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Saturday, February 27, 2010

From Our Travel Writer Who's In Chile On Assignment


Hello from Chile, about 11 hours post-quake!

Steve and I were on the Futaleufu River in Patagonia, Chile, this week, covering the world's most luxurious river rafting trip on what is arguably the world's most challenging and sought-after rafting river (more on that to come). We left the Chilean countryside at about 7:00 this morning for the airport in Balmaceda, planning to connect for an evening flight from Santiago to Miami. It's almost impossible to describe the Patagonian countryside . .. only tiny farms quite far apart on gravel roads. That's why it took a while before we knew that there had been an earthquake. Finally, our bus driver got word via his cell phone that all airports were closed due to a major quake. As you can imagine, it was a little frustrating to be out in the middle of nowhere, as cell phone service was almost non-existent, and we couldn't get internet connections on our phones. Our group of 12 Americans kept going, thinking that it might be quite a small quake and that reports might be overblown.

We eventually stopped at a gas station, where the proprietor told us that the quake had been an 8.4. We didn't think that could be right - we had never heard of a quake that big, so we assumed that either news was not getting through accurately or our Spanish was not good enough to figure out the term for "Richter scale."

So we kept going. It wasn't until we reached the tiny town of Coyhaique that we learned the reports were true. What to do? Eventually, we decided that our best bet was to stay put, where we could access news and Internet and figure out how to proceed. We're now in a little hotel in Coyhaique waiting out the situation. We think (!) that we are about 800 miles south of Santiago. It's really interesting to be here - word is just spreading down here, and gas stations have lines a mile long because there will be no way to get gas down. Cell service is not working, and neither are ATM's, etc. that rely on services from Santiago. Same with airlines - their computer systems are totally down, so they can't tell us anything.

A bunch of the river group we were with are now on a bus to Argentina to try to find a way north through Buenos Aires. We decided not to do that because we figured lots of people would be trying to get out through Argentina. We do hold tickets out of Santiago (through Balmaceda), so eventually they will have to honor those. Seemed safer and less crazy to us - we'll see!

Once we found a place with internet, the 12 of us in our river rafting group emailed home and asked friends to call our families. We also all posted on Facebook that we were OK and asked our FB friends to update their own statuses to get the word out that we were all right.

Our 10-year-old daughter was told about the quake by her skating coach this morning- she was very scared, but we have been able to Google Chat with her to calm her down. Again, no cell phone service, but some land line phone service. It's scary, but it could be a lot worse.

So for now, adios from Chile. We'll keep you posted on our progress!

Steve and Lisa McElroy

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