- Chris's camp is alongside the Futaleufu; we
pass through five gates to get to it, stopping
to talk to people at the school house and the
ranches along the way. Chris has done a magnificent
job building; there is a beautiful dining hall,
an outhouse made of bamboo, a large sauna containing
a huge custom welded wood burning stove, and two
outdoor showers, one attached to the sauna and
the other nestled between large boulders on a
Futaleufu River itself has enormous volume and
beauty, blue with glacial sediment, warm in it's
late summer stage. It may be the best river in
the world, the cathedral of rivers, according
is planning to go whitewater kayaking and asks
me if I want to go, if the water looks hard to
me. I think it looks flat and uncomplicated, so
off we go, hiking a good distance with the boats
across a golden field and then down a bit of a
cliff. To my surprise the water is far `pushier'
than it looked; I am content to get used to my
boat while Chris, in his element, plays the waves.
Fu slides downstream, cradled by a curve of granite.
Ahead of me on the inside corner is a massive
whirlpool with a killer eddy line and boils to
boot. The boils surprise, rearing up in front
of the boat, as if to make sure someone is paying
attention. But I've just been on the easy stretch;
the Terminator is downstream, and so tight and
fast that Beez earlier dislocated his shoulder.
No time to think in there, said Chris, only time
the going gets rough, Chris tells me to take a
tight line behind him. I flip twice, the first
time above a hole big enough for twenty kayaks.
It takes me two tries to roll that time; I miss
the first out of nervousness. Chris reprimands
me for over-compensating, reminds me to wait to
roll. I portage the Terminator, feeling a like
Little Red Riding Hood carrying my kayak across
golden fields and through wide pine forests. I
make a clean roll again after catching air in
the Himalayas, coming up surfing back down the
wave. My elation is complete. Pato picks us up
and we are off to the sauna, dinner, and a round
- After this wonderful introduction to Chile I
am shocked to learn that a dam has been planned
for the Fu. Without consulting any local people,
a private company posted three little notices
in the Santiago and Puerto Montt diarios; since
no newspapers are transported or sold in the Futaleufu
area, it is an absolute surprise to everyone.
Becinos, a community landowner's association,
finds out about the dam through a Chilean visitor
who had read the newspaper in the coastal town
of Chaiten. The community is astounded to hear
the news and discovers they have only four days
to lodge a formal protest (two being weekend days).
An emergency meeting has been called at the school
and someone is appointed to go to Puerto Montt
to lodge the protest.
say (in jest and as an indicator of the emotion
involved) that they would rather secede to Argentina
than see this happen. The hat is passed and 160,000
pesos ($300) is raised to transport the representative
to Puerto Montt in time.
- The Futaleufu runs down a steep canyon (we are
talking walls straight up, thousands of feet),
and then off into Lago Yelcho. I cannot see the
river from here, only the mountain. Time is running
on already this morning, but today I will put
my sea kayak on the river (somewhere towards that
mountain) and paddle to Chaiten, where I am to
meet the bus Friday at five which will shuttle
me back to the town of Futaleufu.
drives me to the put-in point at a local farm.
Wool hangs drying, brown, black and white on racks
of branches against a backdrop of towering peaks.
We open the gate and drive across the pasture,
trespassing. The dogs bark and two women, cleaning
wool next to the river bank, walk across the greenery,
surreal in the peaceful sunshine.
as they say here, their cheeks to yours (I am
remembering people by the feel of their cheek
- - scruffy, soft, young feeling, light). It is
time to paddle.
- High noon. The river is emerald-green, moving
at maybe half a knot. Granite rises straight out
of the emerald water, massively, white with mottled
black, pines clinging to the sides, snow at the
top. Ahead, a looming hill splits the stream.
Right or left? Left, sandbar on right. A glacier
appears around the corner showing dark crevasses.
sea kayak is not as maneuverable as a whitewater
boat; it responds awkwardly. Drifting downstream,
I see boils -- or are they upstream V's? I'm having
a crisis of perception, sitting in a sea kayak
and reading a river. The kayak feels cramped;
maybe I can pack better tomorrow.. All sorts of
little items around my legs. Do I feel a tickle
on my foot? I hate that. Just imagining what might
be in there...I try not to.
afternoon and I'm at the lake. Fish jumping like
crazy. (No fishing pole!) Beautiful marsh, tall
reeds both sides. The water is glassy, dark before
a rounded mountain, its chute curling down to
the water's edge and reflecting back.
tiny beach covered with white sand and bleached
driftwood. Lots of dead wood everywhere, a sign
of old forests, few people.
deeper I go into Lago Yelcho, the more miniscule
I become. The mountains, waterfalls, trees all
loom. Those steep granite sides, steep mountains
rising and rising. Touching the the sand for the
first time, it is rich granite sand, each particle
it's own firm entity.
- Wake with a sense of mission yet not wanting
to rush. Make a good cup of coffee and eat imported
granola, think of packing for the second day.
Kayak much more neatly packed today, maybe a bit
heavy towards the stern.
a big crossing I am deciding on. Going by my aeronautical
chart, the east side of the lake is shortest.
The crossing is very exposed, and no beaches in
sight. Slight breeze on my back. I look for whitewater
against the cliffs on the other side but see nothing
to indicate more wind. There may be takeouts to
the south, but steep. Nowhere else to go but forward
and I do see signs of beaches on the map far ahead
if this breeze becomes dangerous.
area is taking on a dreamlike quality in beauty.
Every rock and tree is poised and proud. As I
round a point a waterfall appears, seemingly cascading
for a mile. It is still a twenty minute paddle
away and I can only but paddle towards it. I have
to take some pictures beginning early to show
how large it really is. The water sparkles in
front of it for fifty yards, as the sun is behind
it to the north east. As I come closer I see there
really is no dry landing spot, just beautiful
yellow rounded rocks lying a few inches under
the surface in front of a mound of boulder ten
to twenty feet in diameter. I paddle to the source
and am gently pushed away by moving water. To
my right is a spot to exit the kayak, and I have
to tie it to a rock so it won't drift away. Walking
across the small rocks I finally realize I need
to do some major wading and just go for it up
to my waist -- the run off is much colder than
and slipping I get closer to the falls, the mist
pounding on my body. Set up the tripod for a few
pictures (it is very dark and I set the camera
to one second) and make a quick exit -- I am freezing
all of a sudden. My glasses are fogged and the
freezing frames are cold on my face.
suddenly worried about slipping on this moss and
being disabled and getting hypothermia just from
windchill. So I sit on those round golden boulders
on a watery shoal with my feet being lapped by
warm lake water. A little triangular green bug
lands on me; the comraderie is overwhelming.
I feel like I have a long way to go and need to
just DO it. My feeling is to get away from this
isolated spot, as there is no place to stop. I'm
here on the water with just the fish. The map
shows a bridge over the river that drains Lago
Yelcho into the Pacific.
pm. Eureka, I see the bridge. Just its little
points, like tee-pees. Whitecaps out there. Bummer.
Now the sound of waves echoes off the cliffs and
surround me. The waves are bigger, rolling. No
wind here, yet. Get an occasional crest. Finally
the wind hits. Hat brim low, body low, paddle
evenly against the wind. Set small goals; that
boulder, this stump. The bridge is getting closer,
dwarfed by that huge glacier from above.
under bridge; couple of campaneros go over on
horses and ignore me. A contrast between old and
Moving water ahead...! and another corner with
a drop... get out, change into warm clothes. Very
cold, now, with wind chill... First time on moving
water like this (faster than before) in a sea
kayak and have some fear about maneuverability
and loss of stuff. Funny lining up in a sea kayak
for a V, using the same strategies... Going for
the inside corners, without actually getting caught
by the eddy. The boat is hard to turn, especially
in this wind.
Wind is dying, camp set, who knows where I am,
really. The map is so off. No people anywhere.
The river is curving around this glacier to the
west. Water is running off the glacier in rivulets
everywhere. Huge rivulets. You know, maybe that
last big noise was the glacier, they do make noises,
- Early. Up and at 'em. Guide mode. Get packed
first. Make the bow heavy to keep it downstream,
or am I being dyslexic again? Looks misty out
there. Birds are starting to call, faint light.
Put on clothes in prep for mosquito war. My favorite
thing, to pace and eat warm granola. Yesterday
it tasted good, today it's all I can do to force
it down. Very foggy. Radiation fog? A bird is
having conniptions in a hidden location. I want
to get back to catch the bus so I won't have to
again. This place is so amazing; fog clears; peaks
showing above. Far above. Beautiful wide gorge
with mountains thousands of feet high, tree covered,
lush with granite showing in patches. So busy
looking barely missed a log right in front. The
protrusion was facing upstream.
the river merges with the ocean. It is cloudy,
warm and shallow until I find the eddy line. Then
it is cold, blue.
There is Chaiten! So foggy, hope it doen't get
covered up, hope the wind doesn't get worse. Keep
finding myself in sandy shallows, lots of logs
out here too in the ocean. Water isn't salty yet
and it's still warm, muddy, cross eddy line and
now cold, salty, clear.
the beach -- drag boat up on slippery rocks, run
up the stairs thinking I must be a sight, all
wet, deranged, messy hair. Where is that bus station?
It's only 1:15. Should be able to get it.
- I have made it back from my trip in time for
the meeting. From Chris's camp next to the river
I walk to the schoolhouse. Inside a classroom
four men make up a panel behind the schoolteacher's
desk. They discuss la repressa, or dam, that has
been proposed. The group is silent, polite. Everyone
is worried. In front of a government lawyer sits
a cassette, a reminder that big brother is listening,
harkening back, for me, to the dictatorial regime
mayor is here...the head of a group of neighbors,
the schoolteacher... they each take turns making
speeches. The mayor probably is feeling trapped
between the government and the people. In the
door is one of the handsome campañ eros
in a shawl and pants made of raw wool, still fluffy.
Is his farm threatened? What is his life and where
will he go? Does he have a good piece of property
now he can't replace, a subsistence lifestyle?
You can see some people are poor and want the
work the dam would bring.
definitely the tallest and blondest in the room,
mentions in his broken Spanish that work would
only last so long. This is one of the most beautiful
places on the globe he says, and it should be
preserved for the future. He is suggesting that
the group needs a name and a mission statement,
that the name is important for los diarios and
for the future.
I meet a man who was in charge of building the
road into this area. He and his wife have traveled
from Santiago for this meeting and fill me in
on the indigenous huemul deer, which is a national
emblem. A law passed two years ago protecting
the huemul might be of benefit in saving the Fu,
- Beez and Shane and Chris are still sleeping
while I head to the beach with my coffee, diary,
and mattress in this early morning light. The
Thermarest insulates me from the round wet stones,
dark and solid, which sit behind a heavy water-soaked
log serving as a retaining wall for the Fu, keeping
it on track and away from this rare white sand
beach. The Fu laps over periodically, valiant,
defiant. Thousands of cubic-feet-per-second rush
by at a steep gradient. How long can the log do
it's duty against the powerful blue stream in
front of me?
mark a ranch on the other side, against a forest
of trees, and a split rail fence decorates the
rounded pasture lands. When the sun was beating
down on the black stones last week, the women
from the ranch laid out their laundry to dry over
there, adding spontaneous color to the landscape.
Who wants this magic and peace to be inundated
by machines, by men and their wish to build, harness
and change the face of nature? Why can't we live
in symbiosis, live more simply, take advantage
of the gentler ways of creating the power we need?
think of the deranged river beds in North America
-- so lonely and barren upstream, the water dispersed
to golf courses in deserts. I think of the Paquarre
River in Costa Rica; where, as we floated through
a narrow rock canyon we heard noises above and
looked to see men drilling. We were told the Paquarre
dam had been stopped, but do they try to fool
us? Throw us off the track while they set things
in place for the coup de gras?
time here in Chile is close to an end. Chris and
I take our kayaks down to the free-flowing blue
river, let it carry us on its strong back, feel
its white unharnessed energy once more.
- While in Puerto Ramirez we find that the plane
into Futaleufu has been cancelled, and start back
up the road towards camp. The bumps seem to have
grown and we travel them slowly. To break up the
ride, Chris stops to stretch on the bridge over
the Fu, where the river races along in the night
with the stars to compliment it. I spend as much
time as I can muster, awake by the river that
night, finally going to bed at 2 a.m. What did
it matter, not sleeping, when I was only going
to be traveling the next day.
- Waiting for the bus at the schoolhouse, leaving
now for Chaiten to catch the plane. I have a vision
of the old granddad, all tough but wrinkled with
luminous twinkling, standing against the wall.
the bus, leaving. We pass a row of wood shacks
once-hidden by the hospitaje which treated me
to the great pastries, and -- I can't believe
the hospitaje has burned to the ground! Only ashes
remain. Somehow this event makes me think of the
changes that the damming of the Fu will cause
to this river, this land and these people; like
an ending. I think again of the old grandad, against
the wall. He had said, after hearing about my
trip, "So, you are not afraid of dying?" ......
Hurley has travelled and paddled widely. She is
actively involved in the Washington Water Trails
Association and has developed a World- Wide-Web
site on the Internet featuring kayaking (and other
paddlesports) and environmental issues. Point
your WWW browser to: http://www.halcyon.com/ah.