Onions & Watermelon

Walking the outskirts of Futaleufu, Chile 2017

Futaleufu, home to the aquamarine, roaring river of its namesake, and the 3lb salmon plate. Due to its proximity to salmon farming, not necessarily the presence of wild salmon in the river, you can get a half-arms length salmon in Futaleufu for $10. The first time I was served with a piece of salmon that was the same length of my shin, I was dismayed and repulsed. 24 hours, a river run and an actual run later, I was craving that absurd piece of fish.

A typical tourist river run, the kind of allowance that makes you both thrilled for lack of precautions and dismayed. The safety precautions were fierce. Dutifully so, as in our raft sat two teenage Germans with rosy cheeks, blonde hair, mushy arms and one gayful Frenchman, also with mushy arms. Then us. A crew perfectly conditioned for class IV and V rapids of the Futaleufu river. Two kayakers, and two men on wooden planked banana boats with a tangle of safety mechanisms that were all but Jurassic and reminiscent of Will Smith’s Wild Wild West were to be our safety crew for the river run. If we were to make it to the end of the run without the Europeans plunging into the icy waters, it was going to be an amazing feat among a pathetic bunch.

Silver-domed Pierre was around 70 years old and full of beautiful life, which made his subtle, distracted paddling endearing at first. Excited by every moment of the ride, Pierre couldn’t keep his hands on the wooden oars for he had to exclaim his joy with a dual-armed rollercoaster excited hoorah after every rapid. Apparent in every gesture of enthusiasm and cheerful with glee after every fall, it was though he had been instructed to pet the river with his oar when he did manage to get his hands on it.

We continued to bulldoze the rapids in the pouring rain. The temperature was dropping and everyone’s hands were noticeably translucent. The Germans, practically mute, and unclear if they actually understood English, acted alive when yelled at, then resumed their subordinate and slumping position. Finally, the output in sight! We had endured and nearly dislocated our shoulders, but we had made it. 

Futaleufu River, Chile, 2017

The oarsman instructed us to stay put, we would not be boarding the bus to head back to Futaleufu just yet. We sat for 20,30,45 minutes in the rafting boat on the river bank eating wet sugar wafers and peanuts. Everything in the boat was filthy, soaked with mud and rain, mildewing lifejackets. The Germans kept their slumping position. What the hell was the problem? 

It was though a cartoon of a road closure had been brought to life. A canvased, capsized produce truck of onions and watermelon was perpendicular to the dirt road at the apex of the hill. On the other side of the truck, opposite the river, was our ride back to Futaleufu. It was suspended in limbo until the road was clear of its rolling farm goods.

We stood, water dripping down our backs while Chileans scrambled to collect muddied, partially cracked melons and rinse them in the roaring Futaleufu. A dozen resourceful men, with their uniform of jeans and checkered button downs, were tying up the truck and trying to rig it with a tractor. The mud deepened and dislodged footing and reduced any friction the men were having. Pierre watched with a content smile on his face, he was even gleeful while waiting in the rain and watching the blockage mayhem ensue.

Among the scurrying and heaving Chileans, a Brit dressed as a pirate in full garb joined the scene. Bearded hat and all (well, everything but the eyepatch).

Enough of this nonsense! The town of Futalefu was 18 miles away. It was time to get running. 

Meandering around Futaleufu, Chile 2017

The rolling hills were a dream, a magic carpet rolled out among the dense forest. The sky was still open, but the rain freshened and lifted the humidity with a pure crisp air that revives the body. Within 3 miles, we flagged over a truck coming head on. In it sat a family of decked-out, avid motocrossers. The two school aged kids and their enthusiastic round cheeked father welcomed us with glee as he turned to head back to town. When one accepts a favor from the good will of a stranger, it’s almost a given that it is your duty to act eager and interested in anything that stranger of good fortune has to say. It is an understatement to say the family was interested in two filthy, wet and spandex-clad Americans. Like Pierre, the dad was so overjoyed that he repeatedly slowed to nearly a standstill and then nearly off the road to show photos of him and his kids. Us riding our bikes two months ago! Us visiting grandma! Here is a picture of our feet.

His excitement was tangible. So was mine for that 3lb salmon.