Saturday, June 2, 2012

Announcing the Winners: Let's Choose (Moon) Patagonia!

In the last few years, southern Chile’s volcanoes have spewed thousands of tons of ash into the skies of Patagonia, but the primary victim has been neighboring Argentina, as the prevailing westerlies drop most of the debris across the Andes (though the jet stream carries some of it, in a distance-decay effect, around the globe as far as Australia). The most recent culprit has been the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle complex, which erupted about a year ago, ruining the last ski season and summer at the Argentine resorts of Villa la Angostura and Bariloche. The iPhone photograph below, which my wife took in March, shows a cloud of ash advancing from Chile.
As my recent post reported, Bariloche is now advertising that, as the skies clear and the airport reopens, authorities are optimistic about the upcoming ski season. Of course, it’s only been a few years (2008) since the more southerly Volcán Chaitén forced the occupation of its namesake Chilean village but also dramatically impacted the Argentine side of the border. Local opposition to a government decision to relocate the village to the safer site of Santa Bárbara forced reluctant authorities to restore essential services, including electricity and water, despite Chaitén’s precarious location at the base of a subsiding but still burbling caldera.

Volcán Chaitén was the answer to the quiz I posed to award two copies of Moon Patagonia to aspiring travelers, and I finally have my winners. The first was Steve Behaegel of Merelbeke, Belgium, a Patagonia addict who has been there several times before and is planning, in the next austral summer, to go pack-rafting in the wilds of Lago O’Higgins, at the terminus of the Carretera Austral. The other goes to Oliver King of London, who intends to visit soon with his wife and young daughter.

Oliver also identified Volcán Hudson as the Chilean volcano that erupted in 1991, burying large parts of southern Argentine Patagonia in ash, killing thousands of sheep and destroying the soft fruit and orchard production of Chile Chico and Los Antiguos (which has since recovered). In fact, Oliver told me, he was there at the time, and again in 2003.
In the course of doing my first guidebook for a publisher whose name is best left unmentioned, I myself visited the area around Los Antiguos and Chile Chico just a few months before Hudson’s eruption. Even a couple years later, driving the Carretera Austral, I saw ash more than a meter deep on each side of the road, and the remnants of the eruption are still visible in the so-called Bosque Inundado (“sunken forest,” pictured above) along the Río Ibáñez.

Rescuing the Rivers? HydroAysén Retreats
For those interested in this part of Patagonia, there’s good news that the Chilean energy giant Colbun has decided to refrain from pushing the massive HidroAysén dam project on the region’s endangered Baker and Pascua rivers (pictured above), at least for the time being. I’ll have something about this intriguing development in the near future.

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