Not only was the highway between Chillán and Talca wracked, but also the
rail lines. The quake caused the land to sink, destroying the railbed and twisting tracks. Near Retiro, an overpass collapsed across the rails, taking out the powerlines for the electrified train. Many stations are in shambles, including Talca’s station. But on the patio to the right of the depot is the provisionary ticket window and waiting room tent.
Chileans and international backpackers are readying to board one of the
thrice-daily trains to Santiago. As well, the famous school-bus-on-wheels to Constitución has been restored as far as González Bastias. All services should hopefully be back on line by the end of June.
Travelling from Talca to Rancagua by train gives a different view of the earthquake’s wrath. The tracks often parallel Ruta 5, lending a good view of that highway’s sunken road shoulders. Along some stretches the going is slow, but still the train continues its northward journey through San Rafael, Camarico and Lontué and other small villages. In the backyards along the way, adobe, bricks and salvaged wood mound. Some families have already erected mediaguas, the small, provisional wooden houses being provided by the government.
The train pulls up in front of the corrugated-metal-framed, empty lot where Curicó’s station once stood. This city, like Talca, was extensively damaged by the quake. The historical center, largely composed of adobe buildings, decomposed with the violent shaking. The hospital is gone, as well as many hotels and restaurants.
Some vineyards on La Ruta del Vino Valles de Curicó suffered damages. Things are totally normal out at Lago Vichuquén. Travelers wanting to check out Radal Siete Tazas, however, are in for a great disappointment. The tremendous shift of the continental plate knocked the river off its course, causing the falls and pools to dry up. Debris and sediment are beginning to dam the river’s new run, causing the lower basin to refill a little.
North of Curicó, the snow-streaked cordillera studs the eastern horizon. On some stretches the train now clips along quickly. At times the train leaves the highway behind, cutting deeper into the farmlands of Chile’s south-central valley. Vineyards and orchards are cloaked in autumnal gold, russet and scarlet. In farmfields cows munch on corn stubble. Away from the concrete of roads and towns, it is easier to see how the earth cracked and shifted that February 27 night.
At San Fernando, the fractured rail depot still stands. The Museo de Lircunlauta and Hacienda Los Lingues are under repair and will open in the future. The Cathedral suffered a toppled tower and shattered glass in its cupola, along with numerous fissures.
The last stop before reaching Santiago is Rancagua, capital of Region de O’Higgins. The earthquake’s damage was noticeably less in this city, though its adobe buildings also suffered. The Museo Regional de Rancagua and Catedral are both closed due to damages.
Near Rancagua, the village of Sewell, the ski center at Chapa Verde and the Termas de Cauquenes hot springs are fine. Reserva Nacional Río de los Cipreses experienced minor changes.
Within the reaches of O’Higgins Region are other villages to explore, like Santa Cruz and Pichilemu. Next we shall travel the Ruta del Vino from the south-central valley to a surfing haven on the coast.