The City of Thunder
I'm traveling south from Rancagua to Talca
in the Maule Region of Chile.
Talca is in Chile's Central Valley, surrounded by vineyards and other agriculture. Multiple universities and other educational institutions are there.
Talca was founded in 1692, and since then it has been partially destroyed by earthquakes several times.
Cities such as Talca and Rancagua were once described in detail in Lonely Planet. The late 1990s editions contained a lot on what you were seeing. By the late 2000s, there still was reasonable detail on Rancagua and Talca and Constitución.
But by the late 2010s, those places were little more than items on a list. Talca was mentioned, briefly, but with no explanation of its history or suggestion of anything to see or do. Rancagua and Constitución weren't mentioned at all! Much of the content was dedicated to spas and ski lodges and resorts. So, I decided to see the non-spa parts of Chile.
I bought the latest guide book edition at the local bookstore so I had details on current transportation options. But then I went to the local library to consult more practical editions from 1999 and 2009.
By Train from Rancagua to Talca
I had taken the Metrotrén from Santiago to Rancagua. But to continue south, I needed to switch to the TerraSur train run by Empresa de los Ferrocarriles del Estado or EFE, the State Railways Company.
The Chilean passenger rail lines are 1,676 mm gauge, or 5 ft 6 in, the widest gauge in regular passenger use in the world. It's commonly called "Indian Gauge" as it's used in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka; it's also used in Chile and Argentina. The broad gauge makes for a smoother ride.
The Iberian-gauge railways servicing Spain and Portugal have a track gauge of 1,668 mm, just 8 mm narrower. It's close enough that Iberian rolling stock can be used in Chile without modification. TerraSur uses the Spanish EMU UTS-444 rolling stock, with a driving cabin and pantograph at each end pulling power from the overhead 3000 VDC line, plus one or more RENFE 10000 series passenger coaches in the middle.
TerraSur has 3 daily services each direction between Santiago and Chillán. It runs at speeds up to 150 km/hour, making it the fastest rail service in South America.
I'm in a Coach Class car with 74 reserved seats in 2+2 rows. The Business Class cars have 35 seats in 2+1 rows.
From Rancagua it's 167.5 kilometers on south to Talca. Before long, we have arrived.
Arriving in Talca
We're at Estación Talca. The platform areas of the stations in Rancagua and Talca are built to the same design, so it looks as if you're back at the previous station.
But things quickly look different as you move through the station.
Then you exit the station to the end of Calle Dos Sur, one of the main avenues through the city.
Like most Spanish-founded cities in Chile, Talca has a standardized grid design. There is a square Plaza de Armas, literally the "Military Square", at the center of a rectangular grid of streets. The central square is Plaza de Armas in South America, while up through Central America and Mexico (and Babylon 5) it's el Zócalo.
Talca takes the Spanish military design further with a N-S-E-W alignment and regular naming. Uno Norte is the north side of the plaza, then Dos Norte one block north of that, and so on. Tres, cuatro, cinco etc.
Uno Sur is the south side of the square, and this larger avenue Dos Sur is a block south of that, and so on. Then the north-south streets are Uno Oriente, Dos Oriente, and so on to the east; and Uno Poniente, Dos Poniente, and so on to the west.
You may see "Ote" for "Oriente", and "Pte" for "Poniente".
Walk straight out of the station crossing Once Oriente onto Dos Sur, and you know that you could walk eleven blocks west and one north to reach the Plaza de Armas.
A French immigrant opened a hat shop in Talca and put up a banner saying "Talca, Paris, & London".
He never got around to opening branches of his store in Paris or London, but the name caught on. Now one of the Talca-based inter-city bus companies uses that name.
Here's my place in Talca, the Zeco guesthouse. It's at Siete Oriente 1440, so #1440 7 East.
Zeco is a great place to stay! Very nice rooms, and extremely helpful hosts. My two hosts here, plus their friend Roberto who runs an empenada shop down the street, were the only three English speakers I encountered in Talca. Which was three more than I encountered in Rancagua. But my point is that my hosts helped me understand the train schedules out of Talca, and were otherwise very welcoming and helpful.
I will drop off my stuff, and then go back out and explore Talca.
Colorful Buildings in Talca
The name Talca comes from the Mapuche or Mapudungún word tralka, meaning "Thunder". So, the "City of Thunder". But like many cities in Chile, it could be the "City of Color".
You might find that you have a canine escort showing you around Talca.2019 Eclipse
I was in Talca in early July, mid-winter, because that's when the total solar eclipse occurred.
The Chileans dress their dogs in vests in the winter. Even the stray dogs get vests. Maybe a worn-out human fleece jacket with the sleeves cut off, or maybe someone's pet dog's old vest.
The old cathedral is along Dos Sur, at the corner of Calle 9 Oriente.
It's closed now, after being heavily damaged but not collapsed in the 2010 earthquake.
Talca, City of Earthquakes
Talca was partially destroyed by severe earthquakes in 1928 and 2010. The earthquake in 2010 was the 8th strongest measured earthquake on record. The strongest ever recorded was also in Chile, it was the 1960 earthquake further south in Valdivia.
The epicenter of the February 2010 M 8.8 earthquake was offshore, about 100 kilometers southwest of Talca, and 30 to 35 kilometers below the surface.Interseismic strain accumulation measured by GPS in the seismic gap between Constitución and Concepción in Chile
The Nazca plate is subducting, moving eastward and downward beneath the South America plate. The two plates are converging at 71 mm/year. This plate boundary has been generating some of the strongest earthquakes in the world since the Paleozoic era of 500 million years ago. A group of seismologists published a paper in June 2009, just eight months before, warning that there had been no large subduction earthquake along this fault since 1835. The strain was building up without being released. So, 174 years at 71 mm/year, that means about 12.35 meters of compression instead of motion. They said then that an earthquake between M 8 and 8.5 should occur "in the near future." And it did.
The 2010 fault rupture was over 100 km wide and stretched almost 500 km parallel to the coast. The fault slip was up to 15 m, generating earthquake shaking and triggering a tsunami. The source of the 2010 event is adjacent to the fault rupture that caused the M 9.5 1960 earthquake, the largest ever measured.NASA on the
The earthquake shifted the city of Santiago 28 cm to the west-southwest, and Concepción at least 3 meters to the west. It affected the entire Earth, shortening the day by 1.26 microseconds and shifting the axis by 2.7 milliarcseconds, about 8 cm.
The shaking was severe. The maximum recorded peak ground acceleration was at Concepción, where it was 6.38 m/s2 or 0.65 g. The shaking lasted for four minutes near the epicenter.
The tsunami caused by the seafloor movement caused great damage along the coast. Constitución was hit by three waves. The first wave, over eight meters high, arrived about 30 minutes after the earthquake. The second arrived a few minutes later, it was about ten meters high. Then the third wave was similar to the first.
Buildings in Talca were heavily damaged, many were destroyed.
I'm walking around the Mercado Central, most of which remains largely closed after being heavily damaged.
A section of el mercado was less heavily damaged, and was operating when I visited.
A large school was heavily damaged.
Talca is an important agricultural and manufacturing center. Wheat and a variety of produce from the central valley is shipped elsewhere in Chile, and to the coast and then to other countries around the Pacific. Wine production is also important. Talca has also been a regional banking center since the 1880s.
The Mapuche people lived here long before the Spanish arrived and established their settlement in 1692. The Spanish, of course, were looking for gold.
About 100,000 to 200,000 people remain today as active speakers of the Mapuche or Mapudungún language in Chile today. Talca is also the heart of the huaso or Chilean cowboy cultural area.
There's nowhere in Chile that's far from the coast, so great seafood is available everywhere. And, other cultures are just across the Pacific. Sushi, now with waffles!
The salmon a planca or grilled salmon was great. I returned here several times.
My Spanish-English dictionary, the $0.50 product of a West Lafayette Library book sale, boasted of its inclusion of "space-age terminology". That means, of course, that it dates from a time that saw the mid 1960s as the future.
It gave me no clue as to what a colacione or lunchtime combo might be. But it could caution me about subversive sovietico or "of, about, or pertaining to Soviet ideology" concepts, as well as terminology about sending messages by telegraph and TELEX.
Take an up-to-date dictionary.
Below is the Iglesia San Francisco de Asis, the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Churches in Mexico tend to be over-the-top Spanish baroque, with overwhelmingly intricate decoration.
Chilean churches are simpler, and very pleasant.
I have gone to get lunch at Restaurante Via Lactea, back a passageway off Calle Ceis Oriente between Uno Sur and Dos Sur. That is, 6 East between 1 South and 2 South. ¡Viva la Revolución!
Pollo con arroz y ensalada. Many Spanish-speaking cultures describe it the other way around, "rice with chicken" instead of "chicken with rice". Is their rice-forward version the meal of the proletariat, while in Chile I am dining like the bourgeoisie? I don't know. I'm just quoting the menu of the day from the chalkboards outside many places where I ate.
I noticed that architects are credited in Chile. This is the corner of a large bank on the southeast corner of Plaza de Armas. The bottom sign says that this is 1 Sur, street number 700 to 798. Above that is a memorial to a national hero-and-martyr. And above that is the shout-out to Carlos and Alberto Cruz Eyzaguirre, the architects who designed this building which was constructed in 1929-1930.
The draft of the Final Act of Independence was signed in Talca on February 12, 1818. So, Talca is also the City of Independence.
This government building is at the north-east corner of Plaza de Armas, and the Post Office is just beyond it, off to the right.
Chile seemed to me to be a little ahead of other countries as far as existing in a post-postal world.
I don't remember seeing a mailbox anywhere in Chile except inside or right in front of a post office. Let's go into the post office and find one.
Once inside, there is the great skylight-topped atrium of Mexican-Spanish public architecture.
But if you have managed to find some postcards, and you are looking for stamps with which to mail them, things can get complicated.
There may be a separate filatelia office where they sell those quaintly archaic stamps for postcards.
Or maybe you will have to wait until a supervisor can be summoned to carry out the ancient ritual of finding the folders with adhesive stamps, and retrieving enough for what you want to mail.
Once you have put stamps on your cards, there are the red mailboxes.
This is the current Catedral de Talca, on the northwest corner of the Plaza de Armas.
Isidoro Del Solar Avenue is an exception to Talca's regular grid. It leads out diagonally from Plaza de Armas' north-west corner, and is better known to the locals as the Diagonal. The city's Mayor Del Solar called for its construction in 1929, the year after an especially destructive earthquake.
Several bars and nightclubs line the Diagonal, which joins the Plaza de Armas to a university area.
Talca is also proud of being the home of el completo.
Ciudad de los Completos, you might assume.
El completo is a hot dog "with everything", chopped tomatoes and onions and cheese and mayonnaise and guacamole and...
Like many Chilean cities, car repair shops and car parts shops are very prominent.
The proletariat is laboring on the automobiles.
Day Trip to Constitución
The Talca-Constitución Ramal, or Branch Line, is the last remaining narrow-gauge passenger branch line in Chile. It runs a short distance south from Talca then turns west to follow the north bank of the Maule river to Constitución at its mouth. Its 88-kilometer line joins Talca and Constitución to a string of small settlements that have no other public transportation link to the outside world.
On one day in Talca I took the day trip to Constitución and back. From each end a train leaves early in the morning, then returns in the late afternoon to evening. The line is almost entirely single-track, there's a station near the center where the two trains can pass each other.
The train is an odd mash-up of bus and locomotive.
I'm heading back to Santiago to meet my friends the Umbraphiles from the eclipse expedition.
It's 249.3 km by TerraSur back to Estación Alameda, the Estación Central in Santiago.