Since many of you back home and abroad were, very sweetly, concerned about me during the events last Wednesday evening I wanted to go over one of my shaky home’s defining characteristics; the terremoto.
In Chile, there are three kinds of terremotos;
The first kind is the one that everyone in the world besides Chileans classify as an earthquake. In Chile unless you can’t keep your balance, it’s not a real earthquake, which means they don’t get out of bed for anything less than a 7 on the richter scale. Freaking out is pretty much laughable from 1- 6 range here, those are temblores (tremors) and hardly noticed; unless they are particularly long in duration you won’t get surprise out of a Chilean, let alone any signs of fear. The slight rumbles that we experience on a daily basis here are equitable to the occasional heat lightening Maryland experiences on any given summer night.
The second kind of terremoto is the real one, Chileans and everyone else agree. That’s the scary kind, the falling down buildings, falling over objects, and tsunami warning deal.
That was last Wednesday for a lot of Chileans, when an 8.3 earthquake hit Illapel in the Coquimbo region of Chile, one above where I live in the Quinta Region in Valpo.
I’ve lived through a few temblores in Chile, during my first one I was in my bed when it started to shake, my immediate thought was (logically) that someone was underneath my bed trying to kill me. I quickly figured out what was actually happening and I felt awesome, I was the fresh veteran of a temblor! Look at me being Chilean and stuff!
Last Wednesday was a little bit of an exception to the norm here in Valpo temblor-wise. I was with my visiting friend Erica, my room mate Jessica, and her friend Rick on a beach in Viña del Mar, the town over. We paused the conversation to comment on the movement, it was a lot longer than usual and the lights on the hill across the water went out. Then all of our phones started beeping at once– warning us of tsunamis and earthquakes, alerting us to head to higher ground.
We headed home on a micro, as soon as we arrived to Valpo the sirens started to go off. The only way I can describe the feeling is kind of like when a tornado siren goes off back home, the bus slowed down and opened the doors to listen, “evacuar, evacuar, tsunami!” Silence came over the micro and Jess and I gathered our friends (on their fourth and first days in Chile, respectively) and kept calm as we walked up Avenida Francia.
As we walked a man walked by, “mira”, he said, look, “sigue temblando”, it’s still going. Eerily the doors of shops were shaking slowly along with the trees on the streets. Now, I’m told that you’re supposed to gauge turbulence by the reaction of the flight attendants. What I saw was hundreds of flight attendants running for the hills surrounded by creepy alarms and police sirens.
Luckily, we quickly got up to our safe little house on a hill where all of our neighbors (plus people evacuating in the streets) were waiting outside. It was incredibly comforting to see familiar faces, such as my neighbors and my boss waiting for us, making sure we were alright and assuring us that we were fine now.
Whatsapps flew back and forth and people were located, “estai bien, weon?” “you good, dude?”, “si, si, todo bien.” Cell service is virtually impossible during earthquakes, so texts replace phone calls. After everyone was accounted for we did the thing correctly and killed a bottle of wine, “pa’ los nervios” as they say, “for the nerves.”
I normally enjoy temblores, as a gringa with almost no experience of earthquakes its easy to play down, but feeling a little shake is a lot different than the feeling that the world could come crashing down around you if it felt like it. It’s a feeling of powerlessness and uncertainty that I don’t often experience. It’s a very different side of a common thing for me, one that’s resulted in small bursts of anxiety, nightmares about earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as imagining tremors every five seconds.
We were also greeted by videos of places like our regular surf spot being hit by tsunamis, a bizarre feeling. But as my host sister told me, Chileans are a group of people who pull together after disaster hits, they’ve had practice and they come together to help each other and do incredible things.
Following that, being Chilean, they won’t let anything stand in the way them and their independence festival.
Which brings us to our third type of terremoto.
Named such because the ground moves beneath you when you drink it, the terremoto is a hangover in a jar, mixed with pisco and topped off with pineapple ice cream. The terremoto is one of the official drinks of the fiestas patrias. A week-long celebration with kite flying, meat on a stick, general country-wide dancing of cueca, and alcohol consumption.
So independence day was rung in. Displaying the classic Chilean love of jokes with double meaning, signs everywhere proclaimed, “sin terremoto, no hay dieciocho” “without an earthquake, it’s not the eighteenth” or “without a terremoto (the drink), it’s not the eighteenth”.
I experienced all three terremotos during the last two weeks, (the temblores keep waking me up at night, I’m starting to get sick of them). This week has shown me a lot, but mostly I’m stuck with the feeling that I’m continually impressed by Chileans and their abilities to ride out all kinds of terremotos, and knowing that when the sun comes up they’ll still all be standing together.