Shaken up

It’s our first morn­ing on Chiloé. We are halfway through our break­fast when my tea­spoon sud­den­ly starts danc­ing on its saucer. At the same time it seems like some­one is at bang­ing on the door. Sur­prised, we feel that the floor is shak­ing. It is only then that we real­ize the whole house is shak­ing. So this is what an earth­quake feels like. No one in the hos­tel shows any signs of run­ning out­side, so we also stay where we are. After a few sec­onds, it’s already over.

In the Chilean con­text, this was not a remark­able event. The coun­try lies on the bound­ary of tec­ton­ic plates that move towards each oth­er. This is why mas­sive earth­quakes have occurred through­out the his­to­ry of the coun­try, often caus­ing tsunamis. When Dar­win moored here with the Bea­gle in 1835, he expe­ri­enced the earth­quake in Con­cep­ción, which ruined the entire city. Here on Chiloé peo­ple often refer to the earth­quake of 1960, the strongest ever mea­sured world­wide. Isabel Allende describes it as fol­lows: “In the ten min­utes that the earth­quake last­ed, the lakes shrunk, entire islands dis­ap­peared, the earth opened up and rail­ways, bridges and roads sunk into the depths.”

Tectonic plates

The tec­ton­ic plates that are shap­ing Chile, and the loca­tion of Chiloé, where we are now.

What we felt dur­ing break­fast was an after­shock of the earth­quake of last Christ­mas Day, with its epi­cen­ter in the ocean just south of Chiloé. The dam­age was lim­it­ed that day, the biggest news was that a piece of road that had just been renewed, was bro­ken again. When we trav­eled across the island by bus lat­er that day, we could still see the large chunks of con­crete lying along the road.

Nat­ur­al dis­as­ters in Chile are not lim­it­ed to earth­quakes. Cur­rent­ly, enor­mous wild­fires are rag­ing in the area south of San­ti­a­go, the worst the coun­try has ever known. This week on tele­vi­sion, we see the same destruc­tion that Dar­win saw in Con­cep­ción: peo­ple who have lost their homes and crops, farm ani­mals dying of hunger. Inci­den­tal­ly, these fires might not be entire­ly nat­ur­al; in some cas­es there is evi­dence that they have been start­ed by peo­ple.

Peeling the peas

All in all, I am now more aware of the dan­ger­ous and unpre­dictable side of Chile. On the farm where we have been for more than a week now, nature shows a dif­fer­ent side of her­self. A large diver­si­ty of plants grows in the field: straw­ber­ries, peas, pota­toes and a lot of veg­eta­bles that I do not know. There are large (unheat­ed) green­hous­es with grapes, toma­toes and much more. All of this com­plete­ly organ­ic, by mak­ing clever use of nat­ur­al process­es.

This farm is the only one in Chiloé which sells cer­ti­fied organ­ic prod­ucts. The farmer gives work­shops and is very involved in the preser­va­tion of native vari­eties. There is a lot to do in the field and we work long hours. I’ll tell more about that lat­er, for now it is back to work and hop­ing that the next earth­quake will be a long time com­ing…

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