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!