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.