The Chaiten volcano – surprise!

In which we hike to the 2008 volcanic crater rim…

Chaiten volcano crater

 

The last thing you’d expect to hear on the bleak, barren and sulphurous rim of a volcano crater it has taken three hours to reach is a baby crying.

Volcan Chaiten, until  May 2008 wasn’t volcan Chaiten at all. It was just another mountain. But then ‘SURPRISE’, it blew up. Over the course of four days this put 200 million cubic meter of material on the surrounding area after throwing it 20km into the sky.

Not all surprises are nice.

This gift meant that the nearby town of Chiaten, at the time famous for nothing much, became the centre of an interesting question. The government evacuated the 4000 residents, fair enough, and then tried to resettle then in a new town 10km away. The residents didn’t want to go.

Buried. Chaiten volcano

One of the common traits of the Chilean people is a coming together and solidarity of purpose. The recovery from the massive 8.5 earthquake of 2010 was largely down to communities coming together and collective action, in the absence of central administration. The annual Telefon event raises millions every year, strikes call out a nation in sympathy, such as the ‘Chilean winter’ student strikes of 2011

And in Chiaten, the offer of a new town, possibly a safer town, was refused. Together the community rebuilt, clearing the dust, debris and wreckage, reopening roads to allow access overland again and turning this gift into a tourist hiking trail, complete with parking and well maintained information boards.

Chiten rebuilding, Chile

Business is booming. Every second block in town has a cluster of cabanas available to accommodate travellers passing through on the carretera austral, road workers busy upgrading Pinochet’s folly (Ruta 7) and itinerant fish farm staff supplying in the commercial salmon farms nestled along the coast line.

As for the volcano with a baby, a dutch couple are hitch-hiking their way round South America. With a four month old baby. So whilst we ate sandwiches she breast fed the baby. A neat reminder that most obstacles really are attitudinal.

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