18 January 2010

muchos castores


short, brilliant hop from punta arenas to puerto williams, flying safely in the hands of a retired air force general on a tiny DAP plane with eight other passengers. giant seapurple kelp beds spot the Strait of Magellan--grand; whitecap-dotted; cerulean blue. the mountains emerge before the Beagle, spotted with pristine white glaciers. it's like flying over the remnants of the Ice Age. the land from the air-- I can't help but think of Audubon drawings-- seems wild, populated only with invisible beavers, who I assume have left behind the large clearings in the forests dotted with broken piles of trees, spilled out like toothpicks. I vaguely recall reading something about beavers having been introduced to Patagonia, sometime in recent decades, to try and spark some fur trade here- resulting, of course, in overpopulation-- 50 animals rapidly became 50,000. when someone in Punta Arenas mentioned that people in Puerto Williams eat muchos castores, I thought they were just making a bad joke. when we do get some internet access, which is of course scant despite Cristian's valiant but somewhat futile communications operation, I'll look it up.

we land at the Puerto Williams 'airport' -- really a long runway and a small waiting room, with a chainsaw casually resting on a counter in the ladies' room. sure enough, the only sound that cuts through the fresh, crisp air is the sound of falling wood on a not-too-distant mountain slope. it's beyond alpine here, all tiny whiteyellowviolet flowers and moo-cows, whitesnow-spotted blackbrown even-peaked mountain ranges lining the sparkling Beagle Channel. I've spotted at least ten kinds of ducks in the few hours we've been here. the town is compact, a woodsmoke-scented Armada base with a few alpinist-type shops and bright colored houses seated on the slope, as if watching the circus-tent merriment of the stripedmountain-lined Channel. the quiet is friendly-- perhaps the water cuts not just the landscape, but the sound quality of its wild ambience.

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