Posts Tagged With: Pacific Ocean

A Death On The Beach

Search and rescue teams comb the beach

Ever wonder if God is trying to tell you something? If not God, maybe some spiritual or mystical force. How else to make sense of those neatly packaged series of random “coincidences” in your life?

I had arrived shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday in Iquique on the northern coast of Chile to enjoy a bit of its famed vibrant nightlife and to relax on its popular beaches. I got the expected fun-filled nightlife, spent with new Chilean friends who graciously picked me up at my hotel. We spent the evening sipping a variety of cocktails first at restaurant and bar called Runa and then dancing until the early morning hours to Latin music at the beachfront Mango’s Club. Between the food, the drinks and the dances, we laughed. Sometime during the evening I was struck with the thought that I had to be the luckiest man on Earth, living a life others only dream about. Here I was, after all, on a trip around the world, meeting some of the coolest people in city after city, town after town, village after village, who wanted nothing more but to make sure I had a good time in their country. So many have gone out of their way to see to that, and I am to them forever grateful.

On Friday morning, thinking it would be a good day to hit the beach, I pulled back the curtains of my hotel room only to witness some pretty big waves. Woah! That looks more suited for surfing than for swimming, was my thought. Then the news confirmed that the Pacific Ocean along the Chilean coastline was being anything but peaceful. The strong currents had swallowed a fishing boat anchored just off the beach early Friday morning and caused flooding on streets near the beach.

GRIEVING: This lifeguard's friend drowns two days after asserting there hasn't been a drowning on the beach in Iquique, Chile, in 12 years.

Still, I headed out for a walk on the beach. There, I stopped to talk to a lifeguard. I asked him a few questions about ocean conditions. He said the seas were pretty rough and that swimming was not an option. Surfers were the only ones being allowed in, but only if they used a Jet Ski to go out. The currents were too strong for them to paddle out.

It was at that point he shared with me that it had been 12 years since the last drowning in Iquique and that he wasn’t about to lose anyone on his watch. It was for that reason he had been on the radio dispatching other lifeguards to warn surfers and others about the dangerous ocean conditions. He then spent about a half hour giving me information about Iquique, such as things to do and places to see. With the antenna of his two-way radio, he drew directions in the wet sand. But then pointed out the nearby tourist information booth and accompanied me there to grab a map of the city. We walked back to the beach as he showed me points of interests on the map. Very nice of him. Back at the lifeguard stand, we shook hands and parted ways.

On Sunday, two days later, I drew back the hotel room curtains to see how the ocean was behaving. Still looked rough. In the distance, I could see a boat salvage crew raising the sunken fishing boat. A Chilean navy helicopter hovered above, then swooped down. Lots of activity on the water, but still no swimmers, just a few surfers. Okay, time for another walk on the beach, at least. Off I went.

A Chilean naval helicopter participates in the search for a missing man

On the beach, I snapped pictures of the boat being raised, and of ocean rescuers on boats and Jet Skis apparently in some sort of training exercise. The helicopter swept back and forth along the beach. Then I saw my friend the lifeguard and other lifeguards emerging from the ocean in their orange and black wet suits. I had snapped his picture out on the water on a Jet Ski earlier, but I had no idea it was him. He approached, shook my hand and asked how was my visit in Iquique so far and had I gone to the places he told me about. I said yes, and that I had a great time sightseeing that day and going out with local friends the previous night.

Searching the waters off the beach for a friend

When I stopped talking I noticed he seemed grim-faced. He then told me he and others were just wrapping up a long day searching for the body of a friend. He said his friend had swam out and went down in the strong currents. He was presumed drowned. He said rescuers – himself included – had been ought since 8 a.m., for at least 10 hours, looking for his friend’s body. The naval helicopter was also part of the search, he said. He added that in about seven days the body would probably float to surface or wash ashore. He was obviously very sad. This was the same lifeguard, after all, who two days earlier had told me there hadn’t been a drowning on the beach in Iquique for 12 years and he was hoping to keep it that way. That 12-year record was wiped out in a weekend and the victim someone close to him, no less. I couldn’t believe it. He climbed in the back of the white rescue pickup truck, waved goodbye to me, then looked solemnly in the direction of the ocean, maintaining his arm up in a wave. What was I to make of this irony? A lifeguard…says no deaths in 12 years on the beach…aims to preserve the record of safety during unusual currents…then two days later, someone he knows well drowns…on the stretch of beach he serves as lifeguard.

Calling it a day

He grieves. And I’m left to wonder. Is God trying to tell me something? Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into this and it’s simply just how life works sometimes – like God – in mysterious ways.

Divers and salvage crews work to raise a fishing boat sunk by rough seas

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Peru and Chile In Food Fight

"The Cause" of so much hate?

Chile and Peru are at war again.

The war between the two countries this time is not about political differences or control of mineral-rich territories. This one is a war of words about food – and at its core national pride – that emerged and has grown nasty in the past week. And it’s Chile this time around that is coming out on the losing end, one might say taking heat and trying to get out of the kitchen – fast!

The fight started with a promotional video released by Chile to showcase Chilean dishes and food products to a Russian market. With neighbor Peru known worldwide as a gastronomic powerhouse, Chile has been trying to step out of the shadow and improve its culinary image. In the video, titled “Flavors of Chile,” Chilean chef Christopher Carpentier prepares several dishes with ingredients he touts as Chilean. One of the dishes known as La Causa – The Cause – and a cocktail known worldwide as the Pisco Sour, are presented in the video. Never once in the video does Carpentier say the dish and cocktail originated in Chile, but the fact they are presented in a video labeled “Flavors of Chile” sets off Peruvians, who have a longstanding beef with Chile for taking Peruvian – and Bolivian – land and occupying the two countries following the War of the Pacific. In that war, with Peru and Bolivia allied, Chile won and took copper and other mineral-rich territories. Peru lost whole cities and Bolivia lost several cities, too, including its access to the Pacific Ocean. Since that war fought in the 1800s and subsequent Chilean occupation, Peru and Chile have had cold diplomatic relations. Chileans recognize that many Peruvians don’t like Chileans, and it all goes back centuries. So when Peruvians see anything that smacks of something being taken from them by Chile, they get defensive.

Peruvians – with Peruvian chefs and food experts leading the charge via social and mainstream media – immediately accused Chile of trying to steal yet another thing from Peru, this time their longstanding traditional Peruvian dish and Pisco cocktail.

A sour note

Peruvians are indignant that Chile would promote to the rest of the world the drink and the dish as Chilean when in fact both were originated in Peru. The demand that Chile pull the video came almost instantly, and the Peruvian media wasted no time going out on the streets to ask people what they thought of Chile’s latest foible.

For the record, there is no dispute that the dish – made from mashed potatoes and garnished with seafood or other toppings – originated in Peru. There is debate, however, as to the origins of the Pisco sour. Peru maintains the cocktail was created in Peru, which has a port town named Pisco. Tour guides in Lima, Peru, will point out the place – Morris’ Bar – where the Pisco sour was supposedly invented.

Chileans – with Carpentier going before television cameras – shot back across the border that the video was showing a “fusion” of foods and flavors in Chile, not necessarily touting the dishes as purely or originally Chilean. Carpentier issued an apology of sorts, stating he wasn’t out to mislead anyone. But for the Peruvians, it wasn’t enough. Some still went after the Chilean chef with fervor and gusto. One of those Peruvians leading on that front in the cross-border food fight was none other than restaurateur and Peruvian cuisine expert Isabela Alvarez.

Alvarez went to the media to share a bit of inside knowledge about Carpentier. She said some three years ago he came to her for work. She offered him an internship in her restaurant, El Señorío de Sulco, where Carpentier, she says, learned the ins and outs of Peruvian cuisine. She said he became fascinated with Peruvian cooking and especially fond of La Causa.

“He knew the origin of these dishes, which he learned to do in our country,” she told the Peruvian press, adding that it was not by ignorance or accident that he had prepared the dishes for the video. She then went on to rip Carpentier apart, calling him “irresponsible.”

Meanwhile, the president of the Peruvian Society of Gastronomy, Mariano Valderrama, threw himself in the middle of the fight. He said La Causa is undeniably Peruvian and of that there can be no argument because the dish is strongly linked to the cause of Peru’s national independence. He told Peruvian press that however “it was gratifying to know that the Chilean chefs take our plates and help us to spread throughout the world.”

Valderrama explained that the name of the dish comes from a Quechua word and that the dish was prepared to sell and raise funds for the patriots who sought to liberate Peru from Spain.

In the video Carpentier also takes a stab at preparing ceviche, which is a dish found in many Latin American countries, but a dish nevertheless for which Peru gets high marks as the country that knows how to make a killer ceviche.

Valderrama told the Peruvian media that although ceviche is prepared in many countries, especially those located to the Pacific, in Peru  it’s a tradition and done well.

Peruvian press has not let up – perhaps out to further embarrass Chile – by doing man on the streets interviews on the subject – stirring the pot.

The infamous video now lives on YouTube.

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The Calamity in Calama

The dog on the left with the blue shirt and white star was attacked and chased into submission by these street dogs that invaded his neighborhood. Then the "alpha male dog" turned on another dog in the pack in what turned into a vicious dog fight I witnessed.

What you are seeing is a dog fight between two dogs of the same pack. The dog on the bottom got the worst of it and limped away.

The dog in the middle on top of the other dog is apparently leader of the pack and asserting his dominance as the poor neighborhood dog wearing a sweater approaches. He's in for a nasty fight.


YOU DON’T WANT TO TANGLE WITH SOLDIERS WHO WEAR THESE SUNGLASSES: Chilean troops based in Calama march through the streets, ready to defend the homeland.

The town is called Calama, but they may as well have named it Calamity. Or at least that’s the impression inhabitants have given in the short time I’ve been here.

In less than a week in this dusty mining town in northern Chile, I’ve been warned to be careful about packs of street dogs that behave more like wolves on the attack; tricky gypsy women out to relieve the unsuspecting of cash and credit; roving band of drug-addicted robbers looking violently take possession of other people’s valuables; of contaminated tap water with high levels of stuff that can kill you; on and on. Who would think a decision to come to Calama to teach English would be potentially hazardous to my health? Well, living life is a big hazard in of itself, isn’t it? I’ll just continue to hope my Guardian Angels have not abandoned me, thinking “kid, no way we are spending a minute in this Podunk town!”  🙂

For those of you who aren’t keeping up – and God only knows why you are not! – Calama kind of just happened. I was in Peru on my way to Bolivia. I had La Paz on my mind, its mountains, the salt flats of Uyuni, and the landscape and people I had heard so much about. Ready for Bolivia I was. Then the good people at the International Center contacted me to ask if I would be interested in joining their team of English teachers for at least the next six months. My task would be to teach English to executives at one of the local copper mines. After some thought, and with South America in the throes of winter, I accepted the offer. The idea is to wait out winter here and continue travel in nicer summer weather.

A word about the region’s copper mines: Chile is the world’s largest copper producer and boasts the world’s largest copper mine. The mines are in the northern part of the country and Calama is a town that sprung from that mining production. The mines date back to pre-Inca times. In other words, the indigenous people that lived in the region pulled copper from the area long before the Incas and the Spaniards came to the area. The mines were the source of wars between Chile, Peru and Bolivia with archrival Argentina threatening to also attack Chile. Argentina has a longstanding beef with Chile over some southern islands. Not to mention their rivalry over futbol 🙂 Chile managed to kick serious butt and in the process took land from Peru and Bolivia. To the victor go the spoil, right?

In that so-called War of the Pacific, Chile kept several cities and towns from Bolivia and Peru. One of those towns it took from Bolivia was Calama. The Chileans had marched all the way to Peru’s capital, Lima, and contend they could have kept even more territory. The Peruvians and Bolivians still hold a grudge with Chile over the lost territories, especially Bolivia which lost its access to the Pacific Ocean. Chile maintains a very strong army just in case its neighbors try anything foolish. Most military experts note that Chile would handily beat back any aggression. They are probably right. Chile maintains a military contingency in the north and I saw them marching through the streets and they looked like a fierce force.

Let sleeping dogs lie

Anyway, there’s no soft way to put it: Calama is an ugly city. Some say it’s not even a city, that it’s an encampment of miners and mining-related industries. A Chilean colleague at the International Center told me that I picked the ugliest city in Chile to visit first. She said the reason the city is so ugly is because it grew out of a collection of substandard houses and buildings to house and provide services to the miners. Nobody was thinking aesthetics.

One of the first questions I’m asked by residents of Calama is what I think of their city. That question is usually followed with a statement from them that it’s okay to say it’s ugly because it is. Clearly some of them don’t think much of the place. I for one think I can survive here six months. I don’t mind that the place is ugly. I care more about the people and how they treat me, and so far, people have been very friendly.

Now, if only those rabid dogs, those street thugs, those tricky-dickey gypsies and the carcinogenic water would leave me be.  🙂

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