Rafting the Futaleufu River, Patagonia

Rafting the Futaleufu River in Patagonia - photo by Rob McFarland

Rafting the Futaleufu River in Patagonia – photo by Rob McFarland

Escape travel section, Australia – Nov 13, 2011

Finalist, 2012 National Travel Industry Awards Best Travel Writer

“Pay attention,” shouts Pedro from the back of the raft. Six panting heads snap around in unison. We’ve failed to make it to the exit on the left side of the rapid so after some furious back-paddling we’re now in an eddy on the more dangerous right side.

It’s time for Plan B. In front of us the river roars between two hulking granite boulders and there’s just enough space for our raft.

“Ready?” asks Pedro. We nod. Forward paddle. We launch back into the main flow and are catapulted towards the right boulder. Commands come in quick succession: Left back … right back … all forward and we dig our paddles into the bracing, teal-coloured water. The boulders whiz by in a blur of grey and we’re spat out into the calmer waters below.

Exhausted, I turn around to see Pedro grinning. “Good job,” he says, his deep, infectious laugh echoing off the sheer rock walls.

Today is Big Friday. In rafting terms, it’s the biggest day of whitewater in the world. Fifteen Class 4 and 5 rapids spread over 15km of the Futaleufu River in the depths of Chile’s Patagonia.

Read the rest of this story here.

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The grungy charm of Valparaiso, Chile

 

Houses in Valparaiso, Chile - photo by Rob McFarland

Houses in Valparaiso, Chile – photo by Rob McFarland

Escape travel section, Australia – Oct 16, 2011

On paper, Valparaiso in Chile doesn’t sound all that appealing.

About 120km northwest of the capital, Santiago, it’s a busy commercial port with a handful of museums and monuments. Most mornings it’s enveloped in a thick, view-obscuring sea fog and getting to most of its hotels, bars and restaurants involves climbing one of 42 steep, stitch-inducing hills.

Despite all this, UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage site in 2003 and about 50 cruise ships call in every summer. Either Valparaiso has some very clever marketing people or there’s more to it than its resume suggests.

Read the rest of this story here.

Chile’s new breed of winemakers

Casa Marin vineyard near Santiago - photo by Rob McFarland

Casa Marin vineyard near Santiago - photo by Rob McFarland

Escape travel section, Australia – Sep 11, 2011

Everyone told Maria Luz she was mad to try growing grapes in Chile’s San Antonio Valley.

The valley is just 4km from the coast and every morning gets smothered in a cold sea fog. They said the grapes would never ripen. Or they’d be killed off by the frosts. And what about the humidity?

She ignored all the advice and planted her first grapes in 2000. They did ripen, eventually, taking two months longer than everywhere else, and they had to use heaters and fans to combat the frost and humidity.

But in 2003, Casa Marin winery had its first vintage and Luz became Chile’s first female vineyard owner and winemaker.

Read the rest of this story here.

Chile’s Atacama desert

 

Top of Toco Volcano in Atacama desert - photo by Rob McFarland

Top of Toco Volcano in Atacama desert - photo by Rob McFarland

Escape travel section, Australia – July 31, 2011

“Go up like an old man, come down like a teenager,” advises Pablo. I’ll second that. I’m 200 metres from the summit of 5600-metre-high Toco Volcano in the Chilean Andes and I feel 108.

At this altitude, every step is a breath-sapping test of physical and mental endurance. I’d never understood why climbers sometimes turn back within a few hundred metres of the top. Now I do.

Read the rest of this story here: Breathtaking Chile (PDF)

Santiago city guide

 

The Aubrey Hotel in Santiago - photo by Rob McFarland

The Aubrey Hotel in Santiago - photo by Rob McFarland

Escape travel section, Australia – July 17, 2011

Chile’s capital tends to get a bad rap when compared with other South American cities.

It might not have Rio’s party atmosphere or the style of Buenos Aires but it certainly has enough sights and attractions to justify hanging around for a few days.

It’s also the main gateway to the country, so if you’re coming to Chile, the chances are you’ll be passing through Santiago. So before you go dashing off south to trek in Patagonia or north to explore the Atacama Desert, take a few days to live life like a Santiaguino.

Read the rest of this story here.