Newspaper article International New York Times

Heraclitus Hikes the Andes

Newspaper article International New York Times

Heraclitus Hikes the Andes

Article excerpt

With global warming, you truly can't step in the same river twice.

I have recently been able to confirm, through sad and indisputable evidence, that Heraclitus was right when he wrote that we can never step into the same river twice. I doubt, of course, that that pre-Socratic philosopher, when coining the phrase two and a half millenniums ago about the implacable flux of time, had in mind the ecological destruction of the planet, the abyss toward which our greed and inability to courageously confront global warming are leading us.

I've been thinking about Heraclitus recently, in the throes of Chile's hot summer. Of the many enchanting expanses near Santiago, I have always been especially attracted to the Cajon del Maipo, a narrow valley of spectacular cliffs that the Maipo River has been excavating for millions of years. One of the most fabulous places in that canyon is a waterfall, which the locals called "Cascada de las Animas," the waterfall of the spirits. Arrieros -- mule drivers -- baptized it with that name over a century ago, when, after crossing the mountains with their livestock, they stopped there to gratefully drink, and claimed to have glimpsed two semitransparent maidens dancing behind that cataract, along with duendes (mischievous elves) gamboling nearby.

More than 40 years ago, in our youth, my wife, Angelica, and I would hike into the lower reaches of the Andes, and on one occasion we managed to scramble up hundreds of meters, all the way to the waterfall. Not discovering any humans, let alone legendary damsels or duendes, I once decided to freshen my body by plunging into those crystal, icy waters sent to us by the faraway snow of the mountains. Angelica, always more prudent, preferred to taste the waters with the cup of her hands.

A few days ago we returned to the Cajon del Maipo, and I wanted, from the nostalgia of 2015, to return to that magical cascade. Though Angelica decided not to join the expedition, I was accompanied this time by Pedro Sanchez, my brother-in-law, who had visited the falls a few years before and reported that it was still the same enchanting site. But it was no longer possible to venture into those mountains as freely as before. The cascade now streams inside an ecological sanctuary. The only way to see it was through a guided tour that we had to contract through an adjacent tourist resort.

Though the experience of ascending those paths with someone perpetually explaining the landscape, along with several families with noisy children, did not reproduce the solitary setting of my memories, the scenery was still magnificent, full of native trees and bushes, teeming with animal life. And there was always the expectation of the great cataract at the end of our upward trek.

Nothing of the sort. From the heights a trickle of water fell toward the same rocky cavernous basin of yesteryear, which now barely allowed anyone to wade in up to the knees. …

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