by Chris Kasaar
Images of the magnificence of Patagonia abound: snow-capped peaks, flowing rivers, pristine forests, indigenous people, beautiful cultural traditions. Visual depictions of this amazing land and the people who call it home are the first thing that you notice when you arrive in this region of Chile – in airports, airplanes, restaurants, cafes, hardware mega-stores, on roadside billboards… Everywhere.
However, despite an obvious national pride for the area, the wild character of Patagonia is at risk. This is why each member of our team of 7, also known as “Rios Libres”, have spent the last few days working our way here from various points on the globe. There’s a proposal to put 5 dams on 2 of Patagonia’s most pristine rivers and we’re down here to do our damndest to create something that will help draw international attention to the issue.
Since our arrival, we’ve been working hard to make contacts, track down information, conduct interviews and prepare for our river and glacier expedition. We’ve been met with overwhelming support thus far and the locals have gone out of their way to befriend us and to help us make the connections that will be invaluable to the success of our effort.
This morning, the energy is high despite minimal sleep over the past few days. A pot of water bubbles on the stove, eggs are sizzling, gear is being sorted and bags are being packed. Timmy O’Neill hovers over the stove – eager to provide the team with steaming cups of cowboy coffee and a hot breakfast. Timmy arrived in Coyahique (our current home base) after an epic adventure climbing the north and central towers in Torres del Paine, on the edge of the third largest ice field in world. Timmy is to blame for the team’s sore belly muscles – a result of his quick wit and our inability to resist laughing at almost every word that leaves his mouth.
Craig, our resident writer, who had to shovel his way out of his home in southern Colorado only to arrive in Santiago to find out that the reservation for his next flight had been canceled, sits peacefully on a wooden bench overlooking the river and jots notes in his journal. Although I don’t know what he’s writing, I’m sure it’s insightful, brilliant, beautiful. He has a knack for perfectly capturing the moment and I wonder if some of this morning’s musings will find their way into his next book, article or NPR radio commentary.
The rest of the team scurries around reveling in our last showers (for a few weeks anyway), gratefully slurping muddy caffeinated water and working out the logistics of the day.
Next store, our fearless river guides prepare the rafts and kayaks and organize a massive amount of food. Josh Lowry, a world-class kayaker and a fixture in the guiding and exploration community has some of the most notable first ascents in Patagonia.
He and his crew have traveled a long way from their home river, the Futaleufu. Josh has experience fighting dams — the Futaleufu is also threatened by a hydropower project that would alter the river and the lives of the people who depend on it. Our cinematographers, Ed George and Denise Stilley, shoot footage of the whole process: sorting, packing, loading, laughing and planning.
I have to keep it short because I was just summoned by Q, our team leader and photographer to join the rest of the team outside for a pre-trip photo. (We need to document the fact that we were all clean at one point). Q is the reason we’re all here and he and I put in countless hours of work to make this happen.
In a few hours, we’ll set out on the river. Our hopes are high for what the next few weeks hold and for what we can accomplish, however, we all recognize that the work has just barely begun…