We used Ko Kayak to do three adventures during our stay in Petrohué: mountain biking, kayaking and white water rafting. Our experience communicating with Richard, the owner, ahead of time was excellent. He was quick & responsive and very thorough and his English was flawless. Our guides also were excellent and had a terrific grasp of English… something that is not easy to find in Chile.
KAYAKING FROM COCHAMO TO RALÚN
We were able to cross off a few things on the old Life Bucket List the day we kayaked the Petrohué River from the hamlet of Ralún to Cochamo, a small fishing village at the tip of the fiord where the river meets the sea. My husband and I took a double kayak while our teenaged son took a single. There was one other person in our group, along with our guide, Matias. It was our first time ever kayaking a fjord, and this is the northernmost fjord of Patagonia.
We put in off the long concrete ramp of the fisheries office that gradually led us down into the water. We wore wet suit bottoms, splash jackets (because it was a very warm day, but the Pacific water was very very cold) and spray skirts. Under the elastic cording of our kayaks were thoughtfully placed granola bars for a quick energy boost should we need them.
With a spectacular snow capped volcano behind us at the mouth of the fiord, the setting was breathtaking! We started when the sea was at low tide so that we would have both the wind and the tide at our backs, helping to push us up the river. And believe me, after about an hour & a half, we needed that help!
We hugged the southern shore of the fjord, passing many mussel farms. Apparently the mussels are grown here on lines suspended from large floating buoys that are strung together in long rows. We passed some fishermen working the lines and they smiled and waved as they went about their business and as we passed them by.
The mountain sides along the edge of the river, where they were not quite so steep, were small cattle farms. And we passed a few of these, looking like green patchwork quilts, along the shore.
We came to the shore at lunch time in a picturesque spot. With a snow capped volcano to the north of us, across the wide river, it gave us a spectacular backdrop to take in as we ate. And the lunch was fantastic: pasta with veggies, lettuce and balsamic dressing in bags to pour on as we liked. There were thermoses of coffee & tea, juice, cookies and even papas fritas (chips) which our teenaged son happily devoured. Our guide was a master at keeping the conversation going and was a consummate host, unpacking and serving the lunch and making sure that we were all happy and satisfied.
After lunch we headed across the wide river, cutting across at a 45 degree angle, using the waves to help push us to the other shore. It was tough slogging, and our guide had to perform a number of excellent, mid-river-in-the-waves rudder repairs to get us across.
Once we got across, the waters were calmer once more and that's when we were able to check off another bucket list thing: I spotted a penguin! A lone penguin! It was only the second time our guide had ever seen one. It was diving underwater fishing, but its head kept bobbing up so that we could see its distinctive eye bands. I never got a photo as he was too far away, but it was wonderful to see.
We'd hoped to see many sea lions, basking on the mussel floats as well. But because the day was absolutely perfect, with intense sun and not a cloud in the sky, many fishermen were out, so the sea lions were scarce. But I spotted a sea lion too, and he bobbed his head up once near our boat, curious as to who & what we were.
We came out at a spot where the river took a wide bend, at the lighthouse of Ralún. We helped load the kayaks back on top of the van, and then we headed back, a 20 minute or so journey along gravel & paved roads, to the base of Ko Kayak in Ensenada.
BIKING FARM TRACKS
Originally we had booked a canyoneering adventure with Ko Kayak, but when it was unexpectedly cancelled for reasons outside their control, the Ko Kayak people quickly replaced it with another option… and filled our day with 2 activities: biking and whitewater rafting.
We told Matias, our kayaking guide from the day before, that we were strong bikers looking for a single track adventure, but he came and sought us out at our hotel that evening, saying that the trail wasn't safe: that it needed to be cleared of winter debris (rocks, dead fall, deep bits of pumice sand, etc.) and that we'd need to do something else instead. That, I think, says a lot about this company.
So we went biking along some farm tracks & roads, seeing a bit of the countryside along the way. The roads were very rocky and filled with the black volcanic sand of the area and so the resistance was tremendous. It was hard slogging on our way in, but the way back was fun with some fast downhill stretches where you had to keep your forearms really loose to ride the rocks well. The only bad part of the experience: riding a hard tail bike! Without that rear suspension, my husband & I and I were so sore that evening and the next day!
I think we surprised our guide, Joachim (pronouced “yo-geen”) with how fast we rode because he ended up sending us away to do something else for 2 hours and then had us come back for lunch. I guess the only other thing we could do was ride our bikes on the paved roads, but we weren't really interested in that. So we headed back to Petrohué and had ice cream & rested up a bit for our afternoon adventure instead.
WHITEWATER RAFTING THE PETROHUÉ RIVER
Our whitewater rafting adventure was spectacularly fun! We began 3km downstream from the Saltos de Petrohué waterfall near our hotel, on the Petrohué River. The section of the river that we were running was classified as a 3+ rapid. By completing this adventure and our kayaking (mentioned above), we saw most of the river's course, from its start at the mouth of the lake, right beside our hotel (the Petrohué Lodge), through to the sea.
Our guide was once again Matias, and he was playful and made the trip exceptionally fun for everyone on our boat. Despite throwing us overboard on purpose, we never felt unsafe.
At times the water was fast and furious! We'd crest over a big wave and then plunge into its trough. We only lost a passenger once, but he easily floated through the rapid in the safety position (feet first, arms on top) and then swam to our boat where we hauled him back on board by his life jacket straps. (They gave us a safety demonstration & lesson before hand, so we knew what to do should this happen).
The water was cool and sweet. I know that, because Matias had me go up front through one set of rapids, princess style, like the figurehead on the prow of a ship and I got face full after face full. Clinging to the rope at the head of the raft, I loved peering overboard and seeing how incredibly fast we were moving as the rocks whizzed by underneath us during the clear sections. And when the rapids came upon us, it was absolutely thrilling to see how far we were plunging or how high we were tossing!
Mattias asked our teenaged son between rapids if he wanted to “Ride the Bull,” and of course he did! So our son went up front, sat on the pontoon edge of the raft at the prow with his feet dangling over the edge, and rode, balancing through a very turbulent set of rapids. The photos show the sheer joy expressions on his face. He had a blast! (And no worries: it was very safe.)
Mattias encouraged us to abandon ship and float through the last rapid… and we did! We all jumped overboard in an instant and floated through a gentle rapid. It was a lot of fun. Getting back on board was quite tough, as you have to be hauled on board over the large pontoon sides, hoisted out by your life jacket straps.
The rafting experience was super fun and the setting spectacular, but it was our guide, Matias, who made it. He was just the right combination of playful & fun, safe and skilled. His presence in our adventure took it from excellent and exciting to superb and one of the most fun experiences of my life!
There is one other thing to note: there is a man who goes along side the adventure in a single river kayak, taking photos along the way. He takes about 280 photos of the adventure (spread across 2 boats) and his photos are excellent quality. They really capture the sheer joy and the expressions on our faces. And we had no idea when or where he was taking them, so the moments he captures are truly authentic representations of the experience. You should know ahead of time that he charges 30,000 Chilean pesos/boat… no matter how many discs he gives you… and there are about 5 passengers per boat. You pay for this is in addition to the cost of the adventure, and it is separate from the Ko Kayak company. And you are under no obligation to take them. But it is excellent value and quality and I highly recommend it. When you return to the office after the rafting trip, they give you a snack and put up a slide show of the photos so you see them in advance of making your decision.
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