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.”
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.
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…