A gentle haze lifts off of the flat, valley floor as the morning sun brings light and heat after a cold night. I can even see the steam swirling up and out my mate. The typical birdsongs of the campo en la manana break the stillness. It’s still too early for the wind. Dark shadows on the mountainsides to the east and fluorescent shades of green to the west, more sunlight pours into the kitchen as I stare off to the south at the balding north face of Volcan Lanin. Hot water in the kettle on the woodstove keeps the hierba warm and my belly warmer. Buenos dias Curarrehue!
March, like September in the northern hemisphere, means a time of transition for families and thus for tourism as well. As kids go back to school, it is generally said that “summer is over.” Seasonally, as far as the earth is concerned, the days are a little shorter and the nights a little cooler. There might be a chance of rain over the weekend. However, summer isn’t really over yet and the weather is typically amazing this time of year. So, the locals in a tourist town rejoice as there is less traffic and chaos, and the world around them literally quiets down.
As I sit here and sip on my mate, I can’t help but to smile and be grateful to live in an area here in Chile where the tourism is not necessarily defined by summer vacation or by weather. Sure, it is more likely that I will have a family rafting trip in the middle of summer than any other time of year, but Curarrehue is not the kind of place that triples in population for two months of the year. Those in search of this year-round calm and peace do seek it out as a destination. The daily tourism here flows with the rhythm of the people who pass through on their way to and from Argentina and Pucon. Most come here for the culture and for the organic, flavorful Mapuche cuisine. [For those who don’t know, Curarrehue is a place where the people celebrate their indigenous roots and generously share their traditions with outsiders in a very respectful and responsible manner.]
I do my best with <ESCAPE> to provide recreational opportunities for these visitors with the same respect, so that, in addition to sharing the culture with local families and trekking through the mountains, people can also experience the landscape from the perspective of a living, flowing river. In this sense, the river is a liquid trail, a natural trail with a natural force of motion, its ancient path formed by lava and floods, and the raft or SUP or kayak are like magic carpets, facilitating the ride through native forest and past towering peaks. Kingfisher and Ibis fly closely above, ducks float upon and trout and salmon swim below the crystalline waters fed by the glaciers of the volcanos.
As a result of its natural, untamed flow, this also means there is a natural cycle of water volume. As a river outfitter, the amount of water is just as important as the amount of people around to ride it. The mighty Rio Trankurra is born here in Curarrehue. It is a powerful place with powerful gradient for kayakers to ride in the winter and spring. This also means we are higher up in the watershed, and when the rain stops and the snowmelt is over, the river levels drop here quickly. If we don’t have a wet and snowy winter, we don’t have much water in the summer months. For this reason, I only offered the guided kayak trips with <ESCAPE> Camp Puesco in November and December of 2013, because I wanted to offer the highest quality experience with the best flows. Speaking for all of those who were involved, including the guests, it was awesome. We paddled an incredible diversity of rivers, shared with the local community and enjoyed the true disconnection and escape of Don Lorenzo Quintun’s cabin resort on the banks of the Rio Puesco. Without a doubt, <ESCAPE> Camp Puesco will continue for the 2014 season in November and December.
The big news – <ESCAPE> will now be offering a mobile guide service in order to follow the water. Rather than sit around and wait for rain here, we will keep the boats floating down different streams. In addition to Camp Puesco in November and December, destinations for the 2015 summer season (January and February, March??) will be the Rio Gol Gol and the Rio Fuy. What does this mean? We will be offering a Camp Puesco-style service, complete with local community integration, cabin lodging, food, transportation, boat rental and professional guides with a base in two more of Chile’s best paddling destinations. These are two of my favorite rivers, and they both offer a steady summertime flow and a unique experience for traveling kayakers. Neither currently have any services for kayakers, so the idea is to provide more access for boaters while supporting the local economies. Dates and details to come. I just took another two-day trip to the Fuy, and I am already daydreaming about crashing down its turquoise water!
My thermos is empty, the sun beats down from overhead and the morning haze has lifted. The stillness of the countryside penetrates these walls, and I feel the need to get outside. When the rains come I’ll take my kayak and ride its flow, but for now I want to run to the little creek across the dirt road and jump in its cold waters and swim beneath the falls. I can’t wait to share more of these liquid trails.