Friday, November 25, 2011 - Blog on a Log  

Wild Adventure of the Month - "Border Follies"

Every month, Wilderness Supply features one of our customers who's had a wild adventure, and passes on some free gear to help them through their next undertaking.  Whether on the road, trail, or water, the most difficult experiences always make the best stories...and the most enjoyable vicarious living!  December's story "Border Follies" comes to us from Steve from Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

As my Suunto Vector (purchased at Wilderness Supply) flipped to 10:00am, I knew we were running out of time. My girlfriend Anna and I had just made the decision to delay our Route 40 bus ride to Southern Patagonia in favor of some world class white water rafting in Futalafu, Chile. The odds of getting there were impossible as we had to catch 3 back-to-back buses including a cross-border minibus that would get us into the rafting town just after dark. Off-season and unseasonably cold, the town was bound to be dark and deserted. We boarded the first bus, and with a stroke of luck we made our second bus further in the mountains... and then the third which took us to the disputed Patagonia border region between Chile and Argentina. The border guard reviewed our passports, stamped us in with an heir of superiority like no other border crossing we'd experienced.

It was dark when we arrived in Futalafu. One light in one window in the pitch-black town led us to a restaurant/hotel for some much needed deep-fried local delicacies and a place to crash. The restaurant owner noted that the water conditions were furious with high water and that rafting at this time of year could be more dangerous than usual; and the next morning's forecast was for rain and high winds to top it off.

We pulled on our icy cold wetsuits in the rain and wind at the shores of the Futalafu, unaware that this river is one of the world's most famous runs as ranked by National Geographic, unaware that its nearly all class 5 rapids or higher, and fully aware that this was our first time rafting. The first class 5 rapid went alright, if it wasn't for the slight headache I had after bouncing my head off the front of the raft when we hit a rock. The subsequent twenty class 5 rapids were pure adrenaline as we found our groove and learned the ropes. When we pulled up on shore at the end of the run and near the top of a precarious waterfall, we were gloriously satisfied, bodies tingling.

But you didn't think that was where the adventure started did you?

We arrived back at the rafting shop. Our American rafting guide sat in his chair in the rustic cottage-like office, lit a cigarette and asked "Where are you guys going after this?". We replied that we were heading back into Argentina to catch a Route 40 bus south to Southern Patagonia. "Impossible", he said, "there's no way out of this town at this time of year. Public transport is shut down and because of that border situation and private cars can't drive you. I am crossing the border, I can drop you off before the border and try to pick you up afterwards. We need to be careful as the Argentinians are really sticky about this private-car thing. If I can't pick you up after, its a 40km hike to the next town."

What choice did we have?

As we approach the border station on foot, we see his van at the border stop. The formalities looked typically uncomfortable. He zooms off as we approach on foot. The Argentinians look confused, and not-overly fooled by our arrival. They know what's going on. We get our passports stamped. The guard asks us how we are getting to the next town, we ask him for a ride and he refuses and asks us if we are going with that American guy to which we respond "no". His face marked with an expression suggesting he didn't accept that as the right answer.

Heart rates slightly elevated we walk out of the border office and walk down the gravel road. "Will he wait for us?" "We have no food for the 40km journey, are there any towns near by?" We rounded a corner with our full packs, I looked back at the idyllic mountain border post and saw the border guard standing on the front steps watching. We round another quarter, out of sight... maybe out of mind. Perfect. Another corner. The van, the American guide, waving at us to hurry up. We sprint with our 20kg packs towards the van. I hear a roar behind me.

Two border patrol trucks approaching quickly, lights flashing. "We have nothing to do with that guy, pretend its a coincidence" I tell Anna.

We approach the van, the guide and the officers. Heated discussions in two languages are ensuing, all I can hear is "I was just stopped to take a piss!". Perfectly logical it seemed to me as we dipped our heads and trekked by the situation. We were nearly 500 meters past where he had stopped and around another switchback when we heard vehicles approach. The van, speeding, whipped by us spitting up dust as this area must have avoided the prior day's rains. A border truck, slowly, followed with one man in the back with binoculars watching us and the van intermittently.

"Well, this sucks. I guess we're walking."

Thirty minutes pass, all expectations of finding our guide were gone. We were trying to figure out when to set up camp and how to gather food. We had tents and stoves and water, but no food. We trudged on. Nearly dark, I looked up and saw a faint object on the road.

"The van!" We ran, 20kg packs swinging. The guide was waving and yelling. We ran. Our packs flew into the jeep as did we. Heart pounding, stomachs in our throats. The guide was noticeably urgent in his mannerisms. Shift into gear, go. We peeled around switchbacks, no one spoke. We were trying to make our escape. Anna asked me if it was going to be ok, I really had no idea. It was getting dark. Tension continued to build as we were still only 10 kms from the border. We passed a car, and a truck in the near darkness without incident.

SCREECH! The brakes were applied full force. The van slid sideways as the brakes locked. My head bounced off the guide's headrest. All loose cans of beer and red bull on the bottom of the van rattled around. What a piece of crap this van was, I had randomly noticed in that instant.

There must be another patrol coming! I can't believe we're getting caught, I thought. We need to get out. I look behind the van, I see nothing. I hear nothing unusual. I reach for the door to dive out and run when the guide turns his head and says, "I need to take a dump. Its a long way to the next town."