June 14, 2011 § 3 Comments
We took advantage of the low prices in South America to try a bunch of adventure sports. Most cost under a third of their US-equivalent prices (yet still offer over half the safety!). Here’s what we’ve done so far:
San Gil, Colombia
My most commonly recurring dream is having the ability to fly — or to sort of hover using a mysterious seated position — over the trees and houses of my neighborhood. When I wake up I’m deeply disappointed that my magic power is gone. Paragliding is the answer.
You sit in a comfortable harness along with the instructor, the wind fills the sail behind you, and then you canter off the side of a hill and lift-off. It’s so gentle that I didn’t even realize we were off the ground at first. Once aloft it’s quite peaceful and not scary at all.
This involves attaching yourself to a rope and harness and rappelling down waterfalls. We started with a few different 3 to 6 meter waterfalls, then finished with a massive 40 meter (130 ft) waterfall where we hung suspended in the air as we slowly lowered ourselves down the rope. Looking over the edge 40 m below and then stepping off was probably the single scariest moment of all our adventure sports.
The agency provides full gear for the snow-covered hike up to the top of Volcano Villarrica, including an ice axe and crampons for when the hardened snow turns icy. If the wind isn’t right you’re not allowed to go to the top due to the toxic volcanic gas. We had a moderately strenuous hike up, and were fortunately able to look down into the mouth of the volcano. The unexpected bonus was sledding most of the way back down on our butts using the ice axe as a brake!
White water rafting
It was level 4 rapids that, due to higher-than-normal rainfall, occasionally reached level 5 which is just about as difficult of rapids that a normal person can attempt. Twice we needed to deboard and hike around particularly nasty rapids as the guides pulled the boats through with ropes. A few times the boat tipped completely sideways throwing Kasey onto me and knocking me into the water with her.
White water rafting without the raft. You hold a thick foam board under your chest as your legs dangle off the back, using flippers as your sole propellant to steer around the rocks. The guide screams “LEFT, LEFT, LEFT” at which point you kick for your life, occasionally ramming your knee into the top of a rock. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do so you just take cover behind your foam board and let the rapids take you.
We competed the official 3-day PADI open water diver course (total costs were only $300), so we are now Scuba certified for life. After the training being underwater feels like second nature and we have no qualms about having water fill into our masks or losing our air regulators.
San Martin de los Andes, Argentina
Kasey and I had to keep our strokes in sync in our 2-person kayak, which our guide said never fails to foster arguments between couples. We started in one fairly secluded lake, then paddled up a slow moving stream to another lake that’s only accessible by kayak. Breathing the cool mountain air and floating on the clear, serene water was invigorating.
Florianapolis, Brazil & Mancora, Peru
Even though we’ve lived along the California coast, we’ve never actually tried surfing. We took lessons in both Brazil and Peru and both times were able to stand up and ride a few waves into shore. The Mancora experience was less than pleasant as I somehow broke a fin off the board (cost me $30) and also managed to spur a local beach boy into threatening to fight me after I got in his way.
This isn’t exactly an adventure sport, but this post seems like the best place to mention it. The setting is a small volcano filled with mud supposedly 2,000 feet deep (though I’m skeptical of this claim). The thick, cool, goopy mud is the perfect buoyancy so you can’t sink your entire body below the surface even if you try. Maneuvering yourself in the liquid mud is unlike any other experience I’ve had — I somehow found myself flailing my limbs trying to position myself, inadvertently twisting onto my stomach then my back and then stomach again.
What’s next? We sky dived in California, but have never bungee jumped. Maybe somewhere in Eastern Europe…