CUANDO VAS PARA CHILE

Because of the 8.8 earthquake in Chile this week, I’m throwing in another blog ahead of Wednesday’s.

Last spring, Connie and I (and our cruise buddies, Bob and Lucy Earp) took a cruise from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile, our first opportunity to get acquainted with a country that had been only a name to us before.

The result: we fell in love with Chile and Chileans. Unquestionably, the most poignant moment for us took place just a few miles from Chacabuco.  We had just watched Chilean folk dancers swirling around inside a club house—all the while we’d been gobbling up their delicious (and fattening) empanadas. After dancing a while as couples, the dancers delighted our cruise party by circling through our ranks, waving white handkerchiefs, searching for someone of the opposite sex to dance with them; this amalgamation of Chilean young people and travelers went on for over half an hour.

Finally, it was time to re-board our bus, and our group began filing out.  Unfortunately, we chose to exit during the most haunting song I’d yet heard in Chile.  I stopped, sensing something unusually poignant in the lyrics and melody.  I asked one of the bystanders what it was called, and was told in Spanish that it was “Cuando Vas Para Chile,” a song they sing to travelers so they’d remember and come back; a song so loved it is all but their national anthem.  Afterwards, I got on the mike in the bus and told everyone what they’d missed: our farewell song.  A song that ostensibly is about a loved one, but in a deeper sense the real loved one is that 2,500 mile-long slender strip of a nation, with incredible diversity and beauty.

So it was that we left Chile vowing to return, to get better acquainted with a people who’d captured our hearts in little more than a week.

Thus, now we can visualize the widespread grief that has rolled across Chile in waves since the earthquake devastated the country’s second-largest city, Conception.  True, everyone is aware they’re living on the Pacific Rim of Fire, a vast volcanic zone plagued by eruptions and earthquakes.  But, like most of us here, Chileans just take each day as it comes, hoping this day won’t be the one where it happens.  Unfortunately, Saturday turned out to be just that.

To Connie and me, this particular earthquake wasn’t merely the next earthquake after Haiti—but heartbreak for a people we now loved.  Real people who were no longer mere abstractions to us.  Not coincidentally, the people who make possible, more than any other, our being able to eat fresh fruit and vegetables all during our winter months.

So how can we not respond to their great need?

Si vas para Chile
Te ruego que pases por donde vive mi amada
es un casita, muy linda y chiquita,
que esta en las faldas de un cerro enclavada. . . .

And the song concludes by noting that Chilean villagers will always seek out the traveler and make of him a friend. . . .just as they do.