It's been a month since I returned from my trip to Chile. Almost two years went into the planning and execution of this 20-day trip. I was able to pull it off with the help of the Hobkey Adventure Grant. However, it was the first time I had ever traveled outside of North America and there was so much that I didn't know. I was so overwhelmed in the planning and wanted to go big, but I ended up only getting a teeny-tiny sample. I want more.
I wanted to conclude this series of trip reports from my Chile trip by talking about my experience and things I wish I knew for next time.
1. Rental cars make setting shuttle and making paddle friends a heck of a lot easier, but you'd better be willing to break the bank.
We initially planned on renting a truck or van for all of our gear. We brought six boards down between the three of us (300+ lbs of gear), and realized in Pucon that if we actually rented the car, we would each have to bust out close to $1,000 each for rental car costs, gas (more expensive in Chile), and insurance (which it was likely we would get screwed if we didn't purchase it). We opted to travel by bus, which turned the trip into an entirely different experience.
Because we bused everywhere, we were only able to paddle about 4-5 of those days we were there. We had to go by the bus schedules and make sure that we were able to buy popular bus tickets from our city of departure one day in advance, otherwise it would be sold out. That tacked on a lot of extra days and scheduling issues for us while we tried to organize paddle sessions with different people.
We initially planned to go as far south as Puerto Bertrand, but we learned that the bus system got a lot trickier south of Puerto Varas, because you have to plan your trip around the bus and ferry schedule, or hop the border of Argentina through Bariloche and travel through small towns. So, once we realized this while we were in Bariloche, we had to make the heart-breaking decision to turn back and head north rather than visiting and paddling in Futaleufu and down south, because we were going to risk not making it back to Santiago in time for our flight home.
Bringing six boards down to Chile seemed like a great idea at first, but the decision to take the bus system turned our six boards into ball and chains. Dragging those boards around Chile was the biggest workout we got. Not to mention it was a perfect excuse for bus conductors and taxi drivers to charge us extra for our baggage. We got pretty good at loading our own bags onto the buses and schmoozing the conductors to avoid confrontation about the size and weight.
**Also, beware of the Santiago Bus Station. We had a friend get his board bag stolen there, and we almost got ours stolen as well. We were led out of the station by some workers that claimed they were taking us to our bus, all the while trying to take my bags from me. I refused to let them carry my bags and we told them off as soon as we realized we were being led away from all the other people. Be careful!!
2. Bring power converters for the outlets and make sure your electronics work with it.
I had never experienced having to use a converter for my electronics before. I was aware that it was a thing, but I planned on borrowing one from one of the athletes and packed my laptop, phone, and hair straightener for when I wanted to dress up. It turned out finding a converter with the third grounder prong was nearly impossible, so charging my laptop was out of the question. So I packed around a dead laptop for a month. My first day in Chile I learned my hair straightener did not work because it struggled to compensate for the voltage. So I threw that in the bottom of my pack and packed that around for a month as well. Ohh well, I got a bit more of a workout during our hikes and the lesson was definitely learned. ;)
As far as phones go, the converters worked with our phone chargers, but it took nearly 10 hours to charge our phone's battery. External battery packs for charging our phones throughout the day were a great investment.
3. Bring the gear that you use at home.
I dearly missed my Hala Grafik FX Carbon paddle while I was paddling challenging whitewater in Chile. I left it at home because I did not want to pay for extra baggage fees, and instead packed a Hala 3-piece travel paddle, which fit nicely in my board bag.
I thought that the paddle wouldn't make as much of a difference, but I struggled. I think I struggled more than the other guys did. As a female paddle boarder who weighs less than the average river-rat, I feel that I need to utilize technique and speed in order to clean whitewater. I felt that I had to exert way more energy into compensating for the flex of the paddle shaft while I was charging through rapids. I was slower than I wanted to be because I wasn't used the travel paddle. I'm sure I could have adjusted for it had I had a few days to practice, but we were pressed for time and on a tight schedule, so I'm leaving it for a lesson learned! Extra baggage fees would have been worth it!
4. I am a convert to Hitcase.
My boyfriend gave me a Hitcase PRO+ for Christmas in anticipation of my Chile trip. It's a waterproof, shock proof case for my iphone that comes with a fish-eye lens. It pretty much turned my iPhone into a GoPro.
I was taking videos and photos like crazy with it and absolutely loved the way they turned out. It also came with a wrist strap, which was super nice for tying to my belt-loop while I walked around town because I was worried about pick-pockets.
However, I must say, in all the stimulation of being in Chile, I made a cardinal Hitcase sin and forgot to seal it all the way before taking it with me down the Rio Petrohue. My phone drowned that day, but I take full responsibility and chalk it up as another lesson learned. Even though I may have cried a little bit, it was time for that phone to die anyway since it had already survived and never fully recovered from a freak skateboarding accident previously.
So I spent the second half of my Chile trip without a phone or a computer. I prepared for emergencies by writing down phone numbers of my contacts, just in case my phone were to go missing anyway. I do recommend emailing all important phone numbers, log in information, documents, etc. you might need so that you can be prepared if your phone breaks or things get stolen.
5. Empanadas are life.
I didn't know what an empanada was before traveling to South America, but if you're like me and don't have money, then empanadas are life. It's the greatest, cheapest way to eat down there. That, and hot dogs. I basically lived off of that and spoon fulls of Nutella every day.
I hope those lessons don't sound discouraging or depressing in any way. I wanted to sum it all up into some advice for next time, because even though this trip did not turn out how I expected in any way, I felt exhilarated and excited to plan another trip there in the future. Chile is BEAUTIFUL and I could see myself thriving.
Pucon stood out to me as an adventure mecca and I get the butterflies just reminiscing about traveling through the countryside; watching the horses in the pastures grazing with a giant active volcano in the backdrop and bright blue river running alongside. I want to go back. I want to spend more time there and lap those sections of rivers. I want to ride horses in Chile and visit the horse vaulting team in Argentina. I want to visit Futaleufu and raft, paddle board, and fly fish. I want to send some waterfalls on my SUP. I want to travel deeper into Patagonia and rock climb the legendary peaks and summit a volcano. I want to learn how to kiteboard and take advantage of the daily 20 mph afternoon winds.
Next time I go, I will fly into Southern Patagonia and travel north. I will spend more time in each town and really get to know the people and spend more time outdoors. In the meantime, I will continue to practice my Spanish, invest in a kiteboard, and save money for thicker neoprene and a dry suit. ;)
Have you paddled or traveled in Patagonia before? Or even just international expeditions? What are some things you learned along the way?? As a newbie to international paddling, I'd love to hear your advice.