Chilean Patagonia is home to some of the wildest and most stunning rivers in the world. The largest, the Rio Baker, is renowned for its clear, turquoise water and Class V rapids and has become a magnet for expedition kayakers from around the world. But perhaps no one knows it better than a group of young, local kayakers who are lucky to have the Baker in their backyard. For the past 13 years, the Club Náutico Escualo has been teaching kids ages four to 18 to surf, roll and run the Áysen region’s most pristine rivers. Many of these children are first-generation kayakers, the sons and daughters of ranchers and farmers in the remote village of Cochrane.
Now these young paddlers have become the rivers’ most ardent, persuasive advocates. The Spanish electric company Endesa is proposing to build five hydroelectric dams on the Rio Baker and Pascua, as well as the Futeleufu, and transport power 1,200 miles away via high-tension transport lines, turning wild rivers into lakes and forever changing the landscape and way of life in the Áysen region. Not surprisingly, according to the National Resources Defense Council, 74 percent of Chileans oppose the project.