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Volcanic Eruption Disrupts Travel in Chile & Argentina

Travelers in Chile and Argentina’s Lake Districts are finding their journeys disrupted by a volcanic eruption.

After a series of small earthquakes, southern Chile’s Volcán Puyehue-Cordón Caulle re-awoke last Saturday (June 4) with a 10,000-meter (32,600-ft) high column of smoke and ash. The eruptions are occurring on Puyehue’s (2,236 meters / 7,267 feet) slopes. The present activity is northeast of the vents triggered by the 1960 earthquake, which was the largest in modern history.

Over 3,500 people have been evacuated from the Puyehue region and Lago Ranco. Parque Nacional Puyehue has been declared a red zone, and is closed from the customs complex to Hotel Termas Puyehue. Paso Cardenal Samoré, the region’s major border crossing between Chile and Argentina, is closed.

The ash stream of the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano. Photo by NASA Goddard Photo/ Jeff Schmaltz

Heavy ash and softball-ball size pumice fell on Bariloche. The fallout drifted eastward over Puerto Madryn. Argentine airports from Bariloche to Trelew will be closed until at least Wednesday.

Early Monday winds shifted to the northwest, blowing ash over Osorno.  The Oficina Nacional de Emergencia (Onemi) director of the Los Lagos Region, Andrés Ibaceta, stressed that as spectacular as the eruption is, this is an emergency situation. Tourists should keep away from the Cordón Caulle area.

Travelers are advised to watch the news for further developments. To keep up on Volcán Puyehue-Cordón Caulle’s activity, check Chile’s Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Sernageomin) website. Erik Klemetti’s Big Think has a good explanation (in English) of the eruption. The BBC and El Mercurio have spectacular photo slideshows.

Update:

The Ushuaia-based news agency Sur 54 reports that flights to the following destinations are suspended until at least Friday: Ushuaia, Río Grande, Trelew, Neuquén, Viedma, Río Gallegos, El Calafate, Ushuaia, Río Grande, Comodoro Rivadavia, Bahía Blanca, Santa Rosa and San Rafael. As well, night flights between Santiago de Chile and Mendoza are cancelled.

On the Road – Colombia: Safety—Highways & Papaya

The rains and adventures continue in Colombia. Reportedly, the journey between Medellín and Mutatá is now taking 17-18 hours. Buses must go by way of Montería, as a bridge near Mutatá is out. Travelers coming to Cartagena from Medellín say trips are taking several hours longer than usual.

The images flashed across TV screens and splashed upon newspaper front pages show the situation to be quite desperate in some parts of the country. But how much is just hype?

Last week a couple traveling from Alaska to Ushuaia on bikes left Cartagena with hopes of getting to Mompós. They were a bit concerned about what Invías (the highway department) and newspapers were reporting. Nonetheless, they made it in a few days.

Richard McColl, owner of Casa Amarilla hostel in Mompós, reports that in recent weeks neither Mompós nor Magangué have been totally isolated. The Cartagena-Magangué road is fine; work is being done between Bodega and Mompós. Even though the road isn’t good, Unitransco’s direct Cartagena-Mompós and other transport continue.

Richard says, “Mompós never can be isolated … as it is a riverside town so can always reach here by boat. When there are problems, chalupas are put on from Magangué. The conditions may not be great, but it’s all in the spirit of adventure and travel and we must always remember that it has never been straightforward getting to Mompós, and it is this issue that has protected the town and for this reason remains an unspoiled corner of Colombia.” If you have any concerns about the road conditions to Mompós, contact Richard.

Indeed—Mompós is one of those many corners of Colombia that is difficult to get to even in the best of times, but well worth the adventure. Others are the Guajira, Llanos and Putumayo.  And with these La Niña rains, such adventures are presented to travelers wending through most of the country.

Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But there’s another facet of safety that visitors need to keep in mind as well, that has nothing to do with physical or political climate.

Colombians warn travelers, “No dar papaya.” Literally this means, “Don’t give papaya”—a strange way, perhaps to advise you: Don’t make yourself a mark for thieves.

Does this mean Colombia is a Den of Thieves? No, far from it. But as any place in the world, foreigners are an easy and logical mark for robbers. We either physically stand out from the local crowd—or do so once we open our mouths and our thickly accented Spanish comes stumbling out. Some would-be thieves believe if we’re traveling we must be rich. And often we are. Passports, bank and credit cards, travelers checks and cash. Laptops, cameras, iPods and other gadgets. Anything is easy to get rid of on the black market. Thieves around the world know this.

V!VA Colombia and other guidebooks warn about Colombian thieves’ tricks of the trade. When you meet travelers who have fallen into the same ol’ familiar traps, you can’t help but ask, “But didn’t you read …” “Yeh, I did, but I never …” is often the response.

Here are some real-life Colombian experiences of travelers from all over the world and of all ages. Some are seasoned journeyers, others are green on the road. Only the names have been changed to protect the identities of these people who gave papaya.

Magdalena, a retired travel consultant from Buenos Aires, was walking through Bogotá’s Candelaria neighborhood. While listening to her iPod music, she admired the colonial architecture and Jorge Olave’s statues of daily Bogotanos perched atop buildings. Suddenly she felt something wet hit the top of her head. “Oh,” a woman passing by told her, “a pigeon just shat on you.” Before Magdalena knew it, the woman was gone—and her iPod, too.

Swedish Per was sitting in Parque de los Periodistas, people watching. A plainclothes “police officer” came up to him and demanded to see his identification and proof that he had sufficient funds to be in the country. The “officer” also requested the same from another Latino “foreigner” sitting next to Per. He thought, well he’s complying, so should I. He told the officer his passport and such was at his hostel. While they walked back to the hostel, the “officer” kept hold of Per’s wallet. Per entered, turned around—and the cop was gone. (Note: There are no plain clothes police in Colombia.)

Young Australians Jenny and Bill, and their friend Mary couldn’t resist nightclubbing their last evening in Bogotá. A group of friendly, chatty Colombians sat down at their table. Jenny and Bill got up to dance. After a while, Mary began to feel “strange.” The three of them decided to go back to the hostel straight away. Mary began fainting away. An emergency visit to the hospital confirmed her drink had been drugged.

Sarah (UK) was sitting on Cartagena’s fortress walls, writing in her journal. She felt something hit her leg. As she looked down to see what it was (a soccer ball), her daypack (along with her guidebook, camera, passport and credit cards) disappeared from here other side. The same trick happened to Charles (US) while sitting in Plaza San Pedro Claver in the same city.

This is an unfortunate thing to say, but in my over 20 years traveling in Latin America, I have learned that much thieving isn’t done by locals at all. Rather, it’s a traveler-on-traveler crime. Too many tourists come to places like Colombia and get involved in taking cocaine or crack. The money runs out and the easiest mark is other foreigners. They’re in the same hostel, and of course they have passports, bank and credit cards, travelers checks and cash. Laptops, cameras, iPods and other gadgets. (Anything is easy to get rid of on the black market, after all.) And who would ever suspect that the culprit is another foreigner just like you? Never!

To keep from giving papaya to these would-be-thieves, take care about where you are staying. Avoid hotels that have a reputation for drugs (they’re illegal anyways). Choose hostels with personal safes or lockers, and use a good-quality lock. Be sure to keep all valuables locked away.

For more security tips, check out V!VA’s Safety in Colombia.

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2011 edition of V!VA Colombia. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

On the Road – Colombia: La Niña Adventures Continue – & Free in Cartagena

La Niña Adventures Continue

The La Niña rains are continuing in most parts of the country, adding a different dimension to travelers’ Colombian adventures. The TV news shows images of the extensive flooding in Medellín, Honda and the Magdalena River Valley. Mudslides cause temporary delays in bus trips. But most people journeying by that means are arriving safely (though a bit late).

Bicyclists, though, are facing tougher challenges. One Danish couple riding from Mexico to Colombia is due to fly out from Bogotá. They began down the road from Cartagena to the capital, but had to turn back. All roads – save La Línea (a high-altitude pass) – are affected. Others are deciding to stay a while yet on the coast, until the rains stop.

All travelers, whether in bus or car, on motorcycle or bicycle, are advised to check Invías’ (the national highway department) website for up-to-date information on road condition.

Casa Museo Rafael Núñez is easy on the wallet. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Free in Cartagena

The only part of the country not having heavy rains seems to be the Caribbean coast. Even though it is officially the rainy season, it is anything but that. The days swell into a sultry stupor, but rarely erupt into a thunder-bumper. So many travelers are deciding to stay on the coast until road conditions (hopefully) improve.

Unfortunately, shoestring backpackers are dumbfounded by the cost of Cartagena’s museums, and excursions to Playa Blanca and Islas del Rosario are. These journeyers wonder they can do here on a meager budget. The answer is, Plenty.

Grab the camera and had out to wander the streets of the Old City, savoring the plazas and colonial architecture. Take a rest on the fortress walls, enjoying the sea and passers-by. Stroll over to Isla Manga and take in its seaside promenade.

Free dance & music. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

To cool off on these sultry days, pack a picnic and head to one of the near-by beaches, like Marbella and the ones on Bocagrande peninsula. For a few dollars, take a buseta out to La Boquilla where the best mainland playa is.

If museums are more your thing, you aren’t totally out of luck. The Museo del Oro Zenú and Museo de la Esmeralda are always free, and Museo de Arte Moderno is gratis every Wednesday. The Casa Museo Rafael Núñez costs less than a dollar. The last Sunday of each month, some of the pricey museums are fortresses are free.

A fine dose of rhythmic culture can be savored every afternoon (5-6 p.m.), when troupes perform Afro-Colombian dance and music at Plaza de los Coches. The various cultural centers in town host free art exhibits, movies and other events.

Click here for details on all these activities.

Another free event budget travelers could take in this past week was the Semana Santa processions that wended through the Cartagena’s streets. I close out this week with some images from Good Friday’s cortege – and until next week.

All Photos by Lorraine Caputo

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Colombia, updating our 2011 edition of V!VA Colombia. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.


On the Road – Colombia: A Tempestuous Child, Holy & Holidays, & Great American Pastimes

La Niña will continue her tempestuous wailing and kicking until May, meteorologists say. Since the end of last year, she has wreaked havoc on Colombia. A small respite of sorts came in January and February. Road crews could begin repairing roads, bridges and levees that she damaged. I saw them laboring on the road between Barranquilla and Cartagena.

For the last few weeks, though, the annual rainy season (invierno, or winter) has provoked La Niña into another fit. In Western Colombia, especially the Zona Cafetera and Valle del Cauca, landslides and other disasters have wiped away homes and thoroughfares. A bus wending from Bogotá to Manizales met its fate on the morning of April 13. An earthen avalanche swept it into an abyss. Eighteen persons died.

Downpours in Southern Colombia have swollen the already-overflowing Cauca and Magdalena Rivers, causing extensive flooding in the Lower Magdalena Valley near the Caribbean coast. According to news reports, Magangué, a major transit point between Cartagena and Mompós, is totally isolated. The route is further complicated by a washed-out bridge between La Bodega and Mompós. Authorities have established an alternative route to ensure the safe arrival (and departure) of tourists arriving to Mompós for its traditional Semana Santa processions. A good source of information on how to travel to that colonial city is Richard McColl, owner of Casa Amarilla hostel (and co-author of the first edition of V!VA Colombia).

These rains have made Easter vacation holidays, well, more adventuresome. Eleven national highways are closed. Over 250 other roads have restricted passage. Every corner of the country is affected, from Antioquia in the West, to the central Departments of Boyacá and Santander, to Meta and Arauca in the Llanos. For up-to-date information on road conditions nationwide, consult Invías website.

Going home with blessed boughs on Palm Sunday. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Indeed, we are well into Holy Week. It began two days ago with Palm Sunday, marking Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (and the end of Lent’s 40 days of fasting). Here in Cartagena, the faithful gathered at Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, La Popa and other temples, as well as in Plaza de Bolívar, to have their sheaths of palm and boughs of greenery blessed by the priest. These they put in their homes to bring good tidings in the coming year.

Jueves Santo (Maudy Thursday) features a reenactment of the Last Supper and washing of feet, and often is followed by a procession. Good Friday (Viernes Santo) is the most important day, with the Vía Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, cortege through the city’s streets. (For a calendar of processions in Cartagena, see below.) Easter falls on the last Sunday of the month, when many of Cartagena’s museums and fortresses are free.

Sexteto Tabalá of Palenque, Colombia. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Another great Cartagena celebration during Semana Santa is the Festival de los Dulces, featuring sticky sweet delights from throughout the region. Cartagena is a big town for all sorts of festivals and conventions. Many occur outside the eye of casual tourists. Last week, the city hosted the First International Caribbean Festival of Stage Arts. This meeting of theater, dance and musical acts culminated in a free concert on Plaza de la Trinidad, featuring El Conjunto Folklórico de Cuba, Teatro Negro de Barlovento (Venezuela) and Sexteto Tabalá (Palenque, Colombia).

This Holy Week finds Cartagena opening the stage to Festival de Voces del Jazz. On April 20 and 21, groups that fuse jazz with traditional Colombian folk rhythms will compete at the Centro Comercial Caribe Plaza (Calle 29D, 22-108, La Popa. Tel: 669-2332, URL: www.cccaribeplaza.com).

But until the Semana Santa processions and jazz festival roll around, kids are enjoying a week off from school. In the narrow streets of Getsemaní neighborhood, you can find boys playing a pick-up game of baseball. Baseball in Colombia? Indeed – Cartagena’s own native son, Orlando Cabrera, plays shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. The Cincinatti Reds’ Edgar Rentería (of Barranquilla) won the 2010 MVP award. Plus, there’s Ernesto Frieri of the San Diego Padres.

Play ball! Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Baseball and jazz: two great, truly American pastimes, having roots in not only the United States, but also in other parts of the Americas. Since the days of Ragtime and Ty Cobb, these two institutions traveled from port to port, growing and changing into what we know of them today. The first ragtime hit, “The Peanut Vendor,” was a Cuban habanero, and in the 1950s Dizzy Gillepsie, Mario Bauza and other musicians formed the Afro-Cubop movement. The rosters of today’s major league baseball teams show the continuing exchange between American countries, and in the off-season, many US players come to play in Colombia. (Hmmm – perhaps a topic for a future blog …)

Until next week, travel safe – and Happy Passover, Easter and holidays to you all!

Processions in Cartagena:

During the week, churches will be hosting corteges in their neighborhoods. Below are te major evnts.

Jueves Santo (Maudy Thursday), the Last Supper and washing of feet reenactment, followed by a procession, will occur at Iglesia Santo Domingo at 4 p.m. and the Catedral at 6 p.m.

Good Friday’s (Viernes Santo) Vía Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, cortege through the Old Town’s streets begins at 8 a.m. from Templo Santo Toribio. At 7 p.m., a procession leaves from Iglesia San Pedro Claver.

On Holy Saturday is another solemn procession, from Santo Domingo (7 p.m.) and the Cathedral (9 p.m.).

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Colombia, updating our 2011 edition of the book. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

Returning to Chile VII: California Dreaming

Traveling along Ruta I-50, nicknamed the Ruta del Vino, from San Fernando to the coast, you begin California Dreaming. All the leaves are brown in the dozens of vineyards along the way. The road ends at Pichilemu, a surfers’ Eden. And in between, the earth yet trembles.

The main city on La Ruta del Vino is Santa Cruz, 62 kilometers (37 mi) west of San Fernando. This is the capital of the Colchagua wine district. As in many of the towns in O’Higgins Region, Santa Cruz’ adobe architecture crumbled back into the earth. The city’s main church was totally demolished by the quake. Museo de Colchagua also suffered significant damage and is closed. Several hotels and restaurants were also affected.

In the countryside surrounding Santa Cruz and westward towards Pichilemu is the Ruta del Vino de Colchagua where some of Chile’s finest wines are produced. Viu Manent vineyard was shut for several months after the quake, but has reopened. Many other wineries are also throwing open their gates to visitors For more information, check with Viñas Asociadas a la Ruta del Vino de Colchagua in Santa Cruz (Plaza de Armas 298, Santa Cruz, Tel: 72-823199, Fax: 72-825458, E-mail: info@rutadelvino.cl / reservas@rutadelvino.cl, URL: www.rutadelvino.cl).

The villages along Ruta I-50, like Manantiales, San Rafael, Santa Ana, Marchigüe and Alcones, are more wreaked than Santa Cruz. These small towns are largely composed of adobe homes. In many, mediaguas now stand next to the mounds of decomposed dirt and straw bricks.

Then the land begins to bunch into pine-forested hills, the Cordillera de la Costa. This range is caused by the earth buckling as the Nazca plate slips beneath the South American plate. The recent earthquakes are also provoked by this shift of plates. Soon, far on the horizon, the Pacific Ocean and Pichilemu are seen to the southwest.

Pichilemu's iconic ex Casino. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

The road ends at Pichilemu, a popular beach town 3.5 hours south of Santiago where many Santiagueños have built vacation homes here. Some complained that the dunes stringing the beaches were ugly and should be removed. But sometimes Mother Nature knows best. It was precisely because of them the town was saved from the worst effects of the tsunami. Only those areas along the Costanera not protected by the mounds of sand suffered damage. Pichilemu’s iconic ex-Casino, which had recently been renovated to become a cultural center and public library, suffered superficial cracks and one wall is unstable. Some adobe buildings were downed. The hotels and restaurants remained largely unaffected.

Many of the aftershocks continuing to quiver across the region are near Pichilemu. They can be barely felt, but about once a week a near-five-pointer will jerk the land. It seems everybody with Internet access has the Geophysical Department’s website on the favorites, ready to check out if what they felt was another replica or just a truck going down the street. One local bar has concocted its own house drink: Terremoto y Replicas, or Earthquake and Aftershocks.

Try a Terromotos y Replicas. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But the earth’s continued trembling doesn’t keep the surfers away. Pichilemu is renowned for its three zones of left-break points—Playas Puntilla, Infiernillo and Punta de Lobos—with some of the most consistent large waves in South America. It is gaining popularity as a surfing hot spot among Chileans and foreigners alike both because of its own merits and because beaches further south of the capital were destroyed February 27. Cobquecura, the epicenter of the quake, is destroyed, as are other favorite spots.

Heading for the waves. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

For several weeks after the quake, the sea at Pichilemu was calm. Then it began to swell again. During Quiksilver’s Big Wave International competition May 19-20, waves reached nearly 25 feet. Winners pledged 50% of their takes to the town’s rebuilding efforts. On the recent Independence Day holiday weekend, the road out at Punta de Lobos (6 km / 3.6 mi from Pichilemu) was lined with cars. On the heights laypeople watched the surfers bob on the platinum-blue sea, waiting for one of those big waves to rise.

Most vacationers come to Pichilemu in the summertime. In the off-season, some hotels and restaurants close. But even in the off-season, some come for a weekend escape, to these warmer shores. Even in the dead of winter, the surfers come, boards under arms, for that is then when the waves are best in Pichilemu.

Damage from the February 27 earthquake extends 960 kilometers (576 mi), from Valparaíso to Valdivia. The country’s landscapes have changed, not only in terms of geology, but also what travelers can expect. Accurate information has been difficult to find. V!VA Travel Guides traveled through the zone to compile the most up-to-date information of any guide and is preparing a free post-quake supplement to V!VA Travel Guides Chile. Colin Bennett, a Santiago-based correspondent, checked out the situation in Santiago, Viña del Mar, Valparaíso and the Wine District. Lorraine Caputo, the principal author of the Chile guide, returned to Chile to cover from Rancagua to Valdivia.

Returning to Chile VI: A Backyard View

Not only was the highway between Chillán and Talca wracked, but also the

Destroyed warehouses in Talca’s railyard. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

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

Riding the train. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

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.

A mediagua house. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

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.

The Andean range north of Curicó. Photo by Lorraine CaputoNorth 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.

Rancagua's damaged Cathedral. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

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.

Returning to Chile V: Further into Earthquake’s Heart

All along Ruta 5, the Pan-American Highway north of Chillán, detours become more common. North-bound traffic is re-routed around downed bridges and shored-up overpasses. At Retiro, almost due-east of the epicenter, south-bound travelers get their turn to weave around buckled pavement and disappeared lanes. For kilometers, the countryside is lined with piles of dumped rubble, collapsed adobe farmhouses, barns that collapsed like houses of cards and mangled metal grain silos.

The rubble-laden streets of Talca. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Talca, capital of Región del Maule, took a hard hit from the earthquake. The streets have a post-battle air about hem. Rubble of the many historical adobe buildings that went down yet piles high.

 

The destroyed zone is quite extensive, from 8 Norte to 4 Sur and from 11 Oriente to 4 Poniente. There were eight deaths and 4,000-5,000 Talquinos left homeless.

Many institutions, like Conaf, had to find new quarters. Santander Bank met an inglorious fate, with caved-in roof and splintered walls. Sernatur’s new place to hand out its maps and pamphlets is at the post office across the main plaza.

Most churches toppled, including Corazón de María, San Francisco de Pompeya and the Salesian’s María Auxiliadora, among others. The Cathedral was damaged but has reopened. The Museo Bomberil Benito Riquelme and Museo O’Higgiano y Bellas Artes are closed indefinitely. In the interim, The O’Higgiano Museum is showing temporary exhibits across the street at the Casa del Arte Galería Gabriela Pando.

Villa Cultura Hilquilemu was roughed up. It is uncertain when it may reopen. Wineries suffered significant losses of export-quality wines when casks split open. Of the bodegas near Talca, only Viña Balduzzi is open for visits.

The old market …. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

  The Mercado Central bit the dust, but that hasn’t driven its vendors and eateries out of business. Many have set up make-shift stalls behind the ruins, along Calle 1 Norte. About 60% of the city’s restaurants were wrecked. Another hard-hit tourism sector is lodging. Approximately 50% of Taquino hotels no longer exist. Those that are open fill up quickly. Reservations are necessary.

 

 

 

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. Talca’s station is in sad sorts as well, But on the patio to the right of the depot is the provisionary ticket window and waiting room tent. Trains are once more running northward to Santiago thrice daily. The famous school-bus-on-wheels to Constitución has been restored as far as González Bastias. All services should be back on line by July.

Constitución and other coastal communities were utterly wiped out by the post-quake tsunami. The majority of deaths related to the February 27 event were caused by the tidal wave. In Constitución, no hotels or restaurants are left. Meals are available at the market. Fishing has resumed. Sernatur predicts that by the mid-September Fiesta Patronales, tourism will once more be viable in Constitución and all along the coast. The natural rock formation Piedra de la Iglesia was unaltered.

Returning to Chile IV: Into the Heart of Damage

The road from Chillán to Concepción weaves around destroyed bridges and fractured asphalt. Continually along Autopista del Itata, the main highway to the coastal city, traffic is diverted to other lanes for several kilometers at a stretch. It is quite reminiscent of summertime road works in the US.

Concepción, capital of Región del Bío Bío and Chile’s second largest metropolis, bore much of the brunt of the February 27, 2010, earthquake. A damaged apartment building in Barrio Estación. Photo by Lorraine CaputoTwo and a half months later, the earthquake’s evidence is not apparent as busses enter the city’s outskirts. The greatest damage occurred in Barrio Estación, west of the main plaza towards the railroad station. Fires broke out at the Universidad de Concepción and other points in the city. The year-old, 15-story Alto Río apartment building fell onto its side, trapping people in the rubble. Bridges across the Río Bío Bío were sliced. With the jolt, Concepción moved 3 meters to the west. About 60 people died.

Concepción has done an amazing job of cleaning up the city. The most dangerous structures have been torn down. Others are scheduled for demolition. Behind yellow tape and wooden barricades, workers are repairing buildings that can be salvaged.

Concepción is cleaning up the rubble ... Phot by Lorraine Caputo

... and repairing. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

The hotel infrastructure took a hit, but many are once more hosting guests. Concepción has always been a difficult place to find a room, and it is even more so now with the influx of construction workers. Call before to make a reservation, or drop by the Sernatur office on the Plaza for help. The Catedral, Galería de la Historia and Casa del Arte are open once more.

Even though the sidewalks are a maze of buckled and cracked concrete, it isn’t keeping Concepción’s residents from getting on with daily business. During the lunch hour, employees rush to their lunch dates. When school lets out, hoards of students hang out on the plaza. Street vendors are hawking.  On a Friday late afternoon, friends meet up at sidewalk cafés for a pitcher of beer. Some souls stop into the Casa del Arte to check out the latest art exhibit before attending a benefit concert in the foyer for earthquake victims yet in tent cities.

                                            

To the north and south of the port city, other villages were hit not only by the quake, but also the tsunami. Talcahuano suffered great damage, but the Talcahuano-Concepción-Laja is running again. Lota’s museums are scheduled to reopen in another two months.

Besides Región del Bío Bío, the other hardest hit areas of Chile were Maule and O’Higgins Regions, including the cities of Talca, Constitución, Pichelemu and Rancagua. The wine industry in this south-central valley zone was also affected. As V!va moves northward into these towns, we’ll check out how things come coming back together for residents and travelers alike.

Returning to Chile III

Once reaching the northern edge of Chile’s Región de los Lagos, the destruction of the February 27, 2010, becomes more evident. The roadside embankments are streaked with recent landslides. More frequent signs mark the end of highways. Busses stop into villages where lots are still strewn with rubble or buildings are cordoned off.

 

Travelling north from Temuco, heavy destruction is first seen in Angol, the last town of note in Región de la Araucanía. Here over 500 homes were destroyed. The Cathedral, Iglesia San Buenaventura and other churches, government offices and hospital were damaged. Businesses in the center of town, especially along Avenida O’Higgins, and Caupolicán, Lautaro and Prat Streetswere obliterated, Residencial Olimpia. Hotel Millaray and several restaurants are operating, as is the tourism office and bus terminal.

Los Ángeles likewise experienced significant damage. Reserva Nacional Laguna del Laja is open, but the road between Antuco and the park is cut for several kilometres by a landslide. In the southwest corner of Región del Bío Bío, large fissures opened on the Cañete-Contulmo road along Lago Lanahue. At the present time, situations are reported to be normalized in that area, including in Contulmo and Cañete. Hotels and other services are up and running. Reserva Nacional Nahuelbuta is open. Villages along the coast due west, north of Tranaquepe, were swiped by the tsunami, as was Isla Mocha where the park administration building of Reserva Nacional Isla Mocha no longer exists.

Chillán is the major city along Ruta 5. In this city, the churches and other buildings were wrecked. A few hotels bit the dust, and the remaining ones are often full with itinerant workers labouring on building houses for families who lost theirs before winter sets in. Visitors will have to walk around a while before finding space, or they can consult the Sernatur office. The murals by Siqueiros and Guerrero in the Escuela México cracked. Museums will be closed until December.

The hot springs, Termas de Chillán and Valle Hermoso, were unaffected. Bus service is back on par, though the train won’t be running again until June (consult http://www.terra-sur.cl).

The Air Force Day parade. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But in this city, residents are beginning to enjoy activities the brisk autumn air, like the Air Force Day parade and an international artisan market.

Checking out the international crafts fair. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 One of the cities hardest hit by the February 27th earthquake was Concepción, due west of Chillán, a place we shall visit next.

Returning to Chile II

More than two months after the February 27 earthquake that shook southern Chile, few travelers have wandered over the border from Argentina. Like the autumn misty rains, uncertainty about what awaits them swirl. Slowly, though, some are venturing in, to experience the region’s rich natural and cultural diversity.

Temuco's damaged market. Photo by Lorraine Caputo.

 

Temuco, the next major city north of Valdivia and capital of Región de los Lagos, suffered considerably more. Buildings that were damaged include the municipal market, public hospital, several hotels, the Intendencia where the Sernatur office was, the Museo Nacional Ferroviario and a motley array of homes and businesses. The city is back to speed, though. Market stalls continue to sell artisan crafts and serve seafood meals. The hospital is attending to patients. Sernatur has now moved out to the Museo Regional de la Araucanía (Avenida Alemania 084). The train museum, Museo Nacional Ferroviario Pablo Neruda, is scheduled to reopen the week of May 17.

Another building casualty in Temuco. Photo by Lorraine Caputo.

 

Pucón is eagerly awaiting the return of tourists. The town’ most famous attraction is Volcán Villarrica in Parque Nacional Villarrica. Totally unrelated to the earthquake is the volcano’s decades-long activity. It seemingly mood-swings being from just mildly seething to spitting out tongues of fire and gas. At present it is on yellow alert, but climbs are still happening every day. When you arrive in Pucón, the volcano may be having a calmer day. Check on conditions when you get there, and remember to keep an eye on the traffic light at the municipality for warnings. Pucón, though, has many other attractions to enjoy, among them bike riding, horseback riding, rafting and over a dozen fantastic hot springs. Hotels, restaurants and other necessities were untouched by the quake.

 

All the other national parks in Región de los Lagos, including Conguillío, Huerquehue and Tolhuaca, are open. Refuges and trails are in good shape. To the northeast is Volcán Llaima, another active volcano. A four-kilometer (2.4 mile) off-limits zone has been established around its crater. The ski lodge, though, is expected to open this season, as are the other ones in Región de los Lagos. All border crossings were unaffected by the earthquake.