Monday, December 03, 2007

El Tabo And El Sauce Hydroelectric Generating Station

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Thursday, July 12, 2007

Chico had been bugging us for weeks with the idea of spending a night or two at his house in El Tabo, on the coast. He wanted to set up base there and go off to explore the area around Laguna Verde, Placilla and the rest of Francisco's territories. I wasn't too enthusiastic about it, since I could not remember a winter day on the coast that was not miserable, wet, and grey.

Chico assured me that it would be a nice day in El Tabo, and loaded down with my cold weather gear, we set off one morning down the Ruta 68, soon to turn off onto secondary roads.

And to my surprise the sun did come out after a while, and though the air was cold, it warmed you if it could see you.

We arrived in El Tabo around lunch time. Without warning Chico shot off the coast road and entered a wooded plot of land, passing between two posts and a ditch as if it were his front gate. We'll just have to follow him then.

We weren't headed to his house. As a matter of fact, I have no idea what he had in mind, because there was a small incident that kept us busy for quite a while.

On the edge of a small wooded area, under large pine trees, there was a short and steep climb, no more than 4 metres high in total. On the left, a smooth and gradual track up around it. On the right, a more interesting steep section. Chico roared up, and at the highest point, turned abruptly left. I took the more gentle slope, and stopped to have a look around. The steep climb was, in fact, no more than a large mound of compacted dirt, behind which lay an equally steep drop, and at the base, a rather large swamp.

By then Rodrigo was speeding up the slope at full speed. At the top his helmet got whacked hard by a branch, disorienting him, and he just continued over the other side, making a beeline for the muck and plants. Here's the result:

And this is what we had to do to get him out.

We hadn't even arrived at Chico's house and Rodrigo was already covered in stinking black muck.

Alternative one: take it like a real biker, ignore the smell, macho-style.

Alternative two:

We had lunch, left a few things at the house, and went out for a ride.

That day we wouldn't have time to get to Laguna Verde, so we entertained ourselves on the wooded trails around El Tabo.

Some parts were easier than others.

On the way back we stopped at the supermarket. I waited for them outside, with the bikes. I saw, though the window, how they came up to the cash register to pay, how Chico suddenly burst out laughing, how the lady blushed and looked acutely embarrassed, and how Rodrigo started making nervous gestures.

When they came out with the bags of things for dinner they were still laughing, in tears. Rodrigo had innocently asked asked the cashier for the price of a candy bar whose name can roughly be translated as "Yours". The question he posed to her was something sounding very much like "Hey, so how much does yours cost?"

Armed with chorizos, bread and the other things you need for a good asado, we set off to buy some expensive and damp firewood. Somewhere in Chico's small kitchen we found a bottle of "Ron Dorado", so-called golden rum, a substance that was probably concocted by mixing pure ethanol, sugar and food colouring.

The next day was sunny, beautiful.

We loaded everything on the bikes, since we'd be going over to Francisco's house to unload before our ride.

Francisco took us to the aqueduct and the waterfall.

A few minutes after walking through the forest, we reached the waterfall.

All of this was a sort of guided tour for Chico's benefit, since he had never been on one of Francisco's outings.

We stopped by the small lagoon and valve hut that regulated the flow of water down the pipes to the El Sauce power plant. This tunnel comes from the Tranque La Luz, and starts at the valve towers you might remember from previous rides.

Everything set to go, and I get a flat front tyre. Fantastic. See the nail?

I wonder how old this tack is?

We rode on to the Tranque La Luz, to the valve towers.

We crossed the dam wall, and continued into the eucalyptus forests.

A short distance further on, the Tranque's overflow chute. It was no longer possible to get close, since all the trees had been felled, and the slope was too slippery.

On and on we go.

And thus we reached our final destination, a place that was new to me: El Sauce Hydroelectric Generation Station.

Not so many years ago, a storm made the river overflow and change its course, undermining part of the building.

The ambiance was strange. It was the end of the day, we were surrounded by black trees, dark copses, and in the middle of the steep gully, these abandoned buildings, crumbling to pieces.

We went in.

Everything was destroyed, set in a state of maximal disorder. Nothing had been spared the fidgeting hands of the vandals and copper thieves. You might think they'd respect the instrument panels at least (possibly the same ones that were used when the Station was first set in motion, in 1909), each delicately mounted on slabs of white marble, right?

Nothing, they showed respect for nothing. The marble crunched under our boots. The human scum had destroyed it all.

The bathroom. On the ground, pieces of the mirror.

The generators, gutted for their copper.

Everything that could be broken, was broken. Everything that was not bolted to the floor, and some things that were, had been stolen. Everything that contained even the tiniest amounts of copper had had its inanimate throat slit. The human-formed rats had been here, and had done the only thing they know how to do.

Broken, everything broken.

We went outside. In there, standing beside the hulking carcasses of the generators, one felt a feeling of direct, immediate sadness. Out here, it was more a sense of sad melancholy, such as one might feel standing in the garden of someone who has just passed away.

Ironically the two orange trees were heavy with sweet, juicy fruit. They had surely not been ripe by the time the rats came to take it all away.

We climbed down to the tunnel running beneath the Station, where the water was dumped after impelling the generator's paddles.

The water that powered the Station came from the Tranque La Luz. The Tranque has three main features: a sluice gate, which we saw, and the valve towers, which controlled the flow of water into an underground tunnel, a few hundred metres long. This tunnel opened out onto a small lagoon on the side of a hill, and we had been there also. Perhaps the lagoon allows for some sediment to leave the water before the next step: if the small hut's valves were opened, water would roar down the twin metal tubes to the gully floor. It was there channelled out these nozzles and on to the Pelton wheels.

The paddles on a Pelton wheel are curiously shaped: a double spoon facing the jet of water. If they were flat paddles, the water would change its trajectory more or less 90º after impact. This would result in half the momentum transfer than if they made the water come back the way it came. The larger the water's change of momentum, the larger the impulse transferred to the wheel.

The rest of the buildings around the main generating station had been completely destroyed. The roofs, the floors, the windows, everything. It was as if the human rats had been frenzied by the smell of copper. I wouldn't be surprised if they had also tried to rip the cabling out of the walls, surely screaming like excited apes.

Gentle readers, you're just seeing the Central El Sauce for the first time, you have no point of reference. I will concede that it is an old building, but just a few years ago, it was actually operating.

As Francisco told us on another ride to Laguna Verde:
El Tranque La Luz was built by the Chilean state in the year 1907 to provide electricity to the trams and some houses of Valparaíso. It was the second hydroelectric power plant built in Chile, and the first one to use alternators. It operated until 1996, and the Tranque La Luz, and all land surrounding it, is property of Inmobiliaria Curauma, a housing development company.

I don't know who owns the actual plot of land where the Central is. Last year I decided to explore. I took some pictures, I even recorded some video. Currently it is taken care of by a solitary old man, and you can no longer gain access to the area. The machinery is in perfect condition.

The old man has gone, that much is clear. When he left, the place started being torn apart. When Francisco told me about his explorations, and how the old man didn't let people in, I felt irritated that, as explorers, we would be unable to get to know part of Chile's history. I now understand the old man's raison d'être. There was no alternative: besides curious welldoers, there were invisble hordes of human rats lurking in the shadows, stalking the buildings. They'd come in old cars, Fiat 600s, in smoking pick-up trucks, and they'd take it all, destroy it all, they'd take it back to their huts, their burrows.

I wonder if the old man dreamed of the destiny of his workplace and home. I wonder if he woke up at night, all machinery silent under heavy years of idleness, and lie there, on his back, thinking.

What was the Central like before? Francisco has pics.

Night fell, and we walked back to the bikes.

Francisco had us over for tea at his house, where we had some of his mum's fantastic home-made jam. After that, we set off home.

Despite all my cold weather gear, I froze. Something inside me just couldn't get warm.



Blogger Unknown said...

Hey, I'm a student and I'm going to study in Santiago in 2008 and I am considering buying a motorcycle while i am there. What are the motorcycle laws regarding motorcycles and scooters and registering them and having a drivers' license?

10:06 PM  
Blogger durandal said...

Hi Patrick.

Glad you're coming over.

I'm not sure what you mean by "motorcycle laws".

You can find the Chilean traffic code here:

It's mostly what one would expect.

There is no tiered license system. You must do a riding and theory exam in order to get your C-class license.



12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frickin' awesome photos, man!

4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was surprized to find this page when I searched about "yamaha serow" in Japan.
"Wow! You must enjoying same way of motorcycling!"
But I'm not good at English...

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stumbled across your site by accident...your blog title intrigued me. You have posted some amazing photography! I really enjoyed browsing. A biker and adventurer with the heart of an artist? Who knew!

7:47 PM  
Blogger ratkartz said...

Enhorabuena -- A very interesting thread. I live down in XII Región but I ride a KLR650 all over Chile and Argentina. Years ago I visited the old power station at Juncal, which supplied electricity for the Trasandino railway. Alas, that power plant had been vandalised in much the same way we see here. Your story and photos here are excellent work - congratulations.

6:03 PM  

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