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Earthquakes and Family Togetherness

Posted: 06-15-2014

The possibility of earthquakes was the least of my concerns when planning a family vacation in Chile. Travelling with two adult children carried a much higher risk of disaster. I figured after sharing close quarters with me for two weeks, my children would eagerly offer me as a sacrifice to the fiery gods at Villarrica, an active volcano near Pucon.

nick and me in pucon

Our son Nick teaches English in Chile. My husband Ron, daughter Molly, and I accepted his invitation to spend Christmas in Santiago and to welcome the New Year in the lake region near Pucon. Nick took me on an excursion to one of the lakes outside Pucon while Ron and Molly climbed Volcano Villarrica. Molly has always referred to Ron as the “good parent,” so he was in no danger of becoming a human sacrifice. My goal for the day was to allow my son to be in control and not revert to the role of mother in charge. I was determined to forge an adult relationship with my 25-year-old son and respect his guidance. That is why I found myself crawling like a Chilean tree lizard under three rows of barbed wire.

In Chile, private landowners control access to most of the natural features. In the case of the waterfall we were visiting, different property owners provided public access to different overlooks. We ended up at the least attractive overlook but the only way to get to a better one on a neighboring property without a half-mile detour was to scramble over rocks and crawl under barbed wire fence. “You can do it, Mom,” urged Nick, holding up a strand of barbed wire. I flattened myself to the ground and inched my way forward. I did not mention that a closer review of the guide book might have avoided this episode.

After enjoying some peanut butter sandwiches, we hiked a mile back to the main road. Just as we got there, a bus appeared. “Run, Mom!” yelled Nick. Showing the great racing form that earned me third place in the 5K Freedom’s Run category of “old and slow,” I hightailed it to the bus. At our next stop, Lake Cayubuga, we were greeted by great rumblings of thunder. I conveyed my concern to Nick that it seemed we were going to a major water body with a thunder storm moving in. Nick assured me the thunder and lightning and rain would be confined to the upper reaches of the mountain, and it would be sunny at the beach.

As we stood on the beach in the rain, Nick strolled ankle deep into the water to take pictures of the massive rain clouds and the occasional lightening strike. This was too much; the mother-knows-best impulse broke free. “Nick, I advised, “GET OUT OF THE WATER NOW.” I had visions of hosting a posthumous display of Nick’s photographs with the explanation he was struck by lightning while ignoring his mother.

Nick decided it would be best to hitchhike back to Pucon rather than waiting for the bus. “Look old and tired,” he told me, “so people will stop.” No problem, I replied. A very nice Chilean professor (who told us a former student is studying at WVU) drove us back.

That night, Ron and Molly shared tales of their arduous five-hour climb to the top of Volcano Villarrica. I countered with a description of my sprint for the bus. Our trip to Chile was an unforgettable experience. We viewed glaciers, endured an earthquake that registered 6.5, rode horses through the Andes, and were guests at a traditional Chilean barbeque. But what is even more amazing is that after spending two weeks together, my adult children are still speaking to me.