Photo Story: Twelve Scenes from Patagonia’s Most Threatened Terrain

Aysén is Chile’s third-largest region, about the size of Tennessee, and the most sparsely populated. It’s among the most remote and undisturbed areas of Patagonia, and could be changed forever by the largest hydroelectric project in the history of Chile. This is not just another forest. This is the largest river in Chile. These are among the most powerful rapids on the planet. These are the wildest and most pristine rivers within the wildest and most pristine area left on earth.

If the five proposed dams are built along the Baker and Pascua rivers, about 15,000 acres of these Patagonian lands will be underwater, gone. A 400-foot-wide swath will be cut across 1,500 miles – equal to the west coast of the United States. The 200-foot-tall transmission lines will bisect 64 communities and 14 protected areas. Once in place, the transmission lines will provide incentive to build even more dams to produce greater energy at lower cost.

There are a lot of numbers involved in this discussion. But the most telling evidence is seen in pictures like these twelve scenes below, courtesy of iLCP (The International League of Conservation Photographers), taken for their RAVE campaign to show just what will be lost forever if the dams are built.

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
1. The site of the headwaters of the Rio Pascua where 3 dams are proposed. Before the rapids, the river widens, framing a lake with a view of Mt. Krueger and the Genelas (Twin) peaks in the distance. A tiny tributary winds its way toward the Kreuger range and the main stem of the rive

Juan Jose Soto (age 4) playing in the icy glacial waters of Lake O’Higgins
2. Juan Jose Soto, age 4, playing in the icy glacial waters of Lake O’Higgins. The dams will flood the entire area, and the spot where Juan is playing will be lost.

3. These flamingos native to the Chilean Aysén region are among the many species threatened by the dams’ impending presence. P

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
4. The last remaining Gaucho, Erasmus Betancur ‘Beta’ Casanova, and his family herd the sheep and cattle that feed the staff at what was once one of the largest ranches in Chilean Patagonia. It’s now becoming the new Patagonia National Park, the creation of which involves removing fences and most of the animals from the property to allow these grasslands to heal. With an influx of tourists and employees of the dam, Beta’s waning future seems clear.

Rio Pascua headwaters
5. At these headwaters of Rio Pascua, lanky Cohiue trees hang over the gorge.

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
6. Here in the tiny town of Tortel, residents can cut the remaining cypress forest for fire wood, or as seen here, they can collect the plentiful, renewable resource of drift wood from the many beaches just a short boat ride away. Most people spend at least 1 day a week making the trip to a beach by boat, harvesting wood to heat and cook with. This isn’t a way of life “born necessarily of ‘eco-awareness’ but just the simple fact that their families have lived and tended small subsistence farms here for generations.”

glacier lake
7. Looking out between Lake Colonia and Cachet One, where glacial melting will rapidly increase if the area receives more water from the dam’s flooding

8. One of five dams will be built here, where the Rio Baker splits through and feeds the rocky valley into the horizon.

Peter Hartmann, activist
9. Peter Hartmann, activist leader, standing above massive rapids. “The biggest problem is that [the project] implies destroying everything, taking everything out of the region without leaving much behind…These projects are immense, on a scale that is absolutely unmanageable for this region. They’re unmanageable because this region is very fragile, ecologically, geologically as well as culturally. For example, in the area where they want to build the HidroAysén mega-project, there are as many people living there as the company is going to need to build the dams. So imagine what that means – practically doubling the area’s population.”

lake, Patagonia
10. Aysen’s Lake General Carrera possesses a blueness matched only by the sky reflecting above.

Tortel, Chile
11. 500 people live around the port and town of Tortel, Chile, at the delta of the Baker River, downriver of where the proposed HydroAysen dams would be. Such a huge development will bring a large, rapid influx of new people, threatening the slow and peaceful way of life they maintain. There is little fishing in these waters, and boats are mostly used for transporting goods.

Sunset in Patagonia
12. The sun sets over Aysén, taking one last glimpse before nightfall. Photo: Jeff Foott/ iLCP

The expedition team included Pulitzer Prize winner and National Geographic photographer Jack Dykinga, two-time World Press winner and Prince’s Rainforest Project Award winner Daniel Beltra, award-winning filmmaker and photographer Jeff Foott, award-winning photographer Bridget Besaw, and Emmy-winning videographer Edgar Boyles.

GSTC: Spearheading Efforts to Make Tourism More Sustainable

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is a multi-stakeholder global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism around the world. The GSTC works to expand understanding of and access to sustainable tourism practices; helps identify and generate markets for sustainable tourism; educates about and advocates for a set of universal principles, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The GSTC Criteria, a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for the sustainability of tourism businesses across the globe, is the cornerstone of our initiative.

Momentum around this movement is growing. The GSTC is currently active in all UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) regions – Africa, the Americas, Middle East, and East Asia and the Pacific, with countries like Egypt, Costa Rica and India, and others progressing forward. Please see the GSTC website for more information on members and partners around the world.

The GSTC offers a great opportunity for tourism businesses and organizations to get involved as members, and to be part of the global movement towards sustainable tourism. TIES joined the GSTC in September 2010 to contribute to a vision that encourages and stimulates the travel and tourism sector worldwide toward more sustainable tourism operations. The GSTC’s work to position the tourism sector as a contributor to conservation and poverty alleviation is in line with TIES mission, and I believe that these efforts are changing the way in which we think about tourism. Ecotourism, in part, has been an impetus for creating a more sustainable tourism industry – and we are very encouraged about the potential for the GSTC to build these efforts for all tourism.

GSTC CSR Session

GSTC Executive Director, Erika Harms, addresses the ITB-Berlin audience, Corporate Social Responsibility Day (March 2011)

Opportunities for Tourism Stakeholders
We are all aware of the issues our industry and planet face: from climate change to resource depletion; increasing poverty to unstable political climates; and government regulation to raising consumer awareness of sustainability issues. As an industry we depend on consumer demand and stable environments to succeed. Such large issues cannot be solved by our industry alone. However, we can take positive steps toward a solution.

The GSTC is a place where tourism stakeholders can support action on sustainability issues, extend their networks to work with other like-minded companies and organizations, and enjoy a competitive advantage over those who are slower to come around. The GSTC is working on many projects that will be launched in 2011, including: GSTC Accreditation, GSTC Market Access programs, development of education and online training materials and revision of the current GSTC criteria. I encourage you to join the GSTC and help shape the outcomes of these projects.

The GSTC is the first multi-stakeholder, truly global initiative operating in all regions of the world. It is an exciting time to be at the GSTC and I hope you will take a moment to visit the website, learn more about the organization and become a member.

WWOOFing: Trading City Life for Cabin Building in Utah and Kayaking in Alaska

My friend Greg and I arrived on Easter Sunday at organic farm and vineyard, Montezuma Canyon Ranch, just south of Monticello, Utah. This was our first wwoofing experience, where we stayed for two weeks (“WWOOF” stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). During our two-month long trip, the longest stay we had was five nights in Denver, where it was nice to stay in one spot for a few days. I’d never stayed on a farm before, and was unsure what work we would be doing. The arrangement when wwoofing is usually such that the farm provides room and board in exchange for visitors working on the farm. Often a wwoofer is expected to work about six hours a day, for five days a week.

Joining us at Montezuma Canyon Ranch were four other wwoofers from Massachusetts, Texas, Tennessee, and South Carolina; all in their 20s. The work day here began at 9am, which was surprisingly late to me, but it was still cool out there. During the day we dug holes, a foot deep, to plant new shrubs. I smelled wild sage, which was a lovely companion as I put my hands in the hard dirt. The intent of this work was that the shrubs would keep the sinkholes from getting larger and that it would stop the erosion caused by the canyon wind.

We planted 300 plants consisting of Arizona Cypress, Utah Juniper, Big Tooth Maple, Box Elder, Cottonwood, and a few others. The ranch has 150 acres of land, 21 acres of which are for grape vines (currently there are 20,000 vines). Unfortunately for me, the year’s vines had already been planted, and since grapes are not harvested until the fall, I did not get the chance to learn much about the vineyard industry. We pruned the pear and apple trees and prepared them for mulching. During our work we had to duck from the bees, and to keep a close eye on our feet and hands for fire ants which are quick, sneaky little critters.

There is so much difficult hand and back-breaking work to do on a farm. My hands got sore within hours of beginning, and every day I felt new soreness in my body. Although I suppose there is an adjustment period. And I must remember that I am just a city girl learning the ropes; one who has always dreamed of working outside (be careful what you wish for).

During our wwoofing experience we all lived together in the same large, beautiful, ranch-style house. I have never lived with so many people before; it felt like I was on the Real World but with less drama! We were also a tad isolated from the nearest town, and so we spent our days and nights together on the farm.

We used solar power with a back up generator. I realized how much energy a dryer takes when we used up all the energy to dry one load. We had fresh well water and we hauled out the recycling and garbage in to town.

Danny, the 25 year old farmer, was in the process of building an 800 square-foot solar cabin to accommodate additional wwoofers. Danny gets many wwoofing requests, and there’s a lot to do here. Last fall the frames for the cabin were put up. After Joey and Greg did the electrical work, we all worked together to install the insulation and dry wall. This was a very new, dusty, and unexpected experience for me, but now I know that the construction business is not for me (and that insulation is itchy!). I must admit though, that I felt like a tough guy when I sawed window frames on dry walls. The work was not as hard on your body, at first, as farming.

We cooked our meals together and being a group of eight, you can imagine how much time it took to get things started and cleaned up. I’ve also been exposed to a variety of new music that I would never have otherwise discovered. It is one of the many cool benefits of travel – just like trying new food dishes.

Each wwoof experience will be different, and not all wwoofs are on typical farms. In Alaska, I noticed there were a handful of tourism organizations wanting wwoofers. This was right up my alley, as I am seeking a career change in ecotourism and I wanted to volunteer to gain some insight into the industry.

For my second wwoof in Homer, Alaska, I stayed with Seaside Adventures for three weeks. They are a small kayaking tour group with a lodge in Kachemak Bay. It was a completely different experience from my first wwoof. For one thing, I was the only wwoofer there. Many places in Alaska only have the capacity to host, and often only need, one or two wwoofers. In Utah it was nice to meet so many other wwoofers. Although on the other hand, in Alaska it was nice to have more one on one time with the owners, which allows wwoofers to really get to know their hosts, and to better understand how things operate. There were some similarities between the two experiences; both places are very remote, and need to conserve water.

I also noticed that if you are a girl, you will not be treated differently. In both places I was asked if I had ever used a chainsaw, wood splitter, drill gun, dremel, etc. It was nice that my hosts did not assume that I’d never used those tools before. And yet when I replied no, they were happy to show me how to use them.

To me wwoofing is like a different type of the typical internship. You get to learn about a new industry and gain new skills, but you gain much more because you live where you work and therefore experience a completely new living environment as well. You also build close relationships and learn about a variety of things by talking to new people.

Accessible Ecotourism: Brazil Eco-Adventures for Everyone

Ecotourism for people in wheelchairs? You may wonder what that looks like, how it’s done. You’d be pleasantly surprised to learn that in many destinations there are efforts in place to improve tourism infrastructure to better serve people with disabilities. Brazil is one such example.

Accessible Tourism
Travel and Tourism is recognized as the largest service sector industry, and as such it is imperative that people of all ages and abilities are allowed access to its activities. Accessible Tourism is a movement that has evolved to represent this important concept, as well as to represent a group which is too often denied desired travel experiences due to inaccessibility and a lack of knowledge at many destinations worldwide. Groups such as the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) promote extended travel opportunities for people with disabilities by establishing partnerships, networks, educational material and certifications/guidelines pertaining to the accessibility of service sector facilities and operations.

Accessible Tourism recognizes the universal right to participate in tourism by having access to “independent travel, accessible facilities, trained staff, reliable information and inclusive marketing,” and notes its wide-spread benefits. “Accessible tourism benefits everyone. More individuals enjoy the opportunity to travel; the tourism industry gets more visitors, longer seasons and new incomes. Society as a whole benefits from new job opportunities, more tax revenue and an accessible environment for both inhabitants and visitors.” (ENAT, 2011)

Virtual Accessible Tourism Project
Thankfully, these days one can find many accommodations and operators in Brazil that have adapted their facilities to receive individuals with decreased or limited mobility. Recently the Brazilian company Acessivel – Turismo Adaptado (Accessible – Adapted Tourism) has developed a new project featuring an online tour guide for travelers with reduced mobility.

This unique guide, only in Portuguese yet, is posted online through and will soon become a website with information about Brazilian accessible tourism destinations. The aim of this guide is to enable people with disability and reduced mobility to travel throughout Brazil. Adriana Braun, who uses a wheelchair herself, is responsible for coordinating this project.

Accessible path Brazil

In 2001, Adriana was the first person in a wheelchair to travel to the Fernando de Noronha islands, a popular ecotourism destination in Brazil. Adriana realized that with a little guidance and specific training for local guides and service sector employees, accommodations could improve their offerings so that people in wheelchairs may travel more. Thus began her instrumental work in accessible ecotourism. For Adriana, ecotourism and responsible travel experiences represent an excellent tool for rehabilitation to people in wheelchairs.

wheelchairs on the beach in Brazil

Accessible Ecotourism in Brazil

Fortunately there are many ecotourism destinations in Brazil that can be visited by people in wheelchairs, yet there is one that deserves special mention: the beach settlement of Itacaré, in the region of Bahia on the eastern coast of Brazil.

Itacaré is revered as one of the most beautiful places on the coast of Bahia. It is synonymous with beautiful beaches and relatively few people, protected Atlantic forests, pristine rivers, amazing waterfalls, and a very lively town during the summer. Nowadays this small town of Bahia is very popular with visitors, and especially surfers, who are attracted to the local beaches and their famously rough waves.

If you are a traveler in a wheelchair and want to visit Itacaré, you can be assured that there are many opportunities for accessible tourism and recreation in the area. Many local service operators have met with trained ecotourism guides and consultants in order to enable them to better cater to the needs of travelers with special needs. Because of this, it is possible for people in wheelchairs to go hiking in the local forests, to visit the beautiful beaches, to walk in the mangroves, to visit stunning waterfalls, and even to enjoy adventure sports such as rafting.

Hiking Iceland a Locals Guide To The Troll Peninsula

Whether you believe in Old Icelandic tales or not, I have to tell you that Troll peninsula is believed to be the last home of ugly and quite dangerous giant trolls. They happen to be afraid of daylight, and a strong ray of sun can petrify them to eternity.

At the end of winter, forced by the ever-rising arctic sun, they make gigantic steps, crossing glaciers, plateaus, ridges and torrents to reach their secret hiding places, before it is too late.

Highlights of the Troll Peninsula?

Welcome to an awesome region of North Iceland, also known as the Icelandic Alps. Even though summits do not exceed 2000m, one shall keep in mind that when hiking in Iceland, they have their feet in the ocean.

Everlasting snow on its dominant peaks, luxuriant green valleys with small farms and cattle randomly scattered and much, much more is to be found in this tranquil area, suitable for trekking all year round. Hiking, biking, horseback riding, alpine climbing in the summer and skiing and ski touring in winter are just a few popular activities to be named.

There are also whales in the fjord, so whale-watching is always an option.It is truly special and very enriching, once you have a chance to enjoy hiking in the almost untouched Icelandic Alps in the North of Iceland, yet still being able to find some great service to make your stay a complete local experience.

Favourite spot for hiking on the Troll Peninsula?

There are far too many as the area is huge and very inspiring with only a few hiking trails being actually marked. Id recommend exploring treks in Skidadalur, Svarfadalur, Hedinsfjordur and Laheidi Plateau, with Dalvik, Olafsfjordur or Siglusjordur as possible starting points.

Favourite places to grab some food on the Troll Peninsula?

Dalvik cafe in a local cultural house called Berg: home-made bread and snacks as well as yummy home-made cakes.Siglufjordur any local bakerySiglufjordur restaurant called Hannes Boy is a place for a proper dinner made out of local ingredients and served with style in a pleasant atmosphere with the fireplace inside.Siglufjordur local fish shop selling fresh fish for your barbecue

Favorite places for a drink on the Troll Peninsula?

One of the best locally brewed beers in Iceland is in Arskogssandur. It is called KALDI and is one and only non-pasteurized beer in Iceland. Check it out, you can get a tour in this cute small brewery and taste the quality.When it comes to bars, its definitely worthwhile checking out the town of Siglufjordur and its cafe-bar by the harbour.

Whats the best time of year to come to the Troll Peninsula?

When you want to enjoy trekking in Iceland, then bright arctic summers (June, July, August, possibly September) are the best time for a visit. The everlasting days of those bright months permit hiking any time in a completely untouched nature. Its good to include places from which you can watch magnificent sunset of the sun that just gently touches the sea and carries on with the sunrise.

Anything else you need to share for people planning a muchbetter adventure to Troll Peninsula?

The area of Troll Peninsula is rather scarcely populated, concerning European standards (bear in mind that Iceland has around 300.000 inhabitants, out of which two thirds live in Reykjavik).

Its rather challenging to move between places here up north, using the public transport, though it is possible. Hitchhiking is a popular way and renting cars would do for those who come in groups.

Iceland is famous for its outdoor swimming pools with geothermally heated water. Theyre cheap, considering the service you get, including hot pots, so its definitely a must try in whatever small village you end up.

The swimming pool in a village called Hofsos is a special piece of art made in harmony with nature I highly recommend it.

When researching Iceland treks, its good to buy local maps in a bookshop called Eymundson (either in Reykjavik or Akureyri).

The weather in Iceland is extremely erratic and its good to be prepared literally for all kinds of weather in one day. The official webpage might be of help when planning your Iceland treks.

More tips on places to see and things to do on Troll Peninsula are also to be found here.

Why do I love going local, when hiking in Iceland?

I enjoy mindful travelling and thus love going local, whenever I travel. Iceland, the place where I live, is not an exception.

It can be tricky to find some quality service off the beaten track in Iceland, but its not a mission impossible. That is why Ill gladly share what Ive discovered so far, constantly adding any new discoveries.

Should you need any specific advice on hiking Iceland, do not hesitate and write to me.

Interested in going to Iceland?Check out other holidays and accommodation in Iceland.

Know somewhere in Iceland – or anywhere in the world that you want to share?

Share it! Put your favourite place on the map and grow your word of mouth travel resource (win somecool prizestoo!).

If you, like Lenka here, would like to feature your favourite places to hike, ski, surf, climb, kayak get in touch – we would love to hear from you.

Sharing is caring!