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!