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23 richards Caroline Richards Wintering in Southern Chile I "Vamos bien, mañana mejor." —pro-government motto displayed everywhere in Chile In 1980 I toured Chile by bus and train from Africa in the North to Osorno and Puerto Montt, a distance of over 4600 kilometers. It was the first time I had ever traversed most of Chile's narrow, stony length by land, though certainly not my first visit to the country. Indeed, I have entered Valparaiso or Santiago so often by ship or plane that only with difficulty can I distinguish my journeys one from another. Yet certain arrivals stand out in my mind. In 1966, after twenty days at sea, I docked at Valparaiso in the fullness of summer. The bright, adobe-walled towns of the central valley exuded the strong odors of lemon blossoms and wisteria, and the people of the cities seemed lively and sophisticated. There were leisurely parties with pisco sours and Chilean wines and native folk music. A nice place to visit, but lacking in something I valued: excitement, challenge. It was a place, I concluded, where nothing ever happens. July 31, 1973: another sea voyage, this time docking at San Antonio, a port and fishing village to the south of Valparaiso. The country was beginning to endure a strike which was to bring down the Government. Gas stations were closed; taxis weren't running. With difficulty my husband , who had met my daughter and me at the ship, had found a driver who could obtain permission to purchase enough fuel to drive us to Valparaiso, where we could catch a train to our home. Truckers were parking their rigs in vast encampments, refusing to deliver goods to the cities. Right-wing terrorist gangs were blowing up radio towers and power stations, scattering nails on the roads to puncture tires. Housewives stood in line all morning to buy a chicken or a kilo of flour. It was almost impossible to believe that Chile's universally admired democratic institutions, her strong labor unions and political parties, would survive the crisis. The country had become unsafe to live in. Wrapped in a fog of fear and unbelief I waited for the inevitable confrontation which felled the Government on September 11th, asking myself — as I have so often since — how my life and welfare had become so intimately involved with this small, underdeveloped country I had once dismissed as dull. 24 the minnesota review In Chile I have always had the sensation of being cut off from the rest of the world, encircled by high mountains, balanced on a coastal shelf that is slipping into the sea. In July of 1980, travelling ever farther south, day after day, that feeling was even more pronounced. Soon, it seemed, I would be beyond rescue, outside civilization, lost in fjords, tossed by cold currents among bleak islands, finally falling off the edge, tumbling over the abyss, or standing upside down at the antipodes. Fortunately, the train stopped at Osorno in mid-Chile, far north of Tierra del Fuego. It is not a city one would travel thousands of miles to visit. Although the inhabitants are aware of its wealth and importance, and impressed with the extraordinary vista which stretches in every direction, they also display a fitting sense of humility about their city's attractions. "You mean you've been here since July?" they asked incredulously as the months wore on. "You mean you're staying until November?" Such peculiar behavior would have elicited comment under any circumstances, but July and August are the cold, rainy months — colder and rainier, that is, than the other months, which are also wet. If I had expected the local citizens to be thoroughly at home in their watery element, my illusions were soon dispelled. There are continual sighs and head-shakes as the sheets of rain fall relentlessly, regularly, day after day, coaxing good crops from the earth, abundant forests, and permitting a prosperous cattle industry. Osorno, crowning the center of enormous wealth, strikes the casual observer as a depressingly shabby town. There are a few new high-rises near the plaza, and plenty of banks, but one searches in vain for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 23-42
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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