Big City in Patagonia
After leaving the Futaleufu Valley we endured a lengthy yet stunning bus ride south, through the heart of Patagonia to southern Chile’s largest town, Coyhaique. Coyhaique has a population of about 60,000 and is the capital city of both the Coihaique Province and the Aysén Region of Chile. We spent two nights in a pretty posh hotel while conducting numerous interviews and taking in our cosmopolitan surroundings.
After meeting with members of Patagonia Sin Represas, Codeff Aisén and the Mayor, who we’re all pretty strongly anti-dam, we headed out to the town plaza in search of some pro-dam locals. Much to our chagrin we could not locate a single individual who was truly pro-dam. We spoke to a few people who weighed the benefits of hydro-development but none that were in favor of the Hydro-Aisen project. For the rest of the trip one of our main missions became finding some pro-dam voices and it apparently wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought.
To the Baker
Another early morning was spent strapping the boats to the roof of a southbound bus and our paddler trepidation level began steadily rising. We were on our way to the mighty Baker River. The storied glacial blue enigma that had been haunting our dreams for sometime now. For some of us, immersing our selves in the cold blue waters of that beast was a major goal of the trip. By now we’d heard so many stories about the river and it’s canyons that this far off entity, which had taken on a life of its own, was all of the sudden getting to be not so far off. It would be possibly the biggest whitewater we’d ever paddled. Were we ready? It was too late to turnback. The boats were loaded and the bus was already careening south through epic temperate rainforest, glacial valleys and jagged peaks.
We stopped for lunch at General Carreras, Chile’s largest fresh water lake, and one of the main sources for the Baker. It was a hot and steamy afternoon, especially as we spilled out of the cramped and poorly ventilated bus, so Jesse headed for a little swim in the translucent aqua blue waters of the lake. Needless to say, there was much talk of the naked gringo when we got back on the bus!
Cochrane, Los Escualos and the Baker River
As we continued our drive south we passed through Puerto Bertrand, a tiny berg on the edge of Lake Bertrand, a small outflow lake from Gereral Carrera from which the Baker originates. From there we followed the river to the small town of Cochrane, catching fleeting evening glances of the Baker’s canyons and massive whitewater.
A beautiful Cabana that would house the entire crew was fortuitously located at the bus stop and provided a worthy place to rest our bus weary bones. The next day we met up with the local kayak club, Los Escualos, to give a swiftwater rescue clinic. The club is an amazing resource for these kids and Roberto, a P.E. teacher at the local high school is a great role model and instructor for them. The clinic was a great time and hopefully the kids learned a thing or two, but regardless we could tell they enjoyed swimming down their hometown rapids by their wide eyes and huge smiles.The following day we finally dipped our paddles in the crisp and clear waters of the Baker. Let’s just say that the Baker is one of the most powerful and enchanting rivers I’ve ever had the fortune of dipping my paddle into.
Finishing Business in Cochrane
Lit up from the experience of paddling the Baker, we made plans to paddle more sections of the river the following day and then to get to work finding pro-dam voices in the community. Without telling both sides of the hydro-development story we knew that our film would be a joke, so re-committed to immersing ourselves in the Aysén culture and searching out the people in town and the surrounding rural areas who had embraced the idea of developing the water resources of the region. More on them and the mighty Baker in update 3!