Wednesday, March 17. Day 1: Chimbarongo, Colchagua Valley
Friend and photographer Mari Correa and I set out on Wednesday, March 17 to begin our trip south to visit wineries in the earthquake zone. We are just beginning a project sponsored by Wines of Chile and this is the first of several such trips over the coming months to document what happened in the wineries and how the people—more than the companies—are coping today and where they’re heading tomorrow.
First stop: Viña Cono Sur in Chimbarongo.
Viña Cono Sur has generously offered to put us up in their enormous 100-year-old guest house for a couple nights while we explore the Colchagua Valley. We arrive late and Brand Manager Claudia Pfau is waiting for us. The elegant adobe house has remarkably little damage. The entire first floor was refurbished three years ago and withstood the force of the earthquake with just minor plaster cracking. The second floor, which was not refinished and is not currently used, did not fare as well, but its damage was non-structural and can be easily repaired.
We settle in, open a nice bottle of wine, and start to unwind in the large living room before heading off to bed. As we swap the inevitable “where were you when it happened” stories and ease in to we-are-not-in-Santiago mode, we suddenly hear/feel a rumble-rattle from the south side of the house. It roars through, gives us a good shake, and vwhoom… out it goes to the north.
Whoa! What the…
We all stared at each other. It all happened too fast to be scary or even to react. And there was no reason to really. Just a little 5-pointer. By the time the week was out we would be sleeping through near 6’s.
Being a city dweller, I am little accustomed to feeling temblores—tremors—at ground level. I have always been told that you hear them first, that the ground roars, that it sounds like a freight train barreling through your life… and so it was. We could actually sense its movement from south to north and our heads very literally turned to follow the sound from the back door to the front.
It was like a ghost whooshing through the house, stopping just long enough to wag its finger at us and say, “I’m not through with you yet!” And indeed it was not. Aftershocks would repeatedly shake us and wake us as we headed south. By the end of the trip we would become accustomed to them, and people along the way told us that “we don’t even pay attention to anything less than a 7.” Just part of life in the earthquake zone.
What lies ahead
Over the course of the next several days, Mari and I interviewed people at wineries, shops, and literally on the streets in the wine regions hardest hit by Chile’s latest mega-quake: the Colchagua Valley (Chimbarongo, Santa Cruz, and Peralillo), Curicó, and the Maule Valley (Talca, San Javier, and Constitución). We heard stories that would be hard to believe had we not been surrounded by pile upon pile of escombros, the wreckage and rubble of the material aspects of so many lives turned upside down. Homes meant to protect lives and property turned traitorously treacherous and became a source of danger rather than safety. Walls meant to define a barrier between the “out there” from the “in here,” the “them” from the “us” toppled to expose all that was meant to be private.
The earthquake turned many lives upside down and inside out, and in the days that come, I will reproduce many of the stories and photos of the people and places we encountered.