WEIGHT: 52 kg
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Delayed flights, canceled reservations, bad Spanish, and I ended up stuck in Santiago on my way to Coyhaique. Instead of preparing for the Rio Baker with everyone else, I wandered through a city of 6 million just shy of midnight, prostitutes on the corners snapping, hissing, clapping. They sounded like woodpeckers broadcasting through a forest. It always seems to happen this way. For the next month I plan to be in Patagonia on the Baker and up in the Colonia and Neff Glaciers in the northern ice field, joining a documentary crew on a river that, like so many others in the world, is threatened by major dam proposals.
Fortunately, for me at least, this was the night before the earthquake. The next morning I took the first flight out of Santiago, 20 hours before the region was hit by an 8.
We felt nothing in the cool forest around Coyhaique — a space between the quakes — and did not even notice the effects in town but for cars lined up around the corner and out of sight waiting for gas. Phones were down, nearest airport closed, far-away bridges collapsed, Pan-American Highway severed. Patagonia fell just that much farther off the everyday map. When we could, we each got messages home. I assured my wife in Colorado we were far from any earthquakes, but she had been online and fired back that we were right in the middle of it, a state of emergency declared for a town just south of our intended takeout.
She was worried about the Rio Baker, and the possibility of glacial lake outburst floods, events that have been happening with greater frequency in southern Chile as ice melts, lakes form, and natural dams break.
These floods are bad news for dams that are proposed one after the next, taking these rivers down like dominoes. According to a study last year, dam proponents have not adequately accounted for the possibility of these outburst floods.