Ash-storm in Esquel, Patagonia.
Four years ago I was in Esquel in Patagonia. It's a cold, brightly lit place in May. Chile is nearby, a mere sliver of land at this latitude, that separates the south Pacific from the rest of South America.
From the town of Esquel, which is high in the foothills of the Andes, I took this small steam train, the Old Patagonian Express, into the mountains. There are not many visitors to Patagonia in May and the train was almost empty. I shared my carriage with handful of locals including a young Mapuche couple who sat beside an old stove; she sang songs while he played the guitar.
Half-way up they revealed their baby. I remember its wide black eyes as it was passed around the passengers. Eventually we stopped by a group of exposed huts surrounded by scrappy bushes and fences. It was a barren-looking place, above the tree-line, and immediately more Mapuches appeared at the track-side to sell jewelry, bits of leather and food.
The reason I'm remembering all this now is that today I learnt that Esquel is covered in volcanic dust. Here is a picture I found on Yahoo, taken on May 2nd, which is free to use.
I think the building on the left is the bus station where I caught a bus to complete my journey to the airport to the north. It seems like it was another person who made that journey now. So much has happened since, and so much has changed.
I remember asking if there were earthquakes in this part of Patagonia and I was told no, but last Thursday night a long-dormant volcano in Chile just 50 km away suddenly erupted and the earth trembled for some hours. So now the very young and the old are being evacuated from the town called Chaitén, which lies in the volcano's shadow. It is a remote area, and the evacuation is being done by boats because there are few roads, while just a few miles away, in another world east of the Andes, is falling a fine, suffocating, dry snow.