My Bucket List Adventure: February 27, 2010
My traveling companion, Joaquin Tortos, and I had just ended our eight-day horse trek through the Andes Mountains, so we were sleeping soundly.
But the peaceful night ended at 3:34 a.m. (the middle of the night)… Our world was violently shaking, and all over the city, car alarms screamed that they were being violated. 300 miles away, chaos, death, and destruction devastated central Chile—but where I slept that night, no one died and no buildings collapsed. Joaquin awoke and exclaimed, “That was a BIG earthquake!” Joaquin Tortos is a veteran survivor of disastrous earthquakes. He lives within the shadow of the Turrialba Volcano which recently reignited after a 150-year siesta. His home is Costa Rica, Central America, which, like Chile, is a land of violent earthquakes and active volcanoes.
We were safe, but many miles away in Costa Rica and the United States, our families were deeply concerned that we might have been injured or killed. One of my daughters was worried that I had died, and her husband reassured her with this thought: “Honey, your dad is not dead—but if he is dead… that is the way that he would like to go!” When I heard about his comment, I heartily agreed.
One of my sons took a much more pragmatic approach and checked Google Maps to determine that I was about 300 miles from the epicenter and deduced that I was out of danger. As it turned out, there was extensive destruction throughout a 250-mile radius of the earthquake’s origin.
Although we were uninjured, our travel plans were turned upside down. Chile immediately declared a national emergency and began to ration gasoline and other fuels. All airline flights were cancelled due to the extensive damage in Santiago, the capital city. All domestic flights in Chile are routed through Santiago. The airport was out of operation, and many highways, bridges, and other infrastructure were destroyed. See photos here.
Suddenly, we had a BIG problem! How do you get home when your airline has shut down indefinitely and has cancelled all flights? All telephone lines are jammed with calls and you are a long, long way from home… At first I thought, “Well, if we can’t get home, then we will just make the best of it.” But I was promptly told that since gas was being rationed, there would be no more tours. Fortunately, our horse trek tour organizer, Catherine Berard, and her assistant Susana Uribe worked tirelessly to rescue us and “find us a way out of Dodge.”
Cathy apologized that the airline refused to refund any money due to the loss of our flights and that emergency travel was going to be… “a little expensive.” We assured her that our wives would be oh-so happy to have us back home and that they would forgive this over-spending. Unfortunately, I did not know that my wife had just sent an e-mail which stated, “If you cannot get back… I will just go on without you.”
Nonetheless, we hired a private driver to race through the twists and turns of the Andean passes to try to make the Chile/Argentina border crossing by the closing time of 9:00 p.m. We held our breath while our driver used both lanes to make better time. We reached the Argentinean border guards at exactly 8:53 p.m. and they closed the gates behind us!
Early the next morning we dragged into the offices of AeroLineas Argentina to see if we could get tickets to Buenos Aires, which we could. From there we flew to Panama City, and then to be reunited with our Costa Rican family and my wife, Rose. Whew!
Please help with Chilean disaster relief. Here are two trusted organizations which can help us make people’s lives better: