Finding the Destination within the Journey

Photo: Kyle Smith


There was no way around it; we were stranded, and the outlook was grim. Chris dropped his bag and paddle on the shoulder of the road, resigning to simply sit down and wait. We didn’t talk, but we were both thinking the same thing: we had spent four days of hard travel to get to the Futaleufú and we were still several hours from our destination—if we were lucky enough to get picked up as hitchhikers. On top of that, we had a flight to catch out of Santiago in just a few days, which didn’t leave much time for getting to Futa, let alone experiencing much of it before we had to turn around and head back north.

I dropped my bag, too, and sat down in the silence. The scenery was breathtaking; we were nearing the heart of Patagonia, and the snow-capped mountains around us betrayed the heat we felt in the valley. The countryside was impeccable, glittering with windblown grass and the echoes of ibis overhead.

Our trip south from Pucon was fraught with challenges from the gate. The overnight ferry from the port city Puerto Montt was booked for days by the time we arrived, leaving us stuck in the fishing town with no planned accommodations. The ferry itself, from Puerto Montt to Chaiten, would not turn out to be comfortable travel. Small, hard plastic seats formed cramped rows in a large, crowded holding bay for hundreds of passengers. Sleeping was impossible, facilities were limited, and we had made the rookie mistake of leaving items of comfort, like additional jackets and food, in our bags checked in cargo.

We had arrived in Chaiten bleary eyed but relieved to finally make some progress in our pursuit of Futaleufú. Hungry and exhausted from the travel, we slowly made our trek by foot from the ferry into town to catch our bus toward Futa, chuckling at all the travelers hustling past us in a mad dash toward town. A few minutes later, after finding out the bus was full and unavailable again until the following morning, we understood the rush off the boat.

I munched on some tuna fish and crackers we had stocked up on before hoofing it out of Chaiten. We’d agreed to hitchhike as far as we could for the next two days, camping if we had to. At some point, we would have to call it and turn around to make our way back north in order to catch our flight. Not actually making it to Futa was a risk we were willing to take to try.

Photo: Kyle Smith

Back in the States we had argued with others and ourselves about whether or not to travel with our paddles. But a personal paddle is an integral part of a kayaker, and thus our stubbornness had won over common sense, which—unbeknownst to us—would save us later in Chile. A Futa local eventually picked us up because she recognized we were kayakers from the paddles sticking out of our packs. However, she wouldn’t head toward Futa until she resupplied all the way back into Chaiten, effectively undoing the several hours of hard walking we had endured in an attempt toward Futa. But we were grateful nonetheless.

Sitting on the side of the road with Chris, I realized there could be no bad ending to this trip. It had been challenging, yes, and nothing went according to plan, but it was full of color. At the very least, we would find ourselves sleeping under the biggest sky in the world, blanketed by a majesty neither of us could have ever imagined. And I didn’t yet know it, but we would soon be driving past land rumored to be owned by conservationist Doug Tompkins. Eyes glued to the window, I would spend the next few hours hoping to spot a puma or a fox as we wound our way toward the Futaleufú.

No, I didn’t yet know that the juice would be worth the squeeze. I stole a look at Chris; he was haggard, but I couldn’t help smiling at our circumstances. Indeed, even if we didn’t make it any farther, we had made it far enough.