Three months. Three countries. And countless adventures. In November of 2013, I embarked on the trip of a lifetime. I headed to South America with my best friend and boyfriend, Clay Lucas, to explore the rivers, mountains, and beaches surrounding the Andes Mountains, and to learn Spanish along the way. No – I had not previously studied Spanish, and my repertoire consisted of “Gracias, amigo,” and “Por favor,” with French sometimes thrown in the mix as my default foreign language. Needless to say, I became talented in charades, and after three months of travel I came home with so, so much more than a Spanish language foundation.
In my three months, I traveled north to south down the impressively long country that is Chile, spent six days in Bariloche, Argentina, and journeyed through Ecuador during my bitter-sweet last month in South America. My travels consisted of long bus rides, beautiful views, camping under the Patagonian night sky, hitchhiking 600+ kilometers (one thing I never thought I would to in this life!), kayaking beautiful rivers, meeting kind and amazing people (Chileans, Ecuadorians, and Americans), surfing in my new favorite beach town, indulging in some of the best food in Argentina, learning to drive a stick-shift, befriending a lamb only to have it served up for dinner – asado style (I’m sorry, Linus, you were the coolest sheep I’ve ever met. To be clear, friends, I did not indulge.), climbing a volcano, witnessing a volcanic ERUPTION, and living to tell the tale. This was a trip that I will never forget, to say the least. But now…
The paddling. Those of you reading this are probably die-hard whitewater fanatics, people who went rafting once and fell in love, outdoor enthusiasts, or people checking out Wet Planet – in which case you should DEFINITELY come see us. So, let me get to the good stuff! The whitewater is incredible. I had the opportunity to run my most personally challenging rivers, and to paddle in crystal clear water with panoramic views of the rugged Andes Mountains. As a class III paddler, I was STOKED (stoked: a term used heavily amongst whitewater peoples. Meaning incredibly, joyously excited) to be kayaking in these countries that class V paddlers dream of making a pilgrimage to. Although I wasn’t looking to run 70 foot waterfalls – not yet – I sure did appreciate them and the rush that I got by watching and videotaping fellow kayakers’ descents. Paddling the rivers of South America did wonders for my skills, and perhaps even more so for my confidence. Putting on a new river was something that would give me knots in my stomach, make me anxious, and uncomfortable in the midst of the unknown. But in traveling to new rivers, that’s your only bet, and my confidence in my paddling soared. I kayaked the most continuous rapids that I have yet to experience, punched through the biggest waves and holes to this day, sessioned the Rio Espolon, and mastered the boof (thanks to my private instructor Clay Lucas), and rafted on one of the most famous rivers in South America – the Futaleufu! Yes, Rio Futaleufu.
Summing up the entirety of my travels in one blog post is next to impossible. However, I did make a video to share with you – Vive Suramérica – that I think does it justice! Throughout the rest of my blog posts, I will share my stories about the Futaleufu, and how in contrast to it being a huge whitewater destination, it is not an easy place to reach. I will share my story about the Rio Cochamo and the 200 year old cattle trail that one travels to reach it, and more. Stay tuned, friends! And Happy St. Patrick’s Day from me to you!
Author Hayley Spear spends her summers in the Columbia River Gorge and enjoys paddling, hiking, and exploring as often as she can.