Who We Are

7 Jun

Who We Are.

Brotes Nativos

11 Jan

I left Puerto Bertrand about three weeks ago with my friends David and Vale.  You probably saw the photos of the sunrise and the scenery as we left but if not here are a couple photos.

We drove for about 6 hours along the dirt highway and finally arrived in Cohyaique, the capital of the Aisen region.  It was really interesting for me because here was my first real experience with Christmas.  There were no signs, lights, mangers, snow, or advertisements to buy a bunch of things in Bertrand.  And really the only sign of Christmas in Cohyaique was a really large tree in the square that didn’t really seem to fit in and a few women on the sidewalk offering to wrap presents.  It was really nice to be free of the consumer grip that this holiday has on our culture.  Most people in Bertrand and Cohyaique were planning on celebrating with their families with a big dinner, music, and some drinks and the atmosphere was much more relaxed.

After a night in a hostel, I flew to Puerto Montt, walked around the coast and watched homeless dogs playing.  They would slowly sneak up behind people with food while wagging their tails and looking sad, just hoping something would come flying their way.  There were also many couples kissing and hanging out with wine enjoying each other’s company, and some high school break-dancers dancing without music.  That night I took an over night bus to Los Angeles, took a taxi to another bus station, waited for an hour while a behemoth of a dog, who didn’t seem to like me very much, kept barking and howling at me for over an hour, then took another bus to Los Naranjos where I was dropped off at the end of a dirt road and walked in about a mile where I found my next farm, Brotes Nativos.

Los Naranjos is a small village which is part of Santa Barbara which is just southeast of Los Angeles, Chile.  Leticia greeted me at the locked gates and I met Wal-E, the dog, and Claudio the student working on his practical for his technical education degree in agriculture.  The area used to be primitive forest but as of the last 5-10 years has undergone serious logging and development for many displaced individuals of the Mapuche and Pehuenche tribes.  Very close to Los Naranjos is the Rio Bio-Bio, the second longest and widest river with the third largest watershed in Chile.  They have put in two large hydroelectric dams (Ralco and Pangue) and are currently putting in a third.  The locals in that area have been relocated to the surrounding areas, which has caused some cultural tension as well as resentment for the destruction of the surrounding forest and land.  Again, we see ENDESA’s involvement.  They owned the water rights to the Rio Bio-Bio and again constructed the Ralco dam.  Below are a couple good references and a paper written about these dams.

This website is actually a PDF file titled The Ralco Dam And The Pehuenche People In Chile:
Lessons From An Ethno-Environmental Conflict. Alywin.

United Nations Environment Programme Dams and Development Project

Back on the farm, I was finally in a place where everybody only spoke Spanish.  Within the first couple of days I was able to understand and carry on a much better conversation than I had been able to earlier in my travels.  The farm is only about two acres but all the plants and trees there are native to the area and adapted to the hot, dry climate.  We spent the first day building “tall beds.” These are just like raised beds but to help keep the ground moist we dug down about a half meter, filled it with straw, and then dumped in a bunch of water.  After, we replaced the soil and made a raised bed for planting.  The straw helps to keep moisture in the ground so the roots can grow farther and the water does not evaporate.

I worked with Rapa, Leticia’s partner who is from Rapa Nui (Easter Island).  We talked a lot about Jamaica, sustainability, and how the farm is very natural.  We spent most of the two weeks working together planting, digging, cutting branches, and cleaning up the place.

Leticia is currently working on her Masters in education, has been involved with education for fourteen years, has a forestry engineering undergraduate degree, is currently taking an English class, has kids, is divorced, is trying to bring the community together to live more sustainably and communally, and works part time on local farms teaching about various methodologies.  She is amazing!

She teaches courses at Brotes on making shampoo, oil, and soap.  She works with schools to teach kids and teachers about climate change, biodiversity, composting, worms, water, air quality, etc. and recently had a meeting with the superintendent of seventy schools to work with them on educating the students.  We spent a Saturday working on lesson planning and developing ideas for international exchanges in the future.

I spent Christmas and New Years here with Leticia, Rapa, Wal-E, and Leticia’s son Julio.  We had a really nice, relatively small (especially to what we consider normal in the states) dinner of potatoes, chicken, sausage, and some tomatoes and beans.  We told stories, danced, listened to fireworks in the distance, and listened to reggae music.

But, after a little over two weeks, it was finally time to move on.  Some of you may know the rest of this story already, but I am actually writing this update from the United States.  Over the past four months, I have been doing a lot of thinking, working, researching, and planning to start an environmental education center here in Flagstaff and am currently working with a couple great friends and partners on this project.  For the last two months, most of my days were spent thinking about all the things I could be doing back in Flag and my free days were spent planning things to do when I return from South America.  It was hard living in the moment anymore and I decided that it would be more beneficial to get to work on building the dream and following the path that seemed to be obviously laid out in front of my face.  Hopefully, our place will be up and running this summer offering classes and demonstrating sustainable lifestyles.

Thanks a lot for following along for the last four months and I hope that you have learned a bit from my experiences.  I hope to keep up with this blog as the environmental education center starts moving along so you can see how it is progressing.  Take care everyone and I will be talking with you shortly.

From the Perspectives of HidroAysén

15 Dec

I know I just posted yesterday about the AGT trail, but I wanted to write about what I just learned at a community meeting here in Puerto Bertrand on Tuesday.  If you visit Chile, you will notice billboards in Santiago and all over the roads in this region either opposing (the majority of them) or promoting HidroAysén and the dams.  Pretty much everyone I interacted with down here is anti-dam and anti-HidroAysén.  On my first trip with the students from NIDO, there were three who where in favor of the dams prior to the trip but returned home in opposition because they had access to new perspectives and information.  Obviously, I am biased on the situation for various reasons, but I had not yet had the opportunity to meet with anyone from HidroAysén.  Although we generally experience cognitive dissonance with an opposing argument, usually we can learn a great deal by listening and trying to understand the facts they use and the arguments they fight against.  Much to my surprise, the day after we returned from the AGT trip, HidroAysén was in Puerto Bertrand presenting their new option for constructing the future transmission lines.

Who Are They
HidroAysén is owned by two companies, Colbún (49%) and Endesa Chile (51%).  Endesa Chile is owned by Endesa Spain (and somehow two companies, Enersis and Chilectra fit into this path but I got lost trying to figure that part out).  Endesa Spain is owned by Enel, an Italian based company involved with energy projects on four continents, Europe, Africa, and North and South Americas.

Approval
The Environmental Impact Assessment, conducted in 2008 by HidroAysén, for the five proposed HidroAysén dams was recently approved by the government.  However, the transmission lines have not been approved and the EIA will begin in 2012, again conducted by HidroAysén.  You may be asking, “Isn’t that weird that a company building something gets to do its own EIA?”  Well, many people in politics and business would disagree with you.  Although in reality these two projects cannot exist without each other, they are seen as two separate projects with two separate EIAs.  According to a documentary called Patagonia Rising, there are 29 agencies that found the first EIA poor and lacking data.  They listed species in the area but had no information about how the dams would affect them and they did not address the safety of the dams if a GLOF (Description and video) were to occur.  Another environmental concern is that about 60% of Chile’s rivers are already diverted in some way and plankton levels (the primary food source for many food webs) have declined by around 40% in the world’s oceans because of reduced inputs.

Proposed Dams and Displacement

The two dams on the Baker would displace a total of 14 families and the three on the Pascua would displace less than that.  Of the fourteen families along the Baker, only two have turned down HidroAysén’s offers which includes, $5 million dollars, a new ranch that is larger than the one they currently own, relocation costs, and free education for the kids.  Not a bad deal in all reality.

Community Meeting
On Tuesday, 13th December 2011, HidroAysén came to the community center in Puerto Bertrand with a group of about eight or ten people loaded with display boards, videos on large flat screen TVs (Check out this website for the video I watched), pamphlets, models, and a thirty minute power point presentation.  They were set up for most of the day to answer questions from locals,  provide information about the project, and later that afternoon were prepared to have a town hall discussion.  They were promoting the new transmission line construction plans.  Previously they wanted to run the lines somewhere between 2200 and 3000 km (depending on your source) through pristine forest, private land, and national parks from the south to the north because it was the most direct and cost effective route.  Now, because of the uproar by Chileans, they are proposing a route that follows a main highway (Ruta 7) from Cochrane for 660 km to Chaitén, where the lines would go underwater for 160 km in the Golfo de Ancud to Puerto Montt.  Here they would connect either to a National Energy Highway (which does not yet exist but was recently proposed by President Piñera and could have a price tag of somewhere around $4 billion), the existing infrastructure, or they will build completely separate lines altogether (this part is still a bit unclear from the time I spent with HidroAysén).  I get the feeling this new plan they are unveiling is what they wanted originally but they proposed the more destructive path first and used a bit of reverse psychology on the citizens, but this is totally speculative on my part.

Proposed Transmission Lines From Cochrane to Chaitén

 
Closer View Near Puerto Bertrand

Transmission Line Project
I talked with two people, Nicolás Espinoza Rosas – Especialista Medio Humano – nmer@hidroaysen.cl and Pablo Botteselle De La Fuente – Electrical Engineer – pbd@hidroaysen.cl and obtained the following information.  Feel free to email them and ask as many questions as possible.

The general construction of the lines would be as follows:

  • Lines cannot be over 600 meters in elevation because of safety concerns and regulations
  • Lines and towers would be built near the highway in order to reduce environmental impacts to the forests while utilizing established roads rather than building new ones
  • This would reduce the amount of access roads and clear cutting of trees
  • The lines would use direct current (DC) as opposed to alternating current (AC) because they would be able to use one tower versus three separate towers at each location.  If they used AC, the three towers would require clearing a path of about 200 meters wide but the towers would only be 30 – 40 meters tall.  By using DC, they would only need one tower and clear a path of 70 meters wide, each tower being a height of 40 – 60 meters, and placed every 425 meters.  This would reduce the amount of steel, clear cutting, transportation and resources required.  Ultimately, they would need about 1500 towers in the 660 km path.
  • Of the total 660 km path, about 24% will need to be clear cut or trimmed because unlike the energy laws in the US and Canada, Chilean energy laws state that trees and shrubs can remain under the lines but cannot grow within 6 meters below them.  This method reduces the amount of erosion and runoff versus completely clear cutting.  The path for the lines would also be free of fencing so migration patterns of animals would be open and cattle could still graze below the lines.
  • HidroAysén also stated that with this new route the lines will not go over anyone’s house or garden and will avoid all national parks
  • The transmission line project will not displace anyone
  • They plan on pre-assembling most of the towers and using helicopters to drop them in to their respective locations in effect reducing the number of access roads needed.  They would only build some access roads, clear the area for a tower, and then use pack mules and hikers to walk the path of the transmission lines clearing the areas necessary for the towers.  They also told me that because they would use choppers to drop in the towers, they would probably not have to pave the main highway (Ruta 7 is a dirt road, pretty cool).

Many people have argued that these lines will affect tourism and deter people from coming down.  HidroAysén plans to use hills, mountains, and trees to conceal the lines and has offered to paint the towers to blend in with the surrounding environment where necessary (maybe an unnecessary plan seeing as how most paint is pretty toxic to use and produce).  They claim that from Ruta 7, only 20% of the towers and lines will be visible but they did not discuss all the places people live, go fishing, hiking, camping, or hunting, that would be able to see the lines.

I asked them about their plans to employ locals and how often times, companies claim they will use locals but later bring in outsiders.  Pablo told me according to regulations, this project must employ a certain percentage of local people which works out to be about 3500 individuals but HidroAysén sees the problem as not having enough educated people who are trained for the positions they need.  They have started giving out scholarships for people to go to universities in order to pursue degrees so when they graduate they are prepared to work for them, but I did not get any actual numbers.  He also said they would rather work with the locals who can provide hotels, laundry services, meals, or other services for the workers they do bring in.  I do not know whether or not a company can claim these types of workers as “hiring locals” but I would assume yes.

HidroAysén also has a budget (an arbitrary number thrown out at me was ~$100 million dollars) for what they call “social compromises.”  I asked if that was just a fancy term for a bribe but they strongly disagreed.  Either way, they have been providing money to local schools, providing scholarships, helping local businesses improve, coming up with ways to provide locals with cheaper energy, and providing places for locals to go in order to sell crafts.  In other words, greasing the wheels.

A few universities have been researching the alternatives to this plan.  It has been shown that most of the energy is needed in the northern parts of Chile, primarily by the mines.  One alternative is to establish a solar plant in the Atacama, with much less biodiversity affected and much closer to the places requiring energy.  Chile also has great potential for wind and geothermal energy that could be established in the northern regions.  Another study showed that Chileans are starting to choose more energy efficient products.  Before coming down here I stayed in Santiago with a friend named Kristopher who works for an energy company that promotes energy efficiency.  Many energy companies, especially coal, are starting to realize that if they invest in marketing efficiency to their customers while raising energy prices (in Chile residents pay about $0.30/kWh and businesses pay between $0.13 – 0.25/kWh), they will still increase their profits while reducing the need to build multibillion dollar power plants or infrastructure.

I discussed this with both Pablo and Nicolás and I asked if there was more support for the alternatives, would that essentially mean that there would be no need for their company?  (I love asking this question because it’s funny to see them get really angry but try not to be at the same time.  But, in all reality, I think it’s true.  HidroAysén’s only project is to design these dams and transmission lines).  Of course they adamantly disagreed with me and quickly provided numerous reasons why their company is significant.  Their main argument was that without hydropower, Chile would not be able to fulfill its energy needs.   They see this project, or at least HidroAysén sees this project as part of a bigger combination of all different types of energy.  In order for Chile to meet its energy needs, they have to build hydroelectric power now and incorporate solar, wind, and geothermal later.  The alternative is to simply use more coal, but nobody wants that.  A very nice political answer like I expected to receive.  I also asked what else Endesa is involved in…yep, investing and researching solar, wind, and geothermal projects in the northern part of Chile.  Interesting but not surprising.

In my opinion, HidroAysén is doing a great job finding out what the community needs, wants and is looking for.  They have covered all of their bases and I don’t doubt for one second that the people involved aren’t working extremely hard.  However, their “social compromises”  have started to create financial jealousy and expectations within the community.  There were some heated arguments between people who are in favor of the dams and receiving financial benefits from HidroAysén while others are struggling to find work to provide food for their families.  It is also obvious that putting in dams and transmission lines is going to have an environmental impact, but they seem to be trying to reduce the impacts as much as possible.  Hopefully it is not only lip service.  For a good report on the environmental impacts of the dams and transmission lines, check out this link for a report completed by MIT.

Last, before I left, I said to Pablo, “History is full of examples of big companies, especially energy companies, making promises to people about money, safety, work, the environment, but consistently breaking those promises.  What is going to keep your company from doing the same?”  His reply was simple, “Chilean law.”  So, I guess that’s that, we all know how effective laws can be.

The Aysén Glacier Trail

14 Dec

The AGT is a 114 km trail that takes 8 days to hike…it is certainly no joke and gives you an appreciation for enormity and harshness of the wilderness here in Patagonia.  I took the following two sections from the itinerary created by Patagonia Adventure Expeditions because it provides some nice history and information about this trip.

Aysén, Chilean Patagonia
There are several theories as to the origins of the name Aysén. The most popular is that early explorers and cartographers working from ships, often commanded by British naval officers, would refer to the many tidewater glaciers or “Ice Ends” in a mix of English and Spanish, which eventually became Aysén.

The Aysén region is the most recently developed and least populated area of Patagonia. Surface area is 42.519 square miles with a population density of approximately 1.2 people per square mile. 48% of the land is protected with (un-protected) lakes, glaciers, native forests and uninhabited islands that account for a further 20%. Aysén is still a frontier, bounded to the west by the Pacific Ocean where a multitude of uninhabited islands in the Chonos and Katalalixar archipelagos can be found. Argentina lies to the east where the Andes transition from verdant forest to mountains and on to the grassy plains of the pampas, creating a rich biodiversity. The two continental ice fields are the world’s 3rd largest reserves of water.

Remarkably, you can drink directly from rivers, streams and lakes with no water treatment being necessary. Clean, free flowing rivers and intact hydrologic basins from the ice to the ocean are the region’s most valuable asset and least known environment.

Aysén Glacier Trail
The Aysén Glacier Trail is a trekking route bordering the Northern Patagonian Ice Field
between Lago Bertrand and the confluence of the Baker and Colonia Rivers in Aysén,
Chilean Patagonia. The trail consists of six permanent campsites that contain six 3-person tents at each site, cooking facilities, stocked dry goods, dining shelter and bathrooms.

There are also full sized air/foam mattresses at each site for all guests. The trail is protected on both ends by lakes. This means that on Day 2 of the itinerary, we cross Lago Bertrand and Lago Plomo in a motor boat to reach the trailhead, and on Day 8 Lago Colonia is similarly crossed. These natural boundaries and the exclusive rights that Patagonia Adventure Expeditions has to the commercial operation of the route through both private land and the Laguna San Rafael National Park guarantee your complete wilderness experience. The Laguna San Rafael National Park is on its way to becoming an UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Our group consisted of eight people.  Two clients, Greame, a travel writer, journalist, and photographer from England, (for some interesting articles, issues, and photos check out his website at www.graemegreen.org) and John, from the US who works for Exxon/Mobil as a geophysicist.  Traveling with us was a new employee, Carina, who has a degree in ecotourism and was on the trip to learn about the trail in order to make improvements and promote the trip.  The three guides were Soto (Chile), Gringo (Chile), and Zac (USA).  Oh yeah…and me.

On the first day, we took a boat ride across Lago Bertrand and Lago Plomo.  When we exited the boat, Gringo realized he forgot a sleeping bag.  Needless to say, it would be a chilly first couple nights for him, even though he slept with half of his body in a dry bag and and used whatever extra clothes we had to cover the rest of his body.  We hiked up a monster of a mountain and had a beautiful overlook of the Valle Soler.  Later that night, we would find out that for whatever reason, not only did Gringo forget his sleeping bag but he was also starting to get a cold and had a horrendous cough…that only started when we laid down to sleep.  It definitely made sleeping a fun challenge and became a group joke after eight nights of listening to his symphonic cough.

The next day we were met with beautiful weather.  We hiked towards Palomar Ranch at the back of the Valle Soler.  We had to scramble up some sketchy paths clinging to roots and small rock holds, walk along the edges of fairly good sized cliffs, and use ropes to help us downclimb in a couple places.  After hiking through an old growth forest we reached the ranch and later had a delicious chicken dinner and bathed (separately) in the river to a beautiful backdrop of mountains.

This next day was HUGE.  An eleven hour trek while carrying packs weighing somewhere around 80 lbs.  As we started out through the old growth forest, every joint in my body started to scream.  I thought, “WOW!  Today is gonna suck!”  Every step had to be calculated and secure because being nimble is not really an option with this much weight on your back.  We came out of the forest into a beautiful open field only to be followed by a 600 ft ascent, and for whatever reason, the elevator was out of service.  Muscles burned, joints ached, and lungs needed more oxygen, but the view and clean air made it easy to keep going.  At the top, we approached the Nef Glacier.  I couldn’t believe that I was actually here.  Never in my life had I ever expected to see a glacier in person, let alone walk across one.

Videos:
Group walking down talus slopes and onto glacier
Carina and Jeff walking onto glacier

We slowly made our way across the talus slops and then onto the glacier.  We strapped on our crampons (and of course, I got yelled at by the guides because I started to run around with crampons, in other words…knives willingly strapped to your own feet).  They proceeded to explain crampon safety to everyone and my childish behavior was used as a great example of what not to do…I did it on purpose…yeah, we’ll go with that.  As the crow flies, we needed to go about 3.5 miles, but in reality we must of walked 5-6 miles because we had to zig and zag around crevasses and cliffs in the ice.  It was absolutely amazing.  There were rivers of the purest water in the world, bright blue ice patches, and sometimes holes in the ice that seemed to lead to the center of the Earth.  We stopped to have lunch on the glacier and to indulge in the bottle of triple distilled, single malt scotch that John brought along accompanied by four rocks of glacial ice to give it a nice chill.  I have never had anything like it.

Quick water facts.

  • 2.5% of all Earth’s water is fresh and 2/3s of that water is locked up in glaciers (now a little less since we drank a bunch of the runoff used some ice for our whiskey.  Sorry to drain the world’s water reserves for our selfish purposes).
  • Less than 3/10 of 1% of total freshwater is available in liquid form at the surface of the planet.  Remainder is in permafrost, soil moisture, plants and animals, water vapor.
  • Most accessed source of water for humans is rivers and streams – these hold about 6/1000s of 1% of total
  • A healthy human needs to consume 2-3 quarts of freshwater/day

Based on 2-3 quarts/day the following deficiencies can occur:

  • 1% deficiency = thirst
  • 5% deficiency = fever
  • 10% deficiency = immobility
  • 12-15% deficiency = death after about a week

After our little break, we made our way to the glacial terminus where we took off our crampons because there was a lot of rocky material making it difficult to walk.  However, hidden beneath the sand, gravel, and rocks was all ice.  Basically, no step could be trusted at this point (I’m actually being really serious here) not to mention the 80 lbs attached to our backs and the approaching rainstorm and wind gusts which made things a bit more tricky, especially when walking on the edge of a slippery, icy cliff.  After we passed the glacial terminus, we had to ascend another few hundred feet of slippery, chossy morraine, where we reached our final camp in the Laguna San Rafael National Park.

The next day was a rest day and boy did I rest.  I slept in until 12:30 and when I got up, I almost fell over because so many parts of my body had fused together overnight.  Eventually they loosened up but I had giant blisters on my heels which actually hurt the most.  Luckily the weather was beautiful again but rather than being trapped by rain at camp we were trapped by the flies.  We had to stay in tents, around the fire, or in a small supply shed to hide from them, and for whatever reason, the Tabanos (horse flies) seemed to have experienced exponential growth overnight.  They had always been bad but now it was terrible that we had to cover up.  Imagine going to the bathroom…doesn’t sound charming?  It wasn’t.

Tabanos terrorize Graeme and add to the atmosphere of fine dining in the woods

We left the next morning and walked through Valle Buena Cueva with old growth beech  but when the sun came over the rim, we were mauled by flies.  It actually became pretty funny how bad they were and we started catching flies and throwing them into rocks.  I know you are thinking this is probably not very humane, but I am pretty sure karma will not be after us for getting our paybacks from fly killing.

Revenge on the flies

We made our way along the talus slopes of Lago Cachet Dos with amazing views of the Colonia Glacier.  We had to walk on very unstable rock slopes while getting attacked by flies, it was like being on an adventure game show; doing something extremely dangerous while being distracted by something stupid.

Lago Cachet Dos is famous for its Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs).  Ice dams will break and the entire lake will drain below the glacier in about 10 hours causing a massive amount of water to flow down the Rio Colonia.  This is one of the arguments against the dams because there is some uncertainty if the dams are built that they might not be able to withstand a very large GLOF.  The locals living along the banks have a radio system to communicate in case a GLOF occurs which gives them time to retrieve cattle, sheep, and horses.  There are also cameras and gauges that are always monitoring the lake levels and when it drops below a certain height, it sends out a warning signal.

This ice is around 200 ft tall…just from the water line!!!

That night it started raining and held on for the remainder of the morning.  We walked from camp, down the mossy mountain side, along the beach from the Colonia Glacier to Lago Colonia.  Here we were to be picked up by a boat, but no one was there.  It was freezing and the rain and winds did not help.  We waited for about an hour and then made a fire and I started to run around on a part of the beach and liquified the sand.  Liquefaction at its best, but this is basically what happens to the Earth during a serious earthquake.  The waves cause saturated, unconsolidated sediments to rearrange and act as a liquid.

My liquefaction demonstration video

As I played, and people warmed themselves by the fire, Soto was talking on the Satellite phone trying to figure out what happened with the boat, if we needed to take a helicopter to fly us across the lake, or if we needed to head back to camp.  It ended up that no helicopters would come out because it was not an emergency and we did not know what happened to the boat so we headed back to camp.  It was a nice day to read, relax, and enjoy the scenery.

We left again the next morning and when we arrived on the banks of the lake, there was Lucho (a gaucho working at Sol de Mayo ranch) and the boat.  Apparently, there were problems the previous day so we took the boat apart, reassembled it and crossed the lake.  This beach was the end of the trip for the NIDO students and I.  We made our way back to the ranch where we decided rather than hike out the remaining 28 km, we would relax for one more night.

Our final day ended with a fast paced hike out of Valle Colonia.  We hiked the 28 km (17 miles) in about five hours and passed though the ranches of Don Julio, Don Domingo, and Don Umberto and Señora Isabelle.  We crossed Rio Baker on the ferry, off-roaded for two hours, and cruised the dirt road back to Puerto Bertrand.  Surprisingly, I couldn’t fall asleep until 12:30 am, but there was no doubt in my mind I would sleeping well.

A Week Without Walls

26 Nov

Hey everybody,

It’s been a while since I last wrote and it’s been about a week since the students from Nido de Aguilas left Puerto Bertrand.  I hope the following story accurately yet briefly describes the highlights of the eight days we spent together.  Some of you have already looked at the pictures I posted, but I hope that putting the trip into words helps describe some of the photos you saw.  When I last wrote, I was coming up with activities for the trip and the guides were prepping the gear.  There was a lot more work than I had anticipated and getting everything ready for one trip takes about a week.  The ranches are not close, and there is a lot of weight that needs to be transported.  As you read what the students, guides, and I hiked through, keep in mind that two other guides, Leo and “Gringo” followed this same path three days earlier delivering enough tents, sleeping pads, pots, pans, silverware, plates, and enough food to support 20 people for six days via horse over rugged terrain and long distances.

On Sunday the 13th, I anxiously waited for the school group to arrive.  It has been four months since I have taught or had a lot of exposure with students.  I could feel the teacher trapped inside my now traveler body, wanting to jump into action, and I had a million uncertainties rushing around inside my head, “Was the teacher a science teacher, was this trip more like a vacation for the students, was I going to be able to teach anything, was that even my place, did I just make a whole bunch of activities that we won’t even use, or will there even be places to do them?”  I have never been on this trail before and I had no idea what to expect which made it all the more frustrating and exciting.

While we were working and prepping in Puerto Bertrand, the students and their chaperone/teacher Jerry, were meeting at six am at the school.  They drove to the airport, had two plane rides, and a six hour van ride (there really isn’t anything down here that is close) before they finally arrived to Puerto Bertrand.  We got the kids situated with their gear and took them to their cabañas for the night.  Over dinner we became acquainted and described tomorrows activities; waking up at 5:30 am, a one hour drive to Cochrane, transfer all our gear to five other 4 x4 trucks and drive them for two hours to the trail head, cross the Rio Baker on a ferry, all followed by a ten kilometer hike to our first camp.  You could see the anxiety building in their eyes.

The next morning we met, loaded up, and drove to Cochrane.  We transferred everything from two vehicles into five 4 x 4′s for the two hour bumpy yet unbelievably gorgeous drive through Valle Grande.  We passed through innumerable gates enclosing pastures and ranches, passed waterfalls, and always headed towards the magnificently snow covered peaks in the distance that seemed to tower over us the entire time.  Eventually we came to the end, unloaded our gear, thought we lost one students’ pack, and made our way to the ferry.

 

We loaded ourselves and the rest of our gear and we were off.  What was really cool is that the ferry is attached to a cable at the top by three pulleys on adjustable chains.  There are also two passageways for water to pass underneath the ferry.  When we launched, we made sure that the boat was at a forty-five degree angle to the flow of water and we let physics do the rest.  Because of the angles, the forces from the water, and the fact that the ferry was tethered to a cable, we rolled straight across to the other side where we were met by Leo and “Gringo.”  (Don’t forget all gear that came through here three days earlier.)

We unloaded everything and ourselves and we had a much needed snack.  We discussed walking with packs, adjusting them properly, taking care of your feet on long hikes, and gave Leo and “Gringo” more food and sleeping bags to carry out to the ranch on horseback.  And that was that, we were ready to go.  We set off for the next 10 km towards Don Julio’s ranch.  We walked along the edge of a large glacial valley, full of colors, wildlife, and other people’s ranches. While walking with the river always on our right, we were met by dogs, mountains, chilling winds, beautiful vistas, and unbelievable photo opportunities.  It was nice to have time to hike and get to know the students, while dodging mud, branches, the occasional hiker stopped on the trail, or flailing trekking poles.

   

Soto, Nolberto, and Zac, three other guides must have told the group we were, “Almost there!” at least fifty times but for whatever reason that question was very popular amongst the group.  Oh, I know, the wind made it hard to hear.  Needless to say, the day was long, longer for others, and the new equipment and new shoes were not making it easy for some peoples hiking abilities.  We finally arrived at Don Julio’s ranch, scrambled over a river on a tree, and were greeted by a really nice dog, a beautiful ranch, and all of our gear.  Don Julio, an 84 year old Gaucho, has been living on this ranch his whole life and was nice enough to let us camp in his front yard.  The first thing everyone did was take off their shoes and socks and put their feet into to ice cold stream.  You could practically see the evaporation and hear the hissing when everyone dropped in their feet.  Later, we set up camps, indulged on a huge pasta dinner and fell asleep under a huge sky full of stars, planets, and constellations.

The next morning, we dismantled camp, had breakfast, and quickly discussed using the bathroom in the woods in order to preserve water quality.  We could, at any point along our trip, dip our bottles into streams and rivers to enjoy fresh mountain runoff without worry of disease and we wanted to make sure it stayed that way.  A perfect visual aide to accompany the discussion, a package of Manjar (carmel) and a cracker.  I will let you imagine the rest.

We set off for another long day of hiking, this time we were mostly on the glacial valley floor, walking over thousands of years of erosion and sediment moved from miles away via water and ice.  The hanging valleys in the distance, the prickers at our feet, and the horse flies at our skin.  But everyone was in great spirits.  How could you not?  We were on our way to Sol de Mayo, a final destination for the next three days.  We took a break at an astonishing overlook of the valley and here I introduced one of the activities I designed.

The night before, I sat in on a reflection circle led by Jerry, one of the school’s requirements for these trips.  He presented the group notebook students needed to fill out and they talked about their first day.  What did they learn, what challenges did they have, how were they feeling?  After about fifteen minutes, the group started to discuss the HidroAysén dam project.  The students who were not as engaged quickly chimed in and the reflection session turned into quite an interesting debate.  It was obvious the students were passionate about the issue and were obviously aware of what was happening in this region.  Recent polls state that 50-60% of Chileans are opposed to the project and in June of this year, about 30,000 people protested in Santiago.

I thought this would be a perfect fit for a dam debate.  The students would each choose a stakeholder from a hat, find their partner, and at the end of the week, they would need to convince the guides acting as a governing council, to vote in their favor.  I described my idea to Jerry and he thought it would be a good idea to incorporate this into their trip.  After presenting the idea, perched on a huge boulder overlooking the glacial valley, I was met with some blank stares but they were very polite, no one objected, and I felt like things went well.

We set off on our hike, but as we were leaving one student started having cold and hot flashes and became very dizzy.  No one was really sure what had happened but everyone thought it was probably caused by too much sun.  Four people stayed by her side to help get her the rest of the way but eventually she had to ride a horse the rest of the way to Sol de Mayo, our camp for the night.  We thought some rest, water, and food would quickly get her back on her feet but little did we know it would develop into something bigger.

However, at this moment, everyone made safely it to Sol de Mayo, a ranch with horses, cattle, sheep, and even hot showers.  Yes, hot showers!  There were two blue barrels filled with water about six meters off the ground to provide enough pressure and a wood burning furnace to heat the water.  It definitely made one appreciate taking a hot shower.  We got tents set up and had a delicious dinner after a long day of hiking.

Over the next few days our group became like a family.   We told stories about our lives and endless amounts of jokes (some more inappropriate than others).  We learned about the ecology of the area, got devoured by mosquitoes and horse flies, covered ourselves in Benadryl to relieve the itching, and argued over make-up and clothes.  We debated economics, engaged in dam discussions, and listened to stories about the effects the dam would have on local culture.  Some ate copious amounts of Manjar while thinking about using the bathroom, one of us got locked in the outhouse, and others stared at the stars.  There was a ton of great food cooked over a wood stove (a common practice recently adopted by Zac and I in the garage we currently live in) which led into discussions about sustainable living and changing the way we currently live.  We even had the opportunity to be a part of a documentary called “La Ciudad de Los Césares” filmed by Panchito Films while we were at Sol de Mayo.  In my opinion, it seemed as though everyone enjoyed being away from the stresses of everyday life and that the kids learned a lot about themselves.  It was great to see the students growing in the wilderness, connecting and strengthening friendships, asking extremely difficult and intelligent questions, and connecting to an area that very few people are fortunate enough to experience.

The only problem was we were missing one of our group members.  She was laid up in bed, agonizing in pain, yet worried sick she was messing things up for everyone else.  Someone, usually Zac, WFR trained, or Jerry, was at her side constantly taking vitals, writing notes, and trying to figure out what to do.  She obviously couldn’t walk out on her own, but the only way out was by helicopter or by raft if she waited another day (this seemed like the least viable option).  After two days of no improvement, the pain was too much for her to hold back and it was obvious we needed to call a helicopter.  Up until the evacuation, her communication and symptoms lead us to believe she had a stomach virus or the flu, but, when she finally let on how much pain she was in, the symptoms were similar to issues concerning her appendix or gall bladder.

The next morning, it was unanimous and we called the chopper.  The only problem was the closest chopper to us was being serviced and we had to wait a few hours for a military chopper to come from Coihaique.  Everyone was worried about her well being but stayed positive.  When the chopper finally landed we wished her the best.  Zac left with her and at 10 pm that night (Thursday), she was in surgery having her appendix removed.  The whole time she was in good spirits and after a couple days of recovery in the hospital she was feeling much better.  But hey, what better place for your appendix to revolt on your body than in the backcountry of Patagonia!

After the evacuation, we left camp to visit Lago Colonia.  This is a glacial lake we needed to cross by motorboat in order to start a hike to approach the glacier.  Because of the delays in the morning, we did not have enough time to make the entire journey to the glacier but we did get to take a short boat ride around the lake.  It was a great place for photos, naps, and of course, learning about glaciology.  Later that night, it was like we were at a caveman convention.  We indulged on a lamb asado, all of us walking around with gigantic chunks of meat hanging over the edges of our bowls, celebrating our last night in the backcountry.  Tomorrow we would get up early and raft down the Rio Colonia and Baker for four hours and enjoy a different perspective of the glacial valley.

     

The next morning, Leo and I left early so we could inflate the two rafts.  The documentary team arrived about an hour later followed by the students.  The students talked with Jonathan about rafting safety and the documentary team was preparing to film us rafting down the river.  Leo, Jonathan, and Nolberto were in the first raft, Soto and I were in the back of the second, and the students filled in the spaces.  Soto and I were in charge of calling out directions for the paddlers and we also acted as the rudders of the raft, keeping it straight.  The back is a great spot for the driver, however, the flailing paddles in front actually make the back a nice place for a shower.  After some necessary instructions for the kids, the guide drenching slowed and the boat moved at a more rapid pace.

As we paddled along, laughing and learning, the huge rain storm followed us closely but never succeeded to catch up.  We kept a close eye on the storm while we meandered along the river.  At each bend we tried to figure out which branch we should take hoping that the path would not lead to a dead end.  Being on the river gave us a totally different perspective of the valley.  Instead of staring at the ground to make sure we weren’t tripping over rocks or falling over cliffs, everyone was able to take in the sights.  Just a few days earlier, the river seemed so small and the land so massive, now, we were floating on a an endless treadmill of water and the land we hiked over seemed so far away.

 

The water levels were high so the river flowed at a rapid pace and we arrived at the ferry we crossed the first day just before 2:00 pm.  We landed, deflated the rafts, and had lunch.  After lunch, we crossed over the river, had a two hour 4 x 4 off road ride back to Cochrane and then an hour drive to Purto Bertrand.  While on the 4 x 4 trip, Nolberto and I, who were in the same vehicle, kept hearing a thump…thump….thumpthump.  I looked at him and asked what that sound was but he didn’t know.  We heard it again and when I turned around, I found the three kids in the back, sound asleep.  I watched for a minute and realized what the noise was.  Every time we hit a rock or a rut in the trail, the students’ heads would slam into the windows of the truck.  Now you must be thinking that they would wake up, but they didn’t miss a beat.  Snoring away, tired, and dreaming happily.  Of course I had to take record some video and document this.  Later at dinner, one of the three students told us the side of his head was sore from the ride.

We only had one full day left.  We spent it traveling through Valle Chacabuco, the future site of Parque Nacional de Patagonia.   We drove for two and a half hours to the border of Argentina and along the way we spotted eagles, condors, flamingos, bandurrias, a fox, abutardas, armadillos, ñandus, and guanacos.  They were in every direction you turned your head (I’m not even exaggerating here, they were everywhere, I’ve never seen so many animals right along the side of the road).  Apparently, there used to be a lot of sheep ranching in this area which meant a lot of fencing.  This basically fragmented the habitat for the guanacos and decreased their roaming potential but recently there were regulations created in this area to take down fences which allowed the guanacos to inhabit more land.

 

Our next stop was La Confluencia, one of the proposed dam sites for HidroAysén.  Here we discussed some dam statistics to help the students prepare for their debates that night.  Generally human control of water has historically been a prominent way to grow, conquer and improve technology through five main uses.  One, domestic (drinking, sanitation, cooking), two, economic (agriculture, industry, mining), three, power (waterwheel, steam, hydro, coolant), four, transportation (military, commercial, administratively), and five, which is more recent in history, environmentally (improving ecosystems).  This control of water lead to population increases.  “History was littered with societies that declined simply because they could not overcome the deleterious local-resource depletions and population expansions accompanying their own initial success.” (Solmon 2010)  However, history is also full of examples where water control has improved societies.  Some examples are improved trading routes, inventions in science science, the need for better paper for written records, calendars, surveying tools, water lifting devices like the shadoof, noria pots, and Archimedes’s corkscrew, and even the steam engine.

In the United States there are an estimated 75,000 dams, impounding 600,000 mi (970,000 km) of river or about 17% of rivers in the nation and there are over 60 major dams.  The National Inventory of Dams defines a major dam as being 50 feet (15 m) tall with a storage capacity of at least 5,000 acre feet (6,200,000 m3), or of any height with a storage capacity of 25,000 acre feet (31,000,000 m3).  In South America, there are 62 major dams and twenty one are located in Chile.  Between 1935 and 2000, more than 45,000 dams five stories or taller have been built in over 140 countries and some evidence suggests that because there are so many dams and reservoirs, some geophysicists believe humans may have actually shifted the weight of water and resources enough to alter the speed of earth’s rotation, tilt of the axis, and the shape of the gravitational field!  The World Bank, a major investor in hydroelectric power, has spent more than $50 billion for more than 500 large dams in 92 countries and they are associated with 10% of large dams in developing countries.  Since 1948, the WB financed large dam projects involved in the displacement of ~10 million people from homes and land and not all of them have regained income or complete compensation for their troubles.  A few examples are:
1. Argentina – Yacreta dam between Argentine/Paraguayan sides of the Parana.  5,000 people were forced to move w/o compensation and many have moved into resettlement camps.
2. Guatemala – Chixoy dam – 75,000 indigenous Maya Achi were affected, intimidated, or killed
3. China – Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River – displaced more than 1.2 million people, and flooded and inundated old factories, mines, and waste dumps in effect, polluting the water.  Currently, China is proposing to rebuild the South-North Water Diversion Project along the famous Grand Canal (originally built around 1000 AD) and three other water diversion canals to move water from the Yangtze in the south, across the polluted Yellow river in the north, to provide water for the 440 million people experiencing massive droughts.  The Yellow is so polluted that people cannot drink water from it and there are around 243 water treatment plants along its banks.  This project is estimated to displace another 350,000 people.

 

When we returned to the cabins, the students worked in their groups preparing for the debate.  The groups were the Preservationists, Conservationists, Energy Consumers, Government, Locals of Patagonia, Small Businesses of Patagonia, and ENDESA/HidroAysén.  Not all students agreed with their assigned group but they worked hard and had a heated discussion before the debate.  Each group had five minutes to convince Jerry and I, the governing council, that we should vote in their favor.  All groups had compelling arguments and it was exciting to see them incorporating facts and arguments they learned along the trip.  In the end, the strongest argument and most convincing was by the senior in the conservationist group.  She was deemed the winner and the governing council was going to have to compromise by building two large dams and one medium sized dam instead of five.  Jerry then wrapped up the nights events with candy, an awards ceremony, and thank yous to the students and guides.

Bright and early the next morning, Nido left for their all day adventure home only to be met with school on Monday and finals right around the corner.  Yikes!

Thanks a lot to all of you who came down from Nido, and thanks to everybody involved at Patagonia Adventure Expeditions.  I learned an incredible amount about the area, saw amazing parts of the world, and was able to continue my passion, working as a teacher, if only for a few days.

References and websites to check out:

Solomon, Steve. 2010. Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization.
International Rivers
Whirled Bank
Wikipedia
New York Times

Patagonia – PAEX – Nido de Aguilas

12 Nov

Tomorrow is the first day of the eight day trip I am going on with an international school called Nido de Aguilas.  I arrived here in Bertrand on Monday and have been working with Patagonia Adventure Expeditions preparing for the eight day adventure.  My job has been mostly to design lessons and activities we can implement while on the trip to enhance the educational experience for the students.  They will be learning about local culture, flora/fauna, climate change, hydrology, dams and energy, but most of all having an amazing experience rafting, hiking, and camping in this pristine wilderness.  There is also a documentary team here from Chile but they will be going on a separate trip.  However, at one of our camps, we will meet up and they will be giving a short presentation to the students on how to get involved with film making.

I look forward to sharing some stories and photos when we get back.

A couple more links to keep you up to date on the HidroAysen project:

HidroAysen

SinRepressas

Education, Farms, and the Andes

6 Nov

The last time I wrote I was sitting in a VIP office awaiting my 16 hour overnight bus trip from Retiro in Buenos Aires to San Juan.  Since then, and actually before that day, many things have been happening but I was not able to put anything online.  This post will have a bunch of smaller stories describing what I have been doing and learning.  The stories also relate to the folders of the pictures I posted and you can check out some of the places I have been with the links.

Centros Educativos para la Produccion Total (CEPT) – Check this out and look here on Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=45474395718

When I was living on La Farfalla, I had the wonderful opportunity to make friends with a woman named Ceci.  Ceci is a teacher for a school called Centros Educativos para la Produccion Total (CEPT).  This particular school I visited has only been established for two years now but there are many more in the area.  They are built on a model from France and some CEPT schools in the area are ~20 years old.

There are about 37 students that attend this CEPT school, which is designed to help students from low socioeconomic families succeed and to help them learn about more sustainable forms of agriculture.  Soybean monocultures have been taking over Argentina (~20 million Ha) and South America.  The small scale, local farmer is disappearing and leaving many farming families without options.  CEPT along with governmental monies, community members, universities, and non-governmental agencies are working together to help students help themselves and their families.  The philosophy is to have students learn how to farm more sustainably and responsibly, work together as a community, and find local markets for their products.  You can see in some of the photos the smaller greenhouses and fields that the students use to practice and study.  They will also visit local farms or people will come in and give presentations.

Students go to school for one week at a time and then live at home for two, they wake up at 7:00 am and go to bed at 11:00 pm.  During this period they will clean, take four classes a day, learn how to communicate and problem solve, and have a bit of time for relaxing.  During the two weeks when they leave, they are expected to complete all their homework.  They are also doing research, working with their families in the orchards or helping to raise animals, and working on projects for school.  Third year students (kids spend six years here) spend the year preparing for their fourth year thesis project.  This thesis, along with all other work, is chosen by the student and pertains to something his or her family is involved in.  One example, a girl was writing her thesis all about raising chickens.  She researched what they needed, space, health issues, markets, etc.  Over the weekend, her dog ate all 50 of her family’s chickens and she worried she would have to repeat the entire year.  What she didn’t realize, until some consoling during a home visit by Ceci, was that she was able to use this as part of her project; chickens also need protection!  Another girl I talked with was studying pneumonia in cows because her family raised cows.

Teachers at CEPT are assigned certain students to make home visits with.  During the two weeks at home, teachers come by to ensure that students are keeping up with homework or to see how the families are doing.  The teachers not only check on their assigned students but they will also help families who do not have transportation or money pick up feed for animals, seeds for the field, or even materials for other projects.

The families of the students will work with the schools to either help with teaching, making deliveries, volunteering, and outreach.  I visited a community member’s farm that had provided an artificial insemination course and was going to raise about 50 chicks for the school.  When they are ready to sell, the family will keep 10% of the chickens and CEPT gets the rest.  Half of the remaining 45 chickens will be used for meals for the students, and the other half will be sold, usually to community members, and money that will be reinvested into other projects.

The school and the community meet twice a month to discuss each others needs.  At this time, families can set up stands and sell their products to other community members.  CEPT also works with Universities in LaPlata on food conservation and the Instituto Nacional de Technologia Agropecuaria (INTA).

Granja Tia Nora

This is where I left off before.  I took my 16 hour bus ride to San Juan followed by a quick bus trip to Albardon where I spent 11 days working  with Pedro, Lucia, Lucia’s son Fran, and five other WWOOFers, Elo, Roxana, Eric, Chris, and Borges.  The farm’s name comes from Lucia’s aunt.  Lucia always had a dream of owning a farm and for the last five years they been developing a 7 Ha plot of land that is half farm and, in my opinion, half zoo/park.   There are vineyards, olive trees, horses, burros, rabbits, a small pond for the ducks and geese, pheasants, turkeys, rheas, peacocks, huenacos, goats, cows, a pig, and sheep.

During the week, schools from all over the San Juan area come to visit Granja Tia Nora.  First they show up and prepare dough to make bread, and then they are given are tour through the facility.  The tour can be tailored to the teacher’s needs from vary basic to a more in depth analysis of the animals and their lives.   Students then have an area to eat, hang out, a jungle gym, and a soccer field to play in, followed by rides in a small carriage called a Sukie.  On the weekends, families from the area stop by to walk around, hang out, swim in the pool, visit the animals, of course enjoy mate, and relax.

One day I spent two hours hanging out with some students.  You’ll see their photos I put up.  I helped them with their English and they helped me with my Spanish mostly by asking each other  questions about what we liked.  Actually, it was more like five or six of them asking me something all at once screaming in my ears.  Whether that was because they were excited, thought I couldn’t hear them, or thought I was really old, or that the louder they screamed at me, the better I would be able to understand their Spanish and English.  I don’t think I’ll ever know.

San Juan is a city basically located in the donut hole of a ring of mountains.  It is very hot and dry here and there miles of canals that move melting runoff from the mountains to the city to help support agriculture, especially wine.  San Juan’s neighbor, Mendoza is more well known for its wine production but San Juan is also loaded with smaller vineyards.  The first day I arrived, I was able to visit a small bodega owned by a friend of Pedro’s.  Later that day we had a huge BBQ with lots of beef and sausage.

While here at Tia Nora, I worked on developing plots for vegetables, fruits, and flowers.  The dirt is very dry, sandy, and low in nutrients, so we had to turn the soil and mix in a lot of compost to replenish the soil.  I spent a lot of time moving compost from brick bins and then refilling them with manure from stables so the manure could cure and eventually form compost.  When layered with wood and dead bushes and watered, the manure will aerate, break down and make a better mixture for incorporating into the soil.

I also had an opportunity to ride a horse to a family friend named Luis.  The horse I rode, Sophie (in green) loved to take her time on the street.  While Eric hustled off on his horse, Sophie stopped to eat grass, look around, or just plain stopped.  No matter how many times I dug my heels into her side, hollered at her, or slapped her rear, she wouldn’t take off.  Until suddenly she bolted and I nearly got thrown off.  I was bouncing around hanging on for dear life, and of course while trying to hang on, I forgot how I was supposed to get her to stop.  Mind you, I was also wearing shorts and sitting on a wool blanket that had by this point in time removed leg hair, the outer portion of my skin and was now causing the inside of my legs to turn a light shade of red.

After a bit of oxygen made it to my brain and I was able to stop focusing on holding on, she slowed down and I was able to enjoy the sights.  360 degrees of mountains, a golden orange sun slowly setting behind the mountains reflecting its light off the nearby clouds and the miles of lime green leaves of the vineyards.  Sophie and I slowly walked down the path to Luis’s house where I was almost decapitated by a low hanging branch I didn’t notice because I was staring at the sunset.

Here we came upon an adobe house (photos) that took 4.5 years to build.  Most of it is underground and stays at a pretty constant temperature.  This helps Luis because he is an artist that works with clay and ceramics.  Controlling the temperature prevent issues when working on his art.    After having some mate and enjoying the views, we the took cheese we had made from the milk we got from a goat the day before, and turned it into noquies, similar to pasta.  We walked home later night under a sliver of the moon, Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus.

Before I left here, I had a free day and spent it walking around San Juan.  I went to the museum of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a very influential person of Argentina.  In short, he was the president, a governor, writer, diplomat, and in the military, but is most known for making education free and public.  It was his goal to reach out and spread education throughout Argentina.

Santiago

After my time here in San Juan, I sadly departed for Santiago.  While crossing the border we had to get off the bus and go through customs.  Here I met a friend named Thais.  She is from Brazil and we started having a conversation in broken Spanish.  She speaks Portugese and was learning Spanish.  Despite her learning, she was still way better than me.  During our conversation everyone on the bus had to line up with their bags in front of them on a table.  All of a sudden a dog, I am assuming a drug dog, walks over everyone’s bags and stops on mine.  It snifs around….keeps sniffing…..pauses for a bit……sniffs a whole lot more…..pauses again……and then practically attacks my bag with its paws.

HOLY CRAP! I think.  I’ve been set up!  All I could think about was those movies where someone slips a small bag of drugs into an unsuspecting tourist’s pack at customs so they can lip on by with a bigger delivery…..and here I am….that distraction.

I saw myself going to prison – trip – DONE!  Trying to figure out how to get out.  Maybe I could break out.  Maybe I could bribe someone, anyone.  Maybe I will go crazy in jail, or maybe I will be released in ten years and Hollywood will want to make a movie of my experience.  Hmmm?  Maybe a book deal too.  Is that worth being stuck in a jail for ten years…probably not I decided.

Anyways, I tell the guard that I have a small knife I used to cut up some tomatoes for a sandwich.  He is NOT concerned about the knife but starts to question me about fruits and vegetables.

“I had an orange, banana, and apple for lunch with a green pepper and tomato on bread.  I still have bread left over but there was nothing about bread on the customs form.”

He looked at my bread and tossed it aside, unpacked the rest of my bag looking around and asked me more questions about the fruit.  Then he pulled out the bottle of Argentinean wine and made a frowning face.

“Ooooo! I didn’t claim that.  Sorry, it’s a present for my friends Julia and Kris I am staying with.”

He looked at me and said, “Argentinean wine is terrible.”

I replied, “Well, now that I am in Chile I will make sure to buy Chilean wine.”

He laughed and continued to ask me about fruits and vegetables, eventually put everything away in my bag and saying I could go.

My heart started to beat again while I thought about writing a movie script about a person traveling and getting arrested for taking fruits and vegetables across the border of Chile.   Nah, that will never work.

Anyways, the Andes are beautiful and they surrounded us on every side as we drove to Santiago.  Waterfalls from the snow melt, different types of geology in the rocks around every corner, sulfur hot springs, and a rugged environment tower over our double decker bus.  I finally arrived in Santiago.  Safe and sound and best of all, without getting arrested for trying to eat a healthy diet.

Tomorrow, November 7th at 8 am I leave for Patagonia.  Jonathon and another guide are picking me up at the airport in Bertrand.  We will drive six hours and then start preparing for the twelve students enrolled in an international Chilean school who are coming down for an eight day outdoor trek through valleys, over glaciers, rafting down the river, and working on farms.  We will be teaching them about the environment, climate change, flora and fauna, hydroelectric power, and much more.  It will be exciting and action packed.

Take care and look for more photos sometime soon!!!!

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