“Magnificent” (?!) Ruta 40

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of Chile  , Lake District,
Thursday, March 17, 2011

While we were in Chalten we had been leafing through the guide book and happened on an entry about a small Chilean village in the foothills of the Andes 24 hours north of Chalten with world class rafting and we had decided on the spur of the moment that we fancied a bit of rafting. To get there was a little complicated however as we had to deviate from the usual gringo trail route of Chalten to Bariloche and cross the border back to Chile again.

The first part of this trip was 20 hours on the famous and much vaunted Ruta 40 road up through Patagonia into the Lake District. Supposedly this is a beautiful road, made famous by the Motorcycle Diaries of a certain Che Guevara. We couldn't tell you however as we got on the bus at night and then by the time we woke up in the morning (after a very bumpy and uncomfortable night) both sides of the bus were so completely plastered in mud and dirt that we couldn’t see out  of either side for the entire day. Some people tried to clean their little patch of window at a break stop but failed; it was that dirty.

We left the bus and the rest of the tourists in a town called Esquel where we spent the night before attempting to head over into Chile by bus and on to our destination, Futaleufu. We made it most of the way to the border and to a town called Trevelin which, bizarrely, has a big Welsh population with dragon flags and tea rooms everywhere before public transport failed us.  It was Sunday (bloody Sundays!) and the buses only went three times a week and, unsurprisingly, never on Sundays so we had to grab a "taxi" to get the rest of the way. The “taxi” however turned out to merely be a guy with his car and there was a disturbing moment at the border crossing where the border police questioned our driver:

Border Police Man: “So, are these two with you then?”

Our Driver: “Yes, that’s right”

Border Police Man: “Do you have a license to carry fare paying passengers?”

Our Driver: “Er...no”.

Border Police Man: “Do you have a license to take passengers across the border?”

Our Driver: “Er...no, but I take my wife and kids across the border all the time”

Border Police Man: “Yes well, thats a bit different though isn’t it. Hmmmmm. [Turns to his mate] Shall we let him through?”

Other Border Police Man: [shrug]

Border Police Man: “Alright, you can go through- but don’t do it again okay?”

Anyway, we eventually arrived in Futa (as it is known by the “paddlers” as people really into this stuff call themselves) and found ourselves an amazing room in a little hospedaje, complete with a wood fire (it was cold, even for Gordon).  We spent the next day horse riding in the valleys around the village while a group was put together to go rafting. Although not traditionally a fan, Gordon is beginning to get the hang of horse riding now and survived the long ride up to a beautiful viewpoint on a truly massive horse and even getting it to gallop down the dirt road back to town in a race with Sarah’s horse.

The rafting on the Futaleufu river was absolutely awesome- up there with the Zambezi for the size of the river and the fun. We spent all day on the river with several Class IV & V rapids that were huge and pretty scary. The river valley (more of a canyon in some places) was also beautiful and was the first time we started to feel like we were really in the Andes. The water was incredibly clear to the extent that you could see the rocks and river bed rushing along beneath you but also bl**dy freezing, as Gordon discovered when he took an unexpected detour out of the boat and ended up swimming a section of the river called (appropriately let us assure you) “The Himalayas”. Another entertaining moment was when we smacked into a rock on a particularly big rapid, with the boat almost tipping before righting itself while we 4 guests forgot all technique and clung on for dear life.  As the raft came free and slipped off backwards down the rapid we all glanced around to see, to our amazement, that we were all still in the boat. In unison we then glanced back towards the unusually silent guide to discover that he had gone into the river and was nowhere to be seen. Classic. To top the day off, our minibus broke down on the way back, which while a little annoying did mean that we got a taste of hitchhiking in South America- riding on the back of a pickup truck for 45 minutes through the stunning scenery.

All in all we were quite pleased with our detour off the beaten track as we boarded our next (and fortunately much more comfortable) bus to Bariloche to rejoin the usual gringo trail.
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Crispin on

Wow! Maybe I could get to do that rafting trip sometime - I love white-water rafting; last one I did was a three-day trip in Nepal, ages ago. By now I guess Mum & Dad / Alex & Hil are with you, so we raise a glass and hope all is well.

Love the blog - keep it up!

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