Ring of Fire

The border takes longer than I anticipated and I discover a two hour time change in Chile…. By the time I get to Arica, It is almost 3:00. Time to find some lodging.

I’d gotten smarter in Puno and researched a good place to put my head for the night..  it is called Sunny Days  Hostel. An excellent, inexpensive safe and friendly place run by a Kiwi. There is ample bike parking. I meet some great personalities here and another gal doing a super blog! http://pingpongnation.net/ she includes a bit about me in her Santiago post (love to hear about that) !!

The ride from Arica to Iquique is a desolate, winding, desert road. IMG_1626There are a couple small towns I can stop and eat, but no real fuel stops. IMG_8924I suspect I can buy fuel from a local vendor but I’m hoping to make it to Iqq without having to stop. I estimate I have at least 400 kilometers of fuel and am comfortable with the 300km that the signs advertise… besides, I have an extra liter in the bike.Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.07.41 AM

I am looking for the flying hostel, and have no good adress for the place, instead look for people in the air.. this is always a likely way to find pilots.

The town at the top of the hill is called Alto Hospicio… I think this means  high hospice.. which is an apt name, because the dune they are perched on is thousands of feet above the city below.

I do see a couple of pilots, but don’t see the launch they take off from… it seems to be on a different road.

I descend into the city, but about halfway down, the bike begins to sputter and choke. And finally quits. I am confused, because this should be only about three quarters of the fuel I have stored… Perhaps it is a vapor lock. I pull over and open the fuel tank.. I leave it open and am able to start the bike again. I am almost at the bottom of the hill when it begins to behave oddly again. I pull into the nearest petrol station and fill the tank. It takes 17 liters.

As I cruise the city, I have no more bike issues. I ask a few people where I can find paraglider pilots. Finally, I roll up to a small house with a sign and knock. Indeed, there are pilots here, but I discover that I am at the wrong place. They are hospitable and call the flight park for me. I get good directions and head off.

The Flight park is a small compound built out of shipping containers. IMG_8928 IMG_8927 IMG_8985 IMG_8993
I love this construction, because it feels sustainable and safe. I am greeted immediately by a friendly group of pilots and some very sweet dogs… It takes me the time between a handshake and a smile to feel like I’ve come home. IMG_9041I park the bike and find my room. It is a dorm, but I am the only one there. Only moments after I drop my bags, I am invited to the grocery store.

The city is modern… whenever I say modern, I feel like I am making a difference between America and somewhere else…. I don’t have an equivalent city in the US that it looks like, but perhaps I can describe it as a cross between Gallup, NM and and Port Angeles, Washington… except the seaport city is framed by towering sand dunes and rocky high desert.IMG_8952 The grocery store is the size of a large King Soopers.. Safeway.. whatever it is you have.. and sports everything except for notably, a fresh seafood case… This I don’t actually notice until later. I am more interested in the produce aisle… more lettuce, broccoli and fresh greens than I have seen in a long time. I gather a big cart of vegetables, fruits and pasta for the next couple days.

The plan: Fly.  Learn as much as I can about moto sales, try to sell the bike here. If I can’t, then I need to leave for Santiago and sell the bike there, but I will be at a significant disadvantage… I will only have the weekend and only one skinny hour before my flight out on Monday… I am late arriving to Chile because of the delays in Peru.. and other places.

After our shopping trip, I return to the park and get myself settled. The rest of the pilots have already gone to fly. I am not interested in going out for dinner. I am working with my last couple hundred dollars I’ve allotted myself and need to use the kitchen. Besides, I think I’ll have a better chance to try Chilean cuisine when I’m in Santiago.

In the morning, (Sunday)I begin to make inquiries about the moto. There is a fellow who is interested, but he wont’ be in until Monday. Maybe. It is a little close, but I’m a risk taker.. I don’t feel too stressed about the short delay. It still gives me a little time to play with.

Since I’ve been here, we have had a dozen or more small earthquakes.. the ground seems like it is constantly moving.

Around ten-thirty the same day, we pile into a bus and ride to launch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_8947
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt takes about an hour for the conditions to become flyable and finally we launch… the site is pleasant, but not a lot of lift, I circle in the little bubbles for half an hour before losing interest and making a good landing right behind home.

I always consider it a good flight if I’ve made a great launch, caught some lift and landed softly where I wanted.

Safety and good decisions in flight are the name of my game nowadays… I love to fly, but I love to have the opportunity to fly again even more.

During the day, a large group of motorcyclists arrive.. 17 of them with a tour group!! They are Germans mostly. A lot of them speak English, so I get to meet a few of the gang. They have a chase vehicle that carries most of their gear, spare tires, parts, etc.. it’s awesome.IMG_1635

IMG_1637In the afternoon, I’m delighted to discover that the crew goes to another site. It’s called Palo Buque…. a vasty expanse of desert rock and dune.. totally undeveloped flying adventure.

IMG_8938IMG_1631I am impressed with its sweeping austere beauty and ocean vista… it is almost enough to sit and breathe in the emptiness.

The next day, I take off from everything. My plan is to wait for my potential buyer and have a down day. I’ve been pushing myself beyond hard and am exhausted… the tired feeling is in my bones and I’m grateful I am allowing myself this respite. In the afternoon, my guy shows up. He is interested and says he needs to look up the prices for the bike. … I don’t like delays in South America. If one hears it will be a half an hour wait, it can turn into a full day. Easily… usually longer. But this is Chile, so I cross my fingers and hope for better. Besides, I still have a day.

Tuesday. Apr 1

I feel refreshed in the morning and am ready to fly. IMG_8943IMG_1628We take the bus to launch and wait. And wait. It never really gets very good so I decide to launch anyway. It is a sled ride, but I don’t mind, it is enough for me to be airborne here and land in the sand near home.. Some of the other pilots wait another hour and launch into mildly better conditions, but we are not in the best season for soaring. It is poppy, bouncy flying. There are little bubbly pockets of lift which you must take advantage of.. and work hard to get higher than the top of the mountain… some people do, but not most.

Again, in the afternoon, we go to Palo Buque.. I look up the name and believe it means “Wooden Boat” or “ship mast” but I think the first is more accurate.?

Me, two stoic Austrians, my new Sweedish frined who is learning to fly, her New Zealand boyfriend and a German girl all get some short flights and return happy and hungry. We set about making dinner. It is dark now and a beautiful evening, a thin crescent of white, smiling moon glows over the ocean. The Two Austrians are making pasta while my friends are treating me to a first class salmon and potato salad dinner… They are treating me like royalty… serve me a cold Corona and tell me to relax and wait. As I futz around on Facebook, the ground begins to shake. This is not out of the ordinary. The ground has been shaking since I arrived. It makes the water in your glass wiggle. Sometimes it feels a little wavy under your seat… like I’m back on the boat.

And then it gets ViolentI am in a giant, creepy snowglobe that someone is shaking up.

I look around and see the door behind me is occupied…  everything I remember about earthquakes is… get under a table. So I do.

The table skitters around on the floor around me. I am on all fours looking out at the mayhem. All the lights wink out… here.. in the city… it is dark.  There is a roaring noise and a great deal of grinding and crashing..  behind the sound of smashing glass… in the kitchen, outside. Things are breaking. Big things.  “this isn’t happening… this isn’t happening.” I think to myself. “I can’t believe this is happening.” Finally.  The world is shaking. everything is moving.. My mind races and I try to think of ways to protect meyself better, but I don’t come up with anything better than this.  I keep looking at the buildings, I am worried the steel will topple over and squash me into jam. They are bouncing around… movie-like.. anything which is attached to the ground… which is everything.. rattling. like a toy..

It seems to go on a long time…  Someone pulls my friend from under the table.. I see her and another out on the stairs… It think to my self… “what can fall on me…? what can fall on me…?” “Nothing.” is the response.. and I rush out into open space.. it is difficult to run in a straight line with the world pitching around..  Someone is screaming and crying.. I hear another trying to comfort the panicking woman… The once friendly moon has changed into a blood red grin.. and then disappears into the dust entirely.

The ground heaves and bucks for another while and finally slows down to a tense jiggle. I am shivering. I can’t stop. I’m in a bit of shock and sit on the stair, still shaking, next to my friend. We say nothing. I sit for ten minutes. There is an eerie strangeness that is permeating everything.. and a great deal of dust in the air. And then, a loud, clear, military-like, siren… afollowed by “Attencion! Attencion! Attencion!” A sharp voice over a loudspeaker. “A possible Tsunami!” The voice announces in Spanish. And then instructions to retreat to high ground… the same booming voice. Over and over, every few minutes… accompanied by the siren. and the sirens of many ambulances, police, fire engines… dust is shrouding the whole scene in a kind of eerie, dim gloom.. There is a line of lights leaving the city harbor… it is all the boats that are manned.  They are going out to sea to avoid the tsunami.. the ones that stay risk devastation.

One of the people living here is a Bombedero… a fireman. He is pulling on his turnouts.. reflective pants and big heavy boots.. helmet and rushes out the big steel gates. Two people swing them shut behind. We are in a fortress. Protected on all sides by fence and high steel buildings.

The Austrians seem unfazed. The ground was still swaying while one of them was sweeping away his overturned pasta with piles of broken glass and ceramic into a dustpan. There is almost no light at all!!

We return to the dinner table. The pilot instructor, a Swede, Sune is already there with glasses full of amaretto and rum. “SKOL!” He says as he lifts his glass. We all grab one. “SKOL!” we say in unision as we dump the sweet liquor past our shaken lips… he refills our cups right away. IMG_8957We sit, pensive for a time. And then I begin to wonder what happened to the salmon… somehow, it was not thrown to the floor. Still raw, it was awaiting further disposition on the counter.

We find the propane tank and switch it back on… no smells. We light the stove, using headlamps and my little camping lantern, we begin cooking what is to be the BEST earthquake dinner. Ever.

The next day, we survey the damage. It was an 8.2. Town is closed. The power is out everywhere. The plumbing is broken. Some of the rooms were flooded. A couple of the hot water tanks from the roof have collapsed and poured their contents everywhere.IMG_1693 IMG_1676 IMG_1680 IMG_1679 IMG_1674 IMG_8956IMG_8969

I didn’t have that issue, but the armoire tipped over and slammed directly into the desk where my computer had been minutes before I had taken it to the table to surf Facebook.

There was a small Tsunami in the downtown area. It flooded a bus station and destroyed  many of the boats that had not left the harbor witht the warning siren. IMG_1704

IMG_9014The damage was significant, but minor to what it could have been considering the size of the quake. Building codes here in Iquique are strict.. and for obvious reason… this is one of the most seizmically activie regions on the planet. They are expecting “the big one” to come and destroy the city… Yes. They are expecting total destruction… many people are camped outside their homes in tents.. many are afraid to go back into their homes… I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to be in a wildly shivering and swaying high rise either…. I would never have thought to take residence in one anyhow.

There is a visible military presence. They came right away.. The grocery, gas station and department stores are all manned by conspiciously armed, camoflaged men. There sems to be no trouble… I’m sure they have a lot to do with that. A couple of buildings have collapsed.. smaller ones, some broken glass and one house with the fascade totally missing. IMG_9006
IMG_8999The above pics were taken three days after the 8.2. the grocery stores didn’t open for two days… the lines were outrageous at the gas stations and here… the wound down the block..

Toilet, sink and bath are all intact, but the wall is gone. It’s like a weird, giant dollhouse.

We can’t fly the morning ridge. There is military aircraft everywhere, helicopters mostly, and the road is blocked with a landslide.IMG_1754

BUT we can fly Palo Buque. Noone feels like it. Except, of course, the Austrians.. We suspect they may be cyborgs.

The next day is mellow too, we drive around the city, but mostly stay quiet and clean up after the mess.  We all agree to fly in the afternoon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_1658That evening, we all prepare dinner to share. Guacamole, pasta, chicken and cheesy potatoes. Dinner is again, fantastic and warm with the excellent company. The ground hasn’t stopped moving all day. Hardly five minutes pass that we don’t feel a shake, a wiggle a little bounce.. something. IMG_9034

Then suddenly, again. The shaking.. lights go out, less crashing, but more dust. It is choking. So thick it is impossible to see the 15 story highrise right next door. Tsunami sirens wail again. And then the voice…

I’m somewhat numb this time. I really feel like I’m in a dream… like it’s happening, but I’m sure I’ll wake up and tell everyone in the morning. But this doesn’t happen. We look at each other “At least it didn’t ruin dinner..”

The generators are running.. we are the only lights in town.  We hear it was a 7.8 quake.

Sune has found another bottle of the Amarreto and rum combo.

2 thoughts on “Ring of Fire”

  1. OMG – I was wondering whether you had made it to Iquique by the time the quake hit. What a story!

    “….We think they’re Cyborgs”…. classic!. Glad you all had the presence of mind to up the alcohol consumption in time of trouble! Well done.

    Be well, have fun, and happy travels!

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