Friday, August 5, 2011

Big Water, Monumental Buildings & Mine Rescues

Today's entry touches on Argentina's Iguazú falls, Chile's remote Aisén region, and an important exhibition on the Chilean mine rescue of 2010.

Big Water Gets Bigger

In the indigenous Guaraní language, Iguazú means “big water” and, for anyone bound for Parque Nacional Iguazú and its magnificent Cataratas in this southern winter, that means good news and bad news. First the good news: temperatures are mild (upwards of 70° F for the next several days) and the falls are even more spectacular than usual. That’s because, thanks to heavy rainfall in the Río Iguazú’s upper drainage in Brazil, the falls are carrying 13,000 cubic meters of water per second, about eight times their normal flow of 1,500.

The bad news is that the flow is so heavy that national park authorities have had to close the observation deck opposite the Garganta del Diablo, the single most impressive of the nearly 300 separate falls. Even with normal runoff, the deck (pictured above) gets plenty of spray from the falls, so that visitors sometimes wear rain gear on bright sunny days.

At present, though, the increased flow makes it dangerous and slippery (nobody wants to go over the Garganta del Diablo, in a barrel or otherwise). At the same time, the excursion boats that approach the falls from below have also been suspended. With the storms ending in Brazil, Iguazú should return to normal in a few days at most.

Puerto Puyuhuapi: a Monumental Event

Much farther south, the town of Puerto Puyuhuapi, where Luisa Ludwig lives, is part of dankest Patagonia – winter gets wet and cool on the Chilean side of the Andes. August rainfall averages 401 mm (about 16 inches), but there’s a ray of sun this month - her Casa Ludwig B&B (pictured above) is the first private building to be designated a national historical monument in Chile’s southern Aisén region.

Luisa’s parents were among the 1930s Sudeten German pioneers at Puerto Puyuhuapi, which has become well-known for its custom carpet factory Alfombras de Puyuhuapi, which sends its products around the world (the photo above is one of weavers, from the island of Chiloé; the photo below is a finished product). The monument designation limits what can be done with Casa Ludwig – the exterior cannot be altered – but Luisa’s happy with the results: “Actually we asked for the declaration. We find the house beautiful as it is. And maybe it can be good publicity.”

Rescue at the Smithsonian
For those of you fortunate enough to live in Washington DC – despite the manufactured political crisis of the past several weeks, there are good things about DC, where I once spent a semester teaching at George Washington University – there’s something worth seeing starting today. With sponsorship by the Chilean embassy, the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum will host the exhibition “Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine” as the first anniversary of the successful evacuation of the collapsed San José mine near Copiapó approaches. The Chileans, at least, can get things done; among the objects on display will be the actual rescue capsule that brought the miners to the surface (claustrophobics may want to stay away).

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