azul.
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Cristian our rafting guide, at the back, checking out the rapids. Without his experience and knowledge, we would die going alone in this crazy white water!
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Marcus and Maya, checking out the water, ready for it!
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The two catamarans, always in front of us, ready to react in case of any issue. There was Paul on the raft, an American guy who was rafting Futaleufu river with us that day for the first time and had come to work for the season. He told us a lot about Futaleufu. In the world of rafting, Futaleufu is reputed to be one of the most challenging because it
has a lot of Class 3,4 and 5 condensed in the same section, some of them really technical. At the same time , it is known as one of the most prettiest river for rafting, because of its turquoise water and snow-peaked mountains and scenery.  It is among the top 5 best rafting rivers in the world!!! Awesome! We can also see the beautiful scenery and water colour on this picture.
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Dormido al volante was easy. I thought, hey, if that`s a Class 4, the rest will be peace of cake! We disembarked to go check out Terminator before to go on it, leaving the raft. Cristian explained to us that it is called “Dormido al volante” which means “Sleeping at the wheel” because it is the first one and sometimes rafters are sleepy when they get down there from Rio Azul, by the time they get there, they have forgotten about it and fall into the water there. Ahahahaha, funny.
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We walked a little bit through the wood.
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Looking to the right, where we have come from.
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Looking to the left towards what is coming. Now, the white water was so white that it was hard to get a good shot, and the photo is a bit saturated. But basically, we looked at the rapids, and Cristian explained that we would go between two rocks, and then to the right and then try to stick to the right and avoid some section.
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We went back to the raft and went for it. The thing is that there is Terminator and then Terminator son. After Terminator, Cristian said “Paddles up” where we can cheer. We cheered. Then he said “Paddle forward!” and we started paddling again. He shouted “Over to the right!” and Fredrik and me and Paul who were to the left tried to get to the right quickly and grab the rope, but we probably didn`t go right enough and what happened next was so fast that it is hard to know exactly, but before we knew it, Marcus, Maya, Fredrik and me fell off the boat in the water!!! I remember being under the boat, having my head knock against it and trying to get out of it, then getting out of it, seeing Paul who just pulled me inside. We were all very quickly back onboard, coughing the water we had just swallowed hard. And laughing. What an experience!!! It`s not that it wasn`t fun. But falling from the rafting in the Terminator meant that after that, we were fearless and ready for anything. We had realised that falling wasn`t too bad. You fall. You get back in. Let`s keep going!! Thinking about it, I think we cheered the paddles up a bit too fast which distracted us from what was still coming. At the same time, if that was a Cristian`s technique to distract us to get us to fall so we experience falling in the water, it worked really well and I almost felt afterwards that everyone doing rafting should get to fall from the boat to really experience this too!

We continued down the river and had some rest before attacking the next section. The water colour was really pretty. Fredrik was really cold though, he was shivering. He had been sitting all the time at the front with Marcus and both of them were getting splashed all the time by the waves. Marcus was cold too but a bit less. Maya and me were also cold but sitting behind them, we were more protected from those waves and had not been splashed as much. I had not reached the point where my body would be shivering yet luckily. We felt it was sad that the company was not providing better wetsuits though as it does spoil your experience when you get cold. You stop enjoying the rafting and just want to stop completely until you feel better.
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The pick-up was keeping an eye on us during all the rafting journey, ready to react too if there was any problem.
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At some point, we stopped and Cristian offered us to go jump from a rock. Marcus and Maya went but Fredrik and me were not too keen as we were too cold.
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After the jump, we continued going down the river towards the next rapids. The names of the white water sections we went through were all also very meaningful. Looking back at the map.
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Khyber Pass and Himalayas were part of the highest rapids there is on the river, and refer to the highest mountains in the world. Entrada is simply named like this because it is the first rapid when people start from the bridge. Alfombra Magica means “Magic Carpet”
and was very fun, a rapid made of several waves, it felt like going on a roller-coaster, up and down and up and down again. The Pillow was refering to a big hole created just after a rock if I remember that one well, which could look like a pillow. I can`t remember the reasons behind the names of Toro, Mundaca, Pudu, Puma, Guina and Condor, but it was the names of animals so either they could be seen nearby sometimes, like the Puma, maybe, or it was referring to some formation in the rocks or waves which looked like these animals. The last one was called Tiberon, which means shark in Spanish because right after it, there was the shape of a shark in the rock which was actually really visible, shame we don’t have a picture!

Not sure either about Mas o Menos and Casa de Piedra but they were challenging ones and we stopped the boat and Cristian went with Paul to show him the rapids from above and explain their technical difficulty and how to handle them.

Before we knew it, it was already the end! Last photo that Fredrik took of Cristian before we went in the direction of  his left hand back to the river bank.
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Back on the river bank.
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We arrived there and had lunch around 4.30pm. That was another thing we were not happy with as the guy in the agency in the morning, named also Cristian, had told us that we would have a lunch break around 2.30pm so we had not eaten much but once on the rafting when I asked when lunch would be, we were told it was not until the end. But besides being cold and being hungry, the whole experience itself was really awesome. The river was sooooo pretty and the rafting incredible.
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Just before to go, we saw these “rote” circling around. One other passion of Marcus was the passion of birds. He explained to me that there were 3 types of rotes, the ones with the red head, the ones with the white head and the ones with the yellow head. These ones were too far though, it was hard to know which specie it was. It was interesting to see the white under their wings.
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On the way back, we saw these mountain peaks.
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A little cow in the middle of the road.
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We laughed again at the sign pointing to a town called “La Dificultad”
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We stopped to take a quick photo of the river and the mountains.
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Cristian dropped Fredrik and me back at Las Natalias. Marcus was interested to meet Nathaniel to discuss putting up some climbing route on the rock located right behind the hostel. It was funny for me to see those two meet for the first time. I had the feeling they could get along pretty well, both passionate about Patagonia in their own ways, Nathaniel having  created this incredibly vibrant hostel right next to Futaleufu, Marcus having created awesome climbing routes in El Chalten all the best climbers in the world were coming to check out. With Fredrik, we decided to go for a small walk to the top of the nearby summit to go check out the sunset from there. We asked Nathaniel who explained us how to get there and passed again next to the nearby house located right before “Las Natalias”.

We saw mummy chicken and her little chicks.
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And mummy horse and her little one.
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There was another mummy horse and her little one.
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First, we stopped at a little waterfall.
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We continued the path and turned left at a green arrow and got lost in the thickness of the branches.
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We realised it definitely didn`t look right and turned back until we found the normal path again that we continued. We arrived at the top on time for sunset.
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View of the river down there
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View of Futaleufu from the top, with the lake on the left, the river on the right and the mountains in the background.
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Zooming in on the main plaza.
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It was almost 9pm. We walked back down. The mountains were getting the last rays of the sun.
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Fredrik went to try to get some eggs. I went for a shower, then packed the bag. I warmed up the dinner. Marcus arrived and we chatted. A French traveller he had met a few weeks before arrived. We chatted further. Marcus had a really cool story actually. It goes like this. Once upon a time, there was a young Australian named Marcus who arrived in Ushuaia and wanted to travel forever. In Puerto Montt in 2008 he bought a van from a Swiss couple and promised that he would bring it to them to Switzerland the long way back, from Puerto Montt all the way up South America, through Central America up to Alaska, via Japan, Mongolia, Russia and finally to Switzerland. But first, Marcus brought back the van from Puerto Montt to El Chalten. While he was driving down on the East Coast in Argentina, the van blew up a bit below Puerto Madryn. Marcus left it there for
repair but because it was a Chilean van, it was hard to get the spare parts. He even drove to Puerto Montt to grab some of the spare parts to bring them to the repairer. All in all, the van got stuck there for 2 years. We were now in 2010.
Marcus decided to go get it and bring it to Chile so he could repair it there. He went down and got it and was about to bring it to Chile but someone smashed the window of the van and stole his stuff so he left it with the window repairer. He decided to go enquire at the border on how to take the van out as he knew his van had got illegal because it had been too long in Argentina now.  At the border, the aduana didn`t want him to cross because his Chilean van had stayed more than three months in Argentina. They tried to bribe him and he would not hear any of it. So they put the van in jail. Yep, a jail for trucks. Marcus took an advocate and took them to court. After three long years, he won the case. We were now in 2013. He got the van back but had only 10 days to get it out of Argentina, however the van was still not repaired. He found someone who could tow it to the border and then someone on the Chilean side who could tow it further. He put it in repair in Chile. The van was finally ready. He took it to drive back to El Chalten. The van blew up again, this time in Chile so he left it for repair in Futaleufu. The repair guy started repairing it but then left to work in Buenos Aires. Marcus had paid lots to get this van repaired. Finally the guy decided to come to Futaleufu for 5 days. Marcus had to be there to get his van back, his money back and put the van on a truck to bring it to Osorno or Puerto Montt to finally get it repaired. And this is why…Marcus was in Futaleufu during these 5 days!! Hold on, the story is still half-way through though. I liked that crazy story.
It could be called “Just a van in Patagonia” or “Marcus and the story of the van who didn`t want to get to Alaska”. It would make a good book! Marcus, correct me if I wrote anything wrong!! 😀

Midnight came, Marcus and his French friend left to go to a barbie and Fredrik and me turned off all the lights as everyone meanwhile had left and we swapped photos and then went to bed.

Another crazy day on the Patagonia Planet! Tomorrow, off to Esquel and if possible El Chalten for me, and a few more days enjoying Futaleufu for Fredrik!