I feel like I’m in New Orleans in mid-August 2005, except the language is Spanish and the rubble is primarily adobe brick.
I came here to Constitutión to help, and if there’s any place that needs it it’s here, though the damage in Talca was nothing to shake a stick at, either.
I stayed with Jorge, his girlfriend Gemma, and his family for about three days. This being my first expirience with the oft-herelded couchsurfing.com, I was curious as to how things would work out. Fortunately, it seemed I couldn’t have picked a better choice for my opening expirience; I had a fantastic time!
I had a big, warm soft bed to sleep in here, which after sleeping in front of horse ranches and freezing under cheese sandwich signs for the past five or six days, felt like a swingers’ party after eight tabs of ecstasy. I fell asleep in what can only be described as an orgy of pillows.
The next day (after significant sleeping in time,) I met Jorge in front of his college around eleven for some high-quality time with our mutual friend Mary Jane. We hung out with her for a few hours and then went to the mall and consumed copious amounts of carbohydrates and bubbly knock-off brand soda beverages. After finding our way out of the mall we wandered back to his house, staring dumbly up into the sky and bumping into park benches.
Upon arrival to his home we immedietly went to sleep and did not awake until the following morning. Mary Jane really has a way of wearing you out. The next day I resolved to do something a bit more productive; so I washed some dishes, helped Gemma clean a rug that seemed to be made entirely of human hair and dust, and ate a banana. Then we had a spot of lunch consisting of some bean soup. All food items were concocted by Jorge, who apparently is some sort of arcane soup wizard.
Our bellys’ full of magic soup, we then drank many cups of coffee and conversed about how terrible smoking is for you. I left several minutes later to go and smoke. Later that evening, Jorge, Gemma, and I went for a walk to the river, which flowed all the way down to Constitutión and the sea. We ate fantastic churros filled with dulce de leche and then walked back, even having a stimulating intelligent debate about the death penelty en route (I’m for it, obviously, Gemma was against it, and Jorge seemed a bit in the middle.)
When we got back to the house we ate more mouth orgsasm soup. After that Jorge and I watched Brüno, which, despite having Sasha Baren Cohens’ penis mucking about onscreen on several different occasions (I belive at one point it even spoke words) was a knee-slapper. Then we played several games of Worms (I lost, but at least Jorge explained the rules to me, unlike Alejandro) and then I retired to my pillow fort for the evening.
The next morning I awoke with hope that the swamped commissioner of the Chilean Red Cross had emailed me back with a destination city for my future volunteer efforts. Alas, it was nowhere to be found amongst the thousands of unread Facebook notifacations and personals ads in my hopelessly clogged inbox. This left me with a decision to make; Jorge and Co. were expecting another couchsurfer later on that evening, which meant I needed to find somehwere to go. So I hit the information superhighway prior to the actual highway and did a bit of research.
I needed to find a place that would most likely take help from anybody who offered it with little questions involved. Therefore, I dedicated the next hour of my life to finding the town that had sustained the most damage. There was Conceptión, on the southern coast, but it seemed too large a city for me to prance into without a definate place to stay. So I dug aroud a little bit more and found Constitutión.
The Gospel According to Wikipedia tells me it’s a small seaside town of 46,081 inhabitants located about a hundred and fifty kilometers to the west of Talca. It then goes on the mention the earthquake.
Constitutión was the town closest to the actual point of origin of the earthquake; consequently, they were jostled around like a third grader on a bus full of fifth graders. And as if that weren’t enough, their location on the coast subjected them to the additional ravages of three (count ‘em, three) fully-grown tsunami waves. These wasted no time in turning the bustling little costal town (with an economy based on paper and pulp, informes Wikipedia helpfully) into rubble. Well, if anybody needed help, it was them. To Constitutión!
I left Jorges’ house around three (after he wizarded more fabulous food into my belly) and headed to the coast. I first needed to head down Ruta 5 (AKA Panamericana Sur…my old friend) for about twenty kilometers, and then head the eighty-five kilometers west to Consitutión. No problem, I could hitch that in my sleep.
As I was walking through el Centro on my way to the autopista, I stopped and asked a man for directions, simply because he was smoking and I wanted to bum one from him. He was super nice to me and ended up driving me to the highway which saved me a good thirty minutes. Not to mention I got to sit very close to his super hot daughter. Hubba hubba…
Once I got to the highway I stationary hitched for about two hours until a semi took me the twenty kilometers to the road that branched off to Constitutión. We rode in silence, apart from the enthusiastic voice of the soccer announcer roiling out of the radio.
After being dropped off I walked roughly one kilometer to the toll booth and chilled in front of it until a blue car picked me up an hour later, just after sundown. As soon as I got in I smelled a telltale smell…a smell that told the tale of a recent visit from my good friend Mary Jane. I grinned widely. This eighty-five kilometers was gonna fly by…
Indeed it did. I arrived in Constitutión around seven p.m., and was dropped off at the Plaza in the downtown, where a large fishing boat sat casually in the grass. Well, I wanted destruction. I had it.
I queried to several people as to the location of the local Red Cross, and was pointed in a westerly direction. I walked around for a bit but was unable to pinpoint the exact location. So I asked someone for directions, and she was happy to help. She was Siboney, and she told me that there was an emergency Red Cross station set up just across the street from her house. Great!
We went there, and found that the Red Cross was no longer in Constitutión, apparently having more pressing matters to attend to in other parts of the country. Damn. Fortunately Siboney was awesome and offered me her home for the night.
So I crashed there for the night, amazed at my luck that I was able to have a hot meal, a warm bed, and nearly constant Internet access moments after waltzing in unannounced to a new town, especially one so devestated as this one.
Siboney was lucky; she lives in a part of Constitutión where the damge from the quake was minimal and far enough inland to where the tsunami was not a factor. She is a great person, and I have had a great time hanging out with her so far. She’s twenty-eight, a translator, and is married to a guy from Wales (near you, Derrick!) We spent the day bring food to stray dogs and other dogs whose owners were killed in the earthquake or tsunami. Siboney is a very caring and compassionate person, especially when is comes to animals. She even admitted to me that she sometimes feels worse for the dogs than for the people since nobody helps dogs, especially here in Chile.
So we loaded up my pack with dog food and headed for the beach, where Siboney informs me there are a few dogs living in a pile of rubble where their deceased owners used to live. Upon arrival we found the pathetic heap of bricks and splintered wood that once housed two happy old ladies and their faithful dogs until a twenty-five foot wall of water changed everything.
The devestation was, however, free of destitute dogs, so we went down to the beach and hung out by these huge rocks (fifty meters high!) that I immedietly decided to climb. Near the rocks we spotted two dogs, soaking wet, and shivering in the chilly wind. They weren’t the dogs we were looking for, but they looked hungry nonetheless. So we gave them some of our dog food, which the poor fellows scarfed up like it was thier first meal in days. It very possibly was.
I explored the rock, which had some crazy sea caves in it that I made plans to explore and photograph the next day with Siboneys’ camera. I also planned my route up the ninty-degree, pelican-poop coated rock face to the top. I know myself well enough to know that my mind will never sleep until I get to the highest point. It’s just how I’m wired, and if you don’t belive me then just ask my Ma.
Later we decided to go back to town, as I wanted to inquire at the local hospital for volunteer work. On the way we stopped by to check if our dog friends had returned to their devestaed home. It turned out that they had, so we gave them some of our food. As I was filling the twisted door of a pickup with dog food, a lady came up to us and told us that she wished to adopt the dogs, as she lived next door and had noticed people passing by and stealing the food that Siboney had left out for the poor animals. This was great news!
This lady and her husband lived in the only structure on the beachfront that was still reletively habitable; the rest of the houses and pubs and resturaunts were totally wiped out. In fact, a large percentage of the 87 deaths that occured in Constitutión happened here on the beachfront. Siboney told me that many of the pubs had been full of people when the earthquake occured at 0334, and when the first tsunami hit a mere fifteen minutes later many partons were still in the beach area. Few made it home that night.
I stood on what was left of their front porch and looked out to sea, trying to picture what the now-tranquil southeast Pacific looked on the morning of the 27th of February with a six metere tsunami barrling twords shore. Chilling, to say the least.
After we left their house we began walking back to Sibonys’ house. On the way, she pointed out an apartment complex where a family of five died with their young children when the poorly-constructed government housing collapsed.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all was the loss of the baby girl.
The government was blamed for the tradgedy in this complex, due to it’s poor construction. A total of 8 people lost their lives.
We came across a pack of five stray dogs on the street and decided to give them some food. They all ate ravenously, and their thin bodies and exposed ribs showed they weren’t faking it like my spoiled labs at home. (I miss Hank.)
As they were eating, another lady came up to us and told us that one of the dogs had a piece of wire from a rabbit trap gouged in his foot, and that she had been wanting to remove it for some time. So we decided to help the poor bloke and pull it out.
We procured a muzzle and a coller and affixed them to the dog, a mutt with dirty yellow fur. He was quite friendly and didn’t seem to mind being muzzled, so long as we kept scratching his belly. I then held him down as a few construction workers materialized with pliers and began working at the wire. After fifteen minutes of pathetic howling protests from my canine friend, we were unsucessful and allowed the poor guy to go run about for a bit.
One of the older ladies procured a sedative and some spam from her purse and told us to feed them to him. After he began to grow tired we would be able to remove the offending wire with much more ease.
We waited for a bit, and after recapturing our four-legged friend we were able to remove the nasty wire with total success! The dog was a smart creature, and seemed to understand that, despite all the pain we caused him during the removal of the wire, we were trying to help him in the long run. He continued to be friendly twords us even after the painful operation.
We then went back to Siboneys’ house, where I had a shower since I was covered in dog hair. Later we had some supper and then walked around town a bit and looked at damage. I saw hopelessly destroyed houses, and the fire station. There was an interesting and terrible story behind the fire station:
Apparently the only death that occured at the station was the death of the man who was in charge of issuing the tsunami warnings. Consequently, the town of Constitutión did not recive a warning when it needed it most.
We then walked to the river, where Siboney told me that the 28th of February, the day after the earthquake, was to be an important day in the history of the town. Boats from all over Constitutión were on the river in preperation for a celebration the next day, and more than fifty people (mostly families with young children) were camped on the island in the river with the intention of seeing the festivities from a good viewpoint.
After the tsunami swept upriver, only five survivors were rescued.
I feel I must stay here in this town so hurt by Mother Nature until my efforts are no longer necessary. This much I am sure of.
The Modern Nomad