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Back on the Futaleufu

by Cassie Hayden

The Futa valley really does not change much, or at least when it does it changes slowly and with much deliberation and thought. Well, that was until this season.

Several things have happened within the last year to change this town, valley and country forever.

First and probably most influential is the addition of high-speed fiber-optic fed internet to the town. Some have said that when technology comes to a culture that has jumped several steps it opens so many doors at once that it creates a landslide effect. Many Futa residents have never traveled North of the Region X, the remote province that Futa inhabits, and so know little of the outside world. In fact they probably have a more distorted view of North American culture as the only Gringos they meet are the Kayakers, who come to play and kill themselves on their river, complain about the dam and then leave and never return. Added to the fact that they come to town with fancy clothes, cameras and computers and never seem to actually work. And yes, I guess I am part of that warped perception for them. But for a six foot tall red head it can be hard to blend in seamlessly.
But the internet is going to open up a world beyond Region X and let them see what they do not have. This is a poor area, but they are content. When you can let you kids run around and not worry about them, travel to school by horse back and still look out to the west and see snow capped mountains, I hope they don’t start worrying about not having an iPod. The grass is Greenest right here.

Another large change is the Government, Chile has a socialist President, and shock horror, it’s a woman. Presidente Michele Bachelet took office during my last stay in Chile and yet to see the full effects of her term some effects are already coming to bloom. After talking to residents it seems that the general consensus is favorable. However, after the election it seemed that there was a considerable amount of discontent. Riots and demonstrations due only to the fact that the new President was female. Chile has it’s machismo side, but it seems that Bachelet is calming things down. Many here believe that issues are sorted out more even handedly with less aggression of the male politicians. Schools have more money, hospitals are being built and there are more jobs. In Puerto Monte the rate of construction is definitely a testament to the economy.

Socially the President is also allowing Chile to move forward. Women can now have up to 6 months paid maternity leave as compared with 3 last year, and the fathers who previously had none are entitled to 15 days paid paternity leave.

This said, the money for these programs has to come from somewhere, and Chile, a country with no national debt, huh! novel idea, is not about to start borrowing. With the Pascua and the Baker already going and a host of other rivers in the hydroelectric garden that Patagonia is they are pushing ahead full steam.

As for the Futaleufu, the road to bypass what will become the flooded valley is quietly being constructed by the military and will be arriving soon. We can only hope that the just don’t get around to it. It happens sometimes, like a Massachusetts highway project.

Anyway, this is a river based blog so I should tell you something about the river. It changed too. There was a theme to this, but hey I got red-herringed.

During a early season scout run of Inferno Canyon we were in there at twice the levels I have ever been in before taking three of our new guides down it for their first time we came across something a little startling. After watching Jayson take his licks at Wall Shot we headed into Dance With Angels which usually comes in two parts. Both just wave trains that are a nice breather before Exit Rapid. However, there was no second set of waves, just a flat pool. So thinking that it was just washed out due to high water I pressed on. But coming down to the corner before Exit which is usually nothing there was now a river wide horizon line and a good amount of spray. It was at this point that I noticed the land slide on river left.

After much zigzaging, (thank you Janet for all the flatwater practice) I was fully committed to the new unknown rapid. A “what the hell are you doing?” from Jayson preceded me just dropping in. Not much else to do when you can’t stop, but aiming for where the eddy should be and paddling really hard I busted through the new Diagonal halfway down and broke through. Taking a quick look while I did this I saw a hole right against the wall that just feeds itself and huge boiling reactionaries coming off the wall. Don’t get pushed left.

It turns out that they are widening the road on the canyon rim and just dumping all the debris in the river. Hence new drop. Which is now affectionately called Dynamite, but it will continue to change and evolve as there is so much more rock to come down. Today we went in to get a better look and actually scout the rapid, which was more of a pain than I thought and with no possibility of portaging once we were in if it had changed further. But before we could so that Chris Spelius had to go up to the work site and get them to stop work so we could continue without rocks falling from the sky.

With the word on the radio that we were going to have an audience of road workers and a window with no blasting we headed in. No major changes, but looking at the rapid with time to think gave you a real appreciation of the consequences.

I hopped back in my boat, gave the others the beta and fired it up.

It’s good to be back. Change or not.

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