Recently around 2000 of Chile’s finest superheroes, young and old, came together to send a clear message to the country’s government – Protect Chile’s Glaciers!
Chile has around 80% of South America’s glaciers. Most of them are in the far south in Patagonia, but there are a few in the Central and Northern Andes. These massive bodies of ice are one of the principle sources of fresh water for the country.
Coming from South Africa, I am more far more used to seeing the Big Five or a beautiful bushveld sunset, and so I will never forget my first experience of seeing a glacier up close. Back in 2010, at the start of my epic roadtrip along Ruta 40 in Argentina, I hiked to the Martial Glacier in Ushuaia. To be totally honest, it didn’t really look like much of a glacier to me, but I still remember thinking “Wow, this is the first glacier I have ever been close to”.
Martial Glacier, Ushuaia, April 2010
On the same trip, I had the awesome privilege of spending a few hours marvelling at the sheer immensity, power and beauty that is the Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, Argentina. Listening to and watching 60m high chunks of ice break off the glacier is an experience I still regard as one of the most incredible I have had in 4,5 years of living in South America.
Perito Moreno Glacier, April 2010
I think another thing that makes my glacier experiences so unforgettable, is that usually to get to see a glacier up close there is a long, tough hike involved. The struggle with altitude, wind and rocky terrain makes reaching the glacier all the more worthwhile.
In 2012, in preparation for our trip to Torres del Paine, Rodrigo and I planned a hike to the Paloma Glacier, in the Andes close to Santiago. Due to altitude sickness and dry water sources, we didn’t manage to make it all the way to the glacier, but even from afar, seeing the ice in stark contrast to the bare mountain was amazing. Sadly though, this is a glacier that due to a changing climate has retreated dramatically over the last 20 years or so. Rodrigo last hiked in this park over 20 years ago and he couldn’t believe the difference.
Paloma Glacier, January 2012
My final glacier experience (up to now) is the famous Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. The hike to get to the glacier was one of the most difficult I have ever experienced, but it was all so worth it in the end.
Grey Glacier, March 2012: Rodrigo, Juan Carlos and I – the looks on our faces say it all about the toughness of the journey…
But enough of the trip down memory lane and back to the point of this post…
Chile’s glaciers are under threat and many have already suffered irrepairable damage at the hands of mining and other industries. Greenpeace Chile has come up with a really creative and powerful campaign to create awareness of the issue – the Glacier Republic complete with citizenship, a constitution and passports.
As part of the campaign, more than 2000 people marched to La Moneda (the government palace) to ask the President to create a “5 star law” to 1) protect all types of glaciers, 2) protect the natural habitats that surround the glaciers, 3) prevent all activities that damage Chile’s glaciers, 4) stop all current activities that are causing damage to the glaciers and finally 5) make glaciers “public goods” that require the protection of the State.
Superman making his poster before the march
Rodrigo and Pablo practicing their super heroe stance (p.s. red cape sewn by yours truly…)
Greenpeace provided lots of silver star balloons which gave the march a great atmosphere. “RG” stands for Republica Glaciar.
Even adults got involved in the superheroe fun
Anonymous and Mafalda (a famous Argentinean cartoon character) defending the glaciers
Pablo with his “Save the Glaciers” sign
Chile has seen its fair share of marches and protests for a wide range of issues over the last few years and typically when these marches end in front of La Moneda there is a huge barricade of fences and special force policemen blocking access to the palace.
This time it was completely different, and when we arrived at the palace, we congregated right in front of the main entrance in the Constitution Plaza.
It really was a powerful site seeing young kids protesting for a very important cause right outside La Moneda.
I got goosebumps when a young girl read out the following message “we don’t want to become adults and have to tell our grandchildren what glaciers where like through history books; and that we did nothing. For this reason we are here today as superheroes to ask the President to protect the glaciers.”
We can only hope that President Bachelet received the message loud and clear and that the law will be passed soon…
For more information on the Greenpeace campaign, go to http://www.republicaglaciar.cl/index1.php