February 28, 2010


CHI06.jpgRecently I finished an enchanting travel book about Chile and so when I heard about the earthquake this morning, the locations mentioned were vivid in my mind. Called Travels in a Thin Country: A Journey Through Chile by Sara Wheeler, it is great read about Chile, a very long, thin country, no more than 110 miles from east to west at any point along its thousands of miles from Peru to Antarctica.


The book is accompanied by 4 pages of wonderful maps drawn by Neil Hyslop of which this snippet is the section that shows Concepcion south-west of Santiago which is the largest city of Chile and its capital.

Sara planned to travel from north to south, but found she had to start in Santiago as that was the main airport for international travel. But, soon she found her way to the furthest northern frontier town in Chile, Arica, the home of Atacama, the world's driest desert. There are areas in the desert that have not had any recorded rainfall in 400 years. But the desert, like the high desert of eastern Oregon, has vast mineral salt flats and the mining of borax and other mineral salts provides a harsh, yet lucrative life for those who own the resources.

Arica had its moment of fame in 1868 because of the massive earthquake on the Pacific Coast that caused an enormous tsunami which destroyed much of the town which at that time belonged to Peru. The 1868 quake was smaller than the quake Chile experienced today, yet, the tsunami that resulted was much greater than the one today. In 1868, Hilo was inundated with waves that were 4.5 meters high (greater than 14 feet).

When Sara finally arrived in Concepcion, she found a port city which even in the early nineties had the feel of earlier days.

Concepcion, the country's third city and capital of the major zone of heavy industry, looked when I left the Ritz the next morning, like a northern French manufacturing town in the 1950s. -- p 159

Sara talked about her visit to the island of Robinson Crusoe, an island approximately 400 miles off the coast of the mainland. And just today, Robinson Crusoe was in the news because it was one of the areas hit badly by the tsunami created by the massive earthquake on Saturday.

Sara visited in the early 1990s and found the effects of the Pinochet regime still weighed heavily in the minds of the people. One example:

[Pepe] often came out with prosaic remarks which made the horror of the junta more real than any academic analysis I read. Once, I said that I was anxious to get back to London in time for the election. He had looked blank, and screwed up his eyes.

"Well," I went on, "Don't you feel at election time that you wouldn't want to miss it?"

"For almost all my adutl life there haven't been any elections."

Chile is an amazing land, yet one whose recent past of tyranny and governmental terrorism has resulted a society of much poverty with some pockets of enormous wealth and a society that is reluctant to delve too much into the recent horrors. Geographically it extends from the vast desert to the north to the exquisite Patagonia region, through Tierra del Fuego and down onto the Antarctic continent. Reading Sara's book is one way to start to know the place and to begin an acquaintance with the people who live there.

And in light of today, there is more than enough reason to open your heart and your wallet again to help them recover from this massive earthquake.

Posted by Mary at February 28, 2010 01:28 AM | Recommended Reading | Technorati links |