IT TAKES A LONG TIME to get to Patagonia. If you can afford airfare to Balmaceda from Santiago (check LAN), that shortens it a bit, but for most people it’s gonna be long bus rides, plane rides, ferry rides. Long stretches of twisty Carretera Austral on the Chilean side, or the empty pampa seca of Ruta 40 in Argentina.
And this is as it should be. It gives you time to think about distances, remoteness, about what it takes for a place to remain relatively untouched.
On the other hand, this remoteness, this sense of a place being literally at the end of the earth, makes it vulnerable, “out of sight, out of mind.” Back in May of this year, a local environmental committee voted unanimously (with 1 member abstaining) to approve HidroAysén, the largest hydroelectric project in the history of Chile. If constructed, the proposed dams would flood large sections of the Rio Baker (among others) and impact large areas of Aysén province, including national parks, reserves, and wetlands, via the construction of a transmission line thousands of kilometers long to power mining operations in the north of the country.
The decision resulted in protest on a scale not seen since before Pinochet, and in June a court of appeals in Puerto Montt ordered HidroAysén to suspend the project, an unprecedented victory for environment over big business in Chile. But fittingly, as this place, this story seems so far away from everyone not in the Southern Cone, both the protests and the victory gained virtually no traction in international media (Matador actually has the top-ranking news story for “HidroAysén protests”).
Ground Zero: the future Patagonia National Park
Bordering the confluence of the Baker and Chacabuco rivers is the site of the future Patagonia National Park. Once an estancia or large ranch, the property was purchased by Conservación Patagonica in 2004. The plan is to unite this property with two contiguous national reserves, Jeinimeni and Tamango, into a single national park by 2017.
Overall, the juxtaposition–the biggest rivers, the biggest dam project, some of the last remaining wildlands, the efforts to protect and restore biodiversity, the conversion of local economies and culture from sheep grazing to tourism–compelled us at Matador to investigate firsthand what is happening here. Patagonia is the first ever Matador Project, with interviews, articles, and video forthcoming.
In the meantime, please enjoy some of these early shots (many of which are video screen grabs) from the project, and stay tuned for more soon.