Interview: Kayaker Evan Garcia and the future of the Trancura River

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By Tomas Moggia
Lover of free, fast and furious rivers, Evan Garcia is a leading American kayaker who in 2007 won the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships in Canada. Currently, the 26-year-old native of Montana is more focused on whitewater downhill kayaking and is a tireless seeker and runner of waterfalls around the world.
Norway, Argentina, Peru and Mexico are just some of the countries which he has paddled during his profressional kayaking career. But he says that most of his time is split between the United States and Chile, places where he can devote himself full-time to this activity, adopting a lifestyle that is characterized by close contact with rivers and nature.
Despite his fame, Evan is a quiet and simple type who displays total serenity, and it quickly becomes clear that it is on the river where he releases all of his energy and daring. The passionate paddler in November won first place at Puesco Fest’s downhill race held at the rapid "Three trunks" of Trancura River, one of the best sections of whitewater in Chile.
This is an area located near Curarrehue, in the Andean zone of the Araucania region in southern Chile, which in recent years has been seriously threatened by several small-scale hydroelectric projects. Evan Garcia spoke with Patagon Journal about kayaking at Puesco and the uncertain future of this beautiful area. Excerpts:
How was your recent race on the Trancura?
The Trancura river, especially in sector near Puesco, is one of the best in the world. It has very good rapids, with good slope and never stops. I am always around here because my brother lives in Pucon. We have this gift near or house here, and in this competition participated many friends of mine from around the world. We really enjoyed it and it was really good to have so many people watching the river, the rapids and the race because it is still a little known sport.
Despite being hailed worldwide, this river is seriously threatened ...
Chile is doing the same thing that was done 50-70 years ago in the United States. And in the U.S. they are now suffering because the rivers never reach the sea because they are overexploited. At least in Chile there are places with a lot of culture like at Curarrehue, which is home to the Mapuche people. They love the land as it is, these communities want only to live in peace.
What kind of future do you see for this area if hydroelectric dams are built?
The Mapuche know that life is more than a mall, a pair of shoes, a shirt or things like that. Those kind of values my country lost a long time ago. It would be a big loss because this ecosystem is very beautiful. We need to know how to both take care of it and enjoy it. It would be a shame if something similar to what happened in the United States happens in Chile.
What are other kayakers saying about the prospect of losing a river like the Trancura?
That it would be very bad, a real shame because we would no longer be able to kayak. But the worst thing would be for the people who live here, the Mapuche and the other inhabitants of Curarrehue and the region. They will suffer greatly because the river is a lifeline, it is like a vein of the Earth or the blood of our body. Without water there is nothing - not trees, nor plants or animals. There is no life without it. So it is very important to have a free, fresh and clean river. Especially for the local communities, who live and depend entirely on the Trancura.
What did you think of Puesco Fest?
I think it was very good. I did not know so many people from different places would come and not necessarily came because of kayak. The politicians in Temuco and the government are going to see that there are many people who want to see rivers run free, that we are interested in protecting the lands and resources of Chile. The halting of Hidroaysén was the first time I saw so many people fighting for a river. It was great to see that because Chileans showed they care for their lands and rivers. That worked, and I am certain that this can also happen here.
So the Trancura River and its tributaries can be saved?
I believe so. Curarrehue is one of the most important towns in this area because it really is Mapuche. It concerns me because it is next to Pucón and there is a world of difference between the two, they are totally different. When I come to Chile I stay in Pucon, which is like the tourist center of the country, its a monster, and I go to Curarrehue for paddling and camping. Definitely I prefer the world of Curarrehue because I love the river and everything here. I do not want to see anything in these rivers, nor do I want to see the destruction of the culture that still exists in these areas. Why change this world, that of the Mapuche, which have lived happily for many years here? There is no need to change.
Photos courtesy of Evan Garcia