Saturday, March 14, 2009

How we became Cliff Divers - Our White Water Rafting Experience

March 9, 2009
Today we went white water rafting on the Class III & IV rapids of the Trancura Alto River near Pucón. The day was beautiful with clear blue skies and 80 degrees; but when we got to the river, we were all given helmets and full body wet suits, including the shoes, because the water temperature was 50 degrees! After a brief lesson on paddling, we took off in a large raft with 3 other people and our guide. The scenery was fantastic – crystal clean water, Andes mountains on both sides, occasional views of the smoking Villarrica Volcano as we would round a bend, Monkey Puzzle trees and unusual waterfowl. Too bad we couldn’t bring our cameras. We practiced paddling forward, backward and turning circles in the put-in area that was smooth and wide. Then . . . hold on to your hat . . . here we go! The rapids came up fast with a Class IV waterfall filled with towering rocks. Our guide barked out the orders and everyone got really serious about doing what they were told. We weren’t ready to die, yet. As soon as we were through, we all yelled hurrah and clapped our paddles together in the air with a rafter’s high five. There was little time to relax before we were in it again. This time a 7-8 foot pillar of a rock was sitting in the center of the river. It was about 5 foot wide, smooth on the side facing us, and angled about 45 degrees away. Our guide called out, “Fast forward”. What??!! We were headed straight for the rock!! He kept yelling, “Harder. . . forward. . .don’t let up.” We did what we were told, getting more scared every minute and then. . . we hit the rock dead on and shot up the side. It was like a huge sliding board and we went up and came right back down. No problem! We were pumped now. After a few more rapids our guide told us that we had to get out of the raft, because the next waterfall was a 40 foot drop and we weren’t trained for that. Yes, we all agreed! He put the raft on a rope and let it go down the river to the other side of the falls where we could get back in. All we had to do was hike over the hill to the other side of the falls. Well, easier said than done. First of all, we were wearing full wetsuits and it was 80 degrees outside. The hike turned into a rock climb using our hands to grab a root or secure rock and trying to find a place to put our feet, which had very little traction because of their thin rubber soles. But we made it up and over and soon saw one of the guides as we came out of the forest. As we approached, he was grabbing each of our life vests and tightening the straps. We thought that was kind of strange, until he said he was securing the vests so they wouldn’t slip over our heads when we jumped in the water to our boats. What?! We saw the boats below us over the 20 foot cliff. “Ha Ha”, I said to Paul, “There’s no way they’re going to have people jump down there. Where is the path down?” Well, there was none. The guides were serious. The only way back to the boat was to jump from a ledge out into the rapids and then swim like heck to the raft before the water carried you downstream. I think the only reason I did it was that I was hotter than a firecracker after the climb and knew that the water would feel good. So standing at the edge of the 2 story cliff, I jumped in and did it!!! Wow!! I did it!! - Never again.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Not all busses are alike!

February 27, 2009
Last month when we wanted to travel in Chile from Viña del Mar to Chiloé (a distance of 780 miles), we decided to go by bus. We had ridden on the Megabus from St. Louis to Kansas City and thought it might be a lot like that. We went to the bus station to buy the tickets four days in advance and chose the Tur Bus Line. The first thing they asked was which class of ticket we wanted – first class with a bed, second class with a semi-bed, or third class with reclining seat. Of course, we chose first class when we found out that for a 14 hour ride overnight we would only pay $50.00 per seat. We chose our seats on a computer screen and were told to show up about 10 minutes before the bus left. Well, it was wonderful. We got on the lower level of a huge double-decker bus and were in a room with 9 large Lazy-Boy size chairs with foot rests that came up and backs that went back flat. There was a bathroom in a separate area between our cabin and the bus driver. A spiral staircase from that area went to the upstairs passengers. As we rolled out of the bus station at 8PM, we were given large pillows and nice thick blankets and immediately served snacks and drinks. The lights dimmed a few minutes later and the movie “The Scorpion King” began on a flat screen TV. Unfortunately for Paul, it was in Spanish with Spanish sub-titles. After the movie we fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the next morning when the lights came on and a breakfast was served. We were definitely sold on public transportation and wondering why the US doesn’t catch on.
Well, that was the first part of the story. In Puerto Montt, we had to transfer to a bus that would take us on a ferry to the Island of Chiloé. We didn’t have a ticket and weren’t sure about the schedules, but when we went into the bus terminal, it turned out the bus we needed was leaving in 15 minutes. We once again chose our seat on the computer screen and then spent the last 3 ½ hours on a regular Greyhound style bus ($13.00 per ticket). By the time we arrived in Castro, the capital of Chiloé, we had been in a bus for over 18 hours.
So, today, we traveled from Ancud (in the northern part of Chiloé Island) to Coñaripe, in the Volcano and Lakes District of Chile – a 9 hour bus trip. We bought our ticket yesterday ($5.25), but could only get a ticket to the mainland and were told we would need to get onto another bus in Puerto Montt. We got on before 8AM and were able to get out of the bus while we were on the ferry and watched cormorants and sea lions in the water. When we arrived in Puerto Montt, I went into the bus terminal and found out that there were no direct busses to Coñaripe, but a bus to neighboring Villarrica was leaving in 8 minutes. Well, we bought our tickets and hurried to it. Thank goodness we had brought along some bottled water, fruit, cookies and nuts. We had planned to eat in Puerto Montt, but wound up snacking our way for the next 8 hours. When we arrived in Villarrica, we found out the microbus to Coñaripe was leaving in 10 minutes and it was first-come, first-served on the seating for the one hour ride. Well, guess who got on last? Paul and I stood in the aisle, by now pretty tired and hot from the lack of outside air. Mothers with newborn babies stood in the aisle, families of three sat in two small seats. Paul spotted a place to sit at the top of the stairwell and later sat on the driver’s console once a mother and baby got off. With all the safety violations, the crazy thing was the sign posted in the front warned people to use the hand rail when leaving the bus!