The International Writers Magazine: A Chile Diary Number 16
Sullivan... over the edge...
A few things kept me from writing
of late. One of them was that my now former flatmate turned out
to be a lunatic and I basically had to put all my money into canned
food and shotguns. Hes disappeared now, and
with any luck, pushing up daises somewhere in the south of Chile.
The bombs went off
in London and I was planning a seventeen page rant on how my beloved
country is going to hell in a basket. Fortunately everyone was spared
the angry Gospel According To Dermot, including himself! I think my
thoughts on that subject are not unique, so maybe my words can wait
for the time being. I do worry about what will happen at home though,
not as in bombs but in the direction my country is taking.
Another thing was that I was ill for ages and I just couldnt shake
off the bloody bug. The pollution here reduces your immune system. I
had some sort of a virus that just sapped my energy
Im physically fit again
or as much as one can be when one
does no exercise!
Something last weekend shook me out of my apathy during the patriotic
fiestas that mark the 18th and 19th of September. The holidays mark
Chilean independence but all symbolise the start of spring for Chileans.
Indeed, the weather is very pleasant now: everything is green or in
bloom and we have only heat to look forward to.
On the 17th of the month I went outside of Santiago with my posse of
Chileans and assorted gringos to crash at a friend of friends
house. His was in a cool location where we could check out the huasos
(Chilean cowboys) doing their patriotic thing on their horses and the
such. I wasnt too keen on the military parading but es la vida.
In the evening we went to a fonda where you could eat patriotic food
and dance patriotic dances as you scoped out the local cowgirl talent.
I have to admit I enjoyed myself thoroughly despite being one of the
few sober people there. Most Chileans get tanked up at the Fiestas Patrias
on something called chicha: a very nasty grog-like red vino, and surprisingly
not the tip-top wine for which they are world famous.
For the Dieciocho we planned to hike out to a waterfall and lay out
in the sun for the afternoon and then party in the night. Unfortunately
fate threw a spanner in the works
we did hike up to the aforementioned
waterfall, a whole group of us. There were Chileans, a Colombian, some
Yanks, some Irish
generally a cool bunch of friends. The weather
was hot and when we reached the top my friend bent down to cup his hand
in the water to take a drink at a safe distance of course from
the edge - maybe four metres or less. The water was freezing cold as
it came from melted snow from the mountains.
Now, I dont know if everyone is aware of this but the rocks around
a waterfall are usually smooth as due to the erosion by the stream or
river or whatever it is thats passing over it. My friend, Mike,
bending to take a drink lost his balance and went into the water.
What happened next was done and dusted within three seconds. I can see
it now in my minds eye, played out again and again in slow motion.
FLASH he went in, a wry smile arises from the mouth of Dermot
as he makes his splash FLASH he moves down the stream
and I think ooh, he better get out of there pretty quickly or
hell have some hassle (it should be pointed out that the water
was very shallow, no more than halfway up to your knees) FLASH
Mike rolls over in the water and any humour of the situation
is gone as I realise that hes in trouble (this has all taken place
in about a second) FLASH my good Chilean chum Eduardo
dives for him as Mike goes to the edge and dangles off. Another Chilean,
Luciano, grabs Eduardos feet and Mike holds onto Eduardos
hand FLASH Mike cant hold on and goes over the edge
FLASH people shout but I go cold, I know immediately that
he is dead (the waterfall is ten storeys high) and that Im going
to have to tell his girlfriend, Madeline, that her boyfriend is dead
FLASH the Colombian girl with us is screaming. Its
interesting how different people react to these situations. One Yank
is running down to where Mike will have landed and his bird is talking
in medical language she used to be a volunteer paramedic or something.
I lace up my boots to go and fish out where his body will be floating
at the bottom of the fall. If the fall didnt kill him then hell
have drowned from being face down in the water.
Then someone shouts that hes alive. I dont believe it until
I see it. When I climb down and around I can see that he got thrown
onto a ledge about four or five metres down and about four metres across.
He is, officially, the luckiest man alive. However, there was freezing
cold water pouring on him and we had to wait two and a half hours for
the fire brigade to come (we were off out in the woods). They sent someone
down on a rope who carried Mike up on piggy-back. We all then pulled
the two of them up again.
Amazingly there were hardly a scratch on him, unlike the rest of us
who were scratched to pieces by the brambles and some of us who cut
up our feet on the rocks below, waiting for him to slip off his perch.
He just had a bout of hypothermia which cleared up after half an hour
- the lucky bastard. He should be dead I watched him die.
Anyhow, nobody slept for a week after that. He and Eduardo have flashbacks
when they have showers. It turned out that Mike actually let go of Eduardos
hand rather than bring him down too. Just that momentary clinch though
changed his trajectory and saved him. The fire brigade told us that
three other people had gone over the edge and that they all died. Eduardo
sees Mikes face as he lets go replayed and played again. Mike
sees himself slide down the waterfall on his back, then finding himself
standing, thinking hes drowning, thinking hes dead, then
looking around to see where his body is
I just watch the thing
in head again and again; that and when I was waiting for him at the
bottom in case he slipped off. Christ, that water was cold. I could
hardly walk the next day
that and my feet being cut to bits ...
another of my friends kept thinking that there was an alternate reality
where people were killed
I have to say that you mind can play
nasty tricks on you
it protects you in the short term but then
you have some weird things happening afterwards.
Well, it all sounds rather dramatic, doesnt it? All is well that
ends well, I suppose, but it was easily the traumatic thing Ive
ever been through in my life. I sleep well though now and quite frankly,
once Ive written this thing I dont Ill really care
to talk about it too much again. Its becoming boring and I hate
people who tell these sorts of stories again and again as almost a way
of Im a victim, give me attention.
I have to go to bed now as I have to get up and go to work in the morning.
Back to life again.
© Dermot Sullivan October 2005
firstname.lastname@example.org - Next Diary November 2005
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Dermot Sullivan's Chile Diary
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From Santiago No 3
Diary No 4
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Week in Bolvia:
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Diary No 9
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Dermot is back 2005
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Dermot needs a break
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