Kayaking the First Fjord of Chile

Within 45 minutes of remarking to my paddling partner, “sea kayaking is so relaxing,” we were battling the highest winds and waves I have ever encountered in a kayak. P1020727The photo above is of my paddling partner, Norie Quintos, Executive Editor of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Note the darkening clouds ahead. I was so taken with the beauty of the place and the sunshine that had been pouring down on us for the most of the day, I failed to notice the ominous change in the weather. P1020770P1020737We were kayaking on the “first fjord of Patagonia” on the “Day of Adventure” that opened up the Adventure Travel World Summit in Puerto Varas, Chile. It’s called the “first fjord” because it is the northernmost fjord in Patagonia. The Adventure Travel World Summit is the annual meeting of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. This year it was held, just this past week, in Puerto Varas in the heart of the lakes region of Chile and the site of a volcanic eruption earlier this year. The one day kayak trip was one of about 30 adventures offered to all Summit attendees. I thought it would be a relaxing day on the water before a grueling week of meetings and schmoozing.

The morning met my expectations — sunny, smooth water, light breezes. After lunch on a rustic farm about half way down the fjord, we resumed our leisurely paddle. Soon after my unsuspecting comment, the breezes turned brisk. I looked over my shoulder and saw dark clouds gathering around the top of the volcano across the fjord (not the one that erupted a few months ago). I wanted to stop and take a photo but my my better judgement prevailed. The clap of thunder underlined my prudence, and we picked up the pace of our paddling.

The winds and waves kicked up even more as we got closer to our takeout point. The waves were coming at us a few degrees off our starboard side from behind. They lifted the kayak, making it difficult to guide our course with the rudder, and carried us forward. We were essentially surfing the waves, with a lot less control than a good surfer in the waves off Venice Beach. Frankly, I was scared, not at all sure that we weren’t going to end up in the very cold and turbulent water.

At one point, Norie yells that we are getting dangerously close to the rocks off shore. My response — “I’m doing the best I can. I don’t have a lot of control over this thing.”

Fortunately, we were close to the end of the paddle. Once we rounded the point into the bay, the winds were blocked and we were able to get into shore and out of our kayaks without incident. There were about a dozen kayaks — a mix of singles and doubles — in our party, and all made it safely in without dumping.

We celebrated by heading to a lodge a few miles away. Getting to the lodge required us to make our way gingerly across an almost washed out suspension bridge. P1020774That’s another story. Several glasses of wine later, I made it back across the suspension bridge, somewhat tipsy, to the van waiting to take us back to our hotels in Puerto Varas. A Day of Adventure deserving of the name….

(trip was operated by Ko’Kayak in Puerto Varas)

PS — The Summit was a huge success all around. Everyone had a great time and even got a lot of work done. I’ve lined up a number of incredible trips for the next year and beyond. Perhaps most important, the volcano across the lake from my hotel did not blow, as it did last February. It just provided great views from my hotel room, as did its companion a few miles, also visible from my hotel room. Fascinating country, Chile. Beautiful and wild with constant reminders of your mortality.P1130154 P1130157


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