Les Trois Escargots

A growing family of snails.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Pucon and the big, red ducks

Pucon is the Chilean capital of adventure sports (so it claims) and, after running the gauntlet of the myriad of tour agencies, we settled on the small office of Kayak Pucon, run by a freidnly blonde-haired Italian and her Chilean boyfriend, Rodrigo. The photos of him kayaking off waterfalls were presumably meant to reassure us that he knew his stuff, but served only to warn us that he was a little crazy.

Albane was keen to get wet (the last 10 days of rain apparently didn´t count) and, undeterred by the name, we signed up to the ducky trip. Duckies are bright red inflatable kayaks which can be paddled, after 10 minutes of instruction, by novices. Armed with just a paddle, wetsuit, helmet and buoyancy aid, the authorities that regulate outdoor sports in Chile (if any exist) allow tourists to descend the whitewater rivers that spill from the mountains around Pucon.

The January rush of tourists had not started (it still being December) and there were only the two of us plus Rodrigo on the tour. We drove 20 minutes out of town and unloaded in a meadow beside a clear river flowing gently, but purposefully. We donned our kit and launched in the big red inflatables. Rodrigo gave us 10 minutes of instruction about how to turn and what to do if we found ourselves in the water, rather than the boat. It would be useful for both of us.............

We drifted downstream past small fields, wooden houses on stilts and the odd fisherman casting for trout. The first rapid, a rushing roller coaster where the river was squeezed in a narrow gorge, appeared quickly and, halfway down, one of the waves caught Albane by surprise and she was pitched into the cold water. The temperature and the sucking power of the current shocked her, but she found her boat quickly and managed to pull herself back into the cockpit. A big smile suggested that she was enjoying herself.

We ran rapids followed by calm pools where we could regain our compsure with Rodrigo casually drifting beside us taking the obligatory "I did the duckies" photos. It was fun, really good fun, with the manouevrable boats, cool water and stunning views. The river curved between banks of volcanic ash, the layers marking past eruptions, and green woodland. The water was so clear that we could see the pebbly river bed 2 metres beneath us as if it were in touching distance.

We paddled for an hour or so before we reached the get out point. I couldn´t resist asking Rodrigo if I could try to roll his kayak. It had been 6 years or more since I had been in a kayak and I wanted to know if I could still do it. His eyes sparkled and he smiled as he passed me the spraydeck. I squeezed into the small boat and, without thinking about it, rolled. It was simple, like a deep wired reaction to the kayak tipping over. I rolled a few more times and Rodrigo laughed that my roll was better than his. I was not foooled by his nonchalance.

The trip had been great fun and Albane, who usually feels the cold more than anyone, surprised me by wishing that the descent had been a little longer. But then, like all such things, it is always better if you are left wanting more.


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