“Sign this waiver honey we’re going rafting!” The Futaleufu River or “The Fu” to local river runners is classified as one of the top three whitewater rivers in the world. Although it is dammed for hydroelectric energy in Argentina where it originates it flows freely in Chile where it eventually empties into Lago Yelcho. Our 20 kilometer, 7 hour trip on the Fu included four class V rapids and a dozen class IV, a long day of thrilling whitewater. Having been a whitewater rafting guide for several years in the early 80’s I can say that this was probably the best one day river trip I’ve ever experienced. The rapids just kept coming and in spite of being drenched in ice water we continued to laugh and giggle through purple lips and chattering teeth. Besides the thrill of the ride the beauty of the river and canyon is stunning. The water is turquoise in color owing to glacial till and it is crystal clear. When we saw the rocks on the bottom we realized just how fast this river was traveling. The river was so clean we could drink it. The hassle of buying bottled water was wearing on us after traveling in Latin America for over a year. Finally in southern Chile we could not only drink from the faucet again we could fill our bottles in the river.
Pristine rivers are being damned at an alarming rate throughout the world for hydroelectric energy. Many have fought battles against these projects and many have lost: the Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado in the U.S., Three Gorges in China, the Bio-Bio in South America and so many others. Recently a multinational corporation proposed a large scale hydroelectric project on the Futaleufu in Chile which would install three dams and quell the river covering almost all of the rapids with reservoirs. A number of Chilean and international non-profit organizations joined forces to fight the project citing protection of the natural areas and communities of the watershed. In October of 2014 the company withdrew from the project citing international opposition, a major victory for the Fu. Currently the river is safe but the company still owns the water rights and may sell them to another entity and the fight could go on. If you’re anywhere near the Futaleufu we highly recommend a ride on the Fu!