How to survive the Andes Mountains? (Museo de los Andes)

At the museum I personally met Jörg P. A. Thomsen the museum director. He took this picture – thank you

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The Andes Museum honors the memory of the 29 Uruguayans, who perished in the Andes in 1972, when their airplane crashed on its way from Montevideo to Santiago de Chile. The exhibition is also dedicated to the 16 Uruguayans, who “returned to life” after having endured 72 infernal days under the worst imaginable conditions (Source: http://www.mandes.uy/eng/index.html).

5 of the 16 survivors

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On Friday, October 13th, 1972, a Uruguayan Fairchild 227 airplane (with a rugby team on board) crashed in the Andes. Initially, 32 persons survived the crash against one of the highest mountain chains in the world. Many of them were seriously injured. Most of the survivors were members or supporters of the rugby team which had chartered the plane to fly to Chile for a match.  Although they were certain of imminent rescue, the survivors, under the leadership of rugby team captain Marcelo Pérez, organized their efforts over the next few days to clear the plane of debris, melt snow into water to avoid dehydration, and devise ways to keep from freezing to death in the subzero temperatures of the night.

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At 4000 meters above sea level, with neither appropriate clothing nor food, the survivors were surrounded and trapped in the mountains, where they almost died from the extremely low temperatures. In order to withstand the extreme weather conditions and temperatures below -30 ºC (-22 ºF) many things were reinvented.

For instance: in spite of the low temperatures, they learned how to produce water from snow. They used the fabric of the seat covers as quilts

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As mattress the survivors used the airplanes foamy seat fillings. Each member had two units, that they used for snowshoes during the daytime, in order to avoid sinking into the snow. During the nighttime they put the cushions below the sleeping bag in order to reduce heat loss, and having something soft to lay on. Their very limited provisions, consisting of a few sweets, some cans with food and a couple of bottles of alcoholic beverages, quickly ran out. For ten long days they waited to be rescued. Then they heard on the small pocket receiver that the search had been called off. The most critical issue was how to face the lack of food. This forced them to make a very tough, difficult and controversial decision. They used the bodies of their dead mates for “not to die”. In average the survivors lost 29 kg. Roy Harley was 1.80 meters tall and before the trip weighed 84 kg. He was admitted to the ICU in Chile weighing barely 38 kg, after surviving 72 days in the Andes mountain.

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But things got even worse on the night of day 16 (the 29th of October) when an avalanche hit them while they were sleeping in the remains of the fuselage, burying them completely and killing eight people. One of those eight was Marcelo Pérez, whose death left the group without solid leadership. The void he left was eventually filled by the three Strauch cousins (Eduardo, Fito, and Daniel Fernández), who were trusted and highly respected among the other boys. After the avalanche the remaining survivors were buried alive in the fuselage for three days. Although many of them believed that dying would be easier than going on living, the survivors kept fighting for life and organized expeditions aiming to escape the mountain.

A model of how the men slept in the fuselage, when the avalanche hit

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In midst of this desperate situation they made many attempts to get out of that valley. The final and successful attempt was made by two of them (Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa) on the 12th of December (day 62). After hiking for 10 long and endless days under extreme geographical conditions, they came across a cattle driver. This man then rode for 8 hours to the next Police station in order to report his encounter and seek help. His response –and generous attitude– put an end to the 72 days of horror, pain, hunger, desperation… but also brought hope of a brighter future.

The cattle drover together with Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa

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This was the route, that ended the nightmare for the last 14 survivors

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Montevideo also has a 20 km walking-jogging-cycling track a long the waterfront – YES, we did bicycle all the way 40 km in total

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Cruising… but where we gonna find the “Montevideanos” today…?

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Following the waterfront the ”Montevideanos” started to show up – fishing!

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We went for a walk on the pier… the “Montevideanos” really like to fish. Tough a lot of people were fishing only a few of them actually caught something. Maybe their patience will pay off at some point, but with all that competition from the other fishermen… hmm, the odds seems hard.

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Stopped to buy the traditionally snack “Torta Frita” on the way. We choose two different kinds of filling (1) cheese and ham (2) cheese and olives. We almost couldn’t taste the filling, and was not impressed. Maybe we should have chosen a sweet filling like “dulce de leche”… but deep-fried food, just has that universal taste of being deep-fried.

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A long the waterfront it is packed with tall buildings offering an apartment with “ocean view”, or should I call it with a “river view”, since this is still a part of Rio de la Plata, but so close to the outlet of the river, where it is so wide, that you can not see the shore on the other side.

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Then suddenly out of the ordinary tall apartment buildings we pass by this castle – it is the Pittamiglio’s Castle

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Montevideo is built at the shore of Rio de la Plata, but when does the river end, and when does the Atlantic ocean start? Right here!

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In the town of Punta del Este, where you can visit “the hand in the sand” at Playa Brava. Constructed in iron and cement by the Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal, it won first price in a monumental art contest in 1982, and has been there ever since. In Punta del Este we again met up with our friends Taisa and Ernesto.

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Punta del Este is a party town during the summer (December-Marts), but we are here in low season (late April), so it was not a problem taking pictures of the hand in the sand without any other tourist getting in our way. We also explored the city on foot trying to find a gym that was not too expensive. While walking around we quickly started noticing the architecture. The thatched houses has been very common in Denmark, but today only around 60,000 houses remains. Thatching is the craft of building a roof with dry vegetation such as straw etc. layering the straws so as to shed water away from the inner roof. Since the bulk of the vegetation stays dry and is densely packed—trapping air—thatching also functions as insulation. It is a very old roofing method and has been used in both tropical and temperate climates. Thatching methods have traditionally been passed down from generation to generation, and numerous descriptions of the materials and methods used in Europe over the past three centuries survive in archives and early publications (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thatching).

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It was not just the thatched houses (In Danish “stråtækt hus”), but also the other houses that really reminded us about Europe architecture. It turns out that most Uruguayans descend from settlers and immigrants from Europe with almost 90% of the population being of European descent. The majority of these are Spaniards and Italians (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguayans), but no people from Denmark. So we walked around with an European felling, that did decent from Europe. Uruguay is 176,000 square kilometers. In comparison Denmark is 43,000 square kilometers, which means that Uruguay is 4 times bigger than Denmark. On the other hand the population in Uruguay in only 3.4 million, but in Denmark 5.7 million, so we are more than 2 million more people in Denmark, and the country is only a fourth of the size of Uruguay. Conclusion: Denmark is heavier populated and we live a lot closer in Denmark. MAybe that is the reason we had such a hard time finding the “Montevideanos”

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Checking up on the cooler fluid level, we decided with Tasia and Ernesto, that our next stop would be the hippie town, Cabo Polonio.

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