‘Before I left, my mom asked me not to tell her about anything dangerous I was doing until after I’d done it”
The bus from Castro dropped us off 2 km outside of Puerto Varas even though, once again, we thought it would drop us off downtown. Thankfully, this time we figured out where to go pretty quickly and checked in to Hostel Melmac for two nights. Puerto Varas is a quaint European inspired town on the shores of Lago Llanquihue. We spent our first day walking around, visiting some of the basic sights like the German-inspired church and generally getting the lay of the land.
The reason for our stop in Puerto Varas though was to engage in some outdoor activities and we got just what we asked for from Pachamagua, a local tour operator that specializes in canyoning. When I first arrived in Puerto Varas, I had no real understanding of exactly what canyoning was. Even after visiting Pachamagua’s website and browing their photo gallery, I still wasn’t sure to expect. In the end, I was not to be dissapointed.
Describing canyoning is difficult but I liken it most to spending time in nature’s waterpark. Imagine a series of waterslides built into rock as opposed to being made out of plastic and that is canyoning at it’s most basic. The three of us (myself, Robyn and Tom) were joined for the tour by a lovely couple from Oregon and our guides Christian and Carla, who were really great and highly professional, but also kept things really fun which is ever so important. About an hour after we left Puerto Varas in a slightly rickety van that oozed dust from every corner, we arrived at the Rio Blanco. Here, we donned our full body wetsuits (in which everyone looked equally silly) and hiked about 20 minutes upriver, past a large series of waterfalls and deep pools, to the start of our canyoning experience.
We started off by jumping into one of the pools to get our bodies acquainted with the water temperature, which was around 5-10 degrees, chilly but manageable in the wetsuits. Then we dove into the day head first, literally by sliding down a small waterfall on our stomach head first (I should add here that we also wore helmets in addition to our wetsuits). I was hesitant at first to do this, but our guide went first to show us how it was done, and it seemed pretty reasonable, so off I went! The next hour consisted of a series of slips, slides, and jumps, head first, feet first, on stomach and back, forwards and backwards, every which way possible.
At one particularly high waterfall, probably about 20-30 feet, we were given three choices – slide over the falls, jump from where we were standing into the pool below (the little jump) or take the big jump (as Christian said ominously while pointing to the higher cliff on the other side of the falls). Gung-Ho Tom chose the big jump and I followed suit followed by Robyn a little more hesitantly. As I walked up to the edge of the cliff, I immediately began regretting the choice, but it was too late. Christian started giving me instructions on how to arrange my body so as not to break my nose on impact, and the next thing I knew, I was flying through the air, gravity dragging me down to the pool below, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The feeling of flying through the air was otherworldly. I was in the air so long, I could feel my ears pop. I had enough time to recognize in mid-air that I’d been falling for an abnormally long time. Then you feel the water part at your feet, the cool touch on your skin invites you in, swallows you whole and spits you back out as you grasp for air. And then you feel alive, the rush of adrenaline hits you like a freight train and you’re ready to jump from twice as high, twice as far, anything to feel like that again. And you get your wish…
First, you arrive at a pool with a smooth circular wall on a slight angle and Christian looks at you and says one word -‘Matrix’ – before running off along the wall, hitting a near parallel with the surface at full speed before diving into the pool below. It’s a funny feeling, running sideways, like someone put the world on the wrong axis. Then you go head first, backwards over a waterfall and you see the world rotate the wrong way as you freefall and you can feel your expression change in slow motion from curious wonderment to shock to awe, eyes growing wider, mouth opening to full gasp. And to top everything off, the journey ends by rappelling down the side of a 100 foot waterfall, the kind that would captivate me and my camera for hours on end, trying to get the perfect shot.
Only now I was getting the view I could never get otherwise, dangling in mid-air, suspended (very safely) by nothing but a rope and a few carabiners, controlling my speed down, at once going fast to find solid ground, at once going slow, staring into the belly of the beastly waterfall that I could reach out and touch but can’t as your hands on the rope are all that keep you in control. About 75 feet down, you’re on the ground again. Oh to feel the land beneath your feet, like a familiar friend. To get down the last 25 feet, you have another choice – jump, or climb higher to 40 feet and jump from there. Tired and worn down but ready to go, I jump and become one with the waterfall, tumbling right next to me, I can feel the mist of the water touching my face as I count the seconds and tumble to the pool below. When I submerge, I can feel the shear power of the waterfall pushing me away like the superpowered jet of a hot tub. Robyn, hesitant at first and sore from the first jump, soon follows suit and Tom goes higher. When in Chile…
As we clamber up the rocks out of the pool, we see Tom and Christian climb to a mossy perch on the other side of the waterfall, nearly halfway up it’s height. We see Cristian giving instructions not altogether different from the first big jump – hands in, head up, stay vertical as much as you can. We see Tom’s eyes peer down, go wide. Mildly afraid of heights, the fear dissappears, conquered as he jumps off the cliff, like another particle of water, swallowed into the pool. Cheers from the peanut gallery as we watch with captivated interest.
The day completed, we smile, take in the surroundings, and bask in our personal achievements before heading back to Puerto Varas knowing ourselves, and our limits, just a little bit better.
Click Here to See More Pictures – A Big Thanks to Robyn and her waterproof camera for the canyoning pictures!