A few years ago, I had an opportunity to travel with my wife to Chile on a wine-tasting tour.
I expected, as I headed to South America, to encounter a backwater, with various Juan Valdez look-alikes everywhere, leading burros.
I found, as soon as we arrived, a modern country filled with polite, courteous and friendly people.
||Chile is, in my book, the Canada of South America.
Everywhere, the people were happy, hard-working and joyful. The country was, (particularly in the region we were in,) warm and dry.
They delighted in meals… Meals were never events to be rushed. Meals should be lingered over, and savoured. Preferably with friends, and a nice wine, or a few beers.
They acknowledge that the former President Pinochet, made some people disappear… and those I talked to were unilaterally sad about that. But, in the same breath, they would also comment that he had also nationalized a lot of industries, and modernized the infrastructure of Chile, and begun the progress that allows the Chile of today to be a modern, progressive and prosperous nation.
Situated along the Western coast of South America, it is long and thin, and occupies a sliver along much of the Continent.
On our trip, we started in Santiago, and travelled South to the wineries of the Colchagua Valley on the Tren del Vino.
A day trip, over 1 kilometre underground to the copper mine of Mina El Teniente, and the adjacent historic town of Sewell, were also experiences that daunted our nerves, and gave us an appreciation and respect for the fine people of Chile.
Miners, in the middle of having worked a hard shift, and doubtlessly wanting their coffee, without a word, shuffled along on their tiny benches, to make room for us visitors, in their tiny break room.
The next day, we toasted our adventures and basked in the warm sunshine of the eco-friendly Montes Winery.
Everywhere we went, the Chileans were consistently friendly, polite, helpful, gracious and thinking about tomorrow.
In the beautiful but small town of Santa Cruz, we came across an amazing museum. Stunned, at the vastness of the collection, we asked about it, and were told that an arms dealer, who, since he was unable to leave the country, had wished to bring prosperity to the town where his mother had been born.
Another night, found us in a vacant lodge, which had once been a Franciscan Monastery, where four star chefs now worked. It was busy six months of the year, when fisherman came flocking to visit. The rest of the time, the lodge was vacant.
Just a few, of many examples, of how special the people and places are. Around every corner, there was an undisturbed treasure… with people unabashedly delighted to share whatever they had.
I remember having a conversation with Nancy, a very nice woman from Chile, and a colleague of my wife, who worked in a branch office in Santiago. She was excited to move her daughter and herself into their new apartment building, which was being built in a better neighbourhood. I asked her why it was taking so long, and she explained that the construction standards were very high, and so it took a long time to build buildings, but because of the many earthquakes, it was a good thing that they were built so well…
On Friday night, I thought of her, and her daughter, as I heard about the terrible 8.8 magnitude earthquake that had hit Chile.
Seeing the pictures on the news, causes my eyes to well in tears.
But, I know that, perhaps more than us in Canada, they were prepared for such circumstances.
Today on CNN, several times, from different leaders, the same message was repeated, “‘It is not necessary for any country to send aid until the National Emergency Office has identified what needs are. We’ll be fine until then.”
The proud, self-reliant, hard-working people of Chile will graciously share their table with visitors from around the world.
Today, the people of Chile take a special place in our hearts, as we hold them in our thoughts and prayers.