Wednesday, 24 March 2010


We had some discussion about whether we should alter our route in the light of recent events, namely the earthquake, and the potential dangers and difficulties it still presented. We were also very keen not to become disaster-tourists or whatever the phrase might be; voyeurs of others' misfortune. We decided that we would be in little danger and therefore not present a liability to ourselves or others (any more than normal, that is) and that since Concepcion and Santiago were on our original route and that the earthquake is perhaps the most significant event to have occurred along the Panamerican in recent years, and that the Panamerican was open again, it would be quite acceptable to go and see the aftermath for ourselves. We also had friends in Concepcion's neighbouring town of San Pedro who warmly welcomed us.

Prior to heading on to Concepcion we spent 2 nights in the university town of Valdivia. This gave us time for a routine service on the car and to have a bit of a break from the road. Valdivia felt the earthquake and still suffered aftershocks along with powercuts and phone and internet outages. We stayed in hostels in Valdivia and unhappy with the first stumbled upon a second hostel which although full was blessed with the most hospitable and helpful owner, Eliana Solis. Eliana arranged accommodation for us at a friend's equally agreeable hostel across town. She then treated us to a pot of tea as she explained some of the background of the town as well telling us about the recent earthquake; she had been in Valdivia at the time of the 1960 earthquake.

We moved on to Concepcion after our second night in Valdiva and arrived late in the evening. I guess it hasn't escaped your attention that a rather large earthquake hit Chile at 0334 on 27 Feb. It measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale, making it the third largest earthquake ever recorded. It also lasted around 3 minutes, making it the longest-lasting major quake recorded to date. Pretty powerful stuff. Especially when you remember that the Richter Scale is logarithmic, meaning a 2 is ten times more sever than a 1. Haiti was hit with a 7, meaning this ground-shaker was almost 20 times more powerful. What is amazing is how the country has coped with such a disaster. They learned their lessons after the 1960 hit and the majority of the infrastructure has not been badly damaged. Of course there were buildings and bridges that did collapse with the tragic loss of more than 400 lives. Some of the smaller towns along the coast from the epicentre (which was around 5km out to sea from Conception), including the surf mecca of Pichilemu were totaled by tsunamis; we gave it a miss so our surf boards remain untouched by the sea.

I think the most depressing and tragic aspect of this disaster is how people responded to what happened. Power was knocked out for quite some time and obviously the emergency services were stretched to capacity. Rather than coming together and uniting in an effort to sort things out and help the needy (of course there were many who did just this), people took to the streets and within 48 hours of the quake looting was widespread and lawlessness prevailed. And before you say well of course people will loot, they need food and water, those basic supplies were left untouched. As I said, Chile is used to earthquakes. It sits on a major fault line where the Pacific plate is being pushed down under the South American/Atlantic plate which gives rise to the Andes mountain range (see, there was a need to remember all about plate tectonics in GCSE Geography after all!) and thus can get its people emergency supplies when called upon. What was being looted were things like TVs, computers, microwaves. One guy was seen running down the street with a bacon slicer he'd nicked from a supermarket. To me this really exemplified the ugly side to humanity. The upshot of this woeful behaviour was that the emergency services had to be diverted from dealing with the quake to looting and riot control. The military had to be called in, which was a very difficult decision for the outgoing president Michelle Barchalette: think back to the '70s and 80's and a certain chap called Pinochet to get an idea of the average Chilean's perception of watching men in uniform carrying automatic rifles patrolling the streets again. See what I mean?

That said, by the time we pitched up to San Pedro (which lies the other side of the river to Conception) to be hosted by Ben and Kez, things were pretty much back to normal. Ben is a friend of Tim's who had only moved to San Pedro with his girlfriend Kez a couple of weeks before the earthquake. Some welcome! Ben and Kez are both teachers at the nearby English school, although the quake has delayed the kids in returning to class after their summer holls. For the past couple of weeks aftershocks have rippled through the region. They only last a few seconds, but some have been up on around the 6 and 7 mark. Aftershocks?? Not in my book! They’re bloomin’ proper quakes! Ben was quick to tell me to stop being such a wuss. Which is fine if you’re now quake-proofed, but I can tell you that in a 9th floor apartment a little tremor (this one was around a 4.5) feels rather scary. Especially when one is in the bathroom perched upon the porcelain throne at the time!

While Ben and Kez attended staff meetings at the school, we took the opportunity to drive across the bridge to Conception to see for ourselves what happened. The main road bridge has collapsed where it meets the Conception bank, so we found ourselves exiting over a military Bailey bridge. To be honest, the majority of the town looked pretty normal. There were a few cracks in the road here and there, some diversions in place, rendering and tiles fallen away from buildings and the odd small pile of rubble dotted about the place. One building, however, did catch our attention. It was a 15-story apartment block that has just been finished, fallen on its side and snapped in two. A classic example of construction firms cutting corners? Ummm, what do you think?? We stopped off to take a closer look (come on, it's not often you get to see a building snapped in two is it?). 'Hey, is that an English car? Where you guys from?' came a North-American-accented voice from over my shoulder as I was framing up a shot to film. Turning round I saw a guy with a hard-hat and hi-viz vest on, clutching boom-mic and sound recording gear. 'Umm, yeah, hi,' I said, 'we're from England too. On a roadtrip. Where are you from?' 'I'm Canadian, my name's Dave," he beamed extending a hand to shake, 'from the Discovery Channel. We're filming a program on why some buildings fall over in earthquakes and other don't.' With a wry smile he nodded over to the apartment block next door, twice the size and twice the age as the one lying before us, with not a crack to be seen. 'Think you've found yourselves a pretty good location, then?' "Right on!"


BenAS said...

Hi Tom, Just discovered the blog- love it. Keep it coming.


Greg said...

Hey fellas, been meaning to write, realllly enjoying following your journey!! Fantastic writing and pics. I've been mentioning it to quite a few of the guys at Christchurch. Take care, G

Kez said...

Great to read the Concepcion blog boys. Was lovely having you guys to stay - our official first visitors. Hope the rest of the trip goes well. Look forward to reading all about it and seeing you in the future in Brizzle xxx

Fiorela said...

hello tim how are you ?I hope that it can be a beautiful memory in your vacations.
I leave my email you and my cellular one, I hope to be able verte soon a kiss and a very special hug;
Cel: 0051-01991898727

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