Saturday, May 26, 2012

After the Ashes: Let's Choose (Moon) Patagonia!

For northern Argentine Patagonia, the last year was a tough one, as massive ashfall from Chile’s Volcán Puyehue closed the airport at San Carlos de Bariloche, which is 1,600 km southwest of Buenos Aires, for most of the winter ski season and the recent summer. That diverted air traffic to Neuquén (429 km to the north) and Esquel (290 km to the south), but both those cities are still several hours away from the heart of Argentina’s “lakes district,” where the picturesque lakeside town of Villa la Angostura (pictured below) was most severely affected.
I wasn’t able to visit Bariloche(pictured below) on my recent South American trip, but my wife went in March and Puyehue’s impact was still conspicuous even though the skies were relatively clear. Business had dropped dramatically, but a local NGO has a new plan to promote the region and, simultaneously, initiate an ambitious new recycling project. Solidarity Network Argentina is using 475,000 plastic soft drink bottles – admittedly only a fraction of the many discarded in the area - to build a sign, five km long and 100 meters high, that will be visible from space via Google Earth.
Built in the vicinity of Bariloche’s airport, the sign will read (“Let’s Choose Patagonia”), to advertise the fact that, as Puyehue’s eruption subsides, the region is once again ready to host visitors, starting with the upcoming ski season. After being photographed by the satellite, it will be dismantled and the materials shipped to Buenos Aires – while the bottles are recyclable, there’s no facility in the immediate area that can handle the job.

Let’s Choose Moon Patagonia!
As part of my own contribution to the project, I will give away copies of the new third edition of Moon Patagonia to the first two readers who can answer the following question: “What was the last Chilean volcano, prior to Puyehue, to affect travel to Argentine Patagonia?” Special mention to anyone who can identify the one before that (hint: That was in 1991, and it was considerably farther south).
Please send your answer not to the comments box, but rather to the following email address: southerncone (at) If you already have a copy of the book, please refrain from entering.

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