Claremont, California: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 1991, 2:30 a.m. Up under a blue moon. Blue moons are not blue; they are the second full moon in a single month, and they are rare. This one is left over from 1990. I am about to take my leave of a world of urgencies and deadlines for the trip of a lifetime down the Bio Bio River in central Chile.
From the moment it was first run in 1978, the Bio Bio has been considered one of the world's two or three premier whitewater rivers. It is named for the song of a Chilean bird that lives around its many waterfalls. Boatmen on other rivers speak of it as the ultimate river experience.
Why? It is not the world's longest run, nor does the river have the largest flow. The 277-mile Grand Canyon run on the Colorado is three times as long and rivals the Bio Bio in beauty. The Zambezi, with up to 200,000 cubic feet per second of flow, is far bigger and has more world-class rapids. Many rivers are more remote. But for the combination of beauty, remoteness, and big, challenging rapids, the Bio Bio stands alone
Unfortunately, as things stand now, it will also die alone in a year. Endesa, Chile's private power company, is working on a series of dams which will drown the best part of the river and send into exile the Mapuche Indians who live along its banks. The Mapuche are a rugged, independent people, who fought off the Incas, the Spanish, and the Chileans for centuries. For centuries the Bio Bio was the southern limit of whatever empire ruled the north. But now, under a decision made under the regime of former dictator Augusto Pinochet, Endesa hardhats are already bulldozing roads, building bridges, and painting yellow markers where the lake's highwaters will be.
These dams, which will make the Bio Bio's whitewater glories a thing of the past, are the urgency that roused me, and most others on the trip, to get up so early and to travel so far. This, it seems, will be the river's last season, and my last chance to make the ultimate run. But there are plenty of other urgencies in the air. The biggest is that the world is on the brink of war. President Bush has set a deadline of January 15 for Iraq's President Saddam Hussein to pull his troops out of Kuwait, which he had invaded in August. But I have had lesser urgencies and deadlines of my own, two Shakespeare papers and a stack of recommendations, finished and mailed about 11 p.m. the night before. Preparation for the trip has been a bit rushed and spotty. Have I remembered everything?
The final urgency is to see my friend Harry Batchelder. Harry is one of a kind -- New York lawyer, Air Force Special Forces veteran, former U.S. national hockey goalie, old comrade in arms, and law school roommate. He has made a special effort to go on this trip, squeezing it in so tightly that he will have to go straight from the plane to the courtroom, in his power suit, to defend his client. (It may also keep the Air Force from pulling him out of retirement for hazardous duty in the Middle East.) He is a seasoned river runner, who has already done the Bio Bio twice, and we have years of catching up to do.
3:30 a.m. Shuttle to Los Angeles International Airport. The American Airlines desk opens at five, but the place is anything but deserted. Performers from the Rose Parade are gathering to go home: the Eagle Band to Wichita, in matching blue warmup jackets, and a black women's equestrian team to Miami, strikingly attired in long brown dusters and gold-medalled bush hats. An elderly couple is flying back to Hilo, where the volcano has been erupting since 1985.
With two hours to wait at the airport, I open my packet from Sobek, the trip outfitter, and find an action alert from the Bio Bio Action Committee and the International Rivers Network, respectively of Angels Camp and San Francisco, California. It turns out, they say, that there is still a chance to save the river; that Endesa may not divert the water till the spring of 1993-94; and that a number of obstacles may yet be put in its way. The project must still be approved as an addition to Endesa's rate-base by the National Energy Commission, whose minister, Jaime Toha "has a definite socialist background," and "should be receptive to suggestions that the Bio Bio dam projects are not in the best interests of the majority of Chile's population." And the project, like many spoliatory projects in the third world, needs money from the World Bank. Will they look before they lend this time? The bottom line from the Action Committee: two, maybe three more seasons of flow, and a chance, maybe, to stop the dam.
How different this expedition is from my Grandfather Ward's trip by buckboard from Hemet, California, to Yosemite in 1900. He got up early, too, to get the mules loaded and settled down. He liked to break camp by 7:30. He could travel 20-30 miles a day, feeling every bump and upgrade in the road. His expenses for himself, his family of three, and the two mules came to a dollar or two a day. He greatly admired Teddy Roosevelt and spent much of his time camping in the wild -- but there is no sign in his notebook of disappearing wilderness or of groups organized to protect it.
My trip, by contrast, begins with a commercial outfitter, Sobek; it will cover 10,000 miles on the longest day, and it will cost about $185 per day for one person, not counting travel expenses. Air travel will add about $60-100 a day to that figure. My expenses per person-mile are about the same as my grandfather's, about 15 or 20 cents in modern dollars.
The first leg of the flight is to Miami, the natural hub of flights to South America. First-time travellers to Chile are always surprised to find that it is east of New York, not west, with a five-hour time difference from the U.S. west coast in Chilean summer, thanks to their daylight savings time. As we approach Miami around 4 p.m., I wonder what the square lagoons are, with scoop cranes digging sand from the bottom and piling it in a berm around the edge. The Ladeco desk is closed, so I settle in for a long layover from 4 to 10:30 p.m. I read Michael Teitelbaum, The Fear of Population Decline cover to cover, and examine my Chile guide book to plan for my trip to the southern tip of Chile after the river. Someone mans the Ladeco desk at 5, but they won't assign seats till 7:30 or tell you the gate till 8:30. By 9:30 people are gathering in the waiting room. Most of them are retired Americans and Germans, going on a cruise of Antarctica, the Falklands, South Georgia, and the Elephant Islands. Some do crossword puzzles, but it is a more venturesome group than one normally associates with cruises. One couple from Oklahoma, via San Francisco, had taken a wild ride on a cowpony at an Argentine rodeo on a recent previous trip.
The talk is of horses till it becomes clear that a party of rafters is nearby, along with a lean, intense doctor on his way to climb Mt. Aconcagua, the highest peak in Latin America. These do have the look of adventurers about them, and some are members of my own group. Mary, an accountant from Denver, has run four Colorado rivers. Dianne, a contract manager and marathoner from Minneapolis, is taking her first whitewater trip. Kent, a bright-eyed ski patrolman/kayaker from Breckenridge, Colorado, will be the trip photographer for our expedition. Also present is a guide from another outfitter, White Magic, who has been a ski instructor in winter and a raft boatman in Nepal in the summer. This is his first Bio Bio trip and a great milestone in his life. The talk is of skiing, then of rafting, then of mountains climbed. Had we done the Seven Peaks?
This is a banner year for the Bio Bio. Everyone wants to run it before it disappears. There are now five or six U.S. outfitters, says the White Magic guide, a few Chilean ones, and twice as many people as last year. We later find from our Sobek boatmen that there are closer to three times as many people this year -- but the number is still small compared to other great rivers. In a normal year, maybe 200 people do the Bio Bio, half with Sobek, while 10-20,000 do the Colorado and the Zambezi. This year the Bio Bio might be up to 5-600.
The plane takes off at 10:30 p.m. Just in front of us is a row of Society Expeditions guides, jolly folk, trying to stuff their carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment. After much effort, they succeed, to general applause. My seatmates are a retired couple from Minneapolis on the Society Expeditions cruise of the Antipodes to see Antarctica, Elephant Island, and the Falklands. He had been a manager for Westinghouse, she an accountant. Both are doing crossword puzzles, but they have been around. They have been to New Zealand, China, and eight times to Africa, including one trip tracking gorillas. Africa was their favorite. Their favorite outfitter is Lindblad Travel, run by some relative of the Lindblad cruise lines, specializing in China and Africa, and highly customized for small groups. They had gone through Botswana with a group of six, with 26 takeoffs and landings in 26 days. Area-specialist agencies give you the best tours, but they are also the most vulnerable to ups and downs in their specialty areas. Lindblad was in trouble because of the falloff of demand to travel in China.
We take a late supper with my first taste of Chilean beer, Royal Guard Tipo Dortmund. It is good. They hand out little packs of toiletries, including eyeshades, to see us through the Redeye night flight. To my annoyance, my seat won't recline, but I get several hours of restless sleep nonetheless.
Over the Pacific: Thursday, Jan. 3, 5:30 a.m. Up. The sun has risen outside and everybody is stirring. At some point during the night I crossed the Equator for the first time, but they don't do the King Neptune ceremony on planes, least of all in the middle of the night. We land at Santiago Airport, pass customs, and go in a fleet of taxis to the posh Hotel Carrera, across the square from the heavily guarded government palace, La Moneda. Forward-thinking American intellectuals rail against Chile for its former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and his monetarist, Chicago-school economic advisors, the Chicago Boys. But Pinochet did step down voluntarily; Chile has less than its share of bandits, purse-snatchers, and terrorist insurgents; Chile's currency is among the least debauched in Latin America; and travellers are not forbidden to exchange for dollars at close to the actual market rate. Santiago, the capital, is larger than Los Angeles and suffers from smog -- but apparently, everybody says, from something other than photochemical ozone, which plagues Los Angeles in the summer. Santiago's worst episodes are in the winter; its problem pollutants must be some combination of carbon monoxide, sulfur compounds, or oxides of nitrogen.
I spend the morning clutching my Spanish dictionary and a growing handful of maps, exploring the city with Hank, a lanky urologist from New Orleans, now practicing in Ventura, California. Our first stop is Sobek's Chilean travel agent, Latour. Hank wants to see Valparaiso after the river trip; I want to go the Parque National Torres de Payne in the far south. Alicia, our tour agent, is the designated English speaker, but we have frequent recourse to the dictionary. She sets up Hank's tour in about 45 minutes.
There are some problems with my proposed trip to the Torres de Payne. Alicia tells me the two hotels in the Park are booked solid in the summer. They do have campsites, and I do have a sleeping bag, but no tent. The Park is often cold, windy, and rainy in the summer, so many ingredients of a disagreeable visit seem to be waiting in the wings. Moreover, studying my Sobek schedule and the guidebook, I have concluded that the $10 bus tour might barely get me to the Park in time to turn around and go back over 240 miles of very rough road to Punta Arenas. A rent-a-car seems to be the only hope, but it would cost $250. What would my grandfather think of such extravagance for a cold, rainy night in a sublimely beautiful park at the other end of the world? No matter, the die is cast, and I want to see the park while I have the chance. I tell her to reserve me a car and give the park hotels a try.
We then set out in search of the Tourist Office, which has maps, hotel lists, and perhaps advice on how to set up our trip. We walk, take buses, and the city's new Metro, which is cheap (about 25 cents), clean, and less jammed with people than New York or Boston. The only complication is trying to do it in Spanish, especially since the Tourist Office has moved to a different part of the city. Unlike European cities or Mexico, hardly anyone in Chile speaks English -- but the Chileans are very friendly and willing to put up with improvisational Spanish. On and off for several years I have done light preparation for just such a trip as this, by listening to a Spanish language tape while driving back and forth to meetings in Los Angeles. But the best preparation was having a Guadalajaran gardener, Gavino, for a few months, and especially, painting my house with his brother, Silverio. It took a month of work, with lots of learning, demonstration, and leafing through the dictionary for us both. Besides getting the house painted, it tripled my Spanish and gave me enough to get by with a dictionary in Chile. Hank has a smattering of Spanish, too.
We find the Tourist Office, get our maps and guides, and have lunch of roast chicken with an excellent Chilean Pilsner at a sidewalk restaurant for $1.80. Two of the city's main streets, Huerfanos and Ahumada, are cobbled and limited to pedestrian traffic. They, and many other streets, are full of colorful street vendors selling trinkets, sandals, leather goods, bamboo flutes, leather goods, belt buckles, ice cream, soft drinks. Hank goes off on some mission, and I savor the street scene and get a reservation at a not-so-posh hotel, plus two military maps of the Bio Bio at the Instituto Geografico Militar de Chile. I ask what their most popular maps were and the desk person says "Those two."
Back at the Carrera, I find my friend Harry unchanged by the years and attended by two cute California beach creatures, Heidi and Jennifer, who are also going on the raft trip. Downstairs, we meet Brad, our trip leader, and the other members of the party: four doctors, a hospital administrator, a New York trader, a physical therapist, and two almost-newlywed Sonoma County vintners, besides those already mentioned. There are four boatmen, including Brad, 15 passengers, and Kent, the kayaker/photographer. Brad is relieved to find everyone there. His last trip was filled with disasters: late start; some difficult passengers; one boat blew up in the sun; another slipped loose in the night and floated downstream; and Brad came down with malaria picked up on the Rufiji River in Tanzania, and could barely function. But three of his passengers on the disastrous prior trip had had the time of their life, and one of our group, Dianne, was making her first river trip on their recommendation -- on the ultimate whitewater river. But this trip is going perfectly -- so far.
At 6:30 p.m. we gather with our blue, waterproof river bags packed for the journey. Harry is impressed by the upgrade from old, black, military river bags. Most of the passengers also have the classic river-rat identifier: an army ammunition case painted white to keep the inside from getting too hot in the sun. At 7 p.m. we leave for the station, with Brad's warning to watch our bags closely. On the platform I meet Forrest and Joy, almost newlywed co-owners of Iron Horse Vineyards, a boutique vineyard in Sonoma County. Forrest has been in the Peace Corps in Brazil, helping with rural electrification. He got into the wine business by working for a mad ballet dancer who taught him how to grow grapes. Joy's family owned the vineyard next door and had once been a reporter and program manager for ABC. They had known each other for years and gotten married six months before, when a window of opportunity opened for both of them. Now he does the growing and she the marketing. Both are seasoned travellers, with the latest in gadgetry -- light, serviceable camp and river gear, high-tech sleeping bags, hefty, large-frame cameras, and collapsible aluminum walking sticks. Forrest is also fluent in Spanish.
After a short wait, we load the bags onto an elegant, clean 1920's-vintage walnut-panelled European sleeping car reminiscent of the Orient Express, and set out on an all-night ride to Victoria, where we shall take a bus to the river. Dinner in the dining car features Harry roaring out the entrees "Pollo!" and "Carne!" and trying our first Chilean wines, cheap and good. Chile, Forrest notes, has the best cheap wine in the world. 11 p.m. Chile time is only 6 p.m. California time, but I have had two long days on the road and drift off to sleep at once.
Victoria, Bio Bio Province: Friday, Jan. 4, 5:59 a.m. Our porter arouses us as we unload at Victoria, meet Rolando and Alfonso, owner and driver of a city bus from Temuco. Their resourcefulness and dependability are a mainstay with Sobek. The bus is painted a gaudy orange and white, in the third-world fashion, with stickers from every corner of South America on the glass behind Rolando. "Sobek" "No se enteren macheteros." "Marijuana se puede ser peligrosa para su salud." We pile river bags on top and set out, passing a flock of chickens and a large circus tent in the early morning.
Rolando and Alfonso play Chilean-Andean tapes of Illapu and Inti-Illimani as we wind our way through the countryside. The surroundings seem to me a blend of the Shenandoah foothills and the Sierra foothills of central California -- steep hills, narrow roads, pretty, green fields covered with wildflowers at the peak of the southern summer, and fingers of clouds running up the valleys.
The biggest difference is the volcanoes, with strange names like Lonquimay "forested mountain," Llaima "reawakened," and Tolhuacha. If the whole Pacific Rim is a ring of fire, this little part of it is a ringlet of fire. There are a half-dozen volcanoes, each of which is active and has erupted within this century. Lonquimay had a spectacular eruption on Christmas Day 1988, which my friend Harry savored on an earlier trip. Volcan Callaqui "pike," which will be the central landmark of our river journey, billows clouds of choking steam from a vent near the top. The Bio Bio itself has carved a valley between masses of lava thrown down by Callaqui and Lonquimay. The closer we get to this valley, the more Indian become the features of the people along the road. Chilean cowboys, or huasos can be seen riding through the fields.
Kent's rented kayak has not shown up. He will have to go looking for it. Two doctors in front, Jody and Joe, are discussing tropical medicine. Harry dozes off. By late morning we arrive at the Termas de Manzanar in Curacautin. This is a quaint hotel with a hot spring and hot baths. While the others head for the baths, I go exploring, with a hike down the road to Princesa Falls. The road goes to Argentina, 80 miles away, and there is a military checkpoint. I meet my first culihuacho fly, orange and black, the size and shape of a bumblebee, and all too persistent in its pursuit of the nearest large mammal, me. Perhaps the flies and the dam builders were put there to make up for Chile's lack of poisonous snakes, poison ivy, and killer bees. They are slow, however, and the Mapuche Indians, who hate them, catch them and torture them by tying two together on a long thread and sending them off flying in circles. I bat the fly away with my notebook and take a path to the right, behind a young Chilean couple from Temuco with a cute little girl. The path runs through trees, over streams, through fields of wildflowers, wild roses and fuchsias. It is high summer in a cool climate, and everything is in bloom. The waterfall is beautiful, the first of many beautiful waterfalls, and the family wades through the pool behind the falls and returns around the other side.
On my way back, I find Kent at the guard station. His bus came, but it was too full for him to get on. I ask the guard, a jovial fellow, if he could help Kent get a ride, and he obliges. I return to the hotel for lunch. After lunch we travel by bus to Indio Falls, where I hear for the first and almost only time the bio bio call of the Chilean flycatcher, for which the river is named. These falls, too, are beautiful, not so tall as Princesa, but with a more powerful flow and a basin brimming with churning water below. After viewing Indio, our party continues to Princesa, which falls about 100 feet in a slender plume into a still lake. This time, the falls are in full afternoon sunlight. I climb around behind them, then climb to the top.
At the bottom, Harry is talking with Jody and Tim, Boston doctors who had practiced at the Schweitzer Center in Lambarene and are interested in tropical medicine. Jody had spent some time in Guatemala, speaks fluent Spanish, and is doing research on AIDS, which is killing ten million people in Africa -- compared to maybe a million in the United States. Jody is also the daughter of Philip Heymann, former U.S. Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division, with whom Harry has had some run-ins. He is now a professor at Harvard Law School and moderated a panel presentation I gave in 1984, but I did not recall the connection till months after my return from the river. Tim is plainly an oarsman, wearing a Harvard lightweight crew shirt. At first I suppose he had been on the Harvard lightweight crew, but it soon becomes clear that he had gone to Yale (where he met Jody) and had won the shirt, not by rowing for Harvard, but by beating the Harvard crew.
We wander back to the hotel through forest paths strewn with wildflowers -- lupines, lilies, wild roses, fuchsias -- then through fields of rye and clover. Streams abound, with mossy logs and sunlit patches. We are making our way by trial and error, but it is better than following the dirt road and getting covered with dust by every passing truck.
Heidi and Jennifer are paying a lot of attention to Harry. They are vivacious and fun and are richly enjoying themselves, though Jen is feeling a bit queasy from the change of diet. Harry and his satellites fall behind the main party and stop for sodas at a general store in Manzanar, called "Mini Market." We introduce ourselves as the Grupo 21 de Mayo, to the amusement of our hosts. Eventually, we return to the hotel, soak in the hot baths, and have supper.
At supper, Harry continues to be the life of the party. He recounts his adventures rafting on the Zambezi with Sobek and Shearwater, a South African outfitter. Sobek is the more cautious of the two, skirting the worst rapids. Harry likes Shearwater, which blasts ahead, never skirts anything, and can be persuaded to run the worst holes of the worst rapids. Janis, our physical therapist from Medford, Massachusetts, was the quietest person on the trip, but she had been a pioneer on the Zambezi, winning her immediate entrée to Harry's book of sporting people.
Harry had two dogs, one a mutt, the other a German Shepherd. Both had to be put down after being cruelly abused by construction workers. Gillian, his ex-wife, got the house and is renting it for $5,000 a month. She married a carpenter and is living on an estancia in Argentina. Maybe he will send her a card. He has had two significant others since Gillian. The first, Michelle, is married with two kids. Harry still writes and sends presents to the kids. The second, Lani? was an Air Force/CIA operative who worked on the Soviet desk at DIA. She ran across Harry's file, set up a meeting, and it was love at first sight for both. But she ran off with a Navy man and did not leave happy memories.
Harry discusses the Bruce Jensen solution to the drug problem. Dilute the drug with 50% rat poison. Far from discouraging demand, this would increase it, since street people consider deaths an indicator of higher quality and greater purity of the drug. For each moth attracted to this flame, the trip would be the last. Hm.
Harry always goes for the soft spots, but no one seems to mind. He chides Jennifer and Heidi for the ticking of their biological clocks, but says his own has run. There will be no son to name Chance Wayne Batchelder, as he has always wanted to do; no cute little daughter to gladden his heart. When he spotted a little Chilean girl, he muttered "I'd kill for a daughter like that." He used to have a treasured Mauser sniper rifle, very accurate. But, after his father's death, his stepmother sold it, along with two Kentucky long rifles and what should have been Harry's share of the family farm. His Aunt Mildred is still alive in a nursing home in New Hampshire (?). His sister's sons went to Harvard. One is a vice president of United Technologies with an unappreciative wife who refused to let him take a tour as head of their Hong Kong office. The other was captain of the freshman football team, but he had a curvature of the spine and had to quit the game.
Harry believes his worst mistake was to go to Brown when he could have gone to Harvard. He was one of two in his high school class to go to college at all, and he went on to graduate cum laude from Brown, but apprehension of the Harvard workload and the blandishments of the Brown hockey coach brought him there instead. Had he gone to Harvard, he would have gone through life with less of a chip on his shoulder, maybe an ordinary-sized chip, not a two-by-four. He has scouted Princeton and Harvard for Brown but finds, despite Brown's capital campaign, that its teams are not winning any more than before. He saw the same a&@!'s in the crowd at the games, and the same a&@!'s in the crowd at the Brown Hall of Fame Banquet. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, his sister told him to accept the honor and shut up. "Playing for Brown was the greatest honor of my life," he intoned, but it was actually sh#@.
Harry now says he is content with his fate. He pulls out a huge collection of pills for every degree of stomach disorder, and prescribes three Lotomils for Jen. Jen is 32, and a sculpture student at Cal Arts. She and Heidi have drawing tablets for the raft trip. She is now at the end of being married to her second husband, taking the raft trip to decide whether to walk out. She is not wearing her ring, which might get lost in the river. Heidi is Jennifer's aunt, but is only three years older. Both are from Santa Barbara. Heidi's mother was a model, but Heidi was a tomboy, who always gets mussed and dirty when she goes on an adventure (as she did on our hike back from Princesa Falls). Some women, she says, can go down a river without a hair out of place, but they don't have much fun.
Tim doesn't like heights and is not anxious to go to the top of the falls. Jody wonders whether and how he can be cured of it. Brad was afraid of heights and took a rock climbing course and has been fine ever since; indeed, he took care to perch on a sloping ledge right at the edge of the abyss.
Giardia. They have it in Chile, despite the general lack of poisonous things. They also have aftosa, a form of cattle fever, and, judging from the signs, they have a problem with ganado, whatever that may be. I ask Jody and Tim whether there could be any connection between the Stonewall Rebellion, which appears to have greatly increased promiscuity among male homosexuals, and the spread of Giardia to wild places throughout the United States during the 1970's and 1980's. They believe that Giardia had been widespread all along, but had not been properly diagnosed.
Curacautin, Bio Bio Province: Saturday, Jan. 5. The next morning, at breakfast, we sample café con leche in the Chilean style. Rather than putting a splash of milk into coffee brewed in water, they brew the coffee in hot milk. It is good. After breakfast, some enjoy the baths again. I try my hand at Hacky Sack, a game of kicking a tiny leather sack around a circle. I find it is not the sport for me. Then there is an inquiry. A Mapuche Indian has come with a manta, a thick, handwoven woolen poncho worn by the huasos. Would anyone like to buy it for $65? I would. It is a beautiful manta, tightly woven in natural wool colors. It took the vendor's wife, Ilchia Jaramillo, a month to shear, spin, and weave it. I borrow the money from Harry (having left all of my money but a credit card at the hotel in Santiago) and make the purchase.
Once again, Alfonso and Rolando pack our river bags on the roof of the bus, and we set out for our put-in near the village of Lonquimay. Lonquimay is dusty and reminiscent of the U.S. West a century ago. Its shops are full of horseshoes, saddles, bridles, and tack. Huasos ride their horses smartly down the dirt streets. The biggest difference from our old West is the oxen, pulling heavy, double-yoked carts through the town. It takes years to train two oxen to work together. When one dies, the other will not accept a new partner. We buy supplies in a general store, and fill our canteens at the well of the Rosalba, the owner.
At the river we have a picnic lunch while Harry fences with river legend Jim Slade. Last season, Jim, as a boatman/trip leader, almost had his arm torn off in the notch of One-eyed Jack. This season he is managing Sobek's trips. "Slowing down, eh? Losing it, maybe?" said Harry. "You lose just a touch of timing every year older, and every month you don't practice." Jim is happy to see Harry, who had gone down the Bio Bio and the Zambezi before with him. But perhaps he is also happy to see him go.
We put in with four rubber rafts, three of them oar boats, powered and guided by a professional boatman, the fourth a paddle boat, commanded by a paddle captain, but powered and guided by a team of six paddling passengers. Normally there would be another boat, a trainer for new guides. Sobek requires five years of river experience for its Bio Bio guides, plus a training session paid for by the guide candidate. They had a top woman candidate the preceding year, river-wise and capable, but she finally decided that taking innocent people through Lava South was not for her. If a boatman gets injured, he rides the paddle boat. But heaven help the paddle boat with an uninjured guide and a paddle captain. It's like having a doctor for your patient.
Jimmy, our paddle captain with tatoos, amulets, long hair, and a full beard, seems like a Viking or a Hell's Angel sent from Central Casting. I am in a regular oar boat, where (unlike the paddle boat) I can take pictures. In my boat are Hank, the Ventura urologist, and Janis, a cherubic physical therapist from Medford, Massachusetts. Janis is the quietest of the passengers, but one of the most experienced. She has done ten legendary rivers, including the Zambezi and the Tatshenshini in Alaska. Our boatman is Mike, the youngest, strongest, and most sporting of the Sobek team. He is a power rower who likes to pull his oars, rather than push, and he is noted for his ability to maneuver another outfitter's ungainly, 22-foot rafts. (Ours were 16-footers).
At put-in the river has about a thousand cubic feet per second of flow, which will grow to two or three thousand by take-out. Its green, snow-fed waters are a cold 55 degrees even at the height of summer. The initial rapids, while sometimes tricky and "technical," are not nearly as terrifying as those we will run later downstream. People wear lifejackets, but not helmets, and the big, surviving-the-rapids peptalk is yet to come.
The Colorado in the Grand Canyon is a roaring brown monster, with twice the flow of the Bio Bio and huge standing waves. But most of its rapids can be run straight down the middle. A "technical" river like the Bio Bio is full of obstacles and requires more careful planning and maneuvering than the Colorado. A team from our outfitter, Sobek Expeditions of Angel's Camp, California, was the first to run the Bio Bio in 1978. Sobek normally carries half of the 200 or so people who run the river each year. This year, there will be closer to 600 people, like us wanting to run the ultimate river before it is gone. Sobek will carry half of those, too, and, for the first time, it has undertaken to co-ordinate the trips to keep people from bumping into one another at the most favored campgrounds. There are three or four other American outfitters working the river, two Chilean, and one Peruvian. Even 600 is only a tiny fraction of the 10-20,000 per season who run the Grand Canyon and the Zambezi, not enough either to spoil the river or to make a powerful lobby against the dam builders.
On the river we pass balseadores, heavy cable ferries dating from the river's Gold Rush days in the 1930's. Chilean farmers wave to us from the shore. Late in the afternoon we camp on a sandy beach not far from Lago Jesus y Maria. Harry pitches his tent far from the main thoroughfare and kitchen. The night air is cold, and I put on almost all my cold gear. We have a supper of potatoes, tomato and onion salad, and hardtack. Afterward there is a call for songs. I start several, one for everyone there for whom I can think of an association. But there is no guitar, and the singing peters out. We wait for the stars to come out, giving us our first view of the Southern Cross. Presently the sky is thickly covered with stars and constellations, of which the most familiar is Orion. The Southern Hemisphere actually has fewer stars than the Northern, but fewer city lights, too, where we were, so it looks like more.
We are the third Sobek party on the river and have the leftover equipment. Just ahead of us is a party from Sobek's Yangtse expedition, which earlier made a first run of one section of the Yangtse. Harry and I retire to his high-tech Sierra Designs tent.
Camp Jesus y Maria, Bio Bio Province: Sunday, Jan. 6. 3:30 a.m. An urgent trip up the hillside with a trowel to attend to a call of nature. Was it the salad? I consider tapping my medicine collection, Maalox for the mildest symptoms, Immodium for middling, toxycycline for severe. I decide to wait till morning, when Tim tells me that Pepto-Bismol, not Maalox, is the right stuff for starters. I wind up using nothing at all, and the symptoms eventually subside.
At 8:30 we rise for breakfast, then hike to Lago Jesus y Maria. Harry and Jen stay behind, Jen feeling a bit under the weather. We pass through fields of wildflowers under steep, snowy mountains, pausing to examine the ruins of a mill. The Chileans are fond of heavy, rough-hewn Coigue (Chilean oak) timbers for buildings and fences; they also like to use brush for fences. The lake is pretty, with a waterfall. Heidi takes a swim in the cold water. We return to camp by a dusty shortcut and have lunch. Presently a rafting party of Latins paddles by. I take them for Chileans and introduce us again as the Grupo de 21 de Mayo, but they seem less amused than the last bunch. It turns out that they are Peruvians, whose navy the Chileans had soundly thrashed at the Battle of the Pacific in the 1880's. The Chilean victory, on 21 de Mayo, resulted in Peru's and Bolivia's forfeiture of the rich, dry nitrate county of what is now northern Chile. No wonder they are not amused. Someone says that in the Southern Hemisphere the shadows point south at noon, not north. I make a mental note to check this by diagram or observation, but never get around to doing so. At 3:30 we set off down the river in Bruce's boat.
We arrive at our next campsite, Preview, around seven. It is a beautiful place, with a view of Callaqui in the distance. Harry immediately sets up his tent. The Peruvians, whom we passed during the day, paddle up and camp on a bluff overlooking the river. I go up to explore a dusty road overlooking the river. Two huasos ride by, not so stylishly as the one in Lonquimay. It is beautiful country, with high steep hills, sweeping vistas of the rivers, layers of trees, each one bluer in the distance, fields with goats, pigs, and sheep, and a giant Chilean rabbit. Eye-shaped corrals of purple fireweed can be seen on the hillsides in the distance. Kites like seagulls skim up and down the river; a cormorant can be seen on a rock in the middle of the rapids. The light is perfect, and I shoot up the rest of my roll. I sample a bunch of cherries which has fallen onto the road, then think of the various possible components of road dust and put them aside.
Back at the camp, I find Harry in an expansive mood. He tells of his exploits in the Air Force Reserve, using drones to foil the Syrians, thinking up clever ways to take out Khaddafi or other choice targets, devastating the blue team in war games by taking out communication centers, aided by General Telephone Company reservists. The latter strategy, pioneered by Harry in the 1970's, would in two weeks be the heart of the American campaign in the desert. It worked as well on Saddam Hussein's army as it had on the blue team, far surpassing anyone's expectations, except possibly those of Israelis. He had formed an alliance with dashing, orthodoxy-defying General Keegan before the latter's fall from favor with the regnant powers. He speculates on the probable conduct of the looming war in Iraq. It would begin with a ferocious bombing by the Air Force, dropping every 500-pound bomb in the European Theater on the dug-in Iraqis. No matter how deep and strong their shelters, napalm on their air vents would destroy them. Their fate would be like that of the First North Vietnamese Division, which took 80% casualties from B-52 bombardment. The Air Force had come a long way since World War II and Vietnam; if it couldn't devastate the Iraqis, we might as well go home.
He reminisces about some of his court battles, including the defense of Senator Harrison Williams, whom he considers a decent fellow prosecuted to excess. He takes pride in having all but forced the judge to grant Senator Williams a visit with his dying wife, despite the prosecutor's objections. In a lifetime of criminal defense practice, Harry has come to oppose the death penalty.
He also reminisces about his farmhouse in Sandwich, N.H. One weekend, while passing through Sandwich, someone urged him to take a look at the farmhouse of a man who was retiring, and whose sons had gone to California with no desire to take over the family farm. Harry as a teenager had felt his own family farm confining, but he longed for it now and loved the authentic Yankee house -- but could not afford it. But the owner saw in Harry the old Yankee spirit which his own sons had left behind, and he wanted in his heart to have the house go to Harry, who would cherish and preserve it, not to sleazy yuppies from New Jersey, who would build fake-Tudor housing developments and give the roads names like Country Club Lane. A friend took Harry to the local bank, where the vice-president took him to heart and made him a loan on very favorable terms. He bought the house, tore out the television, and has lived there happily on weekends ever since.
At dinner, two Chilean boys get a ride to our side of the river in one of the rafts. On an island close offshore they spot a brown, Marmot-sized, squirrel-like Viscacha with a long tail. They chase it for 20 minutes without success.
I turn in at ten and have the tent to myself -- Harry's tent, mind you -- as Harry is spending the night with Jen. I remonstrate, as you can get soaked with dew sleeping outside without a tent, but Harry says he finds it warmer outside.
Preview Camp, Bio Bio Province: Monday, January 7. Harry says he greatly prefers sleeping outside and wants us all to be in Mike's boat, which he considers more sporting than the others. He has been telling everybody that Sobek's Zambezi rides are too short and cautious for the money. Shearwater, a South African outfitter runs more rapids, more sportingly, for less money.
Harry knows the armies and air forces of the world backwards and forwards. He is a bountiful source of war stories and analysis of the looming clash with Iraq, which he will miss (1) because he retired last year and (2) because he is out of reach of the phone in Chile, so the Air Force can't unretire him and call him up again for hazardous duty in Jordan. We both marvel at the abrupt diminution of the cold war symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall; Harry almost misses the bad old days. Since there are no Reds around to do it, he starts the morning with a bellowed rendition of the Soviet National Hymn and an invocation of the thoughts of Chairman Kim Il-song, carrying the banner of Stalin to the end. I know the tune and the lines and join in with gusto. Forrest, hearing the noise from an adjacent campsite, wonders if we are opera buffs -- but in reality it is a reunion of the Red Team from war games long ago.
We encounter our first named rapids, Zorro, Perro, Cazador, Unicorn, and Son of Unicorn. None are wild enough to require helmets or the long briefing on how to behave in a rapid. At lunch we stop at the Lolco River and find that Forrest's hefty, high-tech camera, placed in the bilge in a high-tech waterproof bag is soaked through and through. But Forrest does not complain. He is the one who said at the Manzanar Hotel that people who complain on the trail should be shot. Besides, he has another high-tech, large-format camera of equal dignity to the ruined one, dry and fit for the rest of the trip. My camera is a regular single-lens reflex with normal and zoom lenses. It has a little waterspot on the edge of its polarizer lens, but it still works when you can safely reach it. I worry about the abrasive volcanic dust more than the water. Janis's regular camera broke down before she left, but she, like several others, has a little waterproof rangefinder camera, which, unlike mine, does not have to be stowed in an ammo box when the going gets wet. Half the passengers have these handy little cameras; Hank has something more fancy: a Nikonos rangefinder camera with a tele lens. Some boatman lost one of these in a river in Australia a few years ago. It was later recovered after several months under water, with both camera and film intact.
At the end of the day we pass under a bridge built by professionals, in sharp contrast to the field-expedient bridges on the road along the river. Many of the latter were propped up by tree trunks, albeit huge ones, and looked rather precarious. This bridge is the engineers' bridge for a dam, just above Jugbuster rapid. Jugbuster is a serious rapid, and we stop to scout, don helmets, and whizz through one by one, crowding the cushion around the left to avoid an enormous hole in the middle. We see Harry, in Bruce's boat, highsiding at every opportunity. Highsiding is throwing your weight at the threatening wave or rock, not away from it, which is the natural impulse. It helps keep the boat from flipping or getting pinned against a rock. Constant, vigorous highsiding is a survival art on the mighty Zambezi, with its giant waves. They even hire professional African highsiders, who not only lug the boats up and down the cliff but make sure the highsiding is done with a high level of expertise. On the upstream rapids of the Bio Bio, however, it is not quite so indispensable. Janis muses: "Harry thinks he's on the Zambezi." Every boat gets through, the paddle boat hoisting its paddles in triumph. I lose my second pair of clip-on dark glasses in a wave, the first having lost a lens earlier. But I have two spares, and these last me for the rest of the trip.
We gather firewood upriver and glide through slanting evening midsummer sunshine to View Camp, with an even more spectacular vista of Callaqui than Preview. Harry and Jen scamper up the trial to a flowery meadow on top where they read chapters from Songlines to each other. This romance is blossoming. Songlines is a book about Australian aborigines who learn songs and use them as a form of social identification and exchange. I contribute a chapter, then go down to supper and set up my campsite at Joe Kaminski's favorite site. At supper I mention Ralph Barton Perry III to Brad. Ralph Perry the Third? He has taken him down many rivers. The Bio Bio, the Tatshenshini, the Grand Canyon, with Ralph and his father. He admires Ralph's consummate guitar artistry and campfire song leadership, but acknowledges that some of the other passengers found him a bit much.
At dusk, the volcano again lights up with afterglow, but this time there are lenticular clouds over the summit, presaging bad weather. But Victor, a Mapuche Indian, slips in quietly with his family and a selection of hand-knit woolen socks, hats, and scarves. He believes the cloud is a false alarm and that the weather will be good. He later turns out to be right. After dinner, around the campfire, there is a demand for songs and a songfest with a smaller, more successful group than the first night at Camp Lago Jesus y Maria.
View Camp, Bio Bio Province: Tuesday, Jan. 8. This is the Southern-Hemisphere counterpart of my boys' birthday. We rise at eight to a spectacular view of Callaqui and the river. This is the day we can hike to base camp for the Callaqui climb. The hike is optional, but everyone but Harry, Jennifer, and Janis decides to go. Victor has also brought a bit of good news: that the prior team has located pack horses to carry some of our packs to base camp.
We start up the mountain through Harry's meadow to Maria's farm, with a cold, pure spring, a glorious view of Callaqui, and Maria's five-or-six-year-old daughter, Viviana, who is feisty and cute and plays with Heidi. Heidi is a horse and kid person and greets Viviana and the horses like long-lost friends. Then we take a steep hike through woods and meadows to snow-fed Malla falls, which blast out by day when the snow is melting and trickle by night when it is not. This is araucaria country, filled with spiny, primeval conifers which grow only in Chile. Brad stops to pet the araucaria, taking care to go with the grain of the spines.
At base camp, Heidi and I converse with Alberto the wrangler in improvised Spanish. His family has lived in the valley for 100 years. Most of the Mapuche are sharecroppers on big landholdings, but they do not take the prescribed Marxist view of the Pinochet government. They feared that Allende would collectivize everything, and they adore Pinochet for stopping him from doing so. Even Pinochet's dam-building scheme, which seems likely to flood their land and some of their homes, is not a cause for the same kind of resistance they showed to the Incas and the Spaniards. "We can't stop it," says Alberto.
Alberto then goes on to rope an araucaria pine cone, green, and the size and shape of a pineapple. Its soft, almond-shaped seeds taste like piñon nuts, perhaps because they are a kind of piñon nut.
At night, around the campfire, talk turns to harrowing river-running injuries. Ron Griffith stuck an oar through his leg running Lost Yak. Another guide who spoke Spanish borrowed a horse, rode toward town, met the horse's owner, who took the horse and promised to bring a better one. He never showed up. The other guide ran down the road and hitched a ride into town. In town the carabinieros were drunk. He finally got an army rescue team to evacuate Griffith to a hospital, where he asked for an X-ray. The Chilean doctors were going to pull out the oar but found, under X-ray, (or was it simply by pulling?) that there was a steel clip in it. Griffith still walks with a limp, but he can walk. The doctors add their own stock of horror stories; someone who got an oar up his anus; someone who got a big splinter in his buttocks or in his urethra. As we drift off to sleep we can hear the rumble of rocks tumbling down the slopes of Callaqui.
Malla Creek Base Camp, Callaqui: Wednesday, Jan. 9. Up at 4:30 to climb Callaqui. Brad sets a fast pace to assure getting up and down on time -- or is it to weed out in advance the ones who can't keep up? But everyone wants to go, and everyone keeps up. But I think to myself: "It's a good thing I'm doing this now. Another few years older and I couldn't keep up." I was asthmatic as a child and am no stranger to the problems of keeping up with people with more lung capacity.
We travel through a forest of Coigue trees. Presently, we find ourselves above the tree line and camp on a knoll for our breakfast of granola, powdered milk, and raisins. The sun is just rising, and, past a ridge of Araucaria trees to the south, the volcanoes of the Ringlet of Fire rise up one by one: Sierra Nevada, Lonquimay, Llaima, Tolhuaca, and Villarica. Callaqui means "Pike;" Llaima means "Reawakened One;" Lonquimay means "densely forested mountain."
We work our way up rough, volcanic boulders. None of the streams of snow-melt which were roaring yesterday is running above a trickle, owing to the early-morning cold. Farther up, the boulders become scree, which sinks under your step and gets in your boots. But this year there is a lot of snow, slippery in places, but easier to climb on than the scree. We kick steps into it and work our way higher. We are going at unprecedented speed, perhaps because Alberto's pack horses took the heavier stuff to base camp and kept us fresh for the climb.
Clump, clump, clump. Up the snow, up the scree, lunch in a sheltered spot. The day is sunny, perfect for climbing, but still windy. Everybody puts on coats of 20-strength suntan lotion and zinc oxide on the nose and lips. I have added improvised cardboard sidescreens to my sun glasses and am glad I took the precaution. The sun seems fiercer here, and the air thinner, than I recall at comparable elevations in the San Gabriels near home. Somewhere I seem to remember an estimate that the Andes, though lower than the Himalayas, measured from sea level, are higher measured from the center of the earth up, or from the stratosphere down. I must check this out some time.
The clumps get fewer and fewer between rests. 100, 50, 20, depending on how steep and slippery the slope. Eye-filling vistas of glaciers, frozen streams, snowfields, crevasses, old avalanches, other mountains, the works. I learned when I had asthma that you can do almost anything if you take the time for it, but it doesn't work so well against the kind of deadline of getting up and down between sunrise and sunset which is inseparable from mountain climbing. Maybe Mt. McKinley is beyond me now, but not Callaqui. 50 steps, ten deep breaths. Harry used this technique trekking in Nepal. It works. I finally trudge to the top, second-to-last of the party, but the party is the largest Sobek group to make it to the top, and one of the fastest. Most notable is Forrest, who lugged his surviving ten-pound large-frame camera up all the way, at the cost of about 50,000 extra foot-pounds of energy. Kent, the official trip photographer, is too sick to bring along the Sobek videocamera, so this part of the trip will not be officially recorded. This has been a rough trip for him. Besides being sick, his rent-a-kayak did not show up on schedule in Curacautin; he had to get a backup in another town; the bus to that town was too crammed to board; he had to hitchhike; the backup kayak was old and clunky; and his 20 hours of videocamera batteries seemed on their way to running out at 10. He and his batteries were too low to climb the mountain. But he did run every rapid ahead of the others, to record episodes which we never could have done.
At the top of Callaqui Brad breaks out champagne and a lunch of pepperoni, crackers, and cheese. We celebrate, then explore the fumaroles -- briefly, because the steam is choking -- and collect a few lumps of sulfur for souvenirs.
To get down, we glissade, standing, squatting, or sitting, dropping about 4,000 feet in 30 minutes. These had taken us five hours to climb. I wear five holes in the seat of my shorts and stumble along behind the others, periodically shaking lava chunks out of my shoes. We pass treeline and our camp near Malla Creek, then Malla Falls which is running full blast from the snowmelt and shines beautifully in the afternoon sun. Finally, we pass Maria's farm, with its pure spring, fill our canteens, and hike the last mile to the river camp. It's been a long day for me, 5,000 feet up and 8,000 feet down in a single day. I had supposed that the price of the trip would be sore knees, which I always get after long downgrades, but Brad has given me a useful tip, to take aspirin beforehand. Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory, as well as a pain-killer, and it seems to work. I am tired, but my knees are still functional.
View Camp, Bio Bio Province: Thursday, January 10. Up at 7:30 for an early breakfast. This is the eighth day of the trip, and the river climax. Brad, the trip leader, now gives us in earnest the rules on how to survive in a rapid. Whenever you fear a flip or a pin (of the raft against a rock), you high-side. If you are thrown into the water, try to get back into the boat. If you cannot do that, spread your arms and float feet first through the rapid, protecting your head. Breathe when you can; head for shore when you can. Don't get caught under the boat; if you do, don't linger. If someone throws you a rope, grab it, but turn backward to the pull and tuck it under your arm; otherwise the current will pull you under and keep you from breathing. If you are in or near the boat, and the rope has a fastener, hook it to something at once and get clear quickly before the rope tightens. Wear your helmet and life jacket tight, or they will be torn off. Don't get swept into the next rapid.
Ahead is the Nirenco Gorge, the pinnacle of the river's beauties and dangers. The river, which has been moving in a great bend around Callaqui, narrows into a deep cleft with high, sheer, dark, lava walls, layers of trees outlined in the sun, a spectacular waterfall, and the worst rapids on the river -- Milky Way, Lost Yak, and Lava South. Lava South is named both for its volcanic surroundings and for its resemblance to Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon. Lava (north) is among the most ferocious runnable rapids in the world, with a sudden constriction of the river producing huge, twisting hydraulics, with no easy way through and another big rapid close below. Lava South has all of these features. Long scouting, a choice to walk around the rapid, and a rescue setup are standard procedure on both runs. Everyone in our group chooses to make the run; all but one will make it through without being pulled into the river.
I have been riding with Hank and Janis but switch with Dianne and am now with Forrest and Joy. Our boatman is Mike, the youngest, strongest, and sportiest of the boatmen, and the newest to Sobek. He worked for Curry, another outfitter, and became famous for his ability to muscle Curry's clumsy, outsize, 22-foot rafts through rapids which pushed our regulation 16-footers to the limits. It's good background for this trip, because Sobek has more trips than boats this year and has had to rent an extra boat, a blue Pacific Northwest Scout III. It is a self-bailer, with holes in the floor to let out water shipped in a rapid, but its setup is different from our other boats, gray Avon rafts, and it is noticeably more balky to maneuver. Mike's extra power is a help with such a boat.
We shoot the first rapid, Milky Way, where the Malla River brawls in from the right, laden with volcanic silt and turning the Bio Bio from crystal green to a translucent slate green, a color which reminds me of the uniforms of the Chilean army. In one tense moment we stick on a rock and lose a spare oar and a boat bag, but we break loose and both are later recovered downstream.
The next rapid is Lost Yak, where the Nirenco River pours in again from the right, but this time in the form of a 150-foot waterfall. I have seen this waterfall before, illustrating descriptions of the Bio Bio, and we had a look at it from above when we climbed from View Camp to Malla Falls and Maria's farm. For me, it is the visual climax of the trip, and the greatest of the river's many treasures. We pull over to the left to scout Lost Yak. It is another foaming, frothing, rock garden of a world-class rapid, and everybody else gives it their full attention. But I can think of nothing but the waterfall. We clamber over boulders down the river, half to scout the rapid quickly and return to shoot the rapid, the other half with cameras poised to catch the first group struggling with the terminal climax of rocks and waves.
Not I. I find a spot upstream of the rapid, with a view of the boats drifting by past the falls on their way to the head of the rapid. The approach to a giant rapid is a mystical time for those in the boat; they seem almost suspended in time as they drift closer to the sudden, frantic reckoning, studying what of it they can see, and preparing intellectually and emotionally for the final plunge. For me, watching the tiny boats float by under the mighty falls is doubly mystical, almost, but not quite, staying my finger on my camera's shutter button. I do get several shots of the first boat through, beautifully framed with overhanging leaves, with the falls in almost full sunlight, while the lava cliff behind them is in shadow. These, I reflect, will be my best pictures of the trip, and they are, though nothing compared to the real thing.
Having taken them, I scurry back to the blue boat for our own passage of Lost Yak, but my thoughts are so full of the waterfall that I barely notice our harrowing trip. Beneath the rapid, Mike pulls us into an eddy behind a rock where we can see in one vista all the main glories of the Bio Bio -- the high wall of rapids; the colorful, puny boats doused in the waves; the dark gorge with its bright waterfall in the distance; the whole surmounted by the snowy top of Volcan Callaqui. This is as close to visual overdose as you can get in an imperfect world. Maybe even in a perfect world.
How better to snap out of such a reverie than to run Lava South, the most harrowing rapid of all on the river? Our scouting and rescue preparations rise to new heights, blotting out any further thought of pausing to take pictures from shore, far less of pictures from the boats. Again we divide into two groups of two, with the downstream group running rescue on the upstream. Our boat is in the first group.
The school solution to Lava South is to find the "slot," running roughly down the left, avoiding rocks and holes, then pulling like mad toward the middle to avoid a giant pourover, called the Mushroom, and a violent sweep of current into the left wall, called the Meatgrinder. A skilled boatman can find and stay in the slot on about half the runs. The other half require what seems like a day's worth of frantic improvisations squeezed into 15 seconds. Our passage falls into the second half. We lose the slot and are swept far to the left, backwards over the Mushroom, into and out of a huge hole, bumping rocks, and finally dumping into two more huge holes at the bottom. Mike is philosophical about the scraping and banging the boat has taken. "It's only a rental," he says. We high-side furiously, make it through the rapid, and immediately get set up to run rescue on the boats behind us.
The paddleboat, with Viking Jimmy in command, is not so lucky. It, too, loses the slot and loses Miles, our hospital administrator. "Swimmer!" shouts someone from the rescue team. Harry, in one of the rescue boats. pulls him out downstream, soaked, winded, but otherwise unharmed. Everyone sighs with relief except for Joy, who would like to do it again, and Hank, who rather wishes that he could have been the swimmer.
Then we run Cyclops, Inca, and Last Laugh Rapids. Cyclops would be a memorable rapid on another river, but here it seems only an afterthought to Lava South. Joy wants to highside, but the men keep doing it first, leaving no room for her. At length Mike the boatman intervenes, and the men make room. She loves it, and urges Mike to steer for the roughest water available.
The trip turns idyllic again, as we glide through a succession of pools and rapids, under the slanting light of late-afternoon sun. Is this a dream? Basaltic columns rear up on the right, and a waterfall plunges into the river.
Finally we stop for a day layover at what the boatmen call Camp Termas de Victorino, after the local big man, Victorino. We call it Camp Los Tabanos, after the abundant local horseflies. Victorino has a farm, a hot spring near the river, and the beginnings of a general store, where he sells food, drinks, and supplies to boating parties passing through.
Harry, Jen, and I walk 15 minutes to the baths, saying hello to a party of kayakers from Sports Adventure, North Carolina. We descend to the baths, wash our hair in the river, and luxuriate in the warm water. A visitor from the kayaking party tells us that the proposed talks with Iraq have fallen through and war seems likely. It seems far, far away, and Forrest declares that he is 99.5% sure there will be no war. Is Bush going to attack before his full force arrives? Everyone says you need 3-to-1 superiority to succeed in the attack, and our forces are far short of that. Harry muses on what it would take for some interested party, the Israelis, say, to take out the Iraqi reactor: a 20-kt ground burst, perhaps? Its radiation would fry everyone in the area. Every 500-pound bomb in Europe is waiting to go at our Indian-Ocean base in Diego Garcia; our forces in Europe are down from readiness five to readiness three. Is the Air Force enough to do the job on Saddam? "If it's not, it should go home," says Harry, wondering if anyone recalled that the First North Vietnamese Army division took 80% casualties from U.S. bombing.
Harry is still into cockfighting, just like my father in the old days. He still has someone raising his Law Greys and Racey Mugs, which he crosses with Hatches and brown-reds. He has had some good days against the very best. But the old folk are leaving the sport, and the young ones are not coming on to replace them.
The crew puts on a big spread in the evening, curried chicken with peas and pisco sours, a favored Chilean and Argentinean drink. It is time to wind down between the two worst stretches of rapids.
Around the campfire after dinner, Jody is talking to someone about her AIDS studies. I am interested and kibitz. What does she think about treatments which prolong the life of the AIDS carrier? Do such treatments subtract more life by helping spread AIDS than they save by preserving the patient? It is perfectly OK, she answers, for five reasons: 1) the AZT treatment is so intrusive, it is hard to miss; 2) the patient's victims' exposure to risk is voluntary; 3) as a doctor, she is committed to cure her patient, no matter what he might do as a result. Former President Reagan, she argues, is responsible for thousands of deaths, for cutting federal funds for maternal and child care in Massachusetts. But she would not refuse to treat him. Otherwise there would be no doctors when you need them. 4) she places her values in life, not on utilitarian goals, but on Rawlsian values. And besides, 5) many would think that a more punitive position would smack of homophobia. Clincher! Clincher! Clincher! This is Philip Heymann's daughter, who might as well have been a lawyer as a doctor, and she knows it. She would have been a good one. With each point, she looks me square in the eye and glows.
"What a pro," I think with admiration. But I am not entirely persuaded. A dream from earlier in the trip flashes through my mind. In the dream I was talking to former President Lyndon Johnson about his Great Society programs, which many now consider to have been failures. "Those were good programs," he responded earnestly. "No one gave them a fair chance to work." He too had smiled glowingly to drive home the point. Did he believe this, or was he jesting? I looked again, and his face had turned into that of the Joker. He cackled with hysterical laughter.
I question whether Rawls provides any clear guidance as to how to balance the AIDS patient's rights against those of his victims. Is voluntary assumption of risk by other drivers a good reason not to put drunk drivers in jail? (She would jail them.) Are there any acceptable grounds for quarantining these days in her view? What would she do with people with Lassa Fever (an especially deadly tropical disease)?
"How did you know about Lassa Fever?" she asks. "Did I tell you?"
She has had patients with Lassa Fever (or an equally deadly cousin to it) at Lambarene. They were quarantined from the general public, but the doctors treated them with masks and gloves, at the gravest risk to their own lives. Another significant look, with the glow of striking home. "AIDS is much less dangerous than that."
Hank and Joe are there and hear the clarion call. As if drawn by a powerful magnet, the talk moves from the doctor's duty to protect the public from a dangerous disease carrier to a doctor's duty to treat patients dangerous to the doctor. Ringing affirmations of that duty are heard all round, none of it pertinent to the original point.
Later, after the affirmation dies down, Jody admits that one possible reason that Lassa Fever has not spread as far as AIDS is that it is too deadly to its hosts, killing them before they can transmit the disease to others. If it were less deadly, it would kill more people. She also concedes that quarantining does raise difficult questions of "individual versus group rights," and that it is odd that "group rights" should be wholly excluded from policy papers on AIDS. My original question is still unanswered, but at least there is a fleeting moment of wonder as to why it is never asked.
Camp Los Tabanos, Bio Bio Province: Friday, Jan. 11. We rise late for a brunch of pensitas (hardtack biscuits) and fried rice. At brunch, Brad talks of efforts to measure the environmental effects of peak-hour flushing of the Glen Canyon Dam. In strict economic terms it would make more sense to use the Hoover Dam for peaking power. Hoover is closer to users; transmission costs less and loses less. It would also be environmentally better because the river below Lake Mead is a big ditch, not a national treasure. But politically the Glen Canyon Dam must do the job because peaking power is more profitable and the controversial dam would not pay for itself in its lifetime generating base power only. (The Hoover Dam paid for itself long ago.)
Lake Powell will be entirely silted up in Brad's lifetime. The lens of silt at the head of the lake is expanding downstream faster then anyone thought because the sandstone walls are also eroding. There are already 200 feet of silt as far down as Dark Canyon. When the lake is full, there is only a foot of water at the upper end.
We put these mournful thoughts aside to visit a beautiful, 50-foot waterfall very close to the camp. I spend the morning working on my notes.
In the afternoon we go to Victorino's farm. Victorino is a gracious and outgoing host. He shows us his springhouse and stacks of thick boards for various kinds of construction: cypress for interior construction, pelén and coigue for bridges and fences. He ropes and slaughters a lamb, his 30th of the year. The lamb runs, but, once caught, does not complain. Victorino skins it and dresses it, skillfully, to the admiration of the two surgeons present. The farm is charming, with dogs, cats, chickens, sheep, goats, and kayakers and rafters coming around. To our surprise, Victorino says he welcomes the dam. German and Italian engineers have been cultivating him and have given him their assurance that neither his house nor his baths would be touched. To the contrary, his place would be a put-in to the lake and would attract lots of new tourists. Moreover, other people would also like the dam because of the construction jobs building it would bring.
Victorino's acceptance of the dam despite its (to us) devastating prospects for the lives and homes of the Mapuche, recalls Alberto's resignation: "We can't stop it," he said. None of the Mapuche we meet is as fierce about resisting the dam as their ancestors had been in resisting the Incas and the Spaniards.
In the evening Victorino offers us lamb asado, barbecued on a ten-foot spit. My appetite for lamb is less than keen, and I politely try to select a small piece. But Victorino remembers all my questions about the wood and the springhouse and the dam and has sized me up as one who wants the full experience. He takes back the little piece and lays on a large, fatty slab, which I pick at with little relish. After dinner, in the dark, the talk is about going native, of doomed, cannibalistic parties like the Donner party and the Argentine plane-wreck party. Then it turns to the Zambezi, which several people in the party have run, none more appreciatively than Harry, who, like Jimmy the paddle captain, is wearing a treasured Nyami-Nyami amulet, made of buffalo horn. Nyami-Nyami is the river god of the Zambezi. He is powerful, capricious, and jealous of impediment. He foiled the first attempt (and very nearly the second, too) to build the Kariba Dam with two huge 1,000-year floods of 200,000 cubic feet per second.
The Zambezi is Harry's favorite river, with 50 times the flow of the Bio Bio and 32 world-class rapids, all runnable in a day if you push hard enough: Ghostrider, Deep Throat, and many identified only by number. It has crocodiles and water buffaloes too, and native guides and highsiders who are now dying of AIDS. Harry's favorite outfitter is Shearwater, a South African concern which runs everything in a day and doesn't mind hitting the deepest holes. If the passengers want a little extra risk, Shearwater is happy to provide it. Sobek guides sniff at this cavalier attitude.
This is the day when I ask the everybody where the Bio Bio rates among their favorite rivers. Between us, we have run over 60 rivers from the Allagash to the Zambezi. We had a river for all but four letters of the alphabet. Half the party thought the Bio Bio was the best of their rivers. 13 out of the 15 passengers put it among their best two.
Camp Los Tabanos, Bio Bio Province: Saturday, Jan. 12. The tenth day of the trip. Up at 7 a.m. I buy three hats and a balaclava for 6,000 pesos each (about four dollars) from members of Victorino's family. We spend an hour at the hot springs while Brad & company stock up on Emilia's fresh bread and tomatoes and lettuce. The kayak team from Sport International is there. Their A team ran Milky Way, Lost Yak, and Lava South yesterday; the B team is doing it today. Harry is unimpressed.
Heidi has switched to Brad's boat. Harry, Jennifer, and I are together in Bruce Keller's old "bucket boat," which is not self-bailing. Harry had earlier rowed with Bruce down the Zambezi. We work our way through the Sex Rapids, with such suggestive names as Bump, Grind, Spread 'em, Scream, Yahoo, and Climax, highsiding as we go. Mike's boat gets stuck briefly in Climax's eddy, but he is a strong rower and pops it out. Others have been stuck for hours in that eddy. Brad's boat was pinned in one of the earlier rapids, but he managed to wiggle free. It's much easier to escape a pin in a self-bailer boat than in a bucket boat.
This is the valley of 100 waterfalls. We must have passed 20 beauties by lunch. At lunch we have Emilia's fresh bread near a gushing waterfall. We make another stop downstream and hike past several lesser waterfalls to one that Brad thinks is the most beautiful he has seen. It could well be. It appears to be about 100 feet high, leaping out of the middle of an amphitheater covered with lush, green mosses, ferns, and nalca, an edible, elephant-eared rhubarb relative, while dozens of side streams trickle and sprinkle down the entire semicircle. I fear for my camera, climbing over slippery rocks and standing under the spray, but the others want to experience the falls first-hand. First Brad, then Harry and Jen, then Mark, the New York trader, climb around behind the falls, sopping it up. Tim, who doesn't like heights, went all the way on this one.
Back on the river, Harry discusses his football and hockey days. His football team, the Tanners, from Peabody, Mass., had no stadium and had to play every game away, but Peabody, like every other North Shore town, was a football town, and the stands were packed for every game. Harry's mother backed him 100% and told him she would love him whether he came home clean (from sitting on the bench) or dirty from playing the whole game. His father went to every game and got him the best goalie pads you could find. If Harry had a boy, he would not send him to Andover, but to Belmont Hill, which produced the Cleary brothers and was a big hockey power in his day. Harry often played in the goal with them on a pickup basis.
Harry's sister's two boys went to Exeter and Harvard. One was captain of the freshman football team but had to quit the sport because of a bad back. The other is a vice president of United Technologies. He married Miss Gloom of Minneapolis. Harry was told the wedding was not a mandatory formation for him. Miss Gloom would not let Harry's nephew take a plum job in Hong Kong. Her "work" -- 6 hours a week of volunteer work at a child-care center -- precluded it. They are now divorced, and she is living on $7,000 a month child care allowance in a $300,000 house. Jen and I sniff. $300,000 is nothing by California standards.
We put in at Camp San Pedro, between Shuffle and Cut Rapids, where I try Kent's kayak. It is fun, but unruly in the water and wind. Hank is too big to fit into the tiny boat. We meet an engineer from Bosch Construction Company, who says we have only two more years of river running before the bypass tunnel for the dam is opened, draining the river. Everyone sets up camp along an old fence and luxuriates in the afternoon sunlight. We see a few clouds. Could they portend a change in the weather? Not yet, and our sopping clothes dry in the warm sun. Even the flies are barely in evidence.
After a supper of roast beef and potatoes, the boatmen build a sauna hardly larger than a pup tent under a high bluff, and a huge bonfire to heat the steam-rocks red-hot. Sparks from the fire swirl up into the night, lighting up the bluff. The scene is straight out of a 19th-century romantic painting. The more venturesome of the passengers crowd into the tent au naturel and steam themselves for a few minutes, plunge into the cold waters of the river, dry themselves out by the bonfire, and repeat the process. The scene, enlivened with libations of pisco and thumping on bailing buckets, is bacchanalian.
Camp San Pedro, Bio Bio Province: Sunday, Jan. 13. Harry, who skipped the revelry, arises to pronounce it a scandal. It turns out that Mike took some wobbly pictures with the video camera; the participants view them and giggle.
There had been talk of putting everyone onto the paddle boat and running the Cut and Shuffle Rapids, but Jimmy says it would take too much re-rigging, and the idea is put aside.
This will be our last day on the river and our last set of big rapids. We are in the Royal Flush Gorge and will do the Ace, Suicide King, Queen of Hearts, One-eyed Jack, and Ten Rapids. Again the river narrows, in places little wider than two raft-widths, with steep drops, huge waves, and violent twists and turns.
The worst rapid in the Flush, and (after Lava South) the second worst on the river, is One-Eyed Jack. The river blasts down a cascade of chutes and holes on the left side, into a narrow V called the Notch, where river legend Jim Slade almost tore off his arm the year before. The center run is even worse, with huge, cross-cutting blasts of water and giant holes. I ask Brad what the school solution is to this rapid. "There is none," he mutters.
We choose to run on the right, behind a great boulder called the Eye of the Jack. Its principal features are a pile-up of current against the right wall and an abrupt left turn into a deep, unavoidable, raft-eating hole. The makings of a flip are there in several places. We pause at the brink, then shoot through in a wet but clean passage. Brad is visibly relieved but sets up immediately to run rescue on the next two boats. No time for pictures for me.
Two boats are stationed on the left with throw lines. I stand on a ledge on shore with a throw-line anchored to a rock. You throw the bag of rope underhand, just in front of the swimmer or boat to be rescued, and the line feeds out from the bag as it flies.
Presently the paddle boat appears, pauses at the top, and disappears behind the Eye of the Jack. When it reappears, it is shooting into the hole at the end of the rapid. It rears up, teeters, responds feebly to frantic high-siding, and flips, throwing everyone into the raging waters. As the boat floats past my post, upside down, I lob my line. But it falls a yard short. Oops. Brad and Bruce are off instantly in the rescue boats. They gather everyone up before they are swept into the Ten Rapid below. Only a paddle or two is lost.
We are exhilarated and relieved as we run the Ten -- only to see numbers stencilled in yellow on the wall, smell diesel fumes, and hear the growl of heavy equipment. A crew of Endesa hardhats hails us from the bluff above. They are preparing the site for the Pangue Dam and have already pushed a cascade of rocks down the side of the gorge.
Suddenly everyone is glum. "Don't do it!" several cry. But it is their country, not ours, and the forces are already well under way to do the deed. It is like the guns of August. They will make the same blunders we did with Glen Canyon. We stop for a muted lunch next to an orange flow-gauge pipe on which are scrawled the words "Siempre Vive El Rio." We all resolve to write letters anyway, to Chilean President Aylwin, and to the World Bank, which the Endesa has approached to provide part of the funding for the dam. Harry calculates that a 2-kt weapon, or four 40-pound satchel charges at the corners and 12 at the deep end, could take care of the dam.
The fight against two proposed Colorado River follow-ons to the Glen Canyon Dam -- the Marble Canyon and Bridge Canyon Dams -- was spearheaded by the Sierra Club and its president, David Brower. It was a turning point in American environmental politics. Brower put almost every penny of the club's resources into the fight, and he won -- but it nearly bankrupted the club and led to his dismissal. Costly, environmentally destructive dams can no longer be ordered in the United States with the scratch of a pen. They get a lot of scrutiny, often over seemingly trivial concerns like saving Snail Darters and Furbish Louseworts. As often as not, the scrutiny shows that the dam will cost more money and energy to build than it will yield in its lifetime before it silts up.
Though there are many questions about silting, seismic safety, and threats from the volcanoes, the Bio Bio is getting no such scrutiny in Chile. The Chileans are about where we were in 1960, or maybe 1908, before the Sierra Club's big, losing fight to stop the Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite. Maybe they are worse off than 1908 because they are still politically numb from years of heavy-handed rule by the Allende and Pinochet governments. General Pinochet, 75 when we passed through, initiated the dam project. He stepped down voluntarily in March, 1990, but he still commands the army, which is ubiquitous in Chile and which goes on alert whenever he is unhappy with the government.
On the other hand, there is some organized opposition to the dam in Chile, led by a group called CODEFF in Santiago. The current Aylwin government is less wedded to the dams than Pinochet, and more attentive to world opinion. Moreover, about a quarter of the dams' funding must come from the World Bank, to which the United States is a major contributor, and which is more likely to respond to American concerns. In recent years, the Bank has become sensitive to criticism for funding the deforestation of the Amazon. If the Bank chose to require a serious environmental impact report, instead of a pro forma one, it could get the needed scrutiny. CODEFF and its American supporters, the International Rivers Network and the Bio Bio Action Committee, believe that enough letters to the right people could turn the tide.
Rapids continue as we make our way down the river, but they are milder. People wave to us from shore, still Indians, judging from their faces, but dressed in bathing suits or carrying fishing lines. They are more at play than the ones upriver. Presently there are long, quiet pools with the wind blowing upriver, making heavy going for the boatmen. I offer to row for a while and Brad accepts. The boat feels heavy and bulky, but it moves, and the exercise feels good. I peel off layers of clothing in the warm sun. Behind us Harry's boat is having a water fight with Forrest's boat, both sides pitching water with their bailing buckets. Our boat has the least rowdy of the passengers, me, Janis, and Dianne, and we push on.
Brad lets me run a couple of minor rapids. It is a learning experience. The boat is slow to respond and takes a lot of muscle. But we spin on down through the waves, missing the rocks. I manage to keep the boat straight, but we get soaked in the process.
Two boys meet us at the planned takeout with a message from the prior group: "Don't camp here, the road is bad." It must be really bad, since they had changed from a lower takeout because Alfonso broke an axle getting to it. We pay the boys for their trouble and push on through larger rapids. Brad takes over and steers us through Rerun Rapid; he then makes his way upstream, in an eddy, re-enters the rapid, and does it again -- and again and again.
We pull out at a balseador. There is a fenced farmhouse up the hill with the usual animals, plus pigs, all wandering around in harmony, except for one dog, which runs off with a chicken in its mouth. In the distance, under a cloud, is Volcan Callaqui. Nearer at hand is a regular upthrust mountain, tall, pointed, and beautiful, but a bit reminiscent of the sinister Bald Mountain in Fantasia.
We unload the boats fully this time, carry them up the hill, and deflate them, separating our own equipment from Sobek's. We camp in a broad, brushy field along the river, dine on clams, salmon, cream cheese, and crackers, with a main course of lasagna. After dinner, everyone lingers around the campfire for the last time, loath to see the trip end. People talk of the Zambezi, of the events of the day, and of other Chilean rivers under exploration. Mike has explored two big rivers farther south, the Cisnes and the Baker; I later learn that another outfitter, Sice Expeditions actually offers a tour of the Baker, which in volume of flow is Chile's biggest river. But the tour is by jeep and power boat, not by oar and paddle boat, and the experience cannot be the same.
Finally, one by one, everyone takes a last look at the Southern Cross, with Alpha and Beta Centauri, and goes to bed.
Santa Barbara takeout: Monday, Jan. 14. Up at 7:30. Our last dawn outside is beautiful, with low clouds filtering across the mountains and sunlight streaming across the face of Callaqui. We breakfast on oatmeal, and I jot notes while the sun dries our clothes and sleeping bags. I get a picture of the balseador ferrying a prospector's horses across the river. The ferryman is paid by the county and there is no charge. What would the Chicago Boys think about that?
Just after nine Alfonso and Rolando return with one of the buses. We load it and walk with it to the top of the hill where the other bus waits, hoping not to break another axle. We set out on good roads along the river toward the town of Santa Barbara. On the way we pass the old bridge where a truck fell through a year or so earlier. It caught on a crag part way down and the driver was saved, but the bridge was no longer passable to vehicles. The Sobek party, to get out, had to hire a logging truck at one end, unload it, and handcarry the boats and equipment over a 2 and a half-foot wide board.
The road continues good and even becomes paved. We pass a gorge where the river looks much lower than where we left it. In the old days the Incas and Spaniards and the Mapuche shouted at each other across this gorge. In the town of Santa Barbara we see signs of prosperity, some of it, no doubt, related to the dam. Two late-model Ford tractors appear, and some of the kids are riding name-brand BMX bicycles.
We leave the bus, and an eccentric, tipsy old man wishes us, in English, a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Could we give him some money? We see him again and again as we explore the town. A party of three cute eight-year-old girls is there, curious about us and in a mood to show off.
We have an hour before lunch, so we head up the street, solicited periodically by the eccentric old man. Every big town seems to have a public square with a gazebo, a statue of some famous Chilean, and a news stand. I stop at a news stand and find half the papers full of bare-bottomed women, the other half full of news of the impending war in Iraq. "Only God Knows if there will be War in the Gulf," says one headline, quoting UN secretary Perez Cuellar. People want to know what we think of the situation. I guess that war will be hard to avoid, and that the campaign will not be easy, since the Iraqis are masters of defense.
We stop at tiny, open stores along the way. In one a tango is playing. We enter, and Harry (with me as interpreter) asks the proprietress to put on a Myriam Hernandez tape, and turn up the volume. She does, and he proceeds to teach Jennifer the Lambada. He does not know all the steps, nor does the proprietress, but they dance and dance, while onlookers admire and Jennifer laughs.
Across the street is a Supermercado, whose proprietress's son has a restaurant in Antioch, California, in the Bay Area. Harry buys me a bottle of pisco sour; I buy a couple of packages of Yerba Maté, the herbal tea which is Argentina's national drink.
We have lunch at the Residencial -- chicken, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and french fries -- and wait for the bus to return with a repaired tire. Forrest and Joy befriend the three little girls, who are skipping up and down the sidewalk. Soon there is a big crowd of grade-school-age kids. Forrest arranges a series of bike races -- girl-girl, boy-girl, boy-boy, it doesn't matter. The bike with brakes always wins.
The kids are enjoying themselves hugely. We photograph them loaded on the back of a pickup truck. One strokes the beard I have started on the river trip.
Back on the bus, Harry passes his Myriam Hernandez and tango tapes to Rolando, who clucks appreciatively, kisses the Hernandez tape, and puts it on his tape player. We stop to change a tire. Our spare is bald, but it holds together. We pass spectacular Laja falls on our way to Chillan, but we do not stop.
Chillan is a major regional market center with a square, a couple of big hotels, shops, and a large outdoor mercado. Harry takes Jen and me, still dusty and bearded from the trip, to a sombrero shop. You can get top-grade, mean-looking Chilean sombreros with a low crown and a perfectly straight brim for about $35. I am sure my boys would like to look like Jack Palance in Shane, but they will not take credit cards, so I have to forgo the opportunity. Harry gets Jen a hat; they take her head shape with a collapsible measure that looks like a bundle of reeds or slats. We then proceed to the mercado, where I lose track of Harry and Jen, as I wander among the stalls. They have fruit, vegetables, fish, baby chicks and ducks, guitars, flowers, souvenirs, woolen goods, and stuff for horses -- horseshoes, D-rings, saddles, bridles, collars, spurs. I see a nice set of silver spurs for my mother, but they won't take a credit card either. The woolen shop will take a credit card, and I get sweaters, another manta, and a zip-up nylon duffle bag for my loot.
Finally I return to the Hotel Isabel Riquelme for a long-awaited shower, shave, and change into clean clothes (albeit only a T-shirt and Levis) for dinner. Dinner in the hotel dining room is a sumptuous spread: shrimp, steak, crab, Chilean wine, and a huge volcano of baked Alaska flambé for dessert. We toast each other and toast the river with favorite slogans. "?Vive siempre el Rio Bio Bio!" "?Solo los valientes!" "It's only a rental!" -- and resolve once again to write people to save it. The guides hand out the list of everybody's name and address. At last everybody has a last name.
That night I had a dream. I was home on Belmont Hill, Massachusetts, with a crew of kids cutting grass and brush on a field belonging to our neighbors the Coolidges. I couldn't remember anyone's name. And I had an appointment with my oculist in Harvard Square at 1:30 and couldn't remember his name either, or quite where his office was located. This was a professor's dream and it got worse. After some fruitless searching for the oculist, it was 1:35 and someone reminded me that I was supposed to attend a dinner of a speaker's group, which I had also completely forgotten. I went anyway, uneasy that I was missing the oculist. David Bynum was there, a debater from college days, but I could not remember anyone else's name. I awoke with a violent cramp in my left leg. A few weeks after my return I got a copy of the Harvard Alumni Magazine. David Bynum was listed in the obituaries.
Hotel Isabel Riquelme, Chillan: Tuesday, Jan. 15. A light breakfast with Miles, and off to find a laundromat. It takes a while. They don't open till 9:30, and it takes a few tries to get to the Laundromati Industrial. They promise to get it done by 11, and I leave to tour the mercado again. A lady gets me to try a piece of dried seaweed. It tastes exactly like dried seaweed, and I decline her offer of a larger piece. But they do have seedless grapes for 29 cents a pound, and I buy some. Back at the laundry, the lady is friendly but late. I rush back to the hotel to find everything loaded and everybody ready to board a fleet of taxis. I hop in, forgetting that I have the hotel's key in my pocket.
We leave for the railway station. This is the deadline day set by President Bush, and the headlines at the station bristle with foreboding. "El Dia de D." "Irak Declara la Guerra Santa." "A Terrado El Mundo." "La Esperanza se ha Esfumado." The papers present several alternative versions of when the deadlines fall in different time zones. I am pleased to find that Harry's pisco bottle has not been smashed in my new bag.
As we look at the news, I wonder whether Hussein could get any advantage from attacking first. Harry muses: "He should throw every Exocet-capable aircraft he has against the carriers. He might get through."
Harry thinks that the time for his hazardous Middle Eastern assignment has passed. If they call him out of retirement, it will likely be to Washington as a special operations planner. He has been retired for a year and thinks his skills would be of marginal value to our side. But Hussein could use them to disrupt our communications. "One C-130 and 15 nut-cases could bring it off."
The train arrives. We board and speed toward Santiago, with the snowcapped Sierra Nevada on our right. This is vineyard country, with lots of horses and cattle. The country is beautiful but the lunch is terrible -- bread without butter, tough, overcooked steak, and a nauseatingly sweet soft drink called Pap. But the french fries and salad are good.
In the evening, in Santiago, we return to where it all started, a sidewalk café called La Jacaranda. There Harry met Heidi and Jen on New Year's Day. We learn from Gustavo, who serves us tomato soup and orangeade, that the pregnant cat has since had her kittens. Presently the cat herself appears and hops into my lap, purring. Everyone is reflective. The end of the magic spell is in sight. We bid Gustavo goodbye and push our way toward the hotel on the cobblestone streets lined with vendors and street musicians. Two flutists are superb. A piercing tenor crows a love song, "Yolanda," and a political song.
We take a taxi to the airport to see Jennifer off and find most of the others there. Hugs, shakes, goodbyes all around. In two weeks everyone seems to have become dear old friends. Jennifer is wearing not only her huaso hat, in which she looks smashing, but also Harry's prized Nyami-Nyami amulet. Harry has plans to take her down the Zambezi in September. "This is serious," I think.
We return to the city and the cobblestone streets. Someone is selling bullfight posters for what seems to me a high price -- but the price turns out to include your own name printed on the poster under that of El Cordobes. I order one each for Cristobal and Guillermo Elliott. Harry orders one for his secretary, Irene Torres, and one for Jennifer Batchelder. This is getting serious. The vendor slips me a note, warning that there are many thieves in the area, and that we should carry our wallets in our socks.
We buy ice cream cones and return to the hotel, too tired to sit up and watch the news when the final war deadline passes at 2 a.m. Chile time. There is a message from Janis, who has finally found a room in another, less expensive hotel. She will come by at nine the next day to see what the chances are of joining in my trip to Torres de Payne National Park.
Hotel Carrera, Santiago: Wednesday, Jan. 16. At 8 the phone rings. It is Jen, who has arrived safely in Miami, is still in love with Harry, and informs us that World War III has not yet started. I start to repack for the southern trip. Janis comes by. We have breakfast at the hotel with the one sour-faced waitress encountered on the trip. Then we go to Alicia at the Latour travel agency. The hotels at Torres de Payne, she says, are booked solid, and so is the Hertz car rental. But she has a car from Budget for half of what Hertz would have charged. Why didn't she try Budget first? She can get Janis a ticket to Punta Arenas, on the Straits of Magellan, for $495. Janis's face falls. She and I are watching our pennies more closely than most of the others. But Forrest told me earlier that you could get a LanChile Airpass for anywhere in the country for $250. "Just so," admitted Alicia, "but they don't fly on Wednesday." But she could go Thursday and return by Puerto Montt and the Lake Country. The negotiation takes almost two hours, but Janis and I are both settled on our respective courses of action.
Harry, Hank, and I leave for the shopping events of the day, starting with Feria del Disco for Inti-Illimani, Illapu, and other tapes from the Andean hit parade. Harry has most of them and knows the good ones. We buy a half-dozen tapes and walk across the river to the jewelry district. Lapis Lazuli and malachite are the featured stones. We try three stores, including a factory, where Harry asks for a made-to-order design of a trapezoid, half obsidian for the yin, half malachite for the yang (or is it the other way around?). Cost is no object. This is for someone special. A lady from Mexico City is there. She speaks good English and helps us make arrangements.
We have lunch at La Jacaranda again with Gustavo and wonder if Saddam Hussein could immobilize the American forces with special operations to knock out communications. Harry and a group of knowledgeable reservists from California Bell knocked out the Blue Team in a 1979 Desert Shield operation at Fort Irwin. If Harry were in charge of the war, he would let the Israelis take out Saddam's reactor, giving them a 25-minute lead over the U.S. air strike. He would give his targeting officer free rein and smash every communications center and airfield in the country. Then use B-52's to box-bomb a safe corridor straight to Baghdad. Allied forces would hold the Iraqis in Kuwait. "If that doesn't work, we are in deep sh&$."
We finish lunch and I head for the airport by bus for my flight to Punta Arenas. I meet a retired professor from SUNY who lectures on ecology to passengers on a 3-month, $340-a-day cruise around the Antipodes. In the air, we fly over the Bio Bio, but neither the rapids nor the volcanoes are apparent from my side of the plane.
South of Rio Montt is a spectacular country of glaciers, fjords, lakes, and mountains, some of them volcanoes, from the look of them. As happens rarely, there are no clouds and the whole landscape is as clear as a bell. Farther south, everything is covered with snow. Every permutation of snow, water, rock, and wind can be seen. This is the part of Chile where the road stops. You have to go through Argentina to get to the Straits.
"?Es verdadamente estupendo!" I remark to the Chilean businessman sitting beside me. I could kick myself for leaving my camera in the baggage.
Eventually, clouds cover the landscape. When they clear, we are approaching the Straits of Magellan. It is 10 p.m., but there is still a lot of light. The Straits are calm, with a few riffles, not at all like the shrieking monster I envisaged my Nantucket whaling-captain ancestors trying to pass. We land in Punta Arenas. I pick up my baggage and make my way to the Budget car rental stand. Only then do I realize from the rental person's eyes straying to the TV set in the corner that war has broken out. But the announcer is talking too fast to follow -- even if he knows anything about the course of the war, which seems to me improbable.
The Budget man is friendly and asks for a lift into town. We see a Chilean army lieutenant sitting forlornly with his dress sword and a huge pile of baggage. We offer to take him to his base. He accepts with relief, and we stuff every corner of the tiny car with his baggage. He belongs to the Sixth Armored Regiment, "Los Dragones." We drop him at the gate. The base appears to be on full alert.
I make my way to the Hotel Ritz in Punta Arenas and go to bed. The hotel costs $26 for bed and breakfast.
Hotel Ritz, Punta Arenas, Straits of Magellan: Thursday, Jan. 17. I go to breakfast at eight. On the wall is an oar from the "Sea Tomato, First Drake Passage Rowing Expedition, Cape Horn-Antarctica, Jan.-March 1988." The radio is on. I ask for news of the war, but it seems garbled. There are three phases of the attack, people say. The Iraqis are using chemicals. I go to the office of the newspaper, La Prensa. The paper gives rather vague coverage of the war. Hussein is not a target, but the reactor and command and control centers are. I mail postcards and set out for Torres de Payne. The country is flat scrub, almost like tundra, and it is raining. The left side of the road is paved, but the right side is gravel only. You can drive on the left when it is not occupied (which is most of the time), but there are those awkward moments approaching hills and blind curves when you slow down nervously and squeeze to the right. A sign informs me that I am entering Last Hope Province. It seems appropriate.
It is three or four hours to Puerto Natales. There the ocean seems to be on the wrong side, but no matter. I stop at the Eberhard Hotel for lunch. There they tell me the attack in Iraq was air force only, and that no chemicals were used.
I push on toward the Park. It is still raining and the gravel road is terrible, no pavement at all and bump after bump. Presently the country rises and dries. At a military checkpoint I pick up two veterinary students from the University of Santiago. Their report of the war is the same as that at the hotel: no chemicals, air force only. They got the Iraqi nuclear reactor. They are astonished at the cost of my raft trip (so am I). In the distance, we see the steep, angular Payne Towers rise out of the desert, getting higher as we get nearer. What a sight! It is like driving a across eastern Colorado and seeing Pike's Peak. These are smaller than Pike's Peak, but sharper and more dramatic. Presently we arrive at the park at around seven in the evening and pass ostrich-like lesser Rheas, called ?andus, and guanacos. I leave the two students at the gate to meet some friends.
Suddenly the vistas come quicker and quicker. The Torres de Payne had risen in the distance from a flat plain. Now they are popping up in their own immediate setting, nestled among hills and lakes, with the Torres de Payne on the right and the massive, equally angular Cuernos (Horns) de Payne on the left, glinting in the slanting sunlight of a summer evening. I make my way over still-rough roads to Lake Pehoe, where a causeway leads to one of the hotels, located on an island in the milky-blue-green lake. I have a hot sandwich for supper, take a few pictures, and continue down the road to a campsite, where I reserve a spot. Then, with maybe an hour of daylight left, I head on down the road to the trail to Salto Pico (Little Falls), where Lake Pehoe pours into the Rio Payne in a broad waterfall. In the background, one can still see the Towers and Horns of Payne. The scene is beautiful, but slightly marred by a diversion station on the right. The Towers and Horns of Payne are surrounded by a series of lakes, each a different color. Lake Sarmiento is bright blue; Lake Nordenskjold is milky green; Lake Pehoe is milky blue-green. The sun sets, darkening the lakes, but the Horns and the Towers are still brightly lit.
Nightfall is 10:30. The back of my little car is slightly askew after 24,000 miles of bad road, and everything in the trunk is covered with dust. In front the floor is strewn with nuts, bolts, and bits of broken glass shaken loose from previous trips. Every car has a rock screen in front; most have not one but two spare tires. It is cold and windy at night, but at least it is not raining, a blessing, since I don't have a tent. I put a poncho over my sleeping bag, weight it down with rocks, and drift off to sleep.
Parque Nacional Torres de Payne, Ultima Esperanza Province: Friday, Jan. 18. Up at 6:50, off at 7:10, headed south with dewy-wet sleeping bag and poncho in back. After crossing the Rio Payne, I discover that I have a flat tire. All the tools and one well-worn spare tire are there in good working order, and I change the tire in a few minutes. But going back without a spare seems risky. I stop at Park Headquarters for advice, but it is closed. I put out my wet bags to dry in the early morning sun. When the Headquarters opens, I call Hernan, the Budget dispatcher in Punta Arenas, for instructions. He tells me to go on with my trip and call if I have trouble. Hm. Not so easy with phones scores of miles apart, but I'll have to manage. Huge Chilean jackrabbits big as cocker spaniels are out enjoying the wet grass. I stop at the Refugio Posada for breakfast, including café con leche. The Chileans, for some reason, are fond of cutting their napkins up into four-inch squares and arranging them in a neat florette. I realize with regret that this marks the end of my trip, my farthest venture from home. Everything from now on is on the way home. It would be nice to spend another few days in the park, which has glaciers and abundant circuits of hiking trails and shelters. But at least I am getting more of a look at the Park than had I taken the bus.
A long, bumpy day's drive, with a few false turns here and there, shows me some more of the Park and brings me back, eventually, to Punta Arenas, this time enjoying the right-of-way on the paved half of the road from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas -- though there is always the worry that someone in the other direction, just around a corner or over a hill, might see me too late, regardless of right-of-way. Actually, dirt roads are my favorite kind of road, because you find them in beautiful, out-of-the-way places. The bumps are part of the deal, I suppose, and my worn tire did hold up, permitting a jovian view of the matter.
In Punto Arenas I stay again at the Hotel Ritz and find, to my disappointment, that the Peña de Trovador, a wine and song place, has closed down. Instead, I dine at the Garage Restaurant, decorated with the front end of a Volkswagen and other automotive themes. To my annoyance, they push the bill up to $12 with centurollo, a crab dish, but it does taste good. A glass of Chop beer is 60 cents. I have found a Santiago newspaper with news of the war. The Iraqis have bombarded Israel with what is thought to be their few remaining Scud missiles, like Hitler, saving their second-to-last bullet for the Jews. "Our missiles will accomplish their political, economic, and security goals in Tel Aviv," says Iraq. Later, at home, I find that Iraq had many more missiles than was thought at the time.
Hotel Ritz, Punta Arenas, Straits of Magellan: Saturday, Jan. 19. Up at 6:25, off at 6:50. I return my dirty, battered car to Hernan at the airport. The charge for about 500 miles is only $96, which seems to me a steal, considering the heavy wear and tear on the car. Hernan informs me that even radial tires last only about 1,200 miles on the local roads, meaning that my trip consumed the equivalent of two tires.
On the plane I sit next to a mother with a month-old baby. He is quiet and well-behaved, dressed in blue, sleeping and eating most of the time. The plane is, in fact, full of babies and toddlers, many of whom find their way to meet and admire the new one in blue. Chile's fertility rate is 2.5, not so high for a Latin American country (Mexico is 3.8, Brazil 3.3, Bolivia 5.1), but enough to double the population about every 40 years. If I had a bit more room, I would pull out my book about Malthus.
They serve a breakfast of pancakes with butterscotch sauce. I have the feeling that my Spanish, which rose gratifyingly to the trip of a lifetime, is now beginning to fade away. It was good while it lasted. I can get by with it better than I can in Russian or Korean.
We land at Concepcion, the mouth of the Bio Bio River. The river ends in wide braids of water as it approaches the sea.
The airline magazine has an article about the tour of the Baker river, by jeep and power boat. Sice Travel, Coyhaique (067-223-466; Fax 067-223-367).
We land in Santiago, where I have a reservation at the Sao Paulo Hotel. I check in and tour the city for the rest of the day. The high point is the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. Besides the museum's regular exhibits, there is a striking exhibition of Moche figures, Los Senores de la Muerte: tapestries, animals, owls, dogs, cats, cups -- anything you might want in the other world. Outside the museum a pretty girl wants to read my palm. No, gracias.
I wander around the cobbled streets barred to cars and trucks, crowded with vendors. The merchandise is gaudy and a bit sleazy. Crowds gather around a shell game variant, using cloth disks. There are street musicians and street players who plainly like Marxist themes, with lots of virtuous peasants and evil landlords and priests. I have not put my wallet in my socks as advised earlier by the poster vendor, but I do keep my passport and most of my cash in a separate wallet tucked inside my pants. No one bothers me.
In many blocks there are arcades, some with up to five floors of shops, with a long, winding ramp, as well as stairs, for access. Video shops, record shops, bookstores, restaurants, beauty shops, clothes stores, jewelry shops, lottery outlets. Myrna would love this part of the trip. The news stands are stocked with a mixture of the press offerings of the day and skin magazines; you could also get excellent TurisTel maps of the various parts of Chile. Some have European papers; one has the Miami Herald. Both offer richer fare than the rather cryptic offerings of the Chilean press. Some stands have paperback volumes of the latest law codes, several feet shorter than the United States Code Annotated, and apparently more popular with the man in the street.
I stop in one of the beauty shops and get a haircut for $1.50 in the Chilean style. Chileans have unisex beauty shops, rather than barber shops for men. Haircuts range from 400 to 900 pesos. I pick one for 600, the predominant rate. They wet your hair and use scissors, not clippers. They shave with a straight razor and a spray of water; no soap or shaving cream. It works.
A grocery store carries Chilean wine for ridiculously low prices, a couple of dollars a bottle for excellent wine. Some of it is in cardboard boxes, like that which we packed on the trip. A wine bottle in the U.S. costs about 75 cents; if it is that much in Chile, it is a third of the price of the package.
A cat wanders into the shop where I am having a draft beer for 30 cents, black with white paws. I say hello, but he is not interested.
The most prominent beggars identify themselves as medical students raising money to fight AIDS. The Chileans are a lovable, but not an especially beautiful people. The young women wear purple lipstick and heavy eye shadow. Many bleach their hair.
There are many movie houses. Most feature American films in Spanish translation. Depredador 2; La Sirenita (Little Mermaid); Los Buenos Muchachos (Goodfellows); La Sociedad de Poetos Muertos; Todos Los Perritos Van en el Cielo; lots of Disney films.
Late Saturday night most of the shops are closed. The streets are filled with lovers. My lover, who has left notes of endearment in various places for me to discover, my briefcase and boots, for example, would enjoy this. I would enjoy seeing her again after my adventure. It's time to go home.
Sao Paulo Hotel, Santiago: Sunday, Jan. 20. Up 6:25, off at 7:00. My night was filled with dreams. I was involved with a group of friends in some competitive project. The group included some leading achievers: Jack Stark, President of Claremont McKenna College; Brian Hughes, my ace Truman-scholar student; and Jody Heymann. The idea was to do something for the lowest number of points. If your points were running too high in the second phase, you could use a device about the size and shape of an anti-siphon valve for a drip irrigation system. With any skill at all this could keep the total points for this phase at less than 230, certainly no more than 250.
I checked to see if I had my baseball glove, not the ancient, pillow-like $3.99 Raymonds' glove of my childhood, but my more modern, ball-snagging model from Big Five. I had the glove, but it looked dark and well-worn, like the old one.
Brian Hughes, who is a star athlete as well as a star student, also had an old glove. He prepared to catch a fly softball but misjudged and dropped it. He picked it up and threw it high in the air, but too far in the wrong direction. Again he missed it. I cheered him up, remarking: "Mother said there would be days like this."
I check out of the Hotel and walk through the streets of Santiago in the early morning. Only a few people are up and about. But many streets are filled with dark green armored vehicles taking the carabinieros to work. Carabinieros are much in evidence in Chile. There are many checkpoints, and much examination of passports, taking of name, occupation, and destination. Apart from the street vendors, the Chileans are punctilious about giving you receipts for almost everything, including beer and ice cream cones.
I pick up my bags at the Carrera and carry them to the airport bus terminal a few blocks away. A bus is just leaving with a soccer team, dressed in red, white, and blue, on their way to play a championship game with a team from the North. Who is the favorite? They are, of course, they all say. The striker is El Tirador, the sweeper is El Rastreador.
Roadside shrines are dedicated to Sta. Teresa de Los Angeles and have nothing to do with auto accidents.
At the airport there are a number of people with backpacks, ready to go into town. One even has a kayak. "Bio Bio?" I ask. And the answer is "si." I have about $15 left in Chilean pesos. For some reason the Banco de Santiago is not anxious to change them back to dollars, so I buy some wine and chocolates for the home crowd. Will it all fit?
While waiting for the plane I get involved in writing up my journal. I lose track of time and almost miss the plane. I run out to the plane, identify my baggage, which is waiting on the runway, and board, the last one on. The plane flies up the coast past the snowcapped Andes and the dry desert north. In two and a half hours we approach Arica, Chile's northernmost city, which was wrested from the Peruvians and Bolivians at the Battle of the Pacific. This is high, dry country, with tall bluffs overlooking the ocean, broken occasionally by a river valley. One of these is green and fertile with several embayments, buildings, wharfs, and railroads. We fly by it, however, over a broad, flat, desert valley with curious markings: ridges, berms, and holes with squiggly cross-trenches pointing in four directions. Sand, sand, sand in every direction.
I turn to the girl next to me and ask "?Como quieres vivir aqui?"
She answers in a flawless American accent, "There is a lot of sand, isn't there?"
She is from Orlando with her mother, visiting relatives in Santiago and Arica. Arica's economy is olives and fish. They used to do a big business in fish flour, but cheaper artificial protein supplements have superseded it.
Everyone has to get off the plane, ostensibly to clean it up. I gather up some Santiago newspapers and join the others in the waiting room. Presently they call us back. This time another family is next to me. Everyone speaks Spanish, but the little boy, who is in an angry mood, prefers English.
A half hour from Arica a lady in front calls my attention to the very winding river below. It is the Amazon, incredibly winding and flanked with oxbow lakes as it slithers through the jungle. Eventually clouds hide the ground below.
We approach Bogota and the clouds thin out again, revealing a beautiful countryside of forests and farms. We enter a bank of billowy white clouds. When we exit, there is a glorious rainbow below us, my first of the trip apart from the little ones in the waterfalls on the Bio Bio. Below us are coffee plantations with rows of drying sheds and squares of trees planted for windbreaks.
We land and everyone gets out. I make the rounds of the duty-free shops and buy two pins. The shops are full of coffee, perfumes, leather goods, and expensive jewelry -- emeralds, citrines, amethysts, aquamarines, most selling for hundreds and thousands of dollars. These shops cater to a much richer crowd from the ones in Santiago's jewelry district. The airport and the people look more opulent than those in Chile. The runways are filled with gleaming new airplanes, many of them private; the women are dressed more stylishly, in elegant blouses, and more people speak English, maybe 5% of the passengers. Could it be the effects of billions of dollars of foreign exchange flowing in from the cocaine market? I was reminded of the effect of marijuana on Humboldt County, California, getting the country roads paved and the general store in Alder Point opened more than three days a week.
Leaving Bogota at 7:45, it is already getting dark, a good two hours earlier than in Santiago, and three hours earlier than at Torres de Payne. There is still sun above the clouds. The ride is bumpy, and I notice the huge engine bouncing around. I hope it is on tight.
At 8:45 we touch down in Miami, warm and muggy on a winter night. At customs, the inspectors are tired and a bit cranky after a long day on the job. After several tries, I get in the right line, the one for people who have been in the countryside in Latin America. They spray my boots with disinfectant and hope I don't spread whatever I have picked up to American farm animals -- aftosa or ganado, say. I find no signs of these disorders, but I later discover that I have picked up athlete's foot, no doubt from the down-the-hall bathroom at the Hotel Sao Paulo. It's curable. Though I have declared a few dollars more in purchases than the legal exemption, the customs people wave me through. I stay the night at the Airport Hotel, where I call Myrna to let her know I am back in the states (calls from Chile are prohibitively expensive). Everything has gone smoothly in my absence, she says, but there is a three-week stack of newspapers waiting to be read. In Iraq, the air war continues, with surprisingly little Iraqi resistance, but the ground war has yet to begin.
Airport Hotel, Miami: Monday, Jan. 20. Up at 6, off at 8 to Los Angeles. I spend the flight sleeping and writing up a summary of the trip for the Washington Post. At 10:37 we touch down in Los Angeles. I call the shuttle and am on my way home in time for a quick supper and regular Monday night rehearsal with the Claremont Chorale. It is late for me, starting after midnight, Chile time, and finishing at 3 a.m., but it is a wonderful rehearsal. I am deeply rested and relaxed, in my best voice in years, with an extra note of bass and treble, and we are doing Handel's Dixit Dominus, a masterpiece written when he was 22. My trip was memorable, gloriously scenic, filled with adventure and discovery, with perfect weather, good friends, old and new, and a minimum of health problems. It could hardly have gone better. Even my grandfather would have enjoyed it, despite the expense, but he would have done more fishing than I did. It was the trip of a lifetime, but it's good to be back -- and it's time to take up with the new year's urgencies where I left them off three weeks earlier, under a blue moon.