In thinking about our first international Cali Collective trip in Chile, I found myself returning to the phrase “Beauty begets inspiration,” and I realized that I didn’t know where “inspiration” comes from. According to dictionary.com (whose definition I found most poetic), inspire means “to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence,” and is derived from the Latin inspirare, “to breathe upon or into.” What exalting beauty did I discover in Chile? Beauty in the turquoise waters and weird and wonderful landscape of the Araucanía Region, and beauty in the stories and moments shared by the gente querida (dear people) that I grew to know there. What did I feel has been breathed into me? A yen to continue exploring my environment and my own self, with a view to the ever-expanding horizon of potential.
It is especially exciting and nerve-inducing, as a newer paddler, to see a river for the first time. Perhaps this feeling never fully goes away, and this “twinge” of the unknown is one of the many impulses of kayaking. I had never before experienced the big gray-blue waves of the Enco River, feeling the massive quantities of water roiling beneath my boat. Or the high canyon walls and sharp turns of the Lower Maichín, with its trickling waterfalls.
Our group spent several days beneath the snowy, smoldering gaze of Volcano Villarrica on the Liucura River, which joins with the Trancura River to form the bigger La Junta rapid before take-out. As we ran the rapid multiple times, it felt less intimidating, and one had a sense that things were starting to slow down. I also felt that there was a constant undercurrent of joy at simply being out on the river in such a new and beautiful place, highlighted with the exclamation of “We are kayaking in Chile!”
The landscape of southern Chile is lush and transformative, from the jagged granite peaks of the Puesco Valley to the natural hot springs at Panqui and the magnificent lakes unveiled from the mist en route to Choshuenco. We stayed mostly within the Araucanía Region, so named for the native trees that can grow to over 2,000 years old and appear to be a creation of Dr. Seuss, with green pinecone-like branches that spread out in all directions. We saw several of these ancient ones on a full-day horseback ride to the mountain lake Guadalafquén, close to the Argentine border. The muted tones and still air of those high up forests, punctuated by bird calls and the bright red splash of the chilco bell-flower, set free the mind wandering in ethereal delight.
I have come to learn that the people one meets while traveling become an integral part of that experience. Each of the nine women who made up our trip came with her unique perspective and talents, and it was rewarding to grow closer to these women and absorb from the passions that drive them. I saw many qualities to aspire to, and much to remember with a smile. Thanks to the great taste of our “chief facilitator” Melissa DeMarie, we were hosted at a lovely lodge outside of Curarrehue by the most capable LJ Groth, who, along with knowledgeable Robby Dastin, drove us around, laughed at our jokes, and had our backs in those ten days. Through LJ we were fortunate to meet several local families that shared their homes and Mapuche culture with us. One memorable meal at the house of the lonco (chief) included purée de piñones, a delicious mash laboriously made from the nuts of the araucaria tree. Another night we were hosted by Rosa and her family, and learned of how Rosa had been working in the past few years to reclaim the land that we had been enjoying. Like many others that we met, she radiated with a kind manner and grace.
Our time in Chile left me feeling uplifted and exhilarated. It seems to me that inspiration can be an effective antidote to fear, for while fear may be an inevitable part of the journey, we also have the beauty of those who surround us and our own reserves of strength to help to guide us beyond what we may have believed ourselves capable of. This holds true now as I face new challenges in the rich jungles and steep rocky rivers of Colombia, in our world filled with the wonders of possibility.
Our multi-talented author, Sarah “Sarita” Kay, hails from the Green Mountain State of Vermont, but spends her summers in Northern California and winters in South America. Sarita is an avid traveller-kayaker-writer-fencer and integral piece of Cali Collective. Keep an eye out for this one!
Photos by Sami Hawkins, Kayla Lopez, Kylie Tasker & Melissa DeMarie
All words and images copyright California Women’s Watersport Collective 2017. All rights reserved.