I spent the next couple hours sitting or squatting under the doorframe of my room. I stood up every time there was an aftershock but I didn’t whimper anymore. Only once after a long silence did I gasp loudly when a large aftershock jolted the building. As it got go be daylight I was able to finish packing. I wanted nothing more than to get out of Valparaiso. I still didn’t have a clear sense of what was happening farther away but I didn’t care. I texted Andy that there had been an earthquake, I was ok but I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t expect him to get it until the morning. It would have been about 1am in Saint Paul.
Andy texted me back within minutes saying he checked the news and it was a big earthquake, lots of damage. I think I probably texted that I was scared a hundred times. Looking back, that wasn’t very nice. If the situation were reversed, I would have cried with frustration.
I needed to get to Santiago. My flight home was set for the next day. I got a taxi and was dropped off at the bus terminal. On the way I could see some of the worse damage in downtown Valparaiso. I took pictures. It was nearing 8am when I was dropped off. The terminal was packed. People were clustered together, but all the storefronts including the bus counters were still closed. In Chile, like many other places, storefronts are behind big garage door-type barriers. None of them were open. Before I got out of the taxi I asked the driver what time they usually open on Saturdays. 5am. It wasn’t looking good.
I was starving and thirsty. It was starting to get hot. People were getting mad. I had all my bags with me and they were cutting into my shoulders, but I didn’t feel safe putting them down. I settled on straddling the biggest bag and planting the smaller one in my lap. Eventually a snack kiosk arrived and I bought water, juice and some cookies. There were a few small aftershocks, and people took them without much alarm.
I started thinking about bridges and roads and tunnels between Valpo and Santiago. People milled. I texted Andy that I was at the bus station. I was about to text him that none of the bus counters were open and that there weren’t any buses to be seen when a kid, maybe 16 walked too close to me and tried to slap the phone out of my hands and grab it. I happened to have a particularly hard grip on it and it didn’t budge. He slid between two parked cars and disappeared, walking into the crowd.
I put my phone away and kept it away except for a few short texts made from protected locations. If he had taken my phone I would have been totally screwed. I waited for 3 or 4 hours at the bus station. The buses heading to my destination weren’t the right company (I had bought round trip tickets on Pullman) and the Pullman buses who did show up were all headed to somewhere else.
It seemed like every one there was waiting to get to Santiago. When the first Pullman pulled around the corner with Santiago on the front window, there was a mad dash. I was on the correct side of the street already, and I already had my ticket. So I shouldered my bags and waded in. People had their jaws set and their elbows out. I handed my baggage to the uniformed guy throwing bags into the baggage compartment. A young man motioned for me to get in in front of him. I did. The bus seats filled up and the aisles were packed with people.
I wasn’t in a seat and the driver said anyone without a seat had to get off the bus, it wasn’t safe. One woman in front of me wouldn’t get off, she argued that she and her girls could all share one seat. They went back and forth and in the meantime I was stuck in the bus being pushed from behind by people who had been ordered off. It was chaos. The woman in front of me was eventually removed from the bus, but in the meantime, I climbed over her bags and got back off the bus. I retrieved my bags and waited for the next Pullman to Santiago.
There were rumors and angry accusations flying all over. Customers complained about needing to be with their families and bus drivers spat back that they had families too. Some drivers said there would be no further buses to Santiago, others said they didn’t know and still others said, one would be coming soon. Eventually I got onto a bus. I was so happy to have unloaded my bags and be sitting out of the sun. I texted Andy that I was on the bus.
I put my head against the window and took a breath. The further we got from the hills of Valpo, the calmer I felt. Then I remembered I would have to go through tunnels. This was not a comforting thought. I realized again that thinking about something bad happening isn’t actually enough to stop it from happening. Eventually a watched pot does boil, and even though I was counting ( to 43), the tunnel might crumble on top of me and the other people trying to get out of Valpo. It did not crumble.
My next herculean task was to figure out which side of the street, and which pick-up lane would get me a taxi that would take me back to the Hotle Lyon in Santiago. I don’t get taxis in my own country, much less Chile. But there it was, and it had to be done no matter how sweaty my pits were.