We’ve been traveling in South America for 17 days now and have seen some
awesome and beautiful, incredible and historical sites in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
But yesterday was by far our favorite day so far as we rafted the whitewater of the gorgeous Rio Petrohue outside of Puerto Vasa in central Chile.
If you follow my blog closely, you are aware of the overriding theme of adventure; particularly my desire in My Fabulous Fifties to never be afraid to try things. Yesterday was a demonstration of that.
From Puerto Mont we traveled by van about an hour to the lakeside town of Puerto Varas, a beautiful town settled in 1854 by German immigrants on the shores of the huge (338 square miles) Lake Llanquihue. Though the day was overcast it was warmish and comfortable.
I have river-rafted before, but it’s been about 15 years. I was younger and thinner and, well, younger. Yesterday in the van on the way to the river trip I said to my husband, “I don’t plan on getting wet”. He smiled at me. He knew. The river had its own plans.
Our guides were fantastic, funny and well informed (www.kokayak.cl). We dressed in skin tight and less than flattering wet-suites. As I pulled on my neoprene garment that presented me as a large black and red sausage I took note of the other guests in our group. My husband and I were definitely the oldest (important note for future reference), with another couple from England closely behind us in age. There was a single woman, from the U.S., probably in her mid-forties and a bit larger than I am, and then the rest of the group of 16 was made up by twenty and thirty-something’s from China, Germany, France, and various other countries.
After a brief safety instruction we settled into our two rafts along the beautiful river that flows out of a high lake in the Andes behind the active volcano of Mount Osorno (a perfect Mount Fuji looking cone) and the dormant Mount Tronador at more than 11,000 feet it resembled Mount Rainier and is a hikers paradise. The terrain of the area is covered in black volcanic ash and the river is lined with a variety of deciduous trees ranging from bamboo to beech as well as gigantic gunera. Stunning.
We maneuvered the raft out into the river and within the first three minutes we were completely soaked from the first set of rapids. Exciting and exhilarating and as I said, the river had other ideas about my staying dry. It wasn’t cold, thanks to the sausage suit, and we were all laughing and trying to catch our breath after the first rapid.
I was stationed in the back of the boat and on the second set of rapids I popped off my seat and went flying into the woman in front of me, but managed to stay in the boat. As we maneuvered through the river it became easier to read the rapids and be more prepared for what was coming. At a couple of really mean looking areas of whitewater our guide had us all get down on the floor of the boat and hang on – and luckily for that, as we were completely engulfed in the washing machine of the river. We came up sputtering and laughing and disoriented; but still in the raft.
We slowed and pulled the rafts into a calm area and we all got out and hiked up to a rocky outcropping, where the guides announced we were going to all jump off the cliff and into the river one by one so they could take our photo. Guests younger and fitter than I declined. Not me. Fabulously Fifty-Five went flying off the cliff in her red and black sausage suite, hitting the water with a big splash and a big smile. Fabulous.
Back in the boat, switching positions, we flowed down the river. We continued to be beat-up by the rapids, but always coming out soaked and happy. In the calmer spots our guide gave us some history and talked about the geography, flora and fauna. He talked about Chile, the food, the wine and much more. It was wonderful.
Approaching the final set of smaller rapids he announced that anyone who wanted to jump over board and ride the rapids feet first down in the water was welcome to do it here. Everyone looked around at each other – who would volunteer? Guess who?
Myself and my husband and two of the twenty-somethings jumped in and were swept up in the whirlpool. Perhaps because I have a high body fat content (nice way of saying it) I was quickly carried off ahead of the others. I was pounded in the face over and over by the rapids and had a moment of panic, as I was unable to get a breath between poundings.
It was over quickly and I hadn’t even had a chance to see what any of the other guests had done as I was swept down stream. Next thing I knew I was the only one left in the water and the raft was heading to pick me up. My darling husband somehow hoisted me up and into the raft where I lay panting and gasping. I announced to everyone in the boat “I sure hope someone got a picture because that was never going to happen again.” Everyone laughed at my expense and it was fabulous.
These are the experiences that make life memorable. Those who didn’t get out of the boat to ride the rapids will have the memory of watching me do it. But I will have the experience of it. Worth a thousand times more.
Put me in the middle of the action until they cart me away. Let me set an example. Let me never be afraid to look silly, have fun, and come up sputtering on the other side. There is no other way to live in My Fabulous Fifties.
Go. Be. Fabulous.