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!


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