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Earthquake Experience In Chile

Yvonne Jonk is the matriarch of Swansfleet Alliance near Bruxelles, Manitoba. Three of her boys and one grandson now operate the seed potato and grain farm. This is her experience on a vacation to Chile with her daughter and granddaughter.

When planning a holiday, a few requirements come to mind. One should find a sunny, wonderful place to stay with warm temperatures and no insects. That was my idea of a vacation. There should also be a long, sandy beach to walk on, a great way to get a brown tan. Well, my daughter, my granddaughter and I were off to the perfect place. A three-generation holiday to the ideal country in South America – Chile. Never in our wildest dreams did we think that an unplanned event would change our two-week stay – an earthquake!

After a long flight from Toronto to Santiago we arrived. The temperature was +29 C, not bad as it was -29 C when we left Manitoba. After a light lunch we had a short nap – then we were ready to be regular tourists. Planning our weekend we had to decide, do we drive 100 km to the south to visit a vineyard, or do we go northwest of Santiago to a house by the sea? We chose north and to the sea. Why was this important? We didn’t know it at the time but we were driving away from the epicentre of the quake. We arrived at Costa Cachagua at lunchtime and walked on the beach for several hours. Then we returned to our condo, had supper, watched a movie and went to bed at one a. m. (10 p. m. in Manitoba). At 3:34 Chilean time, the earth began to shake. Everyone panicked and ran out of the building, lights went out, dogs barked, car sirens sounded. What was happening? Three minutes seemed like a long time. We did not go back to bed, but waited in the car for half an hour until we felt comfortable to go back outside. We were unaware that we were still in immediate danger because there were Tsunami warnings for our area. We did see cars driving away, but only realized later that they were fleeing the possible Tsunami zone. A Tsunami did hit Chile that night, but much farther south in Maitencillo. We were unable to clean up all the broken glass until daylight – the electricity and the gas had shut off at the time of the earthquake. Luckily we still had use of the water supply. All communication was stopped so we could not convey to our families that we were all right.

In the meantime, we could only imagine what condition our Santiago home was in. It was located on the 13th floor of an apartment building, and contained our belongings including our passports and luggage. We could not go back right after the quake because the highways had large cracks in them and the airport was closed for four to five days. When we were finally able to drive back to Santiago we found that the main elevator to our apartment was not working, however the service elevator was. As the building had shifted, our door wouldn’t open and a locksmith had to be called in. Two hours later we walked into the room to an unbelievable mess – broken articles everywhere. Three bookcases had rocked back and forth, finally tipping over and spilling their contents everywhere. After a massive cleanup, we went out for supper. Garbage cans were spilling over everywhere and there were thousands of dollars in damage.

Despite the earthquake, we still managed to enjoy the rest of our trip. Chile is becoming famous for its beautiful vineyards which produce some of the world’s finest wines and we were able to visit one of these wineries called Casas del Bosque. It was situated in a beautiful valley with rows and rows of grapevines on the hillsides. Wine tasting is a must as you spend time at the haciendas. This is followed by a delicious meal outside surrounded by the magnificent scenery. As it was the autumn season in Chile, the grapes were ready for harvest and I was surprised to hear that the vineyard was only established in the early 1990s. In addition to much touring, we also managed to do some shopping. Chile is home to a beautiful blue-coloured stone called “lapis lazuli” which can be found in all sorts of jewelry. Shops selling these items can be found everywhere as well as shops which sell items made from Chilean copper.

In the end we did manage to get back to Canada at our scheduled time (via Argentina). The timing of our holiday may not have turned out to be the best, but we are not at all sorry that we went.

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