Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Terremoto y Tsunami

An 8.8 magnitude earthquake, the fifth strongest ever recorded, and its resulting tsunami struck the central Chilean regions of Maule and Bio-Bio in the early hours or madraguda on February 27th. The outgoing government of Michelle Bachelet was quickly criticized for underestimating the extent of the disaster, not warning coastal residents of the impending tsunami, and failing to prevent looting of stores and burning of a mall in Concepcion, the second largest city in Chile. Hundreds of lives, 1.5 million homes, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost as a result of this tectonic shift.

The incoming president, billionaire businessman, Sebastian Pinera, successfully campaigned against the incumbent socialists on the promise of 6% economic growth. Those hopes have now been dashed and the losses to the economy appear to be about 20% of GDP. As Pinera takes command today, gaps in government assistance to the victims are being filled by ordinary Chilean citizens.

Reports from friends in Pucón tell of their efforts to drive supplies up to the affected areas in their own pickup trucks. Our Pucón neighbors, Kenneth and Anne Long, Tren and Linsie Long, and Tom Long of Cascade Raft and Kayak Company have called upon friends and have raised over $2000 to aid about 100 needy families in a coastal town called Tirua. The town survived the earthquake okay only to be demolished by the tsunami. The Longs are driving their own fully-loaded trucks to the area themselves.

Look here for a video of the Longs visit to Coliumo.

Look here for a link to read their blog and make a direct donation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Coming Home to Utah's Wasatch Winter

We left our southern "summer" behind and arrived back to "winter" on a warm afternoon in Utah on January 31, 2010, exactly one year after leaving it for our Chilean sabbatical. Our Pucónino pussycat, Wellington, also endured the three flights with us. He traveled in his air cargo kennel to Los Angeles, where we collected him with our luggage, cleared immigration, then flew on with us to Salt Lake City where he will become our "gringo gato" at the Holladay homestead. Henry joins the ninth grade in progress at Mount Olympus Junior High, so we will soon be back into the usual routine and, sadly, thoughts of our year in Chile will begin to fade along with many of the friendships we have with the people we met there.

We will continue to post updates about these distant friends to this blog and promise to fill in the missing events from our extensive travel over the last months, so please check back here and look back occasionally to see those older photos and updates, too.

One of our first excursions (after getting some sleep) was up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta and Snowbird ski resorts. We collected our season passes and headed out into the familiar terrain, once again relishing the spectacular Utah scenery and superb skiing here in our own backyard.

Susan's ski group, the Wild Women of the Wasatch, welcomed her back wearing dresses of Utah's "sister-wives", the polygamous pioneer women who tamed this territory.
Hello, Utah. We're happy to be home once again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Canopy XL in Huilo-Huilo

These animals are the Huemul, or the Southern Andean Deer. The only time we saw these endangered animals was at the Huilo-Huilo animal park.

Our last day at Huilo-Huilo we set aside 2 1/2 hours to experience Canopy XL. This is one of the longest and highest zip line courses in South America, with over 1600 meters of cable crossings.

From the starting platform, we couldn't see the end of the first cable the fog was so thick.

The first section was the longest at 500 meters, but it was just 65 meters down to the bottom of the ravine we had to cross.

It was like entering the Twilight Zone.

Susan glides across the first half kilometer of cable.

She's weak in the knees, but smiling.

The second section, "El Abismo", is the highest at 90 meters, but only 180 meters long.

Our guide was the builder of Canopy XL and he crossed the abyss first.

Here the assistant guide connects Henry's safety harness to the cable.

Henry encourages Milton before the next crossing.

This long section passes over a waterfall named Danger Falls.

Rebecca makes the crossing over the falls.

The little blue spot gliding 60 meters over Danger Falls is Henry.

Between each section of cable we hiked a trail through the ancient forest. In all, there are 1200 meters of trail connecting the five zip lines.

Cristian shows good form.

James glides into the landing.

This section of the trail crossed over a ridge on a log stairway.

If it had been a clear day we could have seen Volcan Villarica from the next section of cable.

Henry and Cristian waiting their turn on the platform.

Henry "no hands" on the last section.

Richard glides home.

Our group photo at the end of the course.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rain on the Rio Fuy

The Rio Fuy was swollen with water from the spring runoff. We had looked at its powerful currents from the bridge crossing during our bicycle tour. We had watched its foamy spray as it crashed down the cliff at Salto Huilo-Huilo. But when the day arrived, the ladies looked out at the pouring rain and decided to pass. Now it was up to the guys to raft the short stretch of Class III+ rapids.

Team Fuy

Milton drove us to the put in.

Ben, Zorro and Raymundo would be our guides again.

Ben and Raymundo were the safety team.

Zorro guided Henry, James, Richard and Cristian in the paddle raft.

Ben led the way in his kayak.

We pushed off and were quickly caught by the rushing current.

There was no time to rest. It was one set of rapids followed immediately by the next set.

The rain didn't matter to us because the waves soaked us even more.

After the last rapid before the take out, we raised our paddles in a high-five salute.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Vision For The Future

When you look on YouTube you can find several videos that show Reserva Huilo-Huilo at different times of the year. One of these videos can be found here. The idea of preserving the natural environment for the enjoyment of visitors, rather than harvesting the timber and hunting the wildlife, is a relatively new concept for Chilean landowners and entrepreneurs.

Since the construction of the successful Baobob Hotel, new initiatives are being implemented to encourage year-round use of the facilities, including improvements to the highway from outside the reserve. In winter, the improved access means a ski area can be developed on the volcanos Mocho and Choshuenco. South America's longest canopy zip line has been built here. A large horse barn and riding trails are being constructed. A micro-brewery that uses the fresh spring waters of the region is being built. There will be a museum to display the artifacts of the logging era and the art of the local people. And new lodging is in the planning stages.

At night, the lights of the hotel make an inviting glow under the dark forest canopy.

One night during our visit, classical musicians played at the hotel. Before the performance began, Henry had a chance to play his cello accompanied by a professor of music from the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia. And then before dinner all the hotel guests were able to enjoy a professional violinist performing with her.

The hotels and their decorations were all constructed by the timberworkers and other craftsmen of the community. As the timber industry winds down in the area, a new sustainable economy built on tourism is being created.

The restaurant at the hotel is managed by an American with a knowledge of the proper preparation and presentation of fine food and wine.

The service staff posed for this photo with Richard, Milton and Cristian at dinner one evening.

This is one of the appetizing appetizers served to us.

We even had a chance to meet Victor Petermann, the owner of the Huilo-Huilo reserve. Sr. Petermann was keeping a close eye on the operation of the hotel and he stopped at our table to see how we were enjoying our stay.

Outside the new micro-brewery stands a statue of Sr. Petermann wearing his signature coat and hat.

Two of the beers brewed here.

In the lobby of the Baobob is an artist's rendition of the park during the winter showing the snow activities available and the conception of a new lodge. (Click on the picture for a closer look).

If you look closely, you can find a likeness Victor Petermann himself hoisting a mug of his beer next to the outdoor asado. Salud!

Rafting Into History on the Rio San Pedro

Back in 1992, long before we even thought about visiting Chile, Richard's cousin Peter Gibbs returned from a two week river trip where he made the final descent of Chile's Bio Bio River before the construction of the Pangue Dam created a huge reservoir that destroyed the incredible rapids along the river forever. So-called progress is rapidly making its way into other areas of the country. This time we are making the final commercial descent of another river, the Rio San Pedro, one day before the dam builders close the corridor for blasting in preparation for a new hydroelectric project.

We started our expedition by crossing the Rinihue Lake in one of Kayak Chile's pink paddle rafts with our river guide, Zorro, calling the tune. Lago Rinihue is drained by the Rio San Pedro and will become part of the future reservoir providing storage for the new hydroelectric project.

At the mouth of the river we met up with another guide, Raymundo, where some of us transferred from the raft into inflatable kayaks, called "duckies", to float through the easier Class II and Class III rapids in the first part of the descent.

Henry and Richard shared a ducky. Guide Ben May, the owner of Kayak Chile, accompanied us in his hard shell kayak just in case we flipped our ducky and needed a recovery in the middle of the river.

James and Cristian rode solo in their duckies.

We made it through the upper rapids without incident.

Then we stopped along the shore, deflated the duckies, and joined Zorro in the paddle raft for the bigger rapids. Zorro gave us our instructions and we practiced quickly responding to his commands to steer the boat and not fall out.

Susan moved over to Raymundo's safety raft to be the photographer of the trip.

Henry thought rafting was the more fun than any other sport he'd ever tried.

At the lunch break, Zorro showed us an edible riverside plant like a cross between celery and rhubarb that the Mapuche people use in their diet.

Rebecca gives you her impression of the flavor.

The Rio San Pedro is known as the "Futaluefu of the North" because of its Class III+ rapids. The actual Futa is Chile's premiere kayaking river farther south near the active Chaiten Volcano.

As we crashed through the largest of the rapids, we were happy for our wetsuits and for Zorro's superb boat handling skills.

At the dam site all the construction workers stopped what they were doing to watch us and wave as we swept past. We felt mixed emotions and could barely respond because we were too busy paddling around the rocks in the big drop where the dam will be built.

After a run of a dozen exciting rapids in 15km, we raised our paddles in a group cheer to the our memories of the unforgettable Rio San Pedro!