June 15th. 2008, Father's Day in the United States. In Futaleufu, Chile, so recently buried in ash and snow, fathers this Sunday walk with their children to Lago Espejo, or sit on benches in the Plaza del Armas eating ice cream bars. Fluffy dogs roam and chase cars, and the early winter sun illuminates the snow on the surrounding mountains. The recent volcanic eruption is an odd episode in an almost 80-year old history of this place the locals claim was "painted by God". And God still smiles on Futaleufu.
May 2nd dawned blue, and chilly in th Futa Valley. But by 9:00 am, the world turned dark and uncertain as Volcan Chaiten bellowed and belched horrific amounts of ash. For ten days ash fell, and life was uncertain for domestic and farm animals, people evacuated. The reports were dooming, and gloomy. Then rain fell, then snow. As I plodded through the disaster that faced Futaleufu, I sensed, despite all odds, that somehow, some way, this would pass. Yes, people with small children, elderly folks and others left. Who could blame them? But, many stayed. And they took care of Futa. And the water was restored, and the electric stayed on. And the animals were fed, and the streets were cleared, and they kept life going in Futaleufu. That's what this little-known community is all about.
The Chaiten volcano, located less than ten kilometers from the town of Chaiten did not fare so well. The town was completely and safely evacuated early in May. Ash and debris-swollen rivers flooded the town causing devastating damage; some homes and businesses washing to the sea, meters of mud filling houses and burying automobiles. The volcano continues to be active and no reasonable predictions can be made for people to return to their town, if ever. It is a tragic blow for the incredible people who lived and worked on the slopes and shore of that coastal area for generations.
But here in Futalefu, some 80 kilometers "as the crow flies" from Chaiten, the volcano proved only an annoyance and temporary disruption. It is one and one-half months since the eruption. The rivers are clearing. The ash is being removed. Sector Azul was almost unaffected. Noreste is recovering and doing well. The evergreens are green, sheep graze, still getting fat. The cattle that were not sold, or removed are healthy and content. Rio Azul, is azul, the Rio Futa is awesome in it's almost other-wordly way, the Espolon is lazy and lovely though still carrying significant amounts of ash. There are no massive, or even light fish-kills reported on any river. The roads are graded.
Today I hung laundry outside in a chilly, sunny wind. And as I stood with several damp towels on my shoulder reaching to the line, I spied a Condor drifting on a wind current high above, and watched it for twenty minutes as it hung on the blue dome of sky. Flocks of endangered parrots screeched in the bare apple trees across the street, and an owl menaced in the back yard. Futa is alive.
It would be disappointing if travelers crossed Futa off their list of Chilean destinations because of the volcano erupting. It is far less devastating than most would gather given the reports. The rivers are not harmed for rafting. The ashfall has not been harmful to the fish, so we expect the same awesome fishing this coming season. Hiking, and biking, and the usual hospitality of Futaleufu is not dimished. In fact, the people of Futa would love your visit, and the chance to share with you how they weathered a volcanic eruption.