The Ultimate Wake-up Call

Trip Start Oct 11, 2009
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Trip End Mar 18, 2010


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Where I stayed
Terra Vina

Flag of Chile  ,
Saturday, February 27, 2010

Melora and I are safely back in Santiago after a more than exciting few days in wine country in Santa Cruz, a couple of hours south of the capital.

We checked into a lovely new hotel among the vines – only open a month – run by a Danish woman and her Chilean husband. Fortunately they'd ignored their neighbours who observed they were using too much iron in the construction and it withstood the earthquake incredibly well, losing only a few tiles and a cornice on the side of our building.

At 8.8 on the Richter scale, the earth definitely moved for us that night of our honeymoon. Clad only in a duvet and blanket respectively (Melora looking remarkably bride-like in her white down cocoon), we ran onto the lawn of the hotel and watched in amazement. We were grateful for a ground floor room. The pool was going all over the place – lots of big waves - and the noise was also extraordinary, akin to an express train. It was very scary and seemed to go on for ever.

The following 24 hours were somewhat surreal with much bonhomie and the most incredible hospitality from our hosts Anne and Eduardo while news of the devastation elsewhere trickled in by radio and i-phone and we witnessed the terrible destruction in the town. 

Saturday was bright, clear. With the sun, the vines and the fabulous with the backdrop of the mountains, nothing might have happened. Town was a different story, as a walk quickly showed. Ripped up bridges, totally impassable; collapsed houses and people already in makeshift shelters. The old church in the square had fallen in, along with the new bank next door, also only a month old. Lots of walls, old houses and terracotta roofs, with untouched buildings right next door. The current theory is that most unstable old houses were destroyed in the 1960 earthquake and since, Chile has really shaped up its building code. It would seem to be well borne out, especially in the wealthier modern suburbs of Santiago where we have sought refuge.

The clusters of men grouped round people with laptops and dongles checking out the latest news was a new one for us. A sign of catastrophe in the modern age?

We walked back through the vines, the grapes almost ripe for next week’s harvest festival (now probably cancelled). Fields of plums drying in the sun. Back at the hotel, no electricity, a trickle of cold water and of course no internet, though cell phone reception was back up within an hour, if one could get through. We returned to the news someone had just been killed in town, crushed by a collapsing wall as they walked along the street.

We could only sit by the pool and wait. It would be fair to say we felt incredibly guilty but there was nothing we could do, at least until dinner. Everyone pitched in and Anne and Eduardo created a feast for 16, taking advantage of the surplus of fresh meat that suddenly needed a home due to lack of refrigeration, and pulling together a barbeque any carnivorous Chilean would have been proud of. They were just brilliant in every way feeding us, keeping us abreast of news and putting up people as they came through town. Interestingly no one from town who’d lost their homes took up their offer of a room, seemingly finding shelter with family or friends. We did pass several trucks laden with possessions on the road and many families camped out in their yards.

There were endless aftershocks throughout the day but the one that woke us today was especially strong. Turned out to be a new earthquake in Valparaiso where we were supposed to go next, but we’ve decided to stay put in Santiago until we leave Thursday. The airport has just re-opened so we will hopefully be fine.

For all the bucolic beauty of the countryside post-quake we didn’t do any tasting. The nearest winery lost half a year’s production as tanks and barrel stacks collapsed and we were unable to get news of any others. The lovely Italian restaurant down the road, where we’d eaten the night before, lost all their glasses, wine and crockery, though these things seem mere footnotes against the 40 deaths in town by the time we left.

We returned the car we’d rented in Santa Cruz this morning. The owner had a beautiful adobe house surrounded by a high wall when we picked it up. The half collapsed house, wall-turned-line-of-rubble, crack across the drive and makeshift tent in the garden told a different story today. 

A lovely Venezuelan-German couple, also staying at Terravina, kindly gave us a lift to Santiago. Their blog is at: http://www.pawsontheroad.com/2010/safe-in-santiago/ The journey up was remarkably uneventful. We quickly found a working petrol pump without a wait despite huge queues at almost every station bar that one – they’d only just reopened. Several diversions around collapsed bridges and cracks in the road, some leaning water towers and fallen walls, but life goes on. Concepcion is a different story and we will see what happened to the old centre of Santiago tomorrow.
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