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How to Learn Spanish and Kayak in Chile

A river in Patagonia, Chile.
A river in Patagonia, Chile.

I would not claim that I am generally a multitasker. Sure, I can perform two tasks at the same time, but I prefer to focus on one or the other. Patting the head, let’s say, or rubbing the stomach.

Nevertheless, I need a few simultaneous tummy rubs to reach some of my head-patting goals. Take, for example, whitewater kayaking and Spanish-speaking.

Whitewater kayaking captured me—mind, body, and soul—a dozen years ago, and even hornswoggled me into the ranks of certified whitewater instructors. In all that time, with all that experience, you’d think I would have the basics down by now. But the lazy truth is, when I got good enough at some skills, others didn’t seem necessary, or as necessary, anymore.

When I first started paddling in whitewater, I wobbled and flipped the boat over in most every ripple and rapid. My Eskimo roll, the ability to upright myself from the submerged position, kept me afloat, and I practiced the valuable skill often. But as I improved, I neglected this much-needed skill. In return, it eluded me.

While studying in Spain during college, I had no choice but to use castellano. It captivated me much like kayaking has. Since then, however, spoken Spanish has drifted from me, if not completely drowned.

Learning Spanish in a crowd on a cliff.
In Chile, there are many opportunities to speak and learn Spanish, often in spectacular locations!

The solution to both problems seemed to be in one place: Chile. I began by contacting friends who had paddled in the long, thin South American country, where so many glacier-fed, westering waterways cascade from Andean peaks that kayakers could boat a different section of river almost every day of the year. Most whitewater outfitters in Chile operate on Patagonian rivers, in the southern part of the country, but I opted for central Chile, where just one company plies the waters. Chilean Adventures specializes in whitewater kayak trips, but its co-owners—American Todd Ericson and Chilean Eduardo Doerr—are proponents of experiential education. They also run annual high school, university, and gap-year programs, and adult Spanish courses as well.

River in Chile with trees.

So I began my 2-month tour of Chile solo, but quickly connected with the Chilean Adventures crew, who by day engaged my kayaking skills. By night (and mid-afternoon siesta hours) they engaged me with the chatty, non-English-speaking proprietors of Los Castaños, a comfortable guesthouse on the Rio Teno in sleepy Los Queñes.

Toward the end of my own Chilean adventure, I found myself sharing a taxi and translating the cab driver’s Chilean dialect for a couple visiting from Spain. Not only had I regained my castellano, but I had gained an intermediate understanding of Chilean Spanish. Best of all, when I finally returned home, not only could I upright my kayak again, but I could rrrroll my Spanish r’s while doing it.

For More Info

Chilean Adventures offers the kayaking lessons that I took in Chile.

Expediciones Chile offers kayaking lessons in Chile.

Numerous Spanish-language schools operate in Chile. See TransitionsAbroad.coms “Study Spanish in Chile” page.

Related Topics
Adventure Travel
Adventure Travel in Latin America
Study Spanish in Chile

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