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Thursday, February 17, 2011

One of my high school teachers made the point that you only really feel you own a place once you leave and then return.  It was true then, and it is true now: tonight, back in the kitchen in Palena after a few days in Futaleufú, I feel more at home than ever.  I know the woman at the corner store, I know the dog that waits outside our door for food, I know how to turn on the gas to get hot water.  What a treat to walk upstairs and see my clothes on shelves, my framed pictures by my bed.  I am settling in.

Río Futaleufú

Futaleufú was different than Palena, most noticeably in the presence of tourists: American, Argentine, Chilean, Canadian, Israeli backpackers and young couples, all there to enjoy a world-class river, the Futaleufú.  A part of me felt like “which one doesn’t belong”, because though I love the outdoors, it would never occur to me to go on an international vacation for outdoor sports.   To me, travel is about language, history, culture, and I am most drawn to restaurants, city cafes, museums, old buildings, and so on.  But here I am in Patagonia, and a huge part of the economy is nature-tourism: kayaking, rafting, hiking, and mountain biking.  So when I got the chance to go rafting, I knew I had to take it to get a taste of this place, the taste most often savored by outsiders.

Here’s the thing: I loved rafting, more than I expected.  Yes, it was scary.  I was in boat of eight passengers, one guide, and we were accompanied by a safety raft and safety kayak, and yet we were going through class four and five rapids, five being the highest class legal to travel in raft.

Here are some ways rafting is like Smith Crew:

1)    You are wet and uncomfortable in a boat.
2)    There is no time or room for doubt.
3)    When you are afraid, listen directions of guide/coxswain, and follow the paddle/oar in front of you.
4)    When you are unstable, get a good piece of the water on the next stroke.
5)    You feel that you are experiencing the furthest limits of being human.

Here are some ways rafting is not like Smith Crew:

1)    Men are in charge—men are the guides, men carry the boats, men drive the bus.
2)    Waves are the definition of the challenge, rather than an impediment to optimum performance.
3)    Your fellow rowers are acquaintances for the day, rather than intimate comrades and best friends.

Over the weekend, I’d been thinking a lot about environmentalism.  I am struck by the way it is so easy to pull ourselves out of the discussion, as if our intentions– as white, American conservationists– are somehow off the table for analysis and careful consideration.  We are proud to talk about recycling in an eco-lodge, but we are sheepish to acknowledge the fossil fuels consumed in our flights from Boston and Boulder to Santiago.  How much money did we spend to travel so far, and how much privilege did it take for us to seek fear in a class five rapid?  This is not to say that only elites engage in extreme sports, but there does seem to be a trend that privilege begets both the means and the desire to invent these challenges for ourselves.  But I have to say, as I wriggled my toes into the foot holds, jumped and fell with the big yellow rubber as our guide belted out, “All forward, all forward!”, I wasn’t thinking about privilege; in fact, I wasn’t thinking at all.

There is a big controversy down here about a proposed dam further south, and I need to find out more about this.  But the trouble is, while no one wants to see a beloved river dammed, we want electricity,

A popular bumper sticker, here in a window. "Sin represas" means "Without dams."

don’t we?  It is true, it may be that transnational corporations, not local people, would benefit from the electricity, but even so, there are parts of modernity we like.  I could write an entire post on why I love the internet (have you tried Google phone?).  It’s just that I am interested in problematizing these issues before jumping to “solve” them.  As I’ve said before, I crave complexity, and I define knowledge as the ability to perceive more and more nuance.  This year part of my job is teaching environmental education classes and coordinating town waste manegement efforts, such as composting and recycling.  I do not doubt the importance of these endeavors, and I will take them on whole-heartedly.  Yet as I learn about these specific issues, I suspect I will also learn about what roles feel most natural to me, and where I can imagine myself working in the future.  Learning, learning, learning.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. David Russell permalink
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 5:40 pm

    Interesting. I enjoy and learn from each post, and not just because I’m your father!

  2. jane woodman permalink
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 6:44 pm

    As I said to you in an e-mail after watching the youtube video you sent us on rafting the Futaleufu river – I’m just glad I still have 2 daughters! SCARY! But yay to all of the adventure. And that Palena now feels more like home. Have a lentil for me, xoxo

  3. sally chapdelaine permalink
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 9:05 pm

    I rafted once and felt like I did on the roller coaster when I was 14yrs. old and vowed NEVER AGAIN!!What excitement.As for the dilemma about our precious resources-I agree-I want them-I have them.I feel guilty for all that I consume!It’s a real problem.Even modern medicine that can save the life of a premature baby requires unbelievable energy.(my grandson was a preemie!)Good questions.

    • Friday, February 18, 2011 10:16 am

      Good questions, big questions, indeed! I certainly don’t have all the answers.

  4. Sally Johnson permalink
    Friday, February 18, 2011 9:24 am

    LOVE the comparison to Smith Crew and the picture. va va va voom! so glad you experienced the rush of navigating the rapids. I am impressed. level 4 and 5? WOW. only gone a short time and already you have soaked up so much (no pun intended! 🙂 )LOL Sally

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