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Trip Diary


5th January

The trip begins with a cold, wet drive up the 200 miles from Devon to my house in Berkshire. From there Heathrow is just a short taxi ride away. Once there, I began to pack. It was a nightmare. I had a weight allowance of 64 kg for the flight to New York, but just 20kg for the domestic flight across Argentina. Once I got the weighing scales out, I realised that my canoeing kit and bag weighed over half the allowance. I had to cut back to essentials: out went shower gel, shorts, t-shirts, and socks. More concerningly also out goes my safety rope and saw. I realise that on the internal flight I can put on my helmet and stuff my pockets with clothes. I will be a bit of a Michelin man, but should I ought to be able to avoid excess baggage charges. Finally the video camera gets left behind - no room left in my hand luggage.

6th January

The Taxi driver for the trip to Heathrow Airport was unfriendly and almost refused to take my paddles: they were too long to fit in the boot. He said he was uninsured for luggage carried in the passenger area in the case of an accident.

I bought very little at Heathrow since I had no weight allowance left and there was a free bar where I was going! While at there I dropped my travel folder - and had to pick up my papers and spare credit cards. Later when I was on the flight, I realised that I had lost a credit card and had a nervous flight until I could cancel it.

Initially, I was delighted not to be sitting on the plane between fat people, however, I celebrated too soon – the person to my left had a bad cold.

Arrived JFK airport, and there were huge queues. There is a new requirement to fingerprint and photograph every passenger and it takes forever. I finally got my bag and as usual my paddles were hidden and took some searching to find them.

The Taxi to the city was very hi tech - it has an Internet linked display screen with rolling news, which seemed to work even in the tunnels. A Tom-Tom style map available, showing your position. It could download the weather and you could even the pay by waving your hi-tech paypass credit card at the screen (or swiping one of our boring UK credit cards)

My hotel was at Grand Central Station, a fantastic location, but the rooms were small and dull - I had a grey room with a rubbish view.

My first stop in New York was the Empire state building. Inside you need to dodge the salesmen: past the map salesmen, the guided tour salesmen, the audio tour salesmen, the virtual reality tour salesmen, the official photograph salesmen,... When you actually get to the top, there are fantastic views available. There was a fair degree of haze but I took loads of photos. I guess you can see for about 20 miles despite the haze. I saw the statue of Liberty and the Chrysler building. I did not recognise much else - I hadn't bought the map! It is cold at the top. There was not much wind, but it is only just above freezing. I looked around for a place to buy coffee and lunch, but there is just a gift shop with tacky gifts. There is a restaurant, but no surprises you need to pay more!

View from the top of the Empire state building

Having descended to ground level again, I decided to walk to Times Square. On the way I went into Macy's, apparently the biggest shop in the world. Inside it feels Victorian and needs a little refurbishment. The ground floor is very impressive with marble floors, which reminds me of Harrods.

As I walked it grew dark. I stopped to watch people ice skating in Bryant Park. It was extremely pretty in the darkness, especially the Christmas trees. Apparently anyone can skate for free of you have boots or hire boots if you don’t. It was crowded and everyone looked like they were having a great time.

I walked 15+ blocks and after getting lost, I finally reached Times Square. It has amazing moving adverts like huge TV screens. I don't know how the drivers avoid getting distracted. With adverts beaming at you from every wall, you feel bombarded. This feels more like a sci-fi film than real life.

I stopped at an Irish bar for a pint of beer. It was small, cosy really, and an old dark wood bar and friendly bar staff. American football played on the TV screens and there was English soccer too.

I then took a look at Grand Central Station, which is totally over the top for a station. It is absolutely stunningly beautiful – better than the ones in London, which are also pretty good.  Went back to hotel for a shower and then out to eat - another Irish bar showing English football from 2005. I had dinner sitting at the bar where I chatted to a jewellery salesperson from Arizona. Alison didn't wear any jewellery herself - she did not like it! However she did have a cool watch made from a meteorite that landed in South Africa in the 1800s. I laughed as she strained her eyes trying to read the dial in the dark.

After dinner, I went to a Comedy club for $5 - the first 4 acts were as bad as the ticket price would suggest - mostly in-jokes about the different racial and cultural groups in New York. The final act a Jewish fag (his words) was a different class. He told a good story about being on British TV before the 9pm watershed and being asked by the producer to make fun of Jennifer Lopez's bum, which was in the news. However he dropped a clanger and instead of laughing about her huge arse, he joked about her huge fanny (which is American for arse). The producer went apoplectic apparently and he did get asked to go back. The joke was his finale and he got a good round of applause.

Another beer back in the first Irish bar, this time chatting to some theatre luvvies unwinding after the Lion King. In bed by 1am, which is 8am UK time - not bad!

7th January

Hillary looks about to lose the New Hampshire Democrat Primary and probably Presidency according to the news. Meanwhile the man who spent 5 years in a small box in prison in Vietnam looks set to win for the Republicans.

Quick shower and 60 sit-ups to wake up.

Walked to the Rockefeller centre via 5th avenue. The 5th avenue shops were good but not stunning, perhaps I was not in the best part. At the Rockefeller Centre I saw more ice-skating. This time, it is full of giggling Middle Eastern looking girls in headscarves.  I bought an electronic massager. I had one before and it was a brilliant way to unwind knotted muscles. Unfortunately it is broken.

Breakfast of bacon and eggs - the simple choice amid 100 different variations of waffles, breads, meats, coffees and juices. 

I took a Taxi to Ground Zero. It is just a hole in the ground now, slowly being filled as the rebuilding commences. Nothing to see really. Most New Yorkers are embarrassed how long it has taken so far. The museum is not what I expected - it is small, just 5 rooms, but incredibly moving. It is impossible not to have a tear in you eye as you listen to and read the stories of the victims. Very few remains were identified - a few handbags, briefcases, cap badges and uniforms. The largest piece of glass retrieved is less than a hands width. In a very American way, that final room is a silent room where people can write their thoughts down. Some get posted on the wall.

After all that emotion I needed a good walk, so I walked through Battery Park gardens and onto the ferry terminal where I caught the ferry to Staten island. I still don't know what is on the island because I never left the ferry port at the other end, however the ferry is free and gives fantastic views of New York by sea. You pass the Statue of Liberty, which is smaller than I thought and further from Manhattan. Nearby is Ellis Island where the immigrants were processed before entry into the US. 

After returning to Manhattan. It was time for more coffee then a walk down Wall St. I passed the offices of Fitch Inc who are arguably guilty of causing the crisis that has made me unemployed.  Along with the other Ratings agencies they seem to be the fall guys for this crisis through inadequate ratings of the risks inherent in the securities. I walked past the New York Stock Exchange, which looks more impressive than London's. A few more blocks and I see the Reserve Bank of New York behind whose doors is more than 1/4 of the world's gold and more than Fort Knox!

Having taken too many photos, I only have space for 30 on my memory card. I could delete some, but it is easier to do it on my PC at home. £10 buys me a 2gb card with enough space for 2000 photos or 50 minutes of video - now that should be enough for the rest of the trip if not the entire year

I take a Taxi back to my hotel, then realise that there is something else I want to see: the Flat-Iron building - the iconic knife edged triangular building that you see in all of the poster shops back home. It is more than 10 blocks, but I am getting good at walking and navigating in New York now. Unfortunately when I get there, I can't repeat the classic black and white photograph - it is under repair and the buildings around it seem smaller. At its base are a forest of traffic lights and buses queue side by side with the taxis to leap forward when the lights go green. It is also too late in the day - the sun casting sharp shadows on the tower blocks.


The Flat Iron Building

As a ponder how to take the picture (I end up taking at least 20), I realise that the adjacent park is Madison Square. I vaguely remember there was a famous concert here, but I can't remember who. As I walk in it reminds me of a romantic film - perhaps with Meryl Streep. In the park there is an enclosed area for dogs where dogs play with abandon. There are also squirrels in this tiny scrap of countryside surrounded by concrete 

A second quick shop and I have bought a pair of £150 sunglasses for £50, and a tennis ball for 50 cents.

Lunch was fast food at a coffee shop and store - the food was in heated trays and the choice was huge and all of it enticing. In the end, my eyes were bigger than my belly and having taken a little of most things, I did not finish. There were no jobs in the New York Times, which I read over lunch. Sometime I must try the Wall Street Journal - you never know! Next I went to the bank to get some cash. My card was refused twice. Assuming my card had been picked up by the fraud detection systems due to too many US purchases too quickly I called my bank First Direct. They left me hanging on the line for 20 mins only to discover that the ATM operator was at fault, because the transaction never reached the UK. I eventually got some cash from the lobby of my hotel together with a $5 fee.

I took a limo to the airport - a few dollars more expensive than a taxi, but I didn't need to sit on the paddles this time. The driver was talkative - he was from the Dominican Republic. His wife was studying to be a child psychologist so he is doing 14-hour days. He was fuming at the other car drivers driving gas-guzzlers and seemed to ignore his own huge limo.

It took 1 hour of waiting to check in, guy behind was an arsehole and rammed my luggage with his trolley frequently. However I got good news when finally checked in - despite having bought a heavy massager and put everything into hold baggage, the main bag is just 22 kilos. It seems to be getting lighter as I travel. I wonder what I have forgotten!

As I sit at the airport waiting for my next flight, I reflection on what I have seen in New York:

Some of the cool things I saw - the tall 1920 buildings, the steam coming out of the drains and  the ferries. The less cool include - pan handlers (tramps), dilapidation, garbage piled on the streets, the lack of greenery, and the tiny dogs to go in the dinky apartments.

There are a few things I would like to do when/if I return: go to central park, go clubbing, visit the stock exchange, Ellis island and the Metropolitan museum and get out of town and go sailing round Manhattan/ go to the Hamptons

The flight to Buenos Aires was fantastic. I sat next to two young ladies who changed seats into the row in front immediately the seatbelt light went out. I now get all 3 seats to myself and have a virtually uninterrupted eight-hour sleep, although I crick my neck undoing my expensive sports massage treatments. This was later to become a problem 

8h January

Arriving in Buenos Aires, I change some money. Initially I try to take a bus to the domestic airport for my next flight. Unfortunately, the next bus is not for 50 mins, which is too late so I buy a ticket to a take a taxi across town. I have an argument with the taxi driver who refuses to take my paddle. I stick to my guns and mention his boss (“jefe”) lots of times, and eventually I just grab the paddles put them in the taxi and climb in. He is not happy but drives the 40 mins across town.

Buenos Aires is hot - I guess high 90s. However instead of taking off clothes I begin to put them on. I need to lighten my pack for the next flight - I have just 20kg of weight allowance. The check-in is smooth and so I hang around for the flight and grab a quick meal.

I don't remember much of the flight except trying to do my Spanish classes - the last time I was to read a book in the next 2 weeks.

On arrival in the Argentina ski-resort town of Bariloche, I collect my bag and paddles have arrived safely and I meet up with Marc one of the co-owners and Chrissie one of the rafters and we drive the to the hotel. Marc describes the other people, it seems he knows most of them already. We are the last to arrive. There is no time to change the clothes I have been wearing for the last 48 hours nor to get a shower - I go out smelly.

Dinner is lively. There is no vegetarian food so Marc's wife has smuggled in a box of pasta, which people eat like naughty schoolchildren. There is lots of wine and lots of talking. I take the time to go round the tables and introduce myself to everyone, but as usual I forget peoples names.

Afterwards we go on to a crowded bar with a few of the crowd and have several drinks, then several more back at the hotel.

 9th January – Journey to Chile

The following morning we began the long journey across the Andes to Camp. I sat next to a Denver attorney – M’Lou. She introduced me to a devilish trick to play on someone - when someone is sleeping you put their hand in some water and then they pee themselves. New York detective Eddie had of course seen it done, and told the story, and then several even more horrendous stories.

Edgar, Eddie, and Edward (all related), kept up a good banter together with other their relatives Al and Jason and friends Estes and Lori.

The other people on the Bus are sisters and raft guides Amy and Alicia who are there because they sold the trip to their clients.

There are 2 Elizabeths - Hummer and Buck - one a trainer and consultant, the other a filmmaker

Paula and Laura - a couple from New York

Chrissie - a nurse from northern California

As we drove, the mountains were all in the clouds. About half way into the journey it began to rain. The weather reports were not looking good - rain was predicted for the next two weeks. According to Marc, the river had been low, but it was now rising.

According to my phone’s web-browser Clinton and McCain have won in New Hampshire surprisingly. This was to be virtually the last news of the outside world we got.

We arrived as light was beginning to fade. The camp was a warren of huts, tent platforms and meeting spaces. It had a bar, a dining area, a hot tub, a sauna, 2 massage parlours, and a drying room. All were made of wood and it all has an outdoor rustic feel.

The Kitchen and Diner

The bar and food were all free - eat and drink as much as you like. It is too good an invitation to miss and we drank the bar virtually dry by the end of the week 

That evening I went to sort out my boat - lots of boats to choose from, but few boats with padding and buoyancy bags. After selecting a few from the rack, I eventually elected to paddle a Dagger Redline. It is a conservative boat, which suited me just fine, since I had not paddled big water since the Grand Canyon several years ago. It was even longer since I had paddled grade 5 big water. I had a similar boat for a while - a Dagger Outlaw, which proved to be pretty robust. It came off the roof of my car when going down the motorway at eighty miles per hour and survived unscathed. However, it had a sharp nose, and I managed to get it wedged in some rocks on one of my local rivers. I was trapped above a steep fall, unable to shake the boat free. It took quite a bit of time and some friends to work the boat free. I sold the boat shortly after. However, on this big volume river, the sharp edges would be a benefit enabling me to punch through waves and big hydraulics, and carve turns into the eddies by the side of the river. I had taken hip pads and thigh pads from the UK just in case I had to use a boat that did not fit. The boat actually fitted pretty well, and only needed a little padding. This is fortunate - there is nothing worse when you capsize than falling out of the boat and not being able to roll.

It was now pretty cold at seven in the evening and I put on my duvet jacket, neck warmer (buff), hat and down jacket. It is actually colder than England 

My tent buddy was now Scott. Edgar, who had shared my hotel room in Bariloche, said I snored too much. My sinuses were beginning to feel congested I am not sure whether it is because I have a cold or an allergy. I suspect the later since I was still congested 2 weeks later when I flew home.

However before bed we go to the bar to drink lashings of beer and tell tall stories. I think everyone was there till the wee hours.

10th January

Yoga was at 8.00 - I never made it. Instead I had a wake-up call for 9am, but in the event I woke at 8.30, showered and dressed. That became the routine for the rest of the week.

There was fresh snow in the hills at a level not much higher than our camp.

The rafting group went on a hike to see the Terminator rapid. Marc, Scott and I however paddled the bridge-to-bridge section. I put on all my warm paddling clothes.

I was tense when I got on the river. Despite having had a massage immediately before leaving the UK, my left shoulder and neck had seized badly, and I had only half power and restricted movement. I am also feeling very congested.

The bravado which had enabled me to book the trip, and travel halfway across the world to paddle the Futaleufu had now evaporated. Now was the time to focus. I studied the shape of the canyon walls, the texture of the rock, the colour of the water to try to predict what would lie ahead.

We got on the river at camp. Marc doing a big seal launch which he has never done before to impress his friend Scott. There was a little rivalry going on.

The river was wide and deep at the get-in. Almost immediately after, the river widens to 200m, and for the first mile or so it a gentle warm-up.

The first rapid was El Cojin. I was feeling nervous. The river is at least 10 times wide than my local river in Devon, and a lot more powerful. The rapid has a wide but confused entrance, followed by a wave train and hole. We started on the right hand side of the river, just to the left of a big boulder and traversed over huge waves towards the left. The boat is behaving very unpredictably as I am not used to it. There is a huge hydraulic at the bottom river right. Now I know why Marc took that route. We continue to work our way right between boulders, and down a shoot.

The next big rapid is Pillow rock. A truly house sized boulder with an enormous cushion wave. On the left, I sense there is a dangerous pourover. We enter the rapid in the middle. Marc seems slightly unsure of the route and we edge first right and then left. The current accelerates us towards the rock. I turn the boat left, a little too late and I am forced to brace hard on the cushion wave and then the stopper behind. They kick me hard towards river left and safety, where I break out and give a whoop of delight and relief.

More rapids followed, some big, some less big. In places there are monster whirlpools and eddies which threaten to grab and submerge the unwary kayaker. 

The rapid called Mundaca is next. Again we start river right, following a chain of boulders and shoots down the river. As we approach the crux of the rapid, I see huge waves, some breaking hard which will be difficult to punch through. It looks class 5, the highest level of difficulty and danger. Marc heads left seeking to avoid the worst waves. I follow. It is a bouncy, ballsy run. I do not have enough speed. The techniques I used for the Grand Canyon, are not sufficient for these waves: they require a much more powerful trajectory. Instead of powering over the waves I get knocked about like a tired boxer in the ring. Each wave killing my speed, but also giving me the slap of cold water in my face to get me going again. It is a frantic paddle, bracing left then right, then right again. The boat, which is still unfamiliar deals as many surprises as the waves. As the rapid finally subsidies and we reach the safety of a slow moving eddy I know that I am going to have to lift my game if I am going to live and if I am going to enjoy this river. This feels harder than anything I have done in years 

My tenseness does not reduce until Marc finally says that the grade 3 rapid ahead is the final rapid 

Lunch is back at the camp. We meet up with the rafting group who are having their safety talk. It looks pretty comprehensive - provided they remember everything. Over lunch I ask about the rapid they have been to see. It was Terminator, a class V+ rapid. However, from their differing descriptions I am none the wiser.

After lunch, a second run on the same section of river sees me capsize 3 times, including at Mundaca. A poor choice of route took me through the worst point of the hole and I had an inevitable flip 

After the paddle we went back to camp. Some of the girls went naked in the hot tub. I joined people in the sauna so I could warm up.

The evening meal was good, but the temperature is cold - I am wearing 2 pairs of trousers.

After dinner we chatted in the warmth of the wood-burning stove in the pagoda.

For the first few days we lived in welly boots and that evening was no exception - the wet campsite made any shoes too wet to use. We ate, drank and partied in welly boots. I will always remember Lori, a beautiful New York Italian lawyer dancing in welly boots. The young farmers club back home would certainly like to have seen that!

In the night the temperature fell further. It rained again and we made hot water bottles from old coke bottles and wine bottles before bed. Even then I still slept in pretty much full clothing and a hat. This is despite having 2 blankets and a very thick quilt. I wished I had enough weight allowance to have brought my 5-season sleeping bag

Snow on the hills is visible now the clouds are lifting

11th January - Casa de Piedre sectio

We ran the same section of the river as a warm-up to the harder Casa De Piedre section. There are two class V drops. The first rapid Mas o minus (more or less”) is run by kayaks down the middle - a huge wave followed by some fast paddling to the left to avoid a huge hole. The rafts shot the rapid down the left through some big holes.

The second grade 5 involves breaking into the current and heading out into the flow trying to get as close as possible to a rock which guards the left-hand side of the entrance. After the rock is a drop with a hole and boily eddy which you must try to cross with speed to avoid getting sucked backwards and flipped. You then keep heading left to avoid a pourover. Ahead is a square house sized rock. Turn right and try to head towards the shoot whilst crossing over several more holes, past some rocks jutting out from the right hand river bank and then power over a lateral breaking wave. Looking downstream to the right is a pyramid shaped rock and the first place of safety. But first you need to power over more wave trains and surging currents.

The eddy when you reach it flows upstream. You have to paddle uphill hard - very hard. All momentum is lost and it becomes a hard pull uphill. You can see slight progress, but the current is fast and your energy levels start to drop. Eventually you reach the summit of the eddy and take a few seconds to recover. You can see a line of rocks and two shoots. One big and one small. The smaller one looks impossible, but it is apparently the one to take. It appears to fall steeply into a hole, but once committed your momentum carries you through. Then a sharp left hand turn to face up stream. Behind you and downstream to the right you can sense a huge pourover - wide and deep. The current is running fast, so as I cut into the current, I am paddling quickly - those short quick strokes that accelerate the boat, then as you begin to start crossing the breaking waves turning the boat to face the far bank, half the strokes driving the boat forward, half trying to pull the boat over the crest of each wave. Since each wave comes from a different direction the result is a crazy curvy route which heads from river right to left. Once the hole passes to the right, you can relax a little and begin to enjoy the bumpy ride - but not too much because you are still working hard to stay upright. Eventually the waves reduce and you can stop paddling forward and just brace defensively. Looking downstream you can see the huge flat pool of the eddy and you put your head down and paddle hard towards it. We are probably travelling at 20 miles per hour and we are about to stop. But first we need to punch through the turbulent water where the fast flowing water grabs at the stationary pool forming small whirlpools. Each big enough to capsize you and hold you down good. Successfully crossing this danger zone requires you to watch the whirlpools and to try to time your crossing so you can ride the outer flow of one of the pools like a comet going round the sun – sling-shotting across. If you get it wrong it is a wobbly frantic paddle - trying to reach to top of each whirlpool and avoiding the core of the whirlpool and the messy currents where two whirlpools touch.

Move rapids follow. As we progress downstream my skills improve. I work harder to build momentum at the top of the rapid to punch through and over the waves. This defends the weak point of the kayak – the stern. If the wave crashes on the stern, and water piles up on it, its flat shape is vulnerable to the force of the water and starts to sink. The stern has sharp edges and if the force of the water is uneven then a capsize is inevitable. Worse still is when the force is even then the nose of the boat is sent skyward, and the kayak is flipped end over end (looped). You end up capsized and facing the wrong way down the river.

One of the rafts had a bad flip at Casa de Piedra and the team looked nervous for the rest of the trip. Jason had his headcam on which is fun on the video but what we really need to experience a flip is to suffocate the watcher and cover then in ice – then they will get more of the real effect!

Finally the river eases and we reach the lunch stop.

After the frantic morning we had a relaxing booze cruise in the afternoon. Some people drink, some fish, and some kayak. I led Elizabeth down the river kayaking and after a swim, I manage to get her the rest of the way safely and teach a few strokes along the way. Unfortunately Sandra capsizes and dislocates her shoulder. Scott who is a nurse puts the shoulder back in straight away, however her travelling plans are ruined for at least 2 weeks possibly more. She puts on a brave face but we know she is frustrated.

Today the Puerto Rican team were in the hot tub - this time the swimsuits remained on.


The hot-tub, Sauna, massage room and drying room (and Sandra in her sling)

I get a massage for my shoulder with Sarah, owner of the local kayaking school. My shoulder and neck become much looser but not perfect. It was freezing in the massage room and hard to relax properly.

That night was salsa night with Edward and Valaria showing us how to do it. I learnt to salsa dance for the first time but will never be in Edwards league - I have no rhythm. I learn later that Edward was a professional.

Edgar is howled at the moon. Word of the day seems to have been Sucia! Dirty Girl!

Scott has relocated to a different tent platform which is just as well as I climb into bed very late 

12th January

Duckie day on the Espolon River. I could have kayaked the same section as yesterday with Scott and Marc, but I feel knackered today and I was happy to take it easy.  I take a double duckie with M’Lou down the river and she sits in the front. It is an easy and good fun ride. We find the duckie hard to control and balance but she has good balance. All goes well until we try surfing a wave just before the end of the river. She falls out, and bruises her legs on some rocks.


John gives the Duckie safety talk

We finished with a pickup ride back to the bus. Most of us are standing in the back of the pickup. It is raining slightly, but we have had a good day and we are enjoying the camaraderie and looking at the foggy views. I remember saying "this is fantastic what could be better than this". Then I joke that we could have beer as well, then I look down and see a cooler. Despite the bumpy ride I bend down and open it - there are beers inside! We pass them out to everyone in the back of the truck and to those inside. We drink and spill the beers as we bump our way home.

Laughing and drinking in the back of the pick-up

 I am asked to be DJ for the night selecting tunes from my phone as an alternative to the salsa and Latin American tunes. It was 80s and oldies night!

Later we howl at the moon to wake up Edgar who has gone to bed early – sissy bitch.

13th January 

To get to the Azul river today we need to ride up to the river so we are all equipped with horses. Mine is well behaved - I can get him to turn and trot easily. We walk up the valley for about 1 hour until we reach a suspension bridge. We cross the bridge with each wobbly rider leading a wobbly horse one at a time. At this point, we learn that the trailer that is supposed to carry our duckies for the few miles has a flat tyre, so we ride on up the valley and have lunch, then come back to the bridge to launch our duckies. The ride was pretty. When had we stopped for lunch, M’Lou's horse breaks free of it’s ties and nearly gives her a good kicking - just missing her as she scrabbles away on all fours. The horse continues to misbehave.  Eventually she borrows Eddie’s horse. He had had enough of horses and wanted to walk back down the river.

Once back to the bridge we duckie down the Azul river. It is more difficult than yesterday's river and requires lost of steering and stabilising brace strokes. There were quite a few capsizes today.

At the end of the Azul, I swap back to a kayak and carry on down to paddle Terminator, with Scott, Marc and Jorge. As we leave the Azul and join the Futaleufu river, there is a marked increase in the temperature of the river. The Azul was freezing; the Futa is merely very cold. The river is now a wide canyon, with big waves. Not too pushy. However Terminator is huge. It starts with a technical lead in, taking the easy lines between boulders on the river left. We wind our way down to a small eddy above the main rapid, and get out of our boats. From the bank it looks huge, so from the boat it will be enormous. I select a line that starts with a boof over a rock, and round behind a huge rock. Then I need to shoot down a drop hard left, then hard right past a boulder, the left again to avoid a hole and right to avoid another boulder, and finally out into the eddy. I made the line perfectly - the last time I was going to do that section without a swim.

Terminator ! - we had more action on this section than any other

We paddled out of the canyon and back to camp for a beer. 

I got another massage, from Nicole this time, who is married to Lawrence the co-owner. The air temperature was much better since it is located over the sauna and it was much more enjoyable. My shoulder and neck were were almost perfect.

14th January -  Inferno canyon

This is the hardest day of the trip. Inferno canyon is impressive with dark walls on either side. The entrance rapid is huge.

Inferno Canyon - Entrance Rapid 

The next two rapids are even bigger.

I portage the next big rapid which appears to have a vicious hole, however Scott and Jorge have sweet runs. The next rapid Zeta has killed people with it’s vicious boiling pot on river left. We portage this one also. More rapids followed.  

I got messed up at biggest rapid of the day - Throne room. I got lost amongst the huge waves and ended up too far right. The Throne is a huge rock with a huge pressure wave. I manage to descend down the rapid OK, but I was slightly too far right. As I surfed the pressure wave, and was being bounced around, I realised that I couldn’t make the safe route to my right. Behind me to the left was a very nasty pourover called Toaster. I managed to eddy out above this horrible stopper, but I was being thrown around so much by the waves that is was difficult to get out of my boat as the water surges. Fortunately,  Marc was nearby and helped me get out of my boat.

The entrance to Throne Room

From there, there were some fun rapids down to the takeout

I get another massage with Nicole, who is married to Lawrence the co-owner. The air temperature is much better since it is located over the sauna and it much more enjoyable. My shoulder is almost perfect now.

At the bar, Valaria somehow manages to get stung on the tip of her tongue by a wasp. With the early start in the morning, the party is subdued that night.

15th January (aka summit day)

Today Sarah showed me the lines down the rapids. She portages terminator, which I foolishly run. I take a swim at Terminator, and 2 rafts flip. It is very chaotic. Laura who had portaged the rapid gets left behind in the confusion. When we land, we have lunch at the camp. The guides go back up the river in search of Laura. She has had a terrifying time. She descended the river on the back of the video kayaker's boat. At times she has washed off and at times she has been asked to let go. She eventually gets to camp and bursts into tears.

Laura in the sunshine

After lunch we continue down the river. I follow Sarah again. Unfortunately she gets hit by a wave at Mundaca and inadvertently surfs a wave. She is at the top of a big wave and I am at the bottom. I have a split second to brace for the collision and find myself going underneath her boat. I leant back and covered my face with my elbows and felt the boat pass above me, barely touching me.  My boat surfaced vertically like a submarine emerging from the deep. I somehow managed to stay upright and paddle into an eddy.

Lorenzo's raft - the only one to make it down everyday without a flip 

We continued on down the Casa de Piedra section and get out river right.

The last night was always going to be a big party and with this group it was huge! A few people dressed up and there was a talent show hosted by Phil the trip leader. There were jokes, poems, songs, dances, and instructions for making coffee which cunning spelling the trip insult (sissy bitches). I did a Churchill imitation, and a story about travelling in Kashmir, and a thank you to everyone.

The final video was shown on the bar together with the bonus headcam footage from Jason and Edward - a first on the Fu apparently.

Me at the Bar !

Afterwards there was dancing on the bar with Elizabeth and Lawrence hanging from the beams. Not sure what time it finished, but it was still going strong at four in the morning.

16th January

I get up at 6.30 to say good-bye to the other the other team members. It feels a bit of an anticlimax. John was collecting money for his videos

After the team left, we went back to bed till 11am albeit I didn't get much sleep.

We then went into town and hungout for a while. I applied for a couple of jobs.

Back at camp it was Marc's son's second party. There were children and parents everywhere. I gave Quinn a tennis ball I had bought in the USA and some candies from the UK and a local birthday card in Spanish.

At 10.30 they finally sang happy birthday and blew out the candles on the cake. Then in a weird repeat, the native Spanish speakers then sang Cupleanos Felices the - Spanish version of happy birthday far more loudly than the English version.

At Quinn 's party I chatted to midnight. Tiredness was overtaking me and it was going to be another hour till the food was ready so I went to bed and slept for 10 hours. I woke briefly to silence my alarm clock, which was still set from the day before.

Seeing the guides and the party was like seeing the person I could have been - fun loving, friendly, impulsive, and totally broke. A couple of people had asked me whether I had thought of being a guide, and indeed I had interviewed as a raft guide and got the job but it clashed with the final exams of my degree.

17th January

Paddled down from the Azul through Terminator to the end of the bridge-to-bridge section. Swam on Terminator, as I got totally mangled. Johnny though I was not leaning forward enough when I roll and I needed to get my head to the surface with eyes facing forward before trying to roll - good advice I think. As we paddled further down the river, I was still feeling tense. I wobbled a bit on the next rapid. At we approached the huge pillow rock river right, I started further right than before and had to spin the boat so that I surfed away from it. I was well placed, but as I try to accelerate, I realised that my paddle blade had broken. I paddled once on the left, and leant forwards to accelerate the boat, then using the edge steer the boat towards the eddy, I entered it at high speed and lost the speed crossing the eddy. A very luck escape - the last 2 runs down this section I had been bracing wildly on my right into the pillow and would have needed my right hand paddle blade. All attention quickly turned to the 2 erratic route of the two catarafts and their novice pilots which made the rapid ok and the Topo Duo kayak which capsized forcing both participants to swim.

Alex and Eva at Terminator

Whilst in the eddy, local paddler Eva says that she can lend me a paddle. Her cabana (cabin) is about 1 mile downstream and that there no major rapids till then. That turned out not to be strictly true - I had to survive some grade 3/4 wave trains and boils. A young lady paddler called Emily happened to be on the beach as she was camping nearby and she lent me a battered set of blades. They had uneven sized blades where they had worn away. They also had a straight shaft. It had taken 3 months to adjust to the cranked shaft I use currently. On the river I had 3 minutes to adjust - my kayaking was not pretty for the rest of the river. We returned her paddles later, but unfortunately she was out so I did not get the opportunity to thank her again.

My trusty paddle blades - RIP

18th January

Went mountain biking today, on a route suggested by Alex. It went along the road upstream about 4km past the Azul, and then across country to the suspension bridge where we had walked the horses across the Azul, before heading towards back Mayani's farm where we picked up the horses. I spent 3+ hours on the bike. The sun was baking and despite factor 40 sun tan lotion, I was burning up. The off road sections were good fun. The road, a dirt track, was full of gravel which acted like ball bearings. When cars came past it was easier to pull over and stop then continue cycling on the big ball bearings at the roads edge.

Rio Azul

About 6 o clock the new group turned up. 5 experienced raft guides, a couple of Brits, and a couple of other Europeans, about 14 in all. However despite attempts to get them going virtually all were in bed by 11pm with the last 2 wimping out at just 12.30! They had however drank more wine in one night than the last group ever managed. Surprisingly, Elizabeth and her sister were the first to go to bed! Said goodbye to all the staff except Valaria who slipped home before I noticed.

19th January: Travel day – return on Argentina

Got up at 6.15 but Lorenzo my driver for the trip was not around. We were an hour late setting due to a puncture on Lorenzo's truck - a 4wd Mitsubishi Delica, automatic but with no power steering.

Conversation is difficult due to the road noise. We reached the border from Chile to Argentina and caught up Marc who had set off almost an hour earlier. He got into difficulty on the Argentine border because some of the paperwork saying he was not an authorised driver was not signed. Fortunately Lorenzo who was the legal owner was standing just a little further back in the queue and was able to persuade the zealous customs officer that Marc was not stealing the truck. We said our goodbyes and headed for Trevelin. It is a Welsh town (the name means town mill apparently). However, here there is no diesel for sale today - the petrol station has run out. We drive on fumes the remaining distance to Esquel. There were huge queues outside the first petrol station. We try the other, no queues but no diesel either. So we have a half hour wait at the original petrol station. Meanwhile the tyre is supposed to be being mended. When we arrived back it had yet to be balanced. However when it was fully pumped up, it started to hiss. The inside of the tyre was braking down and putting more holes in the inner tube. The wire strengthening the tyre was no longer bonded to the tyre and was now standing proud like a wire brush and making a pin-cushion of the tube in many places. The tyre was less than a year old - the rough Chilean roads have trashed the tyres far faster than the makers Bridgestone had anticipated or guaranteed. Of course, any attempt to remain on the original schedule was now lost - another hour and a half. The car was jacked again, a new tyre purchased and put on the truck quickly. The garage had lots of tools and computers but surprisingly no air tools.

This was no formula one tyre change, but they did get the job done right

I go to the banos in the tyre shop, and I see my nose is bleeding again - I am now on my third nose at least from sunburn and the backs of my hands are also peeling. This is despite the factor 40 that I have plastered on my body for the last few weeks, which was the subject of lots of ribbing. In truth however everyone, was putting lots of sun lotion on even the darkest people. The ozone layer has been gravely damaged above Chile.

The drive itself is wonderful. The Andes are one of most beautiful unspoilt places on earth. As we drive there are snow-capped mountains everywhere and few signs of man. It is close to nirvana.


Back across the Argentine side of Los Andes

I get to the airport just in time to catch my flight to Buenos Aires. Once there I checked in to my hotel, showered and go out - it is Saturday night after all. I searched for a place to eat and end up eating at MacDonald’s at midnight. I tried a couple of bars and ended up in an Irish pub. 

January 20th - I did a walking tour of Buenos Aires taking in Puerto Madre (and a nice lunch), the Pink Palace with it's famous Balcony where Peron addressed the crowds, and the principal government buildings. There are signs of Argentina's turbulent past. 30000 people disappeared in the Dirty War undertaken by the Dictatorship. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the Mothers of the disappeared, are still demanding an inquiry and justice 30 years on. Outside the finance Ministry there were also bullet marks from more recent unrest. There soldiers shot at demonstrators in late 2001 during the economic crises. Soon after Argentina was forced to renege on it's sovereign debts.

Finally, I went to the cemetery in Ricoletta. It is full of totally over the top tombs and it totally unique I have not seen anything else like it anywhere. Had dinner in Palermo.

Tombs of the Argentinian rich and famous

January 21st - Catch up on the news on the Internet. The world economy looks bleaker than when I left. A bit more sight-seeing and browsing in the shops. Leave BA to go to NY.

Palace of Congress - many signs of rioting and civil strife in this square

January 22nd - Reach NY (JFK airport). Suddenly I notice that I am surrounded by fat people again.  The people in South American and my team-mates on the trip were all very fit. Everywhere I look I see bulging waists. 

January 23rd - Unfortunately the bulging waists are the same in London too.  

A few trips for future travellers:

  1. Some ATM only took MasterCard’s ATM cards (branded cirrus). Visa cards did not work everywhere.
  2. It can get very cold – a down jacket and sleeping bag are recommended.
  3. Bring a lot of high factor sun cream.
  4. There is no internet access readily available at camp.
  5. Buy splits (break down paddles) – they are easier to travel with.
Photos and slide shows

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