Reflections on Chile; broad-stroke news of current conditions
I created this blog in Santiago, Chile, during the 1996 Society of American Travel Writers convention there. The earliest posts are about the Santiago-Valparaiso area more or less in the center of this long skinny country, Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia in the far south and fascinating Easter Island (Isla de Pascua in Spanish) 2,300 miles out in the Pacific Ocean. Natural disasters (and man-made ones too) are heart-wrenching to begin with, but learning of tragendies in places I have visited adds a special poignancy.
Desert – The north of Chile was not affected by the quake and has not reported any damage.
Easter Island – Easter Island, which lies 2,300 miles off the cost of mainland Chile, a 5.5 hour flight from Santiago, was not affected by the quake. Initial tsunami warnings have been lifted and all operations are normal.
Santiago and Central Region – Santiago’s airport suffered structural damage to the passenger terminal, however no damage was reported to the runways and the airport is expected to reopen later this week. Electricity and phone lines have been restored in Santiago and the city’s public transportation including its metro is fully operational. Valparaiso and Viña del Mar have also reported damage. The annual Viña del Mar International Music festival which was underway has been suspended.
Lakes and Volcanoes – The northern part of the Lakes and Volcanoes region, around the city of Concepcion and the Bio Bio River, was most affected by the quake. Authorities are still working on assessing the full damage. Basic essential services including water, electricity and telecommunications are gradually being restored. The southern part of the Lakes and Volcanoes region was not affected by the quake. Operations in popular tourist towns including Pucon, Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt are normal.
Patagonia – The far south of the country was not affected by the quake and has not reported any damage.
Chile is a country with a history of seismic activity. The country’s preparedness, including its strict anti-seismic building codes, the rapid emergency response from the government as well as the help from a number of organizations can be credited for managing the situation and help minimize the damage. The country’s tourism infrastructure has, overall, fared well, reporting little damage.
Author Wayne Bernhardson, who has written Moon Guidebooks about Chile and Argentina and therefore has good contacts down there, has posted some more detailed news here and here on his blog, Southern Cone Travel.
When I visited briefly in 2006, Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, still showed evidence of a catastrophic earthquake a century earlier. The quake that struck in August 1906 killed nearly 3,000 people, and many buildings still bore cracks and scars. The fatalities appear to be far fewer, but I cannot imagine how an even more powerful quake might have affected the colorful buildings of this beauitfully located and very historic harbor city. I also wonder about the vineyards and whether the vines will be adequately watered and the wineries whose cellars are stacked with barrels and bottles of wine. I wonder whether the ski lifts at Portillo and Valle Nevado were affected. And of course, I am concerned about the Chileans who lost their homes and their livelihoods, for whom the effect on tourism is of relatively minot concern. The world reached out to Haiti with aid. The casualty toll was higher, CNN was there 24/7 for weeks and the country far more impoverished to begin with. I wonder what the world has in its reserves for Chile.
Give the Chileans a bit of time to take care of basic infrastructure needs and get aire service back to normal, and then put this beautiful country on your to-visit list. It’s late summer in the Southern Hemisphere now. Harvest season is coming. And ski season will follow. Donate to relief efforts if you can, plan on visiting — or at least buy some Chilean produce and order some Chilean wine to help the economy.