By Laurence Alvarez-Roos
If your are looking for a paddling Mecca that will exceed your expectations by a long shot, then you should pack your bags, paddle and put the Futaleufú into your GPS guided map in your smart phone as your destination.
From the lakes in Argentina and the Rio Tigre that form the headwaters of the Fu to the Lago Yelcho in Chile
This is where the The Futaleufú River comes to a rest before she lazily meanders to the Pacific Ocean near Chaiten – there are few places on the planet that offer such an amazing variety of paddling options. Whether you want to hard shell kayak, paddle a raft, inflatable kayak, sea kayak, SUP or paddle a canoe, you will find world-class waters for each stroke right in the heart of northern Patagonia.
To compliment the scenery and paddling options are a stunning variety of places to stay and people to show you the way if you choose to include some professional guidance. From camping on a farmers land; in the unclaimed forest; staying in a campground (which doubles as a working farm); at an outfitter’s camp; a bed and breakfast lodge in town or a brand new five star posh lodge that is destined to open for the summer season 2013/14… you will find across the board welcoming smiles and eager hosts.
What makes the Fu unique is that you can paddle on gin clear lakes, full of trout, flanked by numerous snowy peaks, which are replenished with countless white ribbon waterfalls and you will find three major streams to paddle and when the conditions are just right plus numerous steep creeks all within a 45-minute drive of wherever you are staying. The Rio Espolon (class 1-3), the Rio Azul (class 1-4) and the Futaleufú (1-5) are all part of the greater Fu river system.
It is the ease of access and short drives combined with the awesome river time that will spoil you to no end. If you are like so many paddlers that I have met recently, you are seriously calculating the driving time versus river time anytime you plan an outing. Often, you will say, hmm, I think I rather ride my mountain bike or I think I will take up kite boarding because I am tired of the shuttles and long drives. Well, the Fu will bring you back – back to loving life as a river person!
So, what are your choices? If you want to paddleboard, you should bring your own (preferably an inflatable for ease of transport) as no one is renting them (yet!).
If you want to kayak and do everything on your own, stay at Cara Del Indio camping in the lower corridor of the Fu (30 km from town). If you want to raft on the cheap, there are day trip options with numerous outfitters in the town. They all compete for the accidental tourists that are passing through town such as hitch hikers, those travelling on the rather spotty bus system or road tripping Patagonia by car, motorbike or bicycle. These folks stumble upon the option to raft and usually decide on the spot to give it a go.
Looking for more service and guidance?
There are various ‘outfitters’ that operate from river side base camps that host guests from short custom stays to eight-day long pre-set departures with a scheduled trip itinerary.
These are: Expediciones Chile (with an office in town), H2OPatagonia, Earth River Expeditions, Futaleufú Explore and Bio Bio Expeditions.
All of these outfitters have by now a ‘well established’ presence in the Fu Valley and there are differences (some subtle) that will allow you to make the right choice for you based on your paddling needs and the boundaries of your comfort zone. If you have a mix of kayaking and rafting needs, you can go with Expediciones Chile or Bio Bio Expeditions, as they cater for both.
The Fu Valley is green and lush flanked by deep pockets of old growth forests that offer an incredible variety of plants, trees and shrubs. The Valdivian Cold Rainforest is making a strong comeback after having been burned back by early human settlers 70-80 years ago.
You will find that you can drink from many of the burbling brooks as they feed the Fu and that the lack of noxious plants or poisonous animals allows you to hit the backcountry with unrestricted enthusiasm. There are no sand flies, or hordes of nasty insects to spoil your camping-out pleasure. It is paradise! The main thing you need to be prepared for is the strong weather! When it rains, it pours!
Between the amazing white water on the big volume Fu you can choose sections between class 5 down to 2, or do a fishing float on class 1, you will find yourself doing various paddles over and over again just for fun. If you feel like exploring a smaller stream, then paddle the Azul. If you feel like teaching your children or a novice paddler, you take them to the Rio Espolon. If you are a budding class 3 kayaker and want to improve your skills and can’t wait for the next paddle season back home, then you paddle every day and with proper instruction and walk away ready to paddle class 4 confidently.
If you spend a few weeks, the sky can be the limit! If you are just starting, intermediate, need to polish your class V skills, or have retired from ‘hard’ class V and want to have more play boat style fun on class IV – then the Fu River system is your playground.
A typical day on the Fu as hosted by the guides at Bio Bio Expeditions. Wake up to the sound of birds chirping as your tent captain brings you tea or coffee and invites you to consider joining the 8:30 am yoga class.
After an empowering yoga session you will enjoy a hearty breakfast and or fresh fruit, home made bio yogurt and mountain muesli. The espresso machine will caffeinate you or you may try the Yerba maté drunk from a traditional gourde with one of your guides.
Launch yourself out into the river and paddle till facial muscles are sore from smiling so much. Returning to camp you can either soak in the riverside hot tub sipping a glass of wine, take a sauna, get a professional massage or play the bar tender in the sunset bar delighting your fellow guests with pisco sours, local juices, beer on tap or Chilean wines.
If you prefer to stay more active, you can choose to go for mountain biking, go fly-fishing from a drift boat, go for a hike or take a kayak clinic. Return to camp for delightful pre-dinner hors d’ oeuvres, served while overlooking the peaceful and calm river. The dinner bell rings and you gather under the roof of the dinning Galpon for a fireside dinner feast that will leave you wondering if life can get any better… and what the chef may cook tomorrow night that could possible top this?
We sat under the big open sky by the fire ring and stargazed the Orion Nebula and the Southern Cross within a dazzling Milky Way that is unsurpassed in its brilliance! The friendly atmosphere created by the international crew of guides and local staff will make you feel at home and just plain happy to be with such experts who love what they do!
The occasional salsa dancing party will also happen and you will learn new moves and limber up for the following paddling day! Tired, happy and relieved to fall into your comfy bed and pull the fluffy down comforter up, you fall asleep dreaming of your magical days in the Fu valley – living the dream!