If you happened to tune into international news at all over this past week, you might have heard about the torrential rains that pummeled northern Chile for three days straight. Northern Chile is basically a desert, so this kind of rainfall caused flooding and mudslides throughout the region, including in the Valle de Elqui, where I now live.
My first taste of this was on Tuesday morning, when my fellow volunteer and I were on the way to Vicuña to meet the teachers who take us to the more distant schools in the Vicuña microcentros. All of the cars we passed along the way were flashing their headlights at our car, and this was why: a mudslide down one of the many canyons in the area, which coated the main highway with mud. It is still being cleared today, four days later! Mudslides are no joke.
While my colleague decided to go to his usual school located in our town, I had no choice but to return home where I was able to get some work done on report I’m writing on my experience during orientation. Sometime around noon, the power went out, and it stayed out for 50 hours!
During a break in the rain, we looked outside and saw that the giant chirimoya tree had broken in half due to the fierce rains and winds. Thankfully, it happened far enough away from the house that there was no damage to the property. We collected the chirimoya from the broken limbs and hopefully they will ripen enough to eat!
On Wednesday morning, it was clear enough outside that I wandered the property picking up fallen key limes (limón de pica), palta (avocado), chirimoya, and figs. I collected two heavy bags full! The limes are perfect for use, and I’m hoping that a good percentage of the palta will ripen enough to eat. By late morning, the rain began again, and I stayed inside with my host family and my fellow volunteer, playing Uno and watching the rain with the kids.
Later that afternoon, the skies cleared again, and sun poked through the clouds. I looked outside, seeing the grey in one direction and the bright rays in the other, wondering if there would be a rainbow. Not only was there a rainbow, there were two, and they were two of the largest, most vibrant rainbows I have ever seen. A treat for the eyes!
Before dinner, I strolled down towards the river, hoping to get a clearer view of what the weather looked like around the Valle. While the storm clouds still surrounded the mountains, the sky had cleared enough to reveal the snow-capped peaks high above the Valle. This was yet another visual treat, making the rain worth it.
Just before sunset, I raced back down the hill, knowing that the big clouds and semi-clear skies would lead to an amazing sunset. I was not disappointed.
That night, we all decided to go to bed early. The rain had stopped and the skies had cleared, but the power had not returned. As I walked back to my apartment, attached to my host family’s home, I stopped and watched the stars, twinkling in the clear night sky. I was especially impressed by how extensive the Milky Way looked. As my host mom said later, what I experienced was the true nature of the Valle. It only took a power outage to give me a chance to see what this region is all about.
I read some more of Quiet on my Kindle and conserved the last bit of charge on my cell phone, my only view to the outside world. However, I was not to sleep well; just before midnight, I heard commotion on the street. A rumor had passed through my small town that the reservoir above us was overflowing and could flow down the Valle, taking us out, finding another route besides the swollen river. We quickly fled to higher grounds, which was terrifying due to the dark and the lack of information. I kept thinking of the buried town near Huaraz and my imagination got the best of me; I trembled like a leaf.
Up above Diaguitas, near the cemetery, the whole town waited for news, and I saw a little bit about the blocked river on Twitter. After about an hour, it became clear that it was a false alarm; two of the towns nearer the reservoir had indeed been evacuated, but it was a preventative measure. We headed back to the house, having late night tea before trying to sleep again.
On Thursday morning, we woke to clear skies, relieved that the rain had finally stopped. But it was not to be so; the rain continued throughout the afternoon, pummeling us once again. Thankfully, our power came back around 2PM and I rushed to charge all my devices and find out more information through Twitter. I found out that school was cancelled again on Friday, because normal routines would be hard to get back into. Many of the communities around the Valle were significantly affected by the mud that flowed through its streets and down its hills, and everyone needed time to restore their lives to normal.
The rain finally stopped for good on Thursday night, and the past two days have been warm and sunny, drying up the rain that was so necessary but so destructive in the Valle. This area has been in drought for eight years, and the plants definitely needed this deep watering, but we’ll see if the drought actually ends this winter. This was quite an experience for us; I am so used to snow shutting down my city, but rain is another story!
We were lucky enough to have gas and water throughout the rainstorm, which made its impact on our daily lives rather slight. I spent a lot of time reading, hanging out with the kids, and playing cards. I have definitely adapted to the more relaxed lifestyle of the region, and I mostly wanted power so that I could keep in touch with people outside the Valle who might have heard about the greater devastation further north. Rain is so necessary in the desert regions, but it can also be so dangerous.
I have so many photos I want to share and stories I want to tell about my experience here and back in Peru, but I have a double challenge now: internet continues to be inconsistent, and now my four-year-old MacBook Pro is having frequent kernel panics. It is likely a hardware issue and something I am unlikely to invest a lot more money and even more time into fixing. Thankfully, my organization already wanted to get me a work laptop, so I should be in more consistent contact in the next couple of weeks. Next weekend is Easter weekend, and Viernes Santo (Good Friday) is a holiday, so I will either escape to the coast or to Santiago. More to come from there!