It’s been an intense weekend. On Saturday, we went white water rafting. My raft flipped in the middle of a rapid, which was easily the scariest experience of my life. Luckily, everyone made it out safely. Other than that, the weekend was smooth sailing.
Since it was Semana Santa, or Easter weekend, we all had Friday off, so me and the Los Rios and Araucanía region teachers headed to Chile’s outdoor adventure capital: Pucón. It’s a popular vacation town for Chileans and tourists, right on Lake Villarica, with the smoking Villarica volcano looming in the distance. It reminded me of Lake Tahoe: touristy and rustic. The entire town smelled like fresh air, woodburning stoves, and the mountains. I loved it.
It was pouring rain when I arrived in Pucón, and I waited for the rest of the team to arrive: Fred, Andrea, Dominique, Ellie, James, Sophie and Gabriel.
The first night in, we headed to the town’s famous hot springs. The Los Rios region is known for them, and Pucón has dozens, heated by the volcano. We went to the Termas Los Pozones, which are open 24 hours, and a 40-minute bus ride from Pucón.
They’re in this small canyon in the mountains, hidden away from the world. During the night, it started pouring rain, which was the most awesome feeling. Sitting in hot water and feeling cold rain on your face and shoulders.
We went from one extreme to another. The next day was white water rafting. We had met some Belgians from our hostel who were staying with their Dutch friend, David, who works for one of the town’s white water rafting companies. We decided to give it a shot.
It was pouring rain when we woke up on Saturday, but we decided the show must go on. We piled into the van and drove 45 minutes out to the Trancura River. Once at the shore, it was time for safety talk. We went over rowing, the different commands, and how to sit in the raft.
“Now, what happens if you fall out?” David asked us.
We all listened closely.
“Rellaaaaaax,” he smiles. “You’re in South America. Just relaaaax, ya know?”
We all just stared at him.
He finally tells us that the most important thing to do is immediately lie on your back, with your toes out of the water. You don’t want your feet to get wedged between rocks, which can be deadly if you end up trapped underwater.
Once out in the river, we practiced the commands. “Jump left/right” is what you do when you need to balance out the raft if one side is starting to tip. “Get down!” is what you do before going over a waterfall, basically kneeling inside the boat. It was finally time to go. We were about to go through class IV rapids. Before we reached the first one, David paddled by in his kayak, splashing us with his oar in order to get us ready for the cold waves ahead.
Our first manuever was a 9-foot waterfall, which was pretty exhilarating! Things were going great until our raft got to the first rapid. “Paddle right!” the guide shouted, and then, “Get down!” as we slammed into the white water. We were tossed around the waves, flying up into the air and slamming back down on the river. I suddenly realized how light our raft was with only four people.
All I remember next was the guide screaming, “Jump left!”, right before our boat flipped. The next thing I know I’m in the river, inhaling water as we were all pulled under. James ended up under the boat for a few seconds, but me and Sam were tossed away from it. My first thought was, “You’re wearing a life jacket, it will be fine.” I managed to get my head above the waves for a second, but the water was everywhere. I just inhaled more and started choking. Sam was suddenly next to me in the water, pulling me up by my life jacket and holding onto our overturned raft. He yelled for me to kick my feet up like you’re supposed to. I’m so glad he was there at that moment, because it snapped me out of the panic.
We rode out the rest of the rapid this way. I finally saw David’s bright yellow kayak next to us in the water, and we grabbed onto the rudder. We made it to calm water!
The other raft pulled up alongside us. We gave them the thumbs up, and I reluctantly got back in the boat.
We went over a few more waterfalls, and I began to feel a bit better when we made it through each time.
We finally pulled our boats over to the banks again. “See that,” David pointed out to a huge drop in the distance. “That’s a class 6 rapid. We’re going to skip this one.”
Class 6 is the highest ranking, basically considered unraftable. The plan now was to climb up the side of the mountain, and start again at the bottom of the river. . (The guides lowered the rafts over the little cliff with their ropes.)
Just when I started thinking the day couldn’t get any more crazy, David runs and jumps off a cliff into the water below. “Your turn!” he yelled back up to us. This was where I drew the line. I’d already had my experience swimming today, so I took the safe route and climbed down the side of the mountain with Sophie and Gabriel.
Once back on the shore, I switched rafts. I wanted to be in a boat with more weight, and I immediately felt more comfortable. We went through one more massive rapid, and cheered the others on as they made it through.
After an hour of rafting, we made it back to shore. David’s friend was waiting for us with coffee and pisco sours on the banks of the river. Everyone from my capsized raft took a shot of pisco immediately. Much needed.
During the night, we sang karaoke in every place we could find, and this song was everywhere. It’s the #1 song in Chile right now. The video is ridiculous. (South America’s Justin Beiber?)