I have spent nearly two thirds of the last year in Chile! This was definitely not what I had in mind when I first “planned” a year travelling thoughout South America and by this stage I thought I would have experienced many more countries on this vast continent. But I have always known that plans never stay the same and with my motto of taking life one day at a time and seeing what happens, it just so happens that I was meant to be in one of the longest countries in the world for a little longer than expected… In nearly 8 months here I have explored desert, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, islands and towns and cities of all shapes and sizes. But yet, I discovered this last weekend that there is still so much I have not experienced right here in Santiago. It is typical, that we seem to forget about what is right on our doorstep.
So, thanks to a wonderful guide I spent a great summer afternoon cycling around Santiago Centro and learning just a little more about the history of this city and it´s incredibly varied architecture. Santiago is actually a really easy city to cycle around despite its lack of cycle lanes etc and being a Saturday afternoon the pavements of downtown as well as the streets were pretty empty. But the real bonus is that it is pretty much completely flat, which makes riding for someone as unfit on a bike as I am, just that little bit easier. Many of the places we explored, I know simply from below the surface, as Metro stops on the way to the bus terminal to leave Santiago. On Saturday I got to take in the sights and sounds of these areas, including old churches and buildings that in many ways reminded me of parts of Europe. One or two of the buildings were reminiscent of Oxford, whilst other small, cobblestoned barrios could have been in Paris or somewhere in Spain. In some parts, if it wasn´t for the Spanish on signs etc, I could have sworn I was no longer in South America whilst in others, like the chaotic and packed Estacion Central I was most definitely in Chile and seeing a side of Santiago I don´t see very often in the neighbourhoods were I hang out and work.
One of the things I noticed on my bike ride around downtown was the evidence of the 8.8 earthquake (the second strongest in recorded history) that struck Chile, on 27 February 2010. In the last few days there has been alot of attention and news around the quake and the reconstruction efforts etc. Whilst Santiago survived
the quake fairly unscathed, the evidence is still there in the old buildsings such as churches with destroyed stainglass windows or headless angels and schools which had to be closed due to the quake and have never reopened. Compared to the likes of Haiti where hundreds of thousands of people died, the 500 or so people that died here may seem insignificant. But for a country that says it is so well prepared for earthquakes, the controversy surrounding the tsunami (which killed the majority of the people), but which the government said there was no risk of, is something that many people are still angry about. Being a geographer, I would love to experience an earthquake one day, just to know how it feels and at first I was a little disappointed to have missed this one in Chile by only a couple of weeks. But after arriving here three weeks later and hearing people´s experiences, I was rather glad to have missed such a strong and long (nearly three and a half minutes) quake. But the earth here is one of the most active zones in the world and since this quake last year there have been countless tremors and even one or two other quakes reaching around 7 on the richter scale. Whilst a tremor of 5.5 to a Chileno is nothing, even a 7 to the people here is something fairly big.
But it seems like I am never supposed to experience an earthquake in Chile (although I know you are never supposed to say never). In the last few weeks the earth has been really active and yet somehow I remain oblivious to the movements. For example, twice I have been sitting in my office at work and a colleague will come in and say ´did you feel the tremor?´. People sitting not even three metres away from me felt the movement and yet I didn´t. This has happened twice and on other occassions people living close to me felt different tremors at night that woke them up and yet again I didn´t feel a thing…I suppose I should take this as a blessing and hope that I never have to experience something as strong and horrific as Chileans felt last year, because there is definitely no way you could miss that or ever forget it…
″A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi