Expecting a day of rain on our third day in Chile, we were pleasantly surprised when the skies cleared and the sun broke through. Our destination for the day was Chiloe Island, Chile where we were set to ride a chartered boat out to see the Magellanic and Humboldt penguin colonies and their breeding grounds. This is a fascinating geographic location as it is the only place in the world where 2 species of penguins coexist together in harmony.
Our first step was to take the 45-minute ferry ride over to the island from the Puerto Varas area. On our ride, we saw sea lions, dolphins, and even some penguins poking their heads out of the water! The anticipation to arrive at the penguin colony in only a few short hours was growing. The ride over was a scenic beginning to the already fair-weathered day.
Once we arrived on the island, we jumped back into the van and headed toward the coast. About 10 minutes into our ride, our guide stopped at the top of a hill for a picturesque photo opportunity. Alec, our family-deemed professional photographer, hopped out to snag a shot of the landscape overlooking the hills and channels of the island. After Alec exited the van, I realized he had left his phone in the vehicle. I jumped out to deliver it to him. Leah and my dad decided to join the photography brigade, and the three of us crossed the road at the same time. As I pulled out my own phone to take a picture, my dad commented, “Why is this bridge moving?” It was then that I looked around to witness the asphalt moving and bending around us. I yelled, “We’re not on a bridge!” Everything suddenly began to feel as if I had walked onto a swinging suspension bridge with no handholds. Like a sudden jerk back to reality, my dad yelled, “EARTHQUAKE”. We spun around to see the van shaking violently off the ground from side to side, while the wheels were jumping back and forth like a buckin’ bronco at a Texas rodeo. My mom, brother, and sister-in-law were still trapped in the van. Concerned that the van could roll down the hill at any minute, we all rushed toward it. By the time we arrived, the earthquake was losing momentum. It lasted about 6 seconds but seemed like forever. Our guide immediately dialed out to check on the status of the quake. He informed us that it was a 7.6 on the Richter Scale with the epicenter less than 80 miles from us. This occurred around the city of Quellon on the exact same island where we were located. After checking that everyone was safe and only a little “shaken up”, we jumped back into the van to continue our route. The vehicle was abuzz with conversation about each of our experiences in the moments during and after the quake. We were also in shock at the realization of our proximity to the earthquake and our chances of having been in the wake of the quake at just the time we stopped for a photo opp!
As we continued along, our guide received an unsettling alert on his phone. Since TSUNAMI is the same in Spanish and English, we all knew what was going on by this point. There was a tsunami alert for the entire coast line. All of a sudden, every car driving toward the ocean pulled over to the shoulder and turned around to head in the opposite direction. It was like watching an end times movie where people look like rats scurrying away to safety, and I had an eerie feeling about it. Of course we turned around too and headed to a Chilean family farm we had planned to visit later. The farm was located on the top of a hill around the town of Ancud. On our commute to higher ground, we saw people walking up the sides of the street with rolling suitcases and everyone evacuating their houses carrying as many items as possible. Until this moment, I had never understood the fear and urgency that accompanies such terrible natural disasters.
We made it to the farm where we ate a lunch of clams, pork, mussels, potatoes, sausages, and chicken all cooked underneath the ground like a Hawaiian luau.
We spoke in broken Spanish with the farmer’s daughter, Carol, about the agrarian life they led. Throughout the meal, we constantly heard the tsunami alerts going off on phones like a symphony of terror every time. After many walks around the farm and house, we had worn out our welcome and were feeling restless.
It was about this time when everyone got word that the tsunami they had warned of never made it to land. There was a sigh of relief and you could feel the tension loosen in the air. We headed toward the ferry port to ride back to the mainland. Even though we were told the tsunami alert was over, we continued to look over our shoulder toward the ocean as we sat on the top deck of the ferry. Thankful for safety, we arrived at the mainland, but I know none of us will soon forget the earthquake and tsunami of Christmas 2016. So travel tip #53, when someone asks you why is the bridge moving…. Always check first to make sure you’re on a bridge. Happy unpredictable, earth-shaking traveling!