river a real `rush'
Stretch of rapids
rates high for `shock value'
Paddlers pampered at nearby safari camp
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
|FUTALEUFU, CHILE—It's evening at our riverside
ranch at Antucamay, and I am revelling in what may have been the most thrilling
eight hours of my life.
They were spent on a 5 1/2-metre inflatable raft, barrelling down Patagonia's
Rio Futaleufu ("Big River").
The "Fu," as it's called here, is the wild mother of all Chile's white-water
rivers. It begins in a dry region of Argentina, travels through virgin forest,
and passes into Chile on its journey to the Pacific Ocean. On the way are some
60 kilometres of furious white water.
That's what I, and several other adventurers, came here to experience at a ranch
Our group is like a cazuela (Chilean stew), an assortment of people from various
countries and varied ages and levels of paddling experience.
Last night, we were
polite strangers; this morning, on the river, we bonded.
Our adventure began just after breakfast.
We put on our wetsuits and made the half-hour trek to the `put-in' place, where
we set out our yellow rafts, along with a safety catamaran and three kayaks for
safety guides, and received our instructions from Harvey King, our lead guide.
"Remember, this isn't Disney World, this white water is for real," shouted
King, as we approached Entrada, the rapids that start the run off with a bang.
Rapids are ranked from Class I (calm) to Class VI (virtually unrunnable). Entrada
is Class IV.
My knuckles were white, but the veteran rafters were pumped. Then came the command:
"All forward!" We plowed in and waves blasted over the bow. My heart
pounded, my stomach lurched. And then, all too soon, the water calmed.
A quick look revealed that everyone was still aboard and we smacked our paddles
on the water and cheered.
I was hooked.
No wonder adrenaline junkies come from all over the world to run these rolling,
After Entrada came a series of rapids, each unique. There's "Toboggan,"
like a roller-coaster with its big haystack waves; then "Toro/Mundaca,"
a series of small rapids, then "Condor," whose waves can build up and
hammer the raft.
Finally, "Pillow," the place where you're most likely to flip as a huge
rock blocks the main current.
Happily, we made it through.
After a picnic lunch, we went back and ran the stretch again, this time, taking
a more challenging path with bigger drops and more powerful water. No run was
the same twice.
Antucamay is a dream in the making for owner Brian Ruszczyk, a Connecticut native
and investment banker.
He and his wife Blanco bought the 175-acre abandoned farm as a vacation escape.
"It was big investment for a property we would only use for a few weeks a
year," Ruszczyk said.
So, he partnered with a couple of American guides and created H2o Patagonia, an
adventure travel company that doesn't ignore luxury.
"I love adventure," says Ruszczyk, "but I want a shower at the
end of the day. What I don't want is a leaky tent in the dirt by the side of the
river, an uncomfortable sleeping pad or dehydrated food."
The sleeping cabins nestled alongside the river are like traditional African safari
lodges; simple, rustic and comfortable.
The Quincho, a six-sided log building with a central fireplace serves as the lodge
and dining room.
Walled with glass, it offers a dramatic panorama of the river and surrounding
Back at the ranch, two resident massage therapists are ready to ease your aches
and pains and the wood-fired hot tub is an inviting place to relax and relive
the day's adventures.
And you can dine on the gourmet offerings of chef Rocio Ariste, who returned to
Chile after cooking all over the world, perfectly complemented by the wines of
sommelier Alex Ordenes.
The adventure isn't restricted to rafting — there's also kayaking, hiking,
horseback riding and, for those who haven't expended all their adrenaline, canyoning
down a mountain face.
Anna Hobbs is a Creemore, Ont.-based freelance