martes, 29 de abril de 2008

Supernatural River Tsunami

Flood waters along the Carretera Austral

The Baker River has been in the news lately, and not just at the center of the hydroelectric debate. A three square mile glacial lake disappeared in a matter of hours during April 6 and 7 and made a swift reappearance near the confluence of the Colonia and Baker Rivers. 200,000 million gallons of water seeped out of the lake through a large tunnel below the Colonia Glacier in the Northern Ice Field and raged for five miles towards the Baker River. The onslaught of water was enough to make the Baker change direction for two hours and rise 13 feet. It also dropped the temperature of the river from 52 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. There are accounts of animals being washed away and homes being flooded. Fortunately, there were no human casualties.

Scientists attribute this strange phenomenon to rapidly increasing temperatures in the region. The process of ice-melt and rising water pressure on the glacier below the lake caused the crack or tunnel. The Colonia Glacier has receded 1.5 miles in the past 50 years.

Many Patagons remember summers past with very few days of warm weather, but this summer temperatures reaching the mid-80s were the norm. While disappearing lakes are reported more commonly in the Himalayas and happen occasionally in the Andes of Peru, this is the second lake disappearance in southern Chile in the past ten months after a forty-year spell without anything like it. I haven't read anything about how the energy company reacted to this incident or whether it casts doubt on the stability of the zone targeted by the dam project, but it makes one wonder...

On the Tracking Patagonia front Sarah and I are hacking out a living back in the U.S. and hoping to get a trailer out very soon. As I review footage it's pretty interesting to see friends stroll through the room and make various observations about what I'm watching.

"Oh my Goood, that's beautiful! Lake Tahoe...?" Nope, Patagonia.

"Oh my God, look at the cat...haha, he loooves it!!!" What the cat loved as he sat next to me pawing at the television was a pair of woodie woodpeckers searching for worms right above our tent one morning.

"Oohhhh, I like that one!!!" In reference to a nifty little pan down from the moon to an ice-capped mountain and eventually down the mountain side to a raging waterfall on the side of the Carretera Austral.

As for my own reactions to the footage I'll just go so far as to say that some of it makes me laugh, other parts give me the craziest case of goosebumps and - for various reasons - a few parts even bring me to the point of tears, which is quite uncommon.

I am glad to report that I haven't settled into any real American routine after a month and a half back in the U.S.. I look forward to the couple days a week that I drive from Boulder down to Denver and Sarah and I sort through our footage, organize our efforts and hash out our next moves. Quite the crash-course in film-making...:)

For those of you who are interested in learning more about Patagonia and want to get the best news in one dose, go to The Patagonia Times website: There you'll find articles on the disappearing lake, the downward spiral of the controversial salmon industry (have you noticed where the salmon in the supermarket comes from?), as well as reports on Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s comments after a recent trip to Chile. You can also check out the Boston Globe's recent report on the rivers-at-risk and the New York Time's controversial anti-dam editorial.

Thanks for reading along!


martes, 25 de marzo de 2008

Dreaming in 16:9

It has been about a week and a half since I landed at Boston's Logan Airport on a cold March morning. Spring is just beginning to arrive in New England, a fact that is still hard to grasp after leaving Coyhaique in fall. In Valle Chacabuco, after our last day of shooting and last night of sleeping in tents, I had crawled outside to find the first hard frost. Time to go home and start editing, I had remarked.

Culture shock, as people call it, unfolds slowly. Here in Massachusetts, I feel like I shuffle from one hermetically sealed environment to another. While I used to marvel at the general draftiness of Patagonia houses, I now find our tightly closed and insulated living spaces in the north to be stifling. My family graciously entertains my desire to share maté with them and listens to my detailed explanations about the whole maté ritual, but more often than not I find myself sipping it alone by the window and daydreaming about wood burning stoves in the kitchens of the deep south. When I look up to the stars at night, it is hard to ignore the gaping absence of the Southern Cross, a constellation that had been a familiar fixture through countless evenings of eating spaghetti dinners and crawling into my sleeping bag under the massive Patagonia sky.

The mornings here are marked by once long-anticipated cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and I am comforted by the appearance of crocus buds in the backyard and the smell of wood smoke that stays embedded in the fibers of my raincoat. Patagonia still lives in 16:9 on my computer screen, and as I begin the process of wading through the hours of tapes from our journey I am struck by how elegantly its characters and landscapes appear on screen. The tapes unearth already forgotten memories: the suffering of the first awkward and blazingly hot days on the bicycles, the smell of 30 lambs roasting at the public asado (barbeque) in Cerro Castillo, and the strangely resonant vocal jam that transpires on our raft after 5 days of floating down the Baker. "Mucho río," river guide Yoanny comments dryly upon hearing our songs drift out of the fog. Yoanny Arratia is a Tortel native who once floated cypress logs down the river and now floats gringos down the river. In one of the most stirring interviews we filmed, he passionately declares his resolve to fight for the Baker - as he speaks more intensely, he rows faster and faster. "The river," he says, "is my house. And I like my house." Yoanny's interview is the first that moves me to tears while I watch the tapes.

As I head deeper into the world of raw footage, more fascinating characters emerge among sweeping shots of a land that now seems almost mythical. In Caleta Tortel, Berta Muñoz surprises us with the loaded emotion behind a quaver in her voice while she speaks of the hardships of the past. Claudia and Luís, an idealistic young couple raising their son in a house high above the harbor, rap on everything from US politics to the purity of the Pascua's water, and allude to the idea of Aysén's secession from what they call a highly centralized Chile. Alejandra, in charge of Tortel's Registro Civil, insists that sacrifices must be made for the development of Chile as a worldwide economic power, and accepts the idea of hydroelectric dams in her region as a necessary step for the entire country to move forward. Augusto Hernandez, a new father and president of local anti-dam group Los Chonkes, disarms us with his gentle manner and thoughtful eyes. He wants to see the small towns scattered across Aysén become more united for a grassroots and citizen-based fight against HydroAysén's project. "These things must be fought from the heart," he muses. It is late at night when I shut down my computer, but Augusto's mannerisms leave me to fall asleep smiling.

I realize these tapes are a treasure.

So while I still carry pesos in my wallet and the spirit of Patagonia in my heart, we here at Tracking Patagonia begin post-production with high expectations. The spells cast upon us during our journey have profoundly changed us. Many of these changes have only revealed themselves as we re-assimilate to our home turf. Some days here on the other side of the planet, it is so hard to grasp the existence of a place like Patagonia, that I wonder if I had filmed a dream.


martes, 18 de marzo de 2008

De una Tierra a Otra

Después de nuestro viaje en bici, decidimos a recorrer una parte de la ruta en camioneta para conseguir algunas tomas y entrevistas. Todo se ve diferente de un auto, y el mundo pasa mucho mas rápido afuera. No puedo creer que hicimos todo este tremenda viaje con solo el poder de los cuerpos.

Paramos en la confluencia de los Ríos Baker y Nef, un poco mas al sur de Puerto Bertrand. Aquí el agua celeste del Baker y el agua verde del Nef se juntan abajo de un saltón impresionante. Recuerdo de la primera vez que vi la confluencia: andaba haciendo dedo en septiembre, y pasé tres horas completamente fascinada en la orilla de los ríos. Hoy cruzamos el río y pasamos un día en el otro lado con Don Aquilino Olivares y su familia. Don Aquilino tiene ojos del mismo color del Río Baker, y una voz fuerte como el saltón. Tomamos mate y escuchamos a lo que dice Aquilino de su vida, su tierra, el mundo, y las represas. Aquilino tiene confianza que no van a construir las represas. El dice que el Baker es una fuerza poderosa, y que ningún ingeniero pueda ganar el Baker. El Baker hace lo que quiere, no va hacer lo que quiere cualquier persona! Admiro como habla Aquilino. El refleja el río en su manera.

En la vuelta pasamos por Cerro Castillo, donde se juntan unas veinte personas para conversar con nosotros. Nos cuentan del día cuando bajó un helicóptero de ENDESA en la villa. Ellos se juntaron y hecharon el helicóptero por afuera. Es un ejemplo de resistencia muy poderoso. Ellos esperan que los otros pueblos en Aysén siguen el ejemplo. La unidad y energía en Cerro Castillo es impresionante. Son una familia grande, y mientras luchan en contra de las represas, siempre lo pasan bien. Nos dan ganas de seguir adelante con nuestro propio proyecto, y llegamos en Coyhaique mas motivados.

Por fin llega el día cuando tengo que salir de la Patagonia. Aunque me da pena salir de esta tierra hermosa, se que es necesario para terminar el proyecto. En los Estados Unidos tengo todo el equipo listo para editar las horas de grabación. Así es que vuelo a Santiago una mañana clarita y preciosa, mirando Coyhaique, Cerro Castillo, y luego los ventisqueros de Parque Queulat. Imagino una linea de alta tensión cruzando todo el paisaje que veo. Que lastima sera, un golpe fuerte a los pocos pedazos de la naturaleza que nos quedan en el mundo.

Aquí en mi tierra, cierro los ojos y escucho a los aguas del Río Baker y Río Pascua. Me cuentan de que paso, de que sera, y los momentos intermedios. Espero el día cuando vuelva a los ríos para mostrar el documental a toda gente que conocimos. Mientras tanto, comienzo el trabajo de editar las cintas preciosas de nuestra viaje.


sábado, 1 de marzo de 2008

Reflections from Coyhaique

And so it is that we board the bus in Cochrane in the pouring rain and begin the trip north to Coyhaique. The bus roars out of town and we lurch and bump along the road above the Baker River. I wipe the fog off my window and watch as the site where we put in our rafts rolls by below. It is hard to believe that less than a month ago we were floating through the universe of that great river. As the bus moves onward, I marvel at the road and our accomplishment – the hills and bumps look every bit as difficult from the bus window, and I can hardly believe we made it so far. I think back to almost a year ago when I arrived in Coyhaique to teach English and made my first excursions out of town on the Carretera. It seemed like such a big, unfamiliar, and daunting wilderness back then. Now I recognize every bend in the road. The rivers and mountains hold familiarity, memories, and feeling. I know many of the owners of the campos we pass – what animals they own, what boots they wear, and how they prepare their maté. I realize that now, when I speak of the future of this region and its impending development, I speak of a place that has become a home.

Into the Wild

I’d now like to backtrack a bit and relate the final segment of our journey. After the amazing trek to Ventisquero Steffins, Rob and I leave Caleta Tortel and head into the great unknown. The Carretera from Tortel to Villa O’Higgins is the only part of the journey that neither of us has previously seen in another form of transport. For the first time, we have no idea what lies ahead. Down to two people and facing the longest stint without food sources, we have to carry much more weight. I additionally face the new challenge of pulling a trailer. We head off nonetheless, and begin the first steep climb which rewards us with spectacular views of the Baker from high above. We camp halfway up the climb with two French cyclists, Lucas and Pierre, who are down to 1,000 pesos (about $2), little food, and nowhere to get cash for over 100k. Their friendly playfulness is disarming, and we share our lentils while they offer us tea before parting ways.

We continue on and arrive in Puerto Yungay, a desolate port where the wind howls ferociously. Here we must board a ferry to cross Fiordo Mitchell before continuing south. As we await the next boat, we are invited for coffee and shelter from the wind in the army barracks, which houses the only human activity in the entire port. As we stuff ourselves with Nescafe, bread, and salsa, we discover that the two men living there fly helicopters for a sub-contractor of ENDESA. They tell us that they fly daily to the Pascua River, but don’t reveal any more details. We learn that in addition to ENDESA’s activities, the Chilean army is in the process of constructing the continuation of the Carretera Austral along the river. It is hoped that the road will someday reach Punta Arenas, but they are advancing slowly at about 5km per year. The men are friendly but politely refuse to give interviews, and the entire time we sit at the table a young soldier watches us from the corner. When we thank them and head on our way, the shorter of the two men (with a big smile and wrinkles around his eyes) follows us outside to snap a picture of our bikes and ridiculous cargo.

Onward to the Pascua!

The roads diverge on the other side of Fiordo Mitchell and we take the one less traveled. We hope it will lead us to the famously inaccessible Pascua River. My bike chain begins to fall off due to badly bent cogs, so we must frequently stop and bend it into place with a wrench. I wonder if I will end up pushing my bike to O’Higgins. We also realize that in our efforts to pack light we did not bring enough calories, and hunger becomes a real preoccupation.

We are just arriving to the end of the road where the water empties from Lago Quetru and the only possible crossing is by a military-operated raft, when we hear a voice call out to us. Hernán is extracting Cypress logs from the woods along the road and wants to know where we are headed. And so we find the only campesino that lives along the Pascua River in this sector. Soon we are loading our bikes into his handmade wooden boat and motoring off towards the great river.

The deep brown water of Lago Quetru meets with the glacial blue of the Pascua and the contrast is stunning. The current of the Pascua is the fastest I’ve ever seen, and the great sparking mass of water zooms by like a mirage on the horizon. I feel a lump in my stomach at the sight of this incredible river, so isolated and far away. Rob and I are drop-jawed and fixated, while Hernán watches on, amused by our fascination with his home.

Later than night we slather incredibly thick slabs of butter on bread at Hernán’s house to quell our hunger. For a small price Hernán will take us upriver to visit the site where ENDESA is conducting studies. It is agreed upon, and in the morning we set off in the little boat to motor against the powerful current. At times it appears the boat is barely creeping forward and it takes ages to pull past a bush or log sticking out in the water. I wonder if we’ll ever make it, but Hernán remains calm and with his hand on the accelerator, he slowly advances us upstream. As we near the site, activity is all around us. With ENDESA’s helicopters circling overhead, the military presence on the banks, and the dense brush hanging over the water, I can’t help but feel I’ve entered a scene from “Apocalypse Now.” The Pascua, that famously pristine and virgin river, looks like a war zone.

The boat strains harder and harder against the raging water as we near the great “throat” of the river, where the water empties from a narrow canyon into the wider section that continues out to sea. Here we tie the boat off and begin a wet and slippery ascent through thick and prickly brush, passing the camera up as we climb. We reach a lookout point where tubes and various building materials are strewn about. The helicopter circles overhead, making several drops of materials on the other side of the river. I stand in my soggy sneakers and look down at the millions of gallons of water rushing through the canyon, and I try to imagine a concrete wall stopping it in its tracks. I imagine the dense brush on the canyon walls gone and replaced by a water line. I imagine this river with its fearsome power measured, regulated, packaged, and sent north to fuel the machinery of “progress.” I imagine Patagonia without tremendous and frightening places like this river, and I wonder if my grandchildren will have the luck to find such places that truly humble them. When we have enough power to fuel televisions that suck the life from every household in the world, where will we turn? What power do we need that does not already exist in ourselves and in the last great wild corners of the earth?

We interview Hernán back at his campo, and he reveals that he has received very little explanation neither in support nor against the project. He also admits that he has no idea how a hydroelectric dam works or what it would look like. When asked about the possible use of his land, his eyes flash and he defiantly affirms that nobody can use his land without first asking his permission. Yet when we find a glossy calendar put out by HidroAysen, ENDESA’s public relations company in the region, we see that it prominently features a stunning photo of Hernán’s front yard.

And Everything After

I would be lying to say that the rest of our journey is downhill. We face the three most daunting passes of the route to arrive in O’Higgins, but the pain is alleviated by the presence of condors soaring overhead. We spend our last night on the road under the stars and below a glacier, the wind blowing through the night and the sunrise illuminating spectacular clouds. We find O’Higgins to be quiet and its people reluctant to talk, but we manage to film a few interviews, sell our trailers, and score a free ride north to Cochrane.

In Cochrane, Don Cecilio, an 89-year-old surviving pioneer of the Baker valley, looks me square in the eye and declares lucidly and passionately that he will fight until the very end against the damming of his beloved Baker. His words, his eyes, and his courage stay with me as we head north on the bus, further away from the heart of our journey but deeper into our commitment to the project.

Here in Coyhaique, I sit in my kitchen drinking mate, resting my sore knees, and sorting memory, image, and feeling into something that begins to make sense. Patagonia – its land and its people – has left a mark.

An End Note

Although we have finished our bicycle journey, the Tracking Patagonia project has just begun. We will continue to update our blog with stories, information, photos, and media as progress unfolds. Thanks for your continued support!


martes, 26 de febrero de 2008

El Fin de la Carretera - The End of the Road

Les digo con alegre que hemos llegado en Villa O'Higgins, el fin de la Carretera Austral. De aquí, mucha gente cruza el Lago O'Higgins y entra Argentina para seguir al sur. Para nosotros, el viaje termina aquí, pero el trabajo continuara. Desde Tortel, la aventura ha crecido como los ríos que siguen la carretera. Hoy día volvemos a Cochrane, y de allí a Coyhaique. Esperamos escribir mas detalles y cuentos de lo que paso cuando estemos en Coyhaique, pero en ese momento, tenemos que aprovechar el tiempo y hacer entrevistas. Les prometo mas historias del Paso Vagabundo, Puerto Yungay, el Río Pascua, y Villa O’Higgins…

I can proudly report that we have arrived at the end of the road! From here, most people cross Lago O’Higgins and continue south through Argentina. For us, the journey ends here but the project continues. The adventure has become wilder and more surprising the further south we continue. Here in O’Higgins, we have one afternoon to shoot interviews before we head back north to Cochrane by van. In the near future I promise you more stories of the journey south from Tortel: steep passes, condors, helicopters, and the incredible Pascua River…


sábado, 23 de febrero de 2008

Glacier Steffens and goodbye to Tortel

We made it to Steffens Glacier! Ventisquero Steffens is a massive tongue of ice that cruises down from the 'Campo de Hielo Norte', the northern ice cap in the region. Tortel was full of good luck for us and during one of our house visits, we made friends with the Conaf (Chilean Forest Service) park ranger and he invited us to film the glacier and the refugio that they are building out there.. It is a section of San Rafael National Park that they are just now opening up with the infrastructure for people to get there and see the glacier because up until now it has been pretty inaccessible. And we saw why..

We left Tortel on a government speed boat, passing slow fishing boats as we headed out into the fjords that snake away from Tortel. We then trolled up a river for a good hour, dropped off a poblador (populator) who lives out there and we also brought flour, wine, potatoes and cigarettes to a few men that met us on their horses and who asked us to buy medicine because they had sick cows and a troubled horse.. There aren`t many souls who live out there, but there are some families and we learned that they bring their animals to and from Tortel and beyond by boat.. imagine that cattle drive.

After we dropped the provisions, Rob and I headed off on foot and Sarah was invited to film from a small wooden boat that they wanted to bring upstream in order to cross the river further up. It was so neat to watch because a guy on his horse pulled the boat upstream with a rope and Sarah merrily rode along, filming. Then we walked and walked in a glacial valley full of calafate berry bushes and lush plants to the lake where the glacier breaks into massive floating ice chunks. It was beautiful.

One of the guys who had ridden out to meet us took us out on the glacial lake with his row boat and we got to row among massive chunks of ice and at one point jumped out and walked around a little on one. It was wild.. Interesting as well because the Spanish of the folks who live out there is really hard to understand because they are so isolated and have created kind of a separate language I think. The man then bid us farewell because he still had to cross three more rivers to get to his campo. So he took the saddle off his horse, put it in the boat and, get this, swam his horse across that ice filled lake.. As the horse snorted and swam across the lake, I wondered if he was going to make it because it was a long, deep swim and in water so cold.. but sure enough, he did and the man tied up his boat, threw the wool saddle on and rode off into Patagonia with his potatoes and cigarettes..

After taking in the glacier and getting a good chill (they really do produce their own micro climate) we started the journey back between these ice capped green mountains and did the whole process all over again to get out. Before we left we were given a little tour of the 'refugio' that they are building and getting ready for a dedication ceremony with regional leaders and CONAF. We also were able to talk to the man who was working on the building because he is from the Pascua (there are very few people who actually live on the Pascua, but people can recall them by name when asked!). He told us quite simply that he doesn't 'calentar la cabeza' (heat up the head) about things that he cannot control... and then he smiled, chatted with us for a bit longer and then went back to work.

Back in Tortel, we ended up splitting ways. I decided to head north with a forest service truck that could haul my bike because I needed to get back to Coyhaique. But, Sarah and Rob are going deeper, to the end of the road. They are on their way to O'Higgins to find people who live on the Pascua and also just to chat with folks there, the last stop in Northern Patagonia. Thanks for reading along!

Some photos from Rio Baker!

domingo, 17 de febrero de 2008

Week 4

We are almost four weeks into our adventure which has included about 130 miles on bike and 6 days floating the biggest river in Chile. We`ve been living outside have all become more flexible and accustomed to the tempremental weather which has incuded rain and sun and using what we have to make it work. However, our feat seems minimal when compared to the people who live here.

We have been spending time with the most incredible people, true pioneers of Patagonia, people who have lived far removed from the rest of the world, who started settlements and ranches without any assistance and have done it! The Carretera Austral just reached Tortel 6 years ago and up until about 15 years ago there was no television, radio, running water or electricity. People arrived and left Tortel on boat; on the Baker river to go north and south through the fjord channels, and up until recently, without motors... It is the chillest little town where people say `hola`to every passerby on the cypress walkways and invite any soul in their kitchen for `mate` with such incredible warmth and genuine interest.

We went in search of various characters to talk with, only saying a first name to be pointed to the direction of their house, and then, as complete strangers they welcomed us in and offered us ´mate`. I learned alot in the interviews with these people, they are fervently proud of their lifestyle and their little town that they consider an extended family. Strong characters in Tortel.

On our last night of camping there, we spent the night around the campfire with some Tortellinos who just come into the big city from their ranches in the `campo`. We were cooking lentils and enjoying a break from the rain when we saw a boat of Patagons cruising past our campsite on the beach. We waved and before we knew it, we were sitting around the campfire laughing with these characters. They all work the land on the outskirts of the southern `campo de hielo`which is the southern ice camp in Patagonia. And, all being from Tortel, they were solid friends of different ages and interests, but Tortelinos nontheless. It wasn`t long before another Chilean arrived on his horse, and not too long before another group of gringos joined us.. We later found out that we were the first `gringos` that a few of the guys had ever met. At one point we had to run into town for provisions and so we jumped in the boat and headed toward town, a colorful collaboration of houses and smoking chimneys built up from the pistachio waters, against green ice capped mountains. The kid driving handed me the motor and I cruised us into the town, taking in the crisp, rain soaked air and just digging these young kindhearted friends.

We are headed back into Tortel this afternoon, this time by the bumpy Carretera Austral, and then hopefully catching a boat out to Steffens glacier in the morning. A CONAF park ranger has offered to help us out and get us on a boat so we will see! Then, we will head south on the mysterious route that will only get more isolated and where fewer people live. Should be an adventure... we`ll let you know.

Rolling On

It´s amazing what drastic changes occur in a 3 hour bus ride on the Carretera Austral. We´ve made the jaunt from Caleta Tortel to Cochrane for a little weekend cultural festival and that means going from consistent rain to dry, dusty, sun-soaked days. From a seaside town of around 500 people on the delta of the Baker River to a metropolis of 3,000. From four computers with internet to at least four internet cafes. From cypress boardwalks to pickup trucks and cars. And what´s more, from a town in which nearly everyone seems to oppose the dams to a city where people are nearly dead-split on the subject. ENDESA has seemingly worked hard here to present their project as something that is going to happen, like it or not, and many of Cochrane´s residents see development and work in the future. We hope to delve into this divide much further as we interview more people.

Yesterday we met an eighty-something year old pioneer woman who recently rode on horseback several hundred kilometers to Coyhaique in a protest against the dams. The trip took nine days and 127 people participated. We saw the grand arrival to Coyhaique at the end of November and the goosebumps came back all over again when talking with this woman.

Yesterday we also got to see little kids riding bucking sheep around the rodeo ´half-moon´ and grown men lassoing and riding bucking bulls. Needless to say, empanadas abound.

The more time we spend on the road and lugging around our camera equipment the more people we find willing to help us along. Patagonia is a mystical place where things happen your way if you are well-intentioned. For example, the other morning we found ourselves on the point of missing our bus northward to the festival. We were facing a 45 minute walk with all of our gear through the boardwalks of Tortel from the beach campsite on one side of the town to the parking lot on the extreme opposite side of town. The bus was scheduled to leave in about 30 minutes. As panic was setting in a young Tortellino arrived on horseback to the beach. He greeted us and we explained our predicament. I took off with all I could carry and followed him in search of a boat to make our trip a million times easier. Sure enough he procured a boat with just enough gas and just enough space and we motored our way to the bus at it´s moment of departure. Good things happen here.

On Monday we will be making a trip to the Steffens Glacier, which is a decent boat ride from Tortel. The trip normally costs $300. A man we just met a couple days ago offered to take us for free.

Now I´d better get off the internet. All hasn´t gone smoothly on our journey and we´ve had our fair share of mini-disasters. Nonetheless, by pushing on we can be sure that we will just grow fonder of the Patagonia that we are getting to know so well and the people here will help us when we are down.

It may be a while before we can check back in. We will be hitting the road once more on bike on Tuesday and we´ll see where the road takes us. None of us know the route to Villa O'Higgins and few people have been able to tell us much about it. The grandest mystery of our journey will take place in the ensuing days. On we roll...


viernes, 15 de febrero de 2008

Swept by the Current

The Baker River gripped us. After a couple weeks on bike our six days on the river were a relaxing change. Glaciers peered down at us from their jagged mountain top lairs and flocks of birds called to us from shore. Salmon jumped and one 'average-sized' eighteen-pound Chinook Salmon found the net of a couple Patagonians we visited. At one point we estimated that 50 waterfalls were cascading down through the forests looming over the river. Then we realized we were way off. There must have been 70.

Our first day on the river brought us through La Valle Grande (Grand Valley), where we saw a plethora of birds and enormous waterfalls in the distance. The heat let up just in time for this leg of our journey and we floated much of the river with a light breeze in our faces. It's hard to explain the difference between pedalling against fierce wind on the steep pitches of gravel roads and just putting your feet up for a river float on one of the most raging rivers in all of Chile. We hit 'chillax' mode and just took it all in.

On Day Two we met a man who was transporting wool across the river. He lives in a sector that will be flooded if the Baker is dammed. His family has no idea what they will do if the project goes through. Their animals wouldn't survive at higher altitudes and he feels wholly disempowered in the face of this project.

Our second day of floating also took us through the biggest rapids of our trip. After securing all our equipment we found that the waves were big but not overpowering and we kept everything dry. From there we floated on again to the falls. This part of the river is impassable for commercial rafters (we went with the only commercial rafter on the river and they do about 4 of these trips a year.) The river narrows through steep canyons to a width of no more than 20 yards after reaching widths of well over 100 yards. This is also one of the proposed sites for the dams. We explored the area quite a bit and found it to be remarkably wild. The nearest road was some five hours hike and at one point during filming we were treated to a Condor gliding overhead. It's moments like those when we are reminded once again that we are doing something right here in Patagonia.

We portaged the falls section of the river on Day Four of our trip. Unfortunately this marked the low point of the journey as we lost Scott to a stomach bug. Thanks to a satellite phone we got in touch with Jonathan, owner of Patagonia Adventure Expeditions, and he met us about five hours down river where the highway meets up with the river again. Our latest news is that Scooter is back in the States and we hope all is well.

As for the rest of the raft trip we spent a couple days camping on the farm of an extremely friendly man who lives where the Vargas River feeds into the Baker River. Lalo Sandoval provided us with a bounty of stories. He revealed his pride in his land in a big way and vowed to never sell it. At the same time he admitted that if ENDESA offered him a decent salary to work on their dam projects he would accept the job. His home and farm are just a few hours float downstream from one of the proposed dams. Although his land wouldn´t be inundated nor turned into a reservoir the gleam in his eyes when talking about what he´s lived through in this region was moving to say the least.

We are now in the small town of Caleta Tortel. There are no cars, just sidewalks made of Cypress.

Before we go we want to thank our good friend and former English teaching comrade, Pete Logan, who was our boat´s captain and the lone man with oars. True to his newly christened nickname we spent many an hour spinning down the river at odd angles. Thanks Sideways Pete! Thanks also to our other guide, Joanni, who is a true Patagonian.

I'm now getting kicked off the internet with so much more to say! Soon we hope to be heading to another cultural festival in Cochrane and then we will get on the bikes to conclude our journey. We will be in touch! Thanks for all your support!


jueves, 14 de febrero de 2008

El Mundo del Baker

Aquí llegamos en la hermosa Caleta Tortel, después de seis días bajando el Río Baker en balsa. El mundo del Río Baker es como ningún otro lugar he conocido. Es un mundo de agua. Cada día el río cambia su carácter, y cada día nos quedábamos fascinados con su agua, sus orillas, su movimiento, y su gente.

A la gente que vive al lado del río, el Baker es una parte de su vida esencial. Los que tienen campos allí, sacan su agua tan pura y sana para tomar, cocinar, y bañar. (El agua en el Baker es mucho más puro que el agua nosotros compramos en botella.) Mucho de ellos bajan el río en balsa o lancha, y los que viven cerca de Tortel bajan el río con palos de ciprés que usan a construir casas y venden a otras partes. Lo mayoría de gente en ese sector viven muy aislado, pero comparten frecuentemente con sus vecinos y otros colonos como una familia. Pasamos dos días en el campo de Lalo Sandoval, un hombre muy bueno para hablar y bromear (específicamente con las mujeres), en su campo precioso entre Río Baker y Río Vargas. Lalo nos dijo que nunca vendría su campo a ENDESA...que nunca quería vivir a fuera de su tierra. Al contrario, su vecino Jorge Mansilla dijo que a el, le gustaría trabajar por ENDESA porque falta fuentes de trabajo en la zona.

No quería que el río termine - quería quedarme en el río para siempre. Pero lleguemos en Tortel entre millones de cascadas y ventisqueros arriba del desembarcadora del río. Tortel es un pueblo demasiado lindo y único en un fiordo. No hay calles en Tortel, solamente hay pasarelas de ciprés, y la aroma de la madera hace un buen ambiente. Acampamos 5 días en lluvia, pero encontramos que la gente en Tortel es muy abierta y amistosa. Pasamos los días conversando con los "Tortelinos," tomando cafecito y matecito en sus casas, y escuchando las historias de sus vidas. Siempre los que tienen poco nos ofrecen mucho, y su cariño nos ayuda cuando estamos cansado, mojado, y con hambre. Con ese cariño seguimos adelante.

Ahora estamos en Cochrane por el festival costumbrista. Acá, todo es seco y distinto de Tortel. Un descanso de la lluvia nos ayudó mucho. Desde allí, volveremos a Tortel para visitar el Ventisquero Steffins en una lancha de CONAF, y después seguimos al sur. Todavía nos espera la ruta hacia O'Higgins, y el poco conocido Río Pascua.


miércoles, 6 de febrero de 2008

Monstrous Big River...el Baker Nos Espera

Saludos amigos y amigas, aqui estamos en Cochrane, preparando a bajar el Baker en balsa con Patagonia Advenutre Expeditions. Estamos todos contentos y metidos en la Patagonia. No tengo tiempo para escribir hoy dia, asi es que nos vemos en Caleta Tortel...en 7 dias!

Hello friends and family, we have arrived in Cochrane and are preparing to head off in raft down the mighty Baker River with Patagonia Adventure Expeditions. All is well, and every day the land seems to open up and become more wild. We are healthy, happy, and more committed to our project. Unfortunately we have little time to post updates of recent adventures here in Cochrane - the time is nigh to head southward. We'll be in contact in Caleta Tortel after 7 days on this great highway of water...


sábado, 2 de febrero de 2008

Energía y Ánimo

Aquí estamos en Pto. Tranquilo, después de 220 kilómetros en la tierra más hermosa del mundo! Cada kilómetro andamos con más ánimo. Aunque no puedo sentir mis manos después de este día en el camino (puro ripio), he notado que no hay tanto dolor en mis piernas! Cada vez que quiero parar, el paisaje me da la energía para seguir. La energía que viene del corazón es lo más importante que existe. No sé como contar con megawatts, pero esta región tiene un potencial energético que uno puede sacar sin represas.

Después de Cerro Castillo, buscamos un amigo Robinsón Troncero que vive en el sector Río Manso. Robinsón lleva 57 años en este sector entre Laguna Verde, Río Manso, y Río Sin Nombre. Conocimos Robinsón en Cerro Castillo, donde él asistía clases de ingles con nuestro amigo Randy. Siempre encontraba algo especial en los ojos de Robinsón, y cuando ví donde vive él, entendí porque. Sus ojos reflejan la mágica de su campo. Él vive sin eléctrica, sin refrigerador, y sin auto. Cada semana en el invierno, él andaba 3 horas en caballo a las clases de ingles.

Pasamos unos días increíbles en Bahía Murta, con amigos Werner, Ninoska, y sus hijos. Ellos han construido la casa de sus sueños, todo por mano, al lado de Lago General Carrera. No quisimos dejar su casa y su cariño, pero seguimos los últimos kilómetros a Tranquilo hoy en la costa de un lago que tiene un color azul como nunca he visto.

Ahora preparamos por el tramo a Pto. Bertrand. Desde allí, bajaremos el Río Baker hasta Caleta Tortel en balsa. Cada día encontramos más sorpresas en el camino, y entendemos más de lo que es la Patagonia. Y siempre, los ríos suenan…

Water at Every Turn

We have just arrived in Puerto Tranquilo, a town of around 430 inhabitants. Our spirits are high after an awesome couple nights spent with friends Werner and Ninoska and their two kids in one of the most incredible places in the world. We stayed in their guest home (which up until two years ago was their family´s residence) and were treated to wholesome food and showers and even a spell in their sauna. We followed them around a bit and are excited to share their story with you through our film. They are an impassioned family and very much represent the soul of Patagonia.

We can now say that the documentary is taking shape as we get in better shape. It has been difficult at times to capture all that we want to capture with the camera due to other concerns regarding bike equipment, the swirling dust storms that follow each passing car and the constant battle to push onward. Nonetheless, we are trying our best to stop and take a deep breath and film whenever we can because it´s all so special. There is literally water all around us.

Aside from staying with Werner and Ninoska´s family we also spent the day with another friend, Robinson, who lives about 20 kilometers south of Cerro Castillo. He took us on a tour of his farm and we shared many rounds of mate. Robinson has lived all of his 57 years in the same place alongside the River Without a Name and is another example of the type of pioneer who make this place so incredible. In the fall he travelled to and from an English class on horse, 3 and a half hours there and back, every Saturday. We ride onward knowing that the pioneers of the region have perservered through harsh winters and volcanic eruptions and all we can do is keep on pushing.

Thanks for being patient with these blog entries because internet isn´t a part of the natural landscape around here. We will be embarking on a 7-day rafting trip on the Baker River on February 6th, where we will get lots of footage of what is at stake in this dam project.

The sun is now setting and camp must be set up. We will check back in as soon as we can and thanks for reading along!

domingo, 27 de enero de 2008

Escuchando en las Sombras

Aquí estoy, mirando las jinetadas en la sombre de Cerro Castillo. Nos demoramos tres días a llegar en Castillo desde Coyhaique. ¡Pero llegamos con animo y esfuerza! Eso fue las primeras 98 kilómetros de nuestro largo viaje.

Bajamos la Cuesta del Diablo con el viento en las caras quemadas, un dolor en las piernas, y orgullo en los corazones. Llegamos justo con el festival costumbrista acá en Castillo, una de las fiestas más famosa en la Patagonia. Aunque andamos cansados de los primeros días en bici, seguimos grabando todo que vemos en el festival con cariño y energía. Encontramos que la gente quiere conversar con nosotros, y quiere compartir las costumbres de la vida en esta zona. Poco a poco, empezamos a juntar las imagenes y la voz que serán nuestra documental. Bailamos chamamé, tomamos vino, comemos cordero, y escuchamos a las historias de los pobladores.

Como estamos metiéndonos en la cultura, creemos más cada día que vamos a pegarnos en el espíritu del sur. Pero igual entendemos que somos extranjeros y no podemos decir como debería ser el futuro del región. Hemos notado que hay una presencia de gente en contra de las represas acá en Castillo. Hay muchas banderas que dicen "Aysén Sin Represas," y parece que la mayoría están de acuerdo con las banderas. Castillo es una villa que gana mucha del turismo, y muchos mochileros vienen de todas partes para ver el Cerro, los ventisqueros, y la laguna. La gente acá vive sus costumbres como ha mostrado con cariño este fin de semana. Ellos se reflejan la tierra y me parece que no quieran que la cambie. Dijo Robinson, un amigo nuestro que vive en el sector Río Manso, de las represas: " demás."

Con memorias lindas del festival en Castillo, preparamos a seguir viajando. Mañana nos toca el primer día sin pavimento. Aunque lo pasé super bien, espero la tranquilidad de la tierra más al sur, y los momentos preciosos de silencio en la naturaleza. Seguimos escuchando a la gente, para que ustedes sepan como piensan ellos y que quieren por las vidas de sus hijos y los hijos de sus hijos.

A Different Kind of Whirlwind

In a flurry of reassuring good fortune we welcomed the arrival of two crucial elements to our trip on the day before our departure. The first is a solar charger that serves to recharge our camera batteries even when our physical batteries are utterly drained. It straps onto the back of Rob´s bike trailer - which looks more like the caboose of an enormous man-powered locomotive - and was a cause for concern before its last-hour arrival.

The second stroke of luck came from a friendly British fellow (who just may have been an angel) that Rob met in the local bike shop while searching for a few last-minute bike tools. The young chap had just spent a couple weeks in man-powered transit to Coyhaique from Puerto Montt (the Chilean port city which marks the Northern start of the Carretera Austral) and was dumping his gear in Coyhaique. He complained of biting rains and awful road conditions in which the loose gravel made driving his bike trailer a true pain in the butt (that must have had something to do with his bikeseat as well.) Anyway, Rob caught Richard at just the right moment as he was cleansing his hands of his bike and trailer forever. His excitement to get rid of all his stuff was a bit alarming but darned exciting too. The exact same trailer that we couldn´t afford and had made us wonder just how we planned to carry some 50 pounds of equipment on our backs and bicycles happened to fall from the sky the very day before we hit the road. Thank you Richard.

The trip itself has been grand. We´ve sweated and had a couple noteable bonks (biker terminology for the strange -and not entirely unexpected in 95 degree heat - phenomenon that makes a person feel like they´ve hit a brick wall after strenuous physical activity) but on the whole we feel good about our progress.

We arrived in the town of Cerro Castillo (translated as Castle Mountain) after 98 up and down PAVED kilometers in about two and a half days. We have found that making a documentary while in the midst of a grand bike journey is one heck of a challenge but we are figuring it out. It gets a bit annoying to set the camera up and then retreat to get shots of us passing throught the remarkable countryside of Patagonia but it must be done.

In Cerro Castillo we have had a blast. We are able to concentrate much more on the documentary now which is our reason for being here. This small town of about 580 has been inundated with thousands for their annual cultural festival. The towering mountains and swimming holes and sunny skies have made us realize there is no place we´d rather be.

So far at the cultural festival we have witnessed lamb killings and a bevy of other typical Patagonian ceremonies on a very grand scale. There have been horse races and parades and art fairs and Patagonian yard sports. We have listened to local folk music and danced the nights away. The gauchos (Patagonian cowboys) we have spoken with have been unbelievably receptive and helpful.

If there´s one thing that our early good fortune, the beautiful weather and the amazing Patagonians have shown us it may be that,thus far for TRACKING PATAGONIA, the stars are truly aligned.

martes, 22 de enero de 2008

La Hora de Partir

Son las siete de la mañana, y no me he levantado tan temprano desde terminé haciendo clases en la escuela. Estoy tomando un mate en la cocina, y pienso en las horas que hemos pasado en esta cocina: pensando, conversando, y finalmente preparando por el proyecto. Por fin, hoy es el día de partir.

Imagino las experiencias que nos esperan en el camino. Claro que vamos a sufrir los primeros días (¡y las primeras subidas!) en bici. Claro que vamos a equivocarnos muchas veces cuando filmamos. Pero igual, tendremos una experiencia profunda. De eso, estoy segura.

Llevo ocho meses viviendo aquí en Coyhaique. Llegué buscando la mágica de la Patagonia, una tierra conocida en todo el mundo por sus paisajes preciosos. Encontré una cultura y una gente que es mas linda todavía que el paisaje. Aunque comprendo que cambio es necesario, no quiero que la gente acá pierda lo que tiene. Pero, como no sabemos que pasaría en nuestro viaje, no sabemos que pasaría en el futuro de la Patagonia Chilena. Así es que viajaremos con esfuerza y escucharemos con corazón, aprovechando este época y este momento en un región especial.


lunes, 21 de enero de 2008

Riding With the Wind (We Hope)

The endless nights of drinking maté and brainstorming in front of our computers are coming to a head. TRACKING PATAGONIA will exit the phase of grant proposals, press releases, and logistics on Tuesday January 22, when we finally hit the road.

Our team of Sarah Athanas, Rob Jackson, Anne Hedderman, and Scott Jackson have our bikes as ready as they’re going to be. We will also be joined by a friend of Sarah’s, Russ Finkelstein, for the first week or so.

The relatively fast-paced streets of Northern Patagonia’s capital city of Coyhaique (population 50,000) will be left behind and the dusty, bumpy, and curvy main Patagonian thoroughfare called the Carretera Austral will become our home. A bit of anxiety and a lot of excitement accompany our last-minute preparations and they are a fit pair of emotions. They are one in the same.

We have formed this team due to our shared love for Northern Patagonia. We have agreed that sometimes it is the risks one takes that make them stronger (in our case the risks have nothing to do with masked mauraders or armed guerillas, and much to do with grueling uphill climbs and unpredictable weather.) We are sure that by guarding our expectations and not fretting over the unforeseen perils of our bicycle trek and week-long rafting trip on the mighty Baker River we will get a firsthand look at the spirit of the region.

We plan to ride at a moderate pace, travelling about 30 kilometers every day. Some days the ascents over mountain passes will be daunting. Other days the descents will be uplifting. The rainstorms will soak through and mighty winds will be biting. Days of sun and heat will dry us out again. If there is one certainty on this journey it is that the potholes and gravel and blowing dirt of the Carretera will shake our bones and move our souls.

Our bonding attitude – we can’t wait to see what happens! We hope you enjoy our endeavor from afar and feel a part of the transformation that we will be undergoing. Northern Patagonia is facing incredible change in the face of the proposed dam projects and we want the whole world to know what is at stake. Please be content to read along for now. Soon enough we will have a feature length documentary to stretch your minds and open your eyes.