Valdivia - Punucapa; Huilliche village in nature sanctuary
Photos by Don Porter

On Sunday, January 8, 2006, we took a boat ride on the Bahia Princessa to visit the village of Punucapa and the Santuario de la Naturaleza Rio Cruces. After the 1960 earthquake, the 50 square kilometers of low-lying land around the Rio Cruces north of Valdivia was flooded, forming an extensive delta. It became a “protected” nature reserve in 1982. Tragically, the government allowed a pulp plant (owned and operated by Celco) to be built upriver. It began operation in February 2004, and in just 3 months the effluent contaminated the water in the reserve, killing 500 of the 4,000 – 6,000 Black-necked Swans living in the sanctuary (they formed the largest known colony of this rare species). The remainder of the flock migrated elsewhere. The plant was closed temporarily as a result of pressure from the citizens of Valdivia, supported by concerned Chileans across the country. The plant re-opened on a reduced basis, with promises to undertake a cleanup. Citizens continue to fight Celco’s plan to pipe the poisonous effluent out to the ocean. The hope is that the river will recover from the contaminants and the plants that feed the swans will grow again, so that the swans can return.

Punucapa has less than 300 inhabitants, and its main claim to fame is its church, the “Santuario de la Candelaria”, which has been the scene, since 1883, of a major festival honoring the Virgin of Candalaria each February 2nd. It is also well known for its apple cider and “chicha” (a fermented apple cider drink).

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Santuario Rio Cruces
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