Outside My Comfort Zone: Canyoning in Chile
Staring straight down a 100-foot waterfall, the mist clouding my eyes and my heart pounding to the sound of the water, I’m about to descend down on a thin rope. The phrase, “What did I get myself into?” repeats over and over in my head. Repelling down the cascading falls is the grand finale to my canyoning experience in the Rio Blanco.
Five of us girls, who had bonded together as volunteer teachers in the central region of Chile, decided to travel together to discover the natural beauty of the south after our program ended. We all came from different backgrounds, careers, ages, and life experiences but we all had a passion for learning about different cultures, traveling, and making a positive impact on the world around us.
For many, like me, my confidence fell short when it was time to repel off the final 100-foot waterfall and then jump off of a 21-foot cliff.
A week or so into our trip, the canyoning idea began at a dream-worthy chocolate shop in the middle of Puerto Varas, a small German-influenced mountain town, set among a glistening lake and two looming volcanoes in Northern Patagonia. The shop owner, a woman in her mid-60s and originally from Santa Barbara, California, claimed it was one of the best places to try canyoning. Before I arrived in Puerto Varas, Chile, I would have guessed canyoning was something involving jumping in caves or the obvious, canyons. Fortunately, canyoning can be geared for the extreme or not so extreme (like me) and can include hiking, repelling, climbing and swimming. We debated back and forth about canyoning but as the clouds parted and the sun broke through, we figured, why not?
We embarked on our new adventure that afternoon. The guide set his eyes on each person and handed us the necessary gear: helmet, hiking shoes, gloves, and a head-to-toe wetsuit. Just my luck, I was handed a neon green child’s wetsuit. Although I like the 80s, this wet suit crossed the line but brought some comic relief to the situation. We all loaded into an old van and were quickly on our way to the volcanoes.
Outside My Comfort Zone: Canyoning in Chile
After a few hour drive up to the base of the Calbuco volcano, we geared up and began hiking through the lush Patagonian forest with 1,000-year old trees and giant ferns and leaves that seemed to transport one’s mind to another time. The snow runoff from the volcano created a flowing course of waterfalls, slides, and mineral pools.
As we reached the starting point, the guides thoroughly explained that soon our bodies would be twisting and turning down the river–putting any water theme park to shame. Naturally, the water was cold but after an initial dip and adrenaline pumping, we adjusted to the temperature. It started off easily as we floated into mineral pools and moved past the rocks, smoothed and carved by the water over the years. Small waterfalls and whirlpools provided ample opportunities for cliff jumping for the daring. The tour company carefully mapped the river for safety and depth.
“What did I get myself into?” I thought, hanging off the steep rocks and feeling like I was in a horrible action movie.
The adventure progressed along with our confidence and soon we were flying off 21-foot waterfalls and plunging into deep pools of water. For many, like me, my confidence fell short when it was time to repel off the final 100-foot waterfall and then jump off of a 21-foot cliff. “What did I get myself into?” I thought, hanging off the steep rocks and feeling like I was in a horrible action movie. But before I knew it, I found myself halfway there, my new and lifelong friends, cheering me on.
Although I may not be starring as an action hero anytime soon, I conquered my nerves and doubts. Repelling off the waterfall reminded me of all of the inevitable fears and doubts I had before moving to Chile: fears of leaving a career, my loved ones, and a life I had created for myself. But ultimately I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I would regret not doing. For me, living and traveling abroad is about stepping outside of my comfort zone, no matter how minor or large those steps are. I can now add living in South America and flying off a waterfall to that list of learning experiences.
Top photo by Magalie L’Abbé (Creative Commons), Outside My Comfort Zone: Canyoning in Chile