Personal Journeys


July 10, 2005

South American adventure, with detours

A Memorable Place

By Thomas Bauer


As I made the arrangements at my computer for a two-week adventure through Chile, the plan seemed simple enough. But after we were on the road, soon after leaving the capital of Santiago, my wife, Jean, and I realized that language and distance were going to make things interesting.

But interesting is good!

We arrived early at the ferry terminal in the harbor town of Puerto Montt. From there we were to take the overnight ferry with our rental car, drive into the Futaleufu Valley, spend two days rafting and hiking on the river, and then drive back to Puerto Montt through Argentina for our flight south to Patagonia.

Inside the ferry office, the only thing I knew for sure was that the boat wasn't sailing that day, maybe not until the following week -- something to do with high winds, according to the bearded, backpacking Alaskan who had been stranded there for a week and whose Spanish skills far outclassed mine.

Time for Plan B.

We headed into the mountains for the Argentine border and a 14-hour drive. Once there and based in a log cabana, we explored the valley, the colorful little town nearby and the Futaleufu River. We would later learn that three days of hard rain had made the river too dangerous to run.

On our return trip, as we made the bumpy drive along the rutted gravel road toward the border back into Chile, I joked to my wife that we had 24 hours to make our flight -- plenty of time.

But at the border, the only thing I could figure out from the irritated customs agents was that we didn't have some crucial document, and we most certainly were not crossing the border without it.

If not for some friendly Israeli students, who spoke the language better than I, we might still be standing there trying to understand what was required of us.

I could have done without the drive back to Futaleufu to make arrangements for a new rental car document to be faxed to customs. Sitting next to the customs building for three hours waiting was not a highlight. And not reaching the final border crossing back into Chile before it closed for the night and missing the plane was slightly inconvenient.

But years from now, sitting by the fireplace, what do you think we'll remember about this trip? We have the photographs of the majestic mountains and glaciers we hiked to that will jog our memories, but this little detour will remain one of those family tales you tell forever.

Thomas Bauer lives in Glen Arm.

Camera ready

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