an Amazon within the Amazon

Article_calvi_1Pablo Calvi at The Believer:

There’s a steel vein running through the Andes from east to west, a warm, hollow line that sucks out the guts of the jungle, four hundred thousand oil barrels at a time. It is known as SOTE (Sistema de Oleoductos Transecuatoriano), but for those who live close to it, the roughly three-hundred-mile-long pipeline serves more immediate purposes. María de los Ángeles Criollo uses SOTE, which can reach body-heat temperatures, to keep her chickens warm at night. Lilia Melendres has turned the pipe into a TV stand.

Thick as a young kapok tree, the pipeline slinks along the Papallacta highway, twines around the Great Divide, scales the freezing heights of the páramo, near the Virgin of Our Lady of the Moors, and drains in a delirious gush into coastal Ecuador, a chemical reflux resurrecting the route first opened by conquistador Francisco de Orellana, who starved along with an army of forty-nine men in his attempt to reach the golden city of El Dorado. Although for most of its trajectory the pipeline creeps belowground, now and then its rusted spine surfaces to lurk under the sun, resting on a silent skeleton of H-shaped metallic trestles.

Between 1972 and 1974, SOTE spilled more than one hundred fifty thousand barrels of poisonous crude over untouched territories in the northern Amazonia and the Andes, the Ecuadorian rivers and the coast—and that was just one quarter of what it would eventually hemorrhage over the next four decades.

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