Zach W. Watson
We had no idea what lie, secretly, under the clouds when we arrived in Chaiten. We learned, on our ferry through the fjords and bays from Hornopiren, that three years earlier the town of Chaiten was destroyed by a volcano. That was all we knew.
We could make out grey roads and wet eaves through the beads of water on the windows but nothing more. The rain came down hard, and we needed booze if we were going to make it through what seemed to be a possible wet night of camping.
We pulled up to a small store, the only open store in town, and were greeted to the sounds of a loud diesel generator and a sweet store owner named Ana, affectionately referred to by her young female employees as La Jefa.
It turned out La Jefa had a vacant house with no furniture, which fit nine gringo bodies. She invited us to sleep there and then invited us to cook inside her house, a room behind her store with a bed, a four burner stove, an oven and a wood dining room table. Her previous home, which she proudly referred to as her home, was destroyed during the eruption.
We settled in. Mike stirred our sausage-Bolognese sauce, as Ana showed Alaena, Ben and I pictures from when the volcano erupted. The ash in the air, that day in April, 2008, slowly moved its way down to the quaint little tourist town, covering the town in a layer of ash.
Ana, her employees and the gypsies ate in her tiny little apartment/house, exchanging jokes. Ben told all of the girls that worked for Ana that he and Mike were gay together. Matthias then complained to our new friends about Mike’s cooking, which everyone enjoyed, and we all drowned ourselves with wine except for Ana, who didn’t drink, only chain smoked cigarettes.
The townspeople urged us to go to the disco in town, where they all worked and La Jefa owned.
Why would a small town, recently destroyed, in the middle of nowhere, have a disco? I thought. We all thought. But they did have a disco, and it was no joke.
It stood as the link to the old town, when life was lived and not struggled for. The disco was a place where the inhabitants could forget about their ruined houses and ruined schools and a beacon symbolizing a life that can still be lived and a fun that can still be had despite their unfortunate situation. Hope was not lost in Chaiten. It may be dim, but those burning strobes of the Mega Disco can be seen illuminating the sexy moves of its inhabitants on a Saturday night. If they abandoned the disco, a retreat, a symbolic beacon, they would be abandoning their struggle to remain a municipality.
We went to the disco.
We hopped in the back of Chulo’s truck. Chulo worked on the river reinforcement, the only project the government paid for. They were trying to prevent the river from flooding during the next eruption, probably to protect the ferry dock and the road, both linking the north of Chile with the south.
We fed Chulo spaghetti, so he took us to the disco. The truck dipped and swerved over bumps and potholes until we arrived at an unlit home, firewood neatly stacked outside the carport.
“Is this it?” I asked
“I guess so.” Someone replied as we all laughed.
Chulo told us to jump out and that we had arrived. We stood outside in the darkness until the door opened, and we followed one of the small girls from supper. She lit a candle, barely revealing a red wooden bar and a few bar stools, leaving the rest of the giant hall in dark shadow. It felt like an antique macabre theatre. We were early.
I walked to the other end, deep into the darkness, and had a seat on what seemed to be a sofa. The soft light of the candle quivered slowly, crawling across the stools of the bar, teasing the bartenders with its ambiguous light, and obscuring Ben, who slouched over a small piano. His fingers began to participate with the iridescent actions of the candle.
From the darkness of my front row seat, I watched the barmen, who were unaware of the very own performance, dance. They shelved bottles and counted glasses to the out-of-tune strings pulsing from the long bristled fingers of the silhouetted entertainer, who made Amélie’s comptine d’une autre été inch towards my seat, flowing like a river under the right-angled arch that divided the dance floor and the bar room, separating me from what seemed to be a play being performed for only my delight. The candle flickered, languidly, exhausted by the actions of the oblivious performers.
But then the play ended when the generator roared and the voice of Fergie clambered out of the speakers and the strobe light lit and the red, yellow and blue lights crossed the dance floor in patterns. The dark theatre hall from the nineteenth century transformed itself into a fist-pumping dance club from the twenty-first century.
We drank all night in that club. We waited for the crowds to show, but no more than twenty people filled the club that night. Alaena asked them if it would fill. They said it was pretty busy on New Year’s.