Walking by Faith When the Planet Shakes
Afterward, no one could remember whose idea it was to go to the disco. But it
may well have saved their lives.
It had been a lazy afternoon at the beach for the beginning of the last weekend
of the summer. The two twenty-somethings who had arrived from Michigan on
Wednesday had overcome their jet lag and enjoyed dipping their toes in the chilly Pacific and catching enough rays to lose their pale faces. The quintet enjoyed dinner at a laid back beachside café where the adventurous among them
sampled a seafood chowder called mariscal, washed down with margaritas. They were a bit of an odd set: dark-haired Pablo and his cousin Matias, strawberry-blonde (and self-described gringa) Carissa, and the two recent arrivals, Carissa's college classmates, blonde Amanda and buzz-cut Ben. After dinner they were just 'chillin' until they decided to move on to the pulsing dance floor of Katanga Planet. Turning in early was not on the minds of the many college students in town; classes would start again on Monday, but 'til then party like it's…19.99 hours to Sunday.
And so it was on to the KP although in truth it was already well past midnight,
which is when one prefers to be dancing anyway.
They were able to stake out a cushioned booth in a corner just off the dance
floor, but they didn't linger there as the sound was so continuously dense that
conversation was impossible. They formed a circle of five, each moving inward
and outward with dance steps in phase like a beating heart compressed by the
larger circles of the other revelers around them, arms raised in celebration of
the liberty to live consequence-free. The young Americans were a continent and a
culture removed from dear old, conservative, Calvin College, class of '08.
They danced to set after unremitting set of techno-tunes (a music style called
cumbia according to Carissa), when the song abruptly changed. The dance floor was struck like the blow of a gong, but a blow that kept hammering. "Oh my God!
Holy crap" and screams mostly in Spanish or the universal lingua franca of
abject terror. The lights went out, the DJ's music stopped, windows shattered
and wine bottles smashed on the floor. Carissa and Amanda found each other in
the dark, and then braced on a wood pillar that supported the peaked ceiling of
the club. Ben bent his knees like a surfer riding wave after merciless breaking
wave. For ninety seconds that seemed nine hundred the earth tried to shake fleas
off its itchy back. And then it stopped.
The five found each other beneath the trees outside, where the only light was
the nearly-full moon. Limbs still shaking from the backwash of adrenaline, the
Americans wanted nothing more now than to get back to their rented cabin by the
beach and sleep off the shock of experiencing a world-class temblor. It was, as
the song says, "twenty-five or -six to four" in the morning.
But Pablo was excited. Run! Run! He urged, and they sprinted together toward
Pablo's car and piled in. Pablo backed out of his parking space and shifted
quickly into high gear. Matias rode shotgun with the three Americans crammed in
the tiny back seat. The trick now was to swiftly navigate the darkened streets,
avoiding major fissures that might have opened in the roadway or buildings
fallen into the road. Plus avoid hitting pedestrians and other cars bent on the
same objective, namely to get from sea level to the ridgeline south and east above
the village. When the way ahead opened clear of the lower village, Pablo gunned
it across a bridge that spanned a ravine. It seemed to Ben that the car wobbled
a bit as they cleared the upper end. He looked back to see that the bridge had
collapsed in their wake. Onward and upward they sped. Silently in the back seat,
At length they pulled up beside a two-story house that overlooked the bay and
the Pacific Ocean beyond, but they did not go in. There were steps behind the
house that continued up the hillside to the top of the ridge. They were now a
mile distant and over 400 vertical feet above the beach. Pablo began to explain,
my uncle told me about the big terremoto back in '60, after the first shocks
there was even worse damage from the maremoto, the big waves that came after. We gotta get to higher ground, now! Tsunami! was the lightbulb that flashed in their muddled brains. They regarded the shallow horseshoe-shaped bay by the shore they had just left. It was placid now. But when the waters receded to gather force, that bay would focus the wrath of the waves on the now-vulnerable village of Dichato.
Here, above the town, they waited. They did not have to wait long.
Out on the moonlit ocean a ghostly curtain of water drew up as the bay was
sucked dry. The anchored fishing fleet settled into the mud, before a 40-foot
high swell swept scores of boats across the beach and beyond. Thousands of
wooden home frames snapped like twigs for kindling. The ocean swelled to fill
the valley, rising and rising until the straining waves just licked the rear
tires of Pablo's car. Then, somehow satisfied, the water pulled back.
As the moon sank into the western ocean and the dawn came in high scattered pink
clouds, the waves came again and again and again, wreaking havoc on Dichato down
below. Pablo had a radio on, and an emergency broadcast system was advising that
the danger had passed, but they had no thoughts of returning to their beach
cabin.Tired and helpless all they could do was sit and watch and imagine the
destruction and the death being delivered by a restless earth and ocean. And
when dawn came the tranquil bay was strewn with the pathetic flotsam of what had
been a living town.
Carissa's parents had left Dichato mid-week after visiting their far-flung
daughter, and were back home in Michigan. They would wake up Saturday morning
and hear what had happened, but they would not know. They would try to call. And they would get…nothing.
There was no cell service in central Chile. Who knew when there might be service, or power...any type of communications, again.
Before leaving on this trip Amanda had been on the phone with her mother and
somewhat randomly told her that if it were ever required for identification
purposes, God forbid, she had a unique body marking, i.e. a tattoo on her foot.
Dear old mom was taken aback at not having been previously consulted on this,
even if this was her adult daughter's chosen means of expression. At least, for
mom's sake, it was an affirmation of Amanda's Christian conviction. Amanda,
sandals off as she rested tired feet, regarded herself now, a sojourner in a
devastated landscape. Her backpack, her clothing, her U.S. passport were almost
certainly awash along with the shattered timbers of the cabin she and her
friends had rented by the beach, but those seemed small things now. Those things
were not her life, the life which she still had in heart, soul, mind and
strength. For now that would need to be enough to sustain her. They all would
need to walk more by faith now than had ever before been required of them.
...to be continued...