If you are a pregnant human, 8 months is perhaps not such a long time (considering it normally takes a full nine). If you are a fruit fly, 8 months is perhaps more lifetimes than you can comprehend (because, after all, you are a fruit fly). My point is that it’s all relative. As a Watson Fellow, the past 8 months have flown; sailed out the window before I realized they happened. And they have dragged, clunking along like cinderblocks. And as I continue to travel, learn, and stumble, it feels like the best way to “make the most of my time” is to just let it fly and clunk and do as it pleases. All the while accepting it for everything it is rather than judging it for everything it is not.
As far as places I’ve lived during my Watson year go, Puerto Varas is pretty high up on the list. On a clear day, you get an incomparable view of the volcanoes that circle lake Llanquihue.
On a cloudy day, you’ll get to experience la magía del sur, when the clouds open up and the rain pours down in buckets. And although the town center has a few nice coffee shops and a black-sand beach, the real attraction is the relatively pristine nature that is less than an hour’s drive away. I guess you could say my city-boy roots are starting to loosen a little bit.
Of course, the magic of being here extends beyond the weather and the Andes. Industrial aquaculture feels more deeply woven into the local history and landscape than in any other country I’ve been to. On my morning commute from Puerto Varas to Colaco (home to Cargill Innovation Center where I’m currently volunteering/working), are numerous billboards advertising anti-fouling nets, formulated fish feeds for salmon gill health, personalized research trials, and medications to get rid of parasites that latch on to salmon called sea lice (my favorite billboard proudly proclaims “bye lice!”).
You don’t have to be in the aquaculture industry or actively be search for it to find it’s foot print. Especially when I think back to all of my experiences in New Zealand, where rurality and isolation were HUGE facets of aquaculture, I have to almost laugh at all these billboards practically yelling at me from a main highway now.
Historically, salmon farming has had a pretty controversial history in the Chile. Pretty much from its inception it has been defined by large-scale, industrialized production. As a result, the salmon farming industry has been hit by every single salmon disease that currently exists. Industrial production and virulent disease, coupled with copious antibiotic usage has also caused significant environmental degradation. In 2007, the industry almost entirely collapsed because of a virus called Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA). The ISA crisis, sometimes simply referred to as “the crisis”, seems to have been a major turning point for salmon farming in the country. Governmental restrictions tightened and foreign research companies (primarily Norwegian) began substantive knowledge transfer efforts. Now, the atmosphere feels cautiously optimistic. Many people I’ve talked to are excited to help shape a more sustainable salmon farming industry.
Because the industry has figured so prominently into the country’s recent history, everyone has something different to say. This is perhaps one of the coolest aspects of being here. Some will refer to the 90’s as the golden age of salmon farming, others will talk about how much economic revival it brought to the region. Others will spend the next hour mulling over the complex history of aquaculture in the country. I’ve yet to meet a Chilean or long-term resident of Chile who has a non-committal opinion about salmon farming.
One of the (many) things left for me in Chile is to make my way to an actual salmon farm. I’ve been living in the world of private food science research, but I think actually being on the farms will help round out my experiences in a big way. Thanks for following along and I hope I’ll be able to write again soon!