This article first appeared in Heart2Heart, June 2007.
"In the beginning of time, God created the wonders of the world. But when he was finished, he saw that he had many leftover pieces. He had parts of rivers and valleys, of oceans and lakes, of glaciers and deserts, of mountains and forests, and of meadows and hills. Rather than let such beauty go to waste, God put them all together and cast them to the most remote corner of the earth. This is how Chile was born."
— A Chilean Legend
A land of great beauty and even greater contrasts, Chile, the longest north-south country in the world with its southwest coast covering roughly the distance between Edinburgh and Baghdad is truly a natural inspiration. The country is located along the Pacific coast of South America. It is bounded by Peru in the north, by Bolivia and Argentina in the east, and by the Pacific Ocean in the west and south.
And it is a non-stop exciting journey as one moves from region to region of this fascinating country.
Northern Chile — bewildering beauty
Northern Chile is a land of extreme contrast, where two uniquely Andean environments, Altiplano and the Atacama Desert, combine with unpredictable and overwhelmingly beautiful results. While the vast and striking Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world (which has some parts where no precipitation has ever been recorded!), Altiplano is the most extensive area of high plateau on earth outside of Tibet. It receives some tropical rains in January and February, and altitude, rather than aridity, is the limiting factor governing life on this airy plateau. Only the hardiest and most highly specialized flora and fauna survive in the vagaries of life at a staggering 12,000 ft. The breathtaking barren landscape of the north extends from the coast to the Andes, where lovely snowcapped peaks tower above the desert, presenting a unique contrast. The meandering Loa River here is its only perennial stream.
This northern part, at the same time, is a mineral rich region —blessed with one of the world’s largest copper reserves (Chuquicamata). Not only the burgeoning trade in minerals but also its many ports, where a variety of goods from Asia are distributed to neighboring countries, has kept its economy always buoyant. Add to this the tourists, whose number is rapidly increasing, thanks to its beautiful Andean-range mountains, salt lakes on their high plateau, filled with unique species of pink flamingos and condors and animals like llamas, alpacas, and guanacos. Northern Chile is prosperous, beautiful, and serene, all at the same time.
Moon on Earth!
But we are not done with Northern Chile yet. Another fascinating and oft-visited place in this region is extraordinarily attractive because of its similarity with the moon surface and natural coliseo of great dimensions. Aptly known as “the Moon Valley” and wonderfully formed by the natural forces of the encounter of the Atacama desert with the Andes mountain range, this region is, in fact, a slice of the moon surface, complete with interesting sand and stone formations, absolutely majestic in its silence, bereft of plant or animal life. It is imposing yet beautiful, especially in the twilight hours when the Sun makes escarpments of green, blue, red, and yellow colors with the most diverse and surprising forms. This is where NASA tests vehicles designed for Martian or Lunar grounds.
Santiago — stunning and booming
Coming to the central region of this country, it is a different feel altogether, with a pleasant Mediterranean type of climate. More than half of the country’s population live here. Santiago, the capital city of six million inhabitants, is a bustling city and quite modern: new highways pass under the river that runs through it, while tunnels and fast roads crisscross the city. The underground transport system is a spick-and-span system known for its efficiency and moderate cost. The omnipresent Andes are the backdrop for the city. The amazing feature of this place is that within one hour you can be at the office, skiing at one of the many ski resorts, or resting at a beach by the Pacific Ocean!
With its fertile soils, and political as well as economic stability, this middle portion of the country is the nation's most populous and productive region and, as a consequence, the country’s political and cultural center. It contains Chile's largest cities: Santiago, Valparaiso (the seat of the Chilean congress), and Concepción. Understandably, the regional headquarters of many international enterprises have their headquarters here. This highly industrialized section of Chile produces a large variety of quality manufactured products and is abundant in mineral deposits like copper, coal, and silver. Besides, its myriad rivers, principally the Bío-Bío, have been harnessed to generate electricity, making hydroelectricity responsible for 70% of Chile's power. Between the Andes and the Coast Ranges is the Vale of Chile, a long valley divided into basins by Andean spurs. This is the heart of the republic, having the highest population density and the highest agricultural and industrial output.
Spellbinding South — lakes, volcanoes, forests, et al
Finally, the southern region of Chile, which extends from the Bío-Bío River to Cape Horn, is full of special natural attractions with a facinating mix of dense forests, heavy rainfall, snow-covered peaks, glaciers, and islands. Sections of this region, which is in the direct path of moist westerly winds, receive more than 100 inches (254 cm) of precipitation annually.
This southern region is blessed with an alpine-like climate and has many pellucid lakes and untouched wooded areas. Lake Villarica and its volcano of the same name are part of this beautiful expanse; the volcano resembles Mount Fuji (Japan) because of its perfect shape. This area's most attractive feature is perhaps its unexplored and unmapped character. The road that traverses this region for more than a thousand kilometers represents one of the greatest man-made attempts to exert some control in such an impossible territory. The Carretera Austral (southern road) starts in Puerto Montt and, after a thousand-kilometer journey, ends in Villa O' Higgins, a step away from the Campo de Hielo Sur (Southern Ice Cap).
Also, Lakes Llanquihue and Todos los Santos are some of the many in the region, which are surrounded by forests and beautiful cities. Immigrants during the nineteenth century, mostly from Germany, developed this area; one can still find a certain Germanic flavour in the southern cities, not only in their architectural style but also in their excellent pastries like Strudel, Kuchen, and many others delicacies, which can be found not only here but all over Chile.
Because of subsidence of the earth's crust, the Coast Ranges and the central lowlands have been partially submerged, forming the extensive archipelago of South Chile, an area of craggy islands (notably Chiloé), numerous channels, and deep fjords. The Chilean Lake District is a noted resort area for thousands of visitors every year.
Although all of Southern Chile is forested, only the drier northern part has exploitable timber resources; Puerto Montt and Temuco are major timber-handling centers. The rest of the region is a wilderness of mid-latitude rain forest, which has been extensively logged. Because of the climate, agriculture is limited, but livestock raising (cattle and pigs) is an important activity. A portion of extreme Southern Chile lies in the rain shadow of the Andes and is covered by natural grasslands. Here, extensive sheep grazing is found, with wool, mutton, and skins being the chief products. Interestingly, this area also yields petroleum. Valdivia, a port on the Pacific Ocean, is the fourth largest industrial center of Chile. And the world's southernmost city, Punta Arenas, is found here, on the Strait of Magellan.
Patagonia’s incredible Torres del Paine
From Campo de Hielo Sur (the southern ice cap) to the Chilean Antarctic Territory is one of the most spectacular areas of the planet. Among all the attractions, the Torres del Paine peaks are, undoubtedly, one of the most popular, and deservedly so, due to their incredible scenery and wealth of possible activities for the visitor, such as climbing, hiking, and photography. This is a land of lagoons, lakes, glaciers, and snow caps, as well as a great variety of species endemic to Chile. Reaching up from the massif stand the Torres y Cuernos (towers and horns), which give the park its name and pose challenges for climbers from all over the world.
Enigmatic Easter Island and Robinson Crusoe Isle
Another must-see for visitors here is Easter
Island, with its famous giant monoliths called Moai statue,
which stand several meters tall and provide an intriguing archeological
mystery. This is one of the most isolated places on earth and
part of the Rapa Nui National Park of Chile’s oceanic
territories. The natives call this land ‘Te Pito te Henua’,
which means ‘the Navel of the World’.
Chileans – A race of sterling character
Just like its “out-of-this-world” natural beauty, the people of Chile too are splendid. Friendly and hospitable, Chileans are a resilient race, having endured serious earthquakes (among the world’s strongest at 9.8 Richter in the Lakes Region), and in times of need, it is all one big family. No wonder that their economy is strong, law is trustworthy, and education given high importance. This land has produced great poets, among them two Nobel Prize winners, Gabriela Mistral (1945) and Pablo Neruda (1971).
The majority of Chile's population is mestizo (a result of frequent intermarriage between early Spanish settlers and indigenous inhabitants), with Spanish being the official language. Traditionally a Catholic nation, 70% of its population belong to the Church, and it is blessed with two saints: Saint Teresa de los Andes and Saint Alberto Hurtado. So how and when did Sai enter this multi-faceted and charismatic land? Just like everything else about this country,this story is no less captivating.
Sai reaches out ...
“When I was reading this handwritten
book I got the feeling, the sensation, that God was speaking
to me through this book. It was very real, God’s presence
was very real for me at that time. Communicating through a
handwritten piece of paper, I wrote to Pablo about my experience
and feelings on reading this book. He answered me, also in
writing, that he would speak to me next afternoon under an
ancient almond tree, at 5 pm.
This was 1978, certainly a special day for Chileans. Who could imagine Sai Baba’s divine plan would include this far away land? This is as far as you can get from Prasanthi Nilayam! But for Swami as He has often said, the whole world is His house and countries are only different rooms therein —so He was just going from one room to another!
He draws His instruments …
Sai’s divine master plan had begun unfolding. Later in Santiago, it was the turn for Julio Vejar to become Baba’s instrument. Julio was a young Buddhist studying philosophy at the prestigious University of Chile. On a regular basis, he received spiritual literature from Canada, but this time the parcel coming from abroad changed his life!
Corali Balsera, a devotee residing in USA, brought books, music, and gifts for the newly created centre. She also was the instrument in bringing the news of another Sai centre in Chile, only 110 kilometers away. The two centres visited each other and exchanged books and news —this was the ‘pre-internet era’. But divine love followed in different ways, attracting more people every day.
It so happened that one gentleman by name Sergio, participated in a radio programme speaking about Sai Baba and the healing powers of vibhuti. Next Thursday, after the ceremony ended, a gentleman told him that in a few days he was going to undergo surgery due to a severe case of stomach ulcers. The gentleman said he had listened to the radio programme and decided to give the vibhuti a try. Sergio told him that vibhuti was miraculous, but that at the end everything depended on Baba and one’s faith. He instructed the gentleman, ‘You can drink it with water every morning’.
Next Thursdayv this same gentleman came, and Sergio saw that he was a changed man —all his worried frowns had gone and he looked relaxed and happy. He told Sergio that on the last medical examination before the scheduled surgery, the doctors had seen that his ulcers were gone! The doctors could not believe it, but they admitted that there was no reason to operate anymore! It was an incredible healing from God and they felt so fortunate and blessed.
With more people coming in, the Sai Centre of Santiago moved from smaller to bigger locations, and at one point, devotees were renting a house in a street called Seminario. The owner of this building decided to sell the house, but the devotees were in no position to buy, even if they wanted to do.
By His mysterious will, a Panamanian devotee came to their rescue. Full of love and gratefulness for God, since his son in Panama was liberated after being kidnapped just then, this noble gentleman traveled to Chile, attended Sai bhajans, and later donated the entire money required to buy the house. This is how the Sai Centre of Seminario was born.
This house of Sai has witnessed many akhanda bhajans and EHV activities. It holds free lunches every Sunday, where more than 50 people receive food in a harmonious setting. Many senior and elderly devotees, like Dr. Sara Pavan, Dr. Voleti, John Behner, and Leonardo Gutter, have visited this centre and shared Swami’s love on several occasions.
This centre was located in a big house, where many Sai brothers and sisters came together in satsangs and study circles and to receive many experienced visitors who shared about Swami’s love and His mission. But they have had their lot of challenges, too. Unfortunately, they do not have the big house anymore, but their perseverance and faith has only grown. They know Sai always has a plan, and they love Him more each day. He never ceases to amaze them. Take the case of Lucy.
Light for Lucy
Lucy had many problems in her life: she smoked heavily, drank alcoho,l and ate meat. She was about to cross a street when she saw a fortune-teller. She approached her and started asking about her trade. “Does this come from India?” asked Lucy. The person started explaining that fortune-telling had nothing to do with India ... and from there somehow the conversation turned to Baba. This happened on a Thursda, and it ended with Lucy being invited to a Sai meeting. “As soon as I stepped into the Centre, everything seemed to have a kind of brilliance. I was amazed. From that moment on, smoking was not attractive anymore; the same happened with drinking and meat eating! I wanted to quit every bad habit! Baba made it happen in just a few minutes. My love, my life, is not mine anymore —it is His. It is like having a new life again. Thank you Swami!” says Lucy today.
One can only stand stupefied in wonder, reading about such instantaneous transformations! And beautiful instances like this were happening everywhere in Chile .
He Introduces Himself to many more …
Manuel, a very enthusiastic devotee, never missed an opportunity to speak about Baba, be it in a bus or any place. Once, Marisol, a lady living in La Serena, was riding in a bus when Manuel, who happened to be sitting next to her, started talking about Baba. Marisol says, “Normally I don’t talk to strangers, but this time something made me listen to this gentleman. What he said was very interesting; he was very well prepared. He opened a small business briefcase and started pulling photocopies and pictures of Baba. He invited me to a Thursday meeting. As soon I got home, I went through all the reading material and saw the picture he had given me. I noticed it was covered with dust. I cleaned it, but after a while the same ‘dust’ covered the picture of Baba again. It puzzled me. Only in the Thursday meeting did I learn that this strange ‘dust’ was vibhuti and that it was Baba’s calling card.” This was enough to instill faith in Marisol, and soon she became involved with Sai activities and later on did a lot of work on EHV.
EHV – Heralding a glorious Chile
Three hundred fifty kilometers north of Santiago lies the city of La Serena, and on the outskirts of the city one can hear tender and soft voices intoning omkars. This is no hermitage of spiritual aspirants; it is the Sai School of La Serena. On March 2003, Antonio Bustamante and Diana Wagner, with lots of effort and perseverance, opened the first Sai school in Chile. Many devotees, including Mr. J. Jagadeesan from Malaysia, attended the inauguration ceremony. It started with only one grade and nine students. Each year, another grade was added. Also, the Sai Institute started in this same year, which trained many teachers and held many EHV courses and workshops. God’s work is beautiful and fulfilling, but never easy. The school has had many ups and downs and is now temporarily closed, but the devotees’ perseverance and love for Sai remain undiminished.
Many sweet experiences happened in this Sai school. One day a bird entered the classroom, flew into a glass window, and fell to the floor. The children surrounded the bird, and the teacher told the children to pray and send lots of love to the little winged being. Holding each others’ hands, they prayed with all their hearts, in their pure, childlike love. Suddenly, to their joy and amazement, the bird shook itself and flew away. As the bird flew away, the kids rejoiced. It was a great lesson in love.
Betty, the director of the school, said that during a recess she noticed a small child sitting on the office steps, with his face in his hands. Thinking the little one is probably disturbed for some reason and needed help, she went to him and asked with concern, “What’s the matter, dear one?” The sweet child answered lovingly, “Aunty, I am talking to God”. If more and more Chilean children do what this little one was doing (and they surely will), the future of Chile is surely more glorious than what can be imagined now.