Monday, January 17, 2011

Carretera Austral, Under a Smoking Volcano

As I was waiting to board the ferry, I learned that Chaiten was badly damaged by a huge volcanic blast from a mountain that had previously been unknown as a volcano. The people where just begining to return, and water and power was being restored but barely. And, oh yes, the volcano was still smoking. And so what do I decide to do? Jump off the boat and on a bus and flee as fast as possible? No, instead I volunteered for three days to help a group of scientists with an ongoing study that is looking at the rate of recovery of the badly damaged forests in the area. At this time, the study is looking only at insects (larger animals have not begun to return yet) and my job for the next three days is to help set up pitfall traps, essentially plastic cups filled with antifreeze (to preserve the unlucky insects) and set level with the ground under a protective board covering. The traps were set up in areas representative of various levels of damage, plus undamaged rainforest as a control. I struggled over massive tree falls and densly foliated undamaged rainforest, was serenaded by a huge variety of birds, bitten by hoards of biting flies, photographed stunning flowers, and had my blood sucked by a leech. The highlight was climbing through undamaged rainforest up a steep hill to where a tree grew up and out from the hill in such a way that you could walk out on it and be eye level with the canopy and the birds. All together it was another fabulous unplanned exerience, and part of what continues to draw me to traveling in the way that I do.

Arrival on the ferry to Chaiten

The mountain on the right is not the volcano, but the shape of the mountain looks a bit suspicious considering.

Massive destruction of previously dense rainforest

On the third summer, life is returning and the brightness of the green is amazing as it fights its way through thick grey ash.

A close up of the flowers growing up the tree in the top photo. Trees that are sheared of their branches become a home to fresh vines and actually begin to grow fresh branches.

Bamboo starts to grow new shoots

Mosses and lichens find small niches to begin growing

Destruction of homes around the water, where ash floods inundated them

Still people return to Chaiten and begin to rebuild their lives.

The volcano looms overhead, still smoking as a reminder and a warning

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