Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chile Digest: Heat Wave, Health Care, the Anti-Quake & the Peso

Today’s entry deals with various topics related either directly or peripherally with Chile’s Carretera Austral, the reach of the country’s health care system, an earthquake that briefly made headlines, and the ongoing relationship between Chile and California.

A Vote for Rural Health Care
In northern Chilean Patagonia, the old year ended and the new one began with a heat wave in which temperatures in normally mild Futaleufú soared into the upper 80s or low 90s Fahrenheit (around 30 to 35 degrees Celsius). After a sweaty but rewarding New Year’s Day hike on the outskirts of La Junta (which yielded the above photo of the Cordón Barros Arana), and a Sunday excursion on the new road to Raúl Marín Balmaceda, I arrived yesterday afternoon in the hamlet of Puerto Puyuhuapi, settled in the mid-1930s by Sudeten Germans. Unfortunately, my exertions had contributed to a case of sniffles that developed into a full-blown cold.

Among my meds, I had no antihistamines to attack the symptoms in a town that has no pharmacy. Fortunately, almost every Chilean village of any size has a posta rural, a clinic that attends to the needs of locals who can’t get to a doctor. On request, they provided me a small packet of chlorphenamine tablets that has kept things under control. The price for this service: free of charge.

The Anti-Quake v. the Peso
On Sunday night at 8:20 p.m., Chile again headlines for a significant earthquake fairly close to the epicenter of February’s massive quake. Originally reported as a 7.1 on the Richter scale, the new quake had its epicenter in the Pacific Ocean northwest of the city of Temuco; by some accounts it’s since been downgraded to a 6.9, and there are no reports of deaths or even serious property damage, and there has been no tsunami. Nevertheless, it apparently caused some people to take shelter on high ground, and others abandoned their vacations in Pucón, the resort city nearest the epicenter, clogging the tollbooths on the highway to Santiago.

Fortunately, despite the initial reports, there’s simply not much of a story here - in fact, it only briefly appeared on the home page of the Santiago daily El Mercurio before being crowded out by a story about the government’s readiness to intervene in the exchange rate to depress the soaring Chilean peso. For the tourism industry, which has much of its income in dollars and euros but has to pay its costs in pesos, this is a positive development. It would also attract more visitors by making travel here cheaper. This morning the dollar has gained nearly 20 pesos, from 465 yesterday to 484 at this hour.

Hasta la Vista, Baby, ¡de Nuevo!
As a Californian, I did not vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor, and I am not sorry to see him leave office even if he may not have been the unmitigated disaster that most of fellow Golden State citizens now consider him (when Argentines and Chileans asked me my opinion of Arnold, I would tell them that “At least he speaks better English than George W. Bush”). I am particularly disappointed, though in his failure to live up to one promise - in mid-2008, when then Chilean president Michelle Bachelet (who also speaks better English than Bush) visited California, Schwarzenegger pledged to visit Chile and has not yet done so. Perhaps, with free time after leaving the governorship, he will do so now.

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