Puesco Fest: celebrating free flowing rivers

Snow-capped volcanoes, mountain lakes, rapid rivers and thick native forest are some of the features of the areas in and around Pucón and Curarrehue in southern Chile’s Araucania region. Its also a region that even today hosts a Mapuche indigenous culture which has a deep connection with the Earth. Now, this area is targeted en masse by small-scale hydroelectric dam projects. Just in these two municipalities alone some 59 permits have been granted for the construction of dams.
Epril, a run-of-the-river dam, is one of the most controversial projects in the area because it will affect the Tres Troncos rapids in the Puesco Alto River. These are considered among the best whitewater sections in Chile and were part of the Whitewater Grand Prix 2012, attracting some of the finest kayak participants in the world.
As a response to this grim situation some of the local residents, both Chileans and international residents, started grouping together with a goal: to make this problem visible and fight to keep the rivers of Araucanía running free. This triggered the birth of Puesco Ferst, a cultural and environmental festival that will take place November 21-23 in Puesco.
“We wanted to do something different, so, instead of a protest, we decided to create a celebration to show the importance of keeping this place in its natural state,” explains John Groth, one of the organizers of this weekend’s event, which will include music performances, documentary screenings, yoga lessons, local handicraft stands and kayak competitions, amongst other activities.
“The Mapuches that live here believe that everything is sacred, not just one river or a certain type of plant. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can still find a river and forest as untouched as these are that is also populated by a lively local culture. It’s because of the Mapuche beliefs that this area has been preserved. It really feels like a special place,” adds Groth, who has been working in the area as a kayak instructor since 2005.
Through the years the organizers have watched as the hydroelectric companies generate a large social impact, including destroying native communities by splitting up families and neighbors in order to develop their projects.
Andrés Macías, another of the event organizers, criticizes the authorities’ lack of vision and the limited public dialogue around these issues. “We are the last link in the chain that will allow them to finish their projects. We live in this territory, are directly affected, yet no one asks us about it. The saddest part is that we are left with no resources while all the money goes to the richest people in the country. It’s unthinkable how some people could have so much greed”, he says.
The importance of Puesco Fest lies in the ability to reach people from different backgrounds to spread the message: keep rivers running free and protect an area that is extremely valuable for the environment, tourism and culture. This is how the organizers hope to fight the misinformation that exists about what is taking place in Pucón and Curarrehue.
If there is no real change, the future seems bleak. “In 15 years all of the tributaries of the Trancura River will have run-of-the-river stations and fish farming, and the fields will be covered in electric cables,” said Puesco Fest organizer John Groth. “The development that they are trying to promote is destruction, not progress. This is something that will turn a calm place where people exist on a different rhythm into an industrial zone. What is now a paradise to us, is also a paradise for big companies.” 
For more info on how to go, see the festival website at www.puescofest.org
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