Tag Archives: Earthquake

How do you wrap up 9 months of travel??

Us at Lunch
Us at Lunch in Ollantaytambo

In less than 2 weeks time, we return to our homeland after 9 months of travel in South America. I have been reflecting on this and thinking of how I can distill this amazing time into one blog post and its really not easy. Just scroll down and go back to each month since December 2009 and you will see that we have seen and done and experienced so much.

It has been an amazing privilege to have been able to do this at this time in our lives….to coin a cliché, it has been life changing and I really mean that. South America has been an amazing place to explore, we have travelled through Argentina, Chile, Peru and were fortunate enough to go to Antarctica for 11 days. These experiences have shaped our thinking, moulded our ideas and brought us to the cliff edge of things that we never thought we would experience in our lifetime, let alone in 9 months.

We have been to one of Earths Last Edens…Antarctica. A place that truly embodies everything it is made out to be and so much more. It is almost like landing on another planet, a planet untouched by human habitation, unblemished by mans greed and materialism, a place of audible silence and silent magnificence. It is a place unlike any other I have visited and probably will remain so. To say that Antarctica is breathtaking is an understatement, to say it is majestic, does it no justice, you simply have to see it to believe it…and I believe that I will go back and see it again. The reason for this lengthy discourse is because on our way to Antarctica was one of my first crazy experiences that defined part of this trip. Our experience happened in the Drake Passage, the foreboding, treacherous stretch of sea from Ushuaia in Argentina to Antarctica. It was here, while “crossing the Drake” as it is known, that we experienced one of the most frightening experiences on this trip. On the morning of the second day we hit a gale force storm at sea that lasted for 2 and a half days. Massive 15 meter swells threatened to rupture our vessel, the sea angrily frothed and battered our ship. Fortunately it was a former Chilean navel ship and was built to cross the Drake Passage and was designed for precisely those conditions, but still, the water was a dark inky colour and ferociously smashed against the ship as if trying to expel us from the passage. There was a snowstorm at sea, a horizontal snow storm, that iced the ship up, making it look like a white phantom on the black sea. The windspeed was 100km per hour which pushed our ship around like a toy boat and made the 15 m swells even more ferocious and in my opinion more spectacular. In spite of this, we landed in Antarctica, much to the joy of 90% of the passengers who had been able to keep little food and liquid down as the ship was violently tossed to and fro for 2 and a half days, an amazing experience, one not easily forgotten.

Another memorable experience was seeing the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Before this trip, glaciers held no particular fascination for me, in fact I never really thought much about glaciers. So we left the partly frozen town of El Calafate and drove off to the National Park of the Glaciers. When you enter the park, you can’t see the glaciers, but once you round a particular bend, you get a glimpse of the massive monolithic bulk of the glacier called Perito Moreno. It is a sight that I will never forget, it was astounding, bigger than I ever imagined and more spectacular than any photo could ever convey. Once we got to the top of the hill where visitors can walk on a boardwalk to get a closer view of the glacier, you realize that we are very small beings in comparison to the sheer size of a force of nature that is a glacier. Perito Moreno Glacier towers 75 m above the water surface, its front wall is 5 km long and the whole glacier stretches for 30 km up the mountain valley. It is basically a moving city. It seems as if the glacier itself is alive, glaciers move as a result of pressure from ice forming high up in the valley. So when you stand in front of the glacier, it creaks, crack, groans and sounds like gunshots go off occasionally and this is because this massive ice city is edging ever closer to where we were standing. Millimeter by millimeter, this glacier moves, occasionally visitors are fortunate to witness a calving, this is when a chunk of the front wall of the glacier breaks off and a magnificent display of ice hitting water is seen. It was incredible to be standing before such a gigantic natural phenomenon and to be honest, I never wanted to leave.

Just in case we were short of experiencing natures power, we had the most terrifying experience yet, in Santiago, the capital city of Chile. We were there when an 8.8 earthquake shook half of Chile, the fifth largest earthquake on earth in the past 100 years. You can read about my remembrance of the quake here, but suffice to say that it was only the second time in my life that I truly believed that I was about to die. It is a sobering thought when you are faced with imminent death, I didn’t experience the “life flashing before me” thing, all I remember is that I was praying that it would stop. It didn’t….it went on for 2 and a half minutes, it felt like half an hour. I was genuinely surprised when it did stop and we were not dead, quite a surreal feeling of relief  and then the realization that once again, our lives had been spared, but to what end?

We moved on from Chile to Peru and in many ways Peru has been the highlight of our trip. We have loved it here and it really is an amazing place to visit. The Inca ruins and the pre Columbian civilizations remain a mystery. Machu Picchu is a site that still confounds most experts with its architecture, water systems and positioning, but Machu Picchu is only one of many such sites, some still to be discovered, Inca sites. There is a new site that has been opened up in the past few years called Choquequirao. This site, it is said, is bigger than Machu Picchu and in many cases even more spectacular if that were possible…having visited Machu Picchu, that statement amazes me and excites me.

So as we come to an end of nine months, it is impossible to summarise what we have seen, felt, done and experienced on this continent known simply as South America. We have learnt to speak a new language, even though we are not proficient, we can be understood, we have eaten unusual foods, sometimes we have not been sure what it is, but it tasted good, other times we have known what it is and it has been great (delicacies like Cuy, or guinea pig, and Anticucho, cow heart, cooked on a skewer, to name but a few)

Of course the best thing that has happened is that we have met amazing people on this trip, from university professors to cab drivers, you name them, we have met them. People from diverse backgrounds like a polish woman who escaped from Poland and sought refuge in Canada, Russian Jews who fled from Communism and rebuilt their lives in the USA, A Dutch man and his family who live in the Carribbean and are involved in helping the government of Bonaire integrate into the Dutch system. We have met Australians, New Zealanders, Orientals, Asians, Russians, Europeans from just about every country in Europe, Americans and of course Canadians. We have been astounded at how many new friends we have made and how many of them we are sure we will see again.

So at the penultimate leg of this incredible journey, we know we have managed to capture many images photographically, we have tasted new flavours physically, we have felt the violent shakes of an earthquake under our feet, but more than all of that, we have grown richer in this time. We have memories that will last as long as the rest of our lives.

We have seen things that in many cases seem unbelievable, but only when you emerge on the other side do you look back and see just what has happened. It has been an honour and a privilege, “once in a lifetime” cannot encapsulate the true meaning. Either way, we are greatly blessed to have done this and that the next leg of our journey will begin again shortly… we hope that you will travel with us again!

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A day in the hills of Valparaiso

The neigbouring city to Vina del Mar is a harbour city called Valparaiso. It is an old city that has been built into the sides of the steep hills that surround the bay of Valparaiso. As with most harbour towns, the city centre is largely reclaimed  land and the rest of the city is built up on the hillsides.

Valparaiso Harbour from the Hilltop
Valparaiso Home and Funicular in front
Francis and Reinhardt

When we were on our Antarctic trip, we met a guy on the ship called Reinhardt. He is Chilean and lives in Santiago, but was born in Vina del Mar and knows Valparaiso well. During our stay in Vina, Reinhardt came through and visited us and took us on a days outing to Valparaiso. It was fantastic to have someone who grew up in the are show us around, as an unofficial tour guide he was amazing. He could pepper the various places with his own stories of his family who lived there and his personal experiences of being in Valparaiso as a child. Valparaiso is a city that has literally grown up on the sides of the hills. The design is incredibly haphazard and the streets have been put in place as a matter of convenience and not necessarily design. The roads in Valparaiso are therefore chaotic, they are narrow and cling to the sides of some very steep precipices. Houses too are built in a completely random manner and location. The homes are often very narrow, but high, they have great views for the most part, but if you are afraid of heights, then maybe Valparaiso is not for you!

Flower Pot in Valparaiso
Narrow house

The “old town” part of Valparaiso is magnificent. Most of the original homes still stand and they are very eclectic and are often painted with a lot of colour. They have a lot of character and many of these steep buildings are intertwined with cobbled streets and sidewalk cafes, really picturesque. Also, Valparaiso is peppered with funiculars. The funiculars take their passengers up the steepest parts of the hills, much like an elevator except up the side of a hill. These are really old, some of them dating back to the late 1800’s. We never rode on one, but watched some of them in action and to be honest they looked just a little rickety.

Francis walking down a narrow street
Front door
Sotomayor Square
Iglesia de la Matriz

From the images that I captured, you will see there are a lot of homes with Chilean flags outside their homes and windows. The Chilean government does not normally allow civilians to fly the national flag but they said that it was permissible to remember the victims of the earthquake from a few weeks before. While we were in Vina, just 2 days earlier, 3 aftershocks struck just south of Santiago, the biggest measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale. We felt the room shake for 40 seconds, and it then dissipated. Shortly afterwards we heard shouts and looked out and saw people running, Francis went outside to see what was happening and a Tsunami Warning had been issued and everyone was running to higher ground. Francis was told by the building caretaker that we needed to go to his apartment, which we did, along with a few other tenants. The building we were in was high enough above sea level to be safe, but we did notice that the sea receded a bit and became eerily calm, no waves at all for about 20 minutes. This was a sign that there was some disturbance, fortunately neither Vina del Mar nor Valparaiso were hit by a Tsunami, but a city further South was hit with a pretty big wave, incredibly sad in light of what Chile has just been through.

Chilean Flag on balcony
Chilean Flag in the Street
Chilean Flag

Chilean National Flag at the Harbour

We spent the afternoon in Valparaiso and then moved off to Vina del Mar to have some coffee on the beach at one of the beachfront restaurants, it was a great day, and we were really fortunate to have Reinhardt with us or we would never have seen Valparaiso through a locals eyes!

Castillo Wulff, the view from the restaurant

One week on for Chile..

We are still in Chile in spite of the earthquake and the resultant aftershocks. It was just over 1 week ago that Chile was hit by an 8.8 Quake which literally rocked the country. Since then, we have seEn devastated towns in the south of Chile, we have heard about 3 Tsunamis that were triggered off by the quake, we have seen that the quake is the 5th largest earthquake since 1900 and we have realised just how fortunate we were to not be hurt AT ALL in the quake. We are enjoying Chile, it is a great country and we are enjoying being here. The people are friendly, helpful and very easy going. Today (Sunday 7th March ) has been declared the official start of 3 days of mourning for those who were killed in the quake. The image below is an image that was shown on TV (not an image I took….) and for me it depicts the spirit of the Chilean people, they have been hit hard, but they are up and they are proud of their country. Fuerza Chile….may we never forget!

Fuerza Chile!

8.8 Quake in Santiago

It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. I don’t know what the actual time was, but I woke up to hear some dogs howling and the feeling that the room was moving, rocking from side to side. I heard a rumble in the distance, but in the dullness and thickness of the sleep that I had just awoken from, I wasn’t able to piece together what was happening. Our bedroom door opened and Johanna (the lady whom we were staying with) said in a calm voice, but a twinge of fear “come guys, its an earthquake”. My initial response was disbelief, surely this cant be right, she is overreacting, the room sways more swiftly and violently, Francis jumps off her bed and starts down the passage, I get up and start running down the passage too.  The apartment is now swinging violently, like some monster that has its prey in its mouth and thrashes it from side to side to kill it, the room rocks, swings and sways, the rumbling is HERE, it is in me, it fills me, it comes from everywhere, but nowhere specifically. I fight the room  and get to the door, we are on the second floor of the apartment. The stairwell is shifting and moving, glass is breaking, doors are slamming and opening, the rumble gets louder, it fills me with fear, we reach the first floor and are plunged into darkness. We get to the ground floor and huddle together with Johanna’s neighbour in a doorway, the rumble has become a full blown roar, the building is thrashing, the walls are groaning under the strain and i think to myself..”we are going to die, tonight” I also plead with God to make it stop, PLEASE make it stop. The roar reaches fever pitch, the floor is moving as if it were liquid, someone is desperately calling for Rodrigo, I don’t see Rodrigo, it is pitch dark outside, and still the floor moves and still the monster roars. We huddle for what seems to be an eternity and slowly it dissipates, the monster leaves, the quake is over, we are alive, it seems impossible to believe.

I look at Francis, she is white with shock and not breathing, I tell her “breathe honey, breathe” she doesn’t respond, a glass of water is given, she sips but chokes and draws a deep breath and says she needs to vomit, but doesn’t. she says she needs to lie down, I drag her into the neighbour apartment and lie her down on the couch, she recovers slowly. These were the first 3 or 4 minutes of our experience in the quake that shook Santiago in Chile on the early hours of Saturday morning.  We slowly went back up stairs to see the mess in the apartment, TV on the floor, glasses thrown out of kitchen cupboards, doorframes are unhinged, but overall the apartment has been undamaged. We get dressed and get ready to leave to go and find Johanna’s daughter, she is with her grandparents in the old part of Santiago and Johanna is worried that the old buildings havent stood up too well to the quake.

The scene on the streets that meets us is apocalyptic. It is like and scene from the “end of the world” movies, only this is real. People are wandering the streets with blankets around them, some are sitting on the pavement with vacant stares in their eyes, others are crying, some are calling out names of loved ones, dogs bark, there is no electricity. We turn down a dark street and the people on the pavement stop us and say that the road is closed, a house has collapsed, we drive through a movie scene of destruction and pain, except these arent actors and this isn’t a movie scene, it is more than real.

We arrive at Johannas in laws and her daughter is fine, she was in the quake but is fine, we are all very happy. We then go to Johannas parents home to see if they are ok and they are fine, it is about 5:30 am. The city is still in darkness, but shortly after we arrive at Johannas parents home, the electricity comes back on, I manage to connect to the Internet and send out the first email I can, it reads ” Hi all we were in the earthquake that hit Chile in the early hours of this morning….”

The reports since the quake have been frightening, Chile has been devastated by the quake:

  • The quake measure 8.8 on the Richter scale
  • It travelled nearly 800km north and 300km west wreaking havoc in its wake
  • It is one of the largest quakes in recent history
  • It triggered Tsunami warnings across the Pacific, sadly Chile was the most damaged by the resulting Tsunamis
  • More than 90 aftershock have been reported after the initial quake

For more info, read the CNN article here

For some photos from the quake, click here

Below are some photos that were taken by Johannas brother as he and I walked around the Old Santiago area, just 2 hours after the quake. The white specks you see in the pics is the dust that is still falling as a result of the falling buildings