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Harrowing Holidays

or Lucius and the Chilean Confrontation

Recently, to my surprise, I found myself in South America (the story of my arrival there is quite a unique tale in itself!). I decided that as long as I was there, I would make the best of my time. After contacting a few acquaintances, I was able to conduct some research into several obscure South American cultures. I was also able to practice my Spanish, which I have been working on and felt was much improved since my last foray to Mexico. Towards the end of my expedition, I made a point to visit Santiago, Chile, where my dear friend Dr. Amelia Gutierrez works with the Chilean Red Cross. Trained as an anthropologist, she devotes herself to helping the Chilean people in whatever capacity she can. I arrived at the Red Cross headquarters in the early afternoon with a Christmas gift of chocolate truffles in hand. I was surprised by the amount of bustle going on around me. In my best Spanish, I asked a young volunteer where I might find Dr. Gutierrez.
"Ella está allí" he replied as he pointed at a nearby door. I thanked the young man and as I approached, I saw that the door bore Amelia's name. I knocked and was greeted by a rather frazzled Amelia. It is here that the real story begins.
"Oh Lucius, it is so good to see you, but I'm afraid we are having a crisis here. I don't know how much time I will be able to spend with you" Amelia stated sadly.
"Not to worry, Amelia, your job comes first. But tell me, what is causing such commotion?" I inquired.
Amelia began to weave a most tragic tale for me. It seemed that a volcano on a small island near the Juan Fernández Islands was erupting. The eruption had mysteriously begun without any of the usual warning signs monitored by volcanologists. Unlike most islands in the area, this one had been overlooked by the Spanish and to this day sported a small population of indigenous people who lived on a remote and inaccessible portion of the island. The Red Cross was attempting to fly in aid supplies and even Christmas gifts for the children, but was being hampered by the thick volcanic ash in the air. Even more serious, the evacuation effort was only marginally successful due to the difficulties in reaching the inhabitants.
"Lucius, it is so frustrating! We have a helicopter loaded with supplies, but no one can fly it through the ash clouds surrounding the island" Amelia explained.
After inquiring of Amelia what type of helicopter they were utilizing, I felt that I might be of some help.
"Amelia, I am quite familiar with the Boeing CH-47 Chinook, and in my time, I have flown in worse conditions than those you have described to me. Please allow me to attempt the flight."
"Lucius, I could never allow it, it is far too dangerous, if anything were to happen to you . . ."
I do not surrender easily, dear reader, and in the end, I was able to persuade her to allow me to try. With that decision reached, I quickly found myself being ferried to the airport where the Chinook awaited me. After speedily preparing and checking the helicopter, I was cleared to depart. With a wave I fired up the twin turbo shaft engines.

Preparing the helicopter for take-off
 

Lucius waves farewell
Most of the flight to the island was uneventful. I was lulled into a subdued state with only the thrum of the engines around me and the liquid blue tapestry unfolding below me. As I approached the island, I saw why others had declined to take this journey. Thick gray-black soot obscured the sky. I entered the dark cloud and was enveloped in night. I relied solely on my instruments for guidance. Small volcanic rocks began to pelt the helicopter. Suddenly the engines began to whine and shutter. I knew that the volcanic debris was clogging the intakes. Warning lights flashed on my console. As I struggled to control the craft, I inched closer to my landing spot.
I did not know whether I would be able to reach my goal. I dropped to a lower altitude so that I could avoid most of the debris in the air. Now I only had to navigate around the trees and thick foliage. With relief, I saw my appointed landing spot come into view. Some of the islanders were there to greet me. I landed the Chinook and cut the engines. I explained to the islanders who I was and what I had brought. They appeared quite delighted and relieved and quickly began unloading my cargo. I inquired of one large man named Maita what had been happening. Maita seemed to be a man of some importance. He explained to me that the eruption had caught the people by surprise and that now, between the lava flows, the ash, and the treacherous coastline, escape was nearly impossible. With a conspiratorial look in his eye, he explained one more detail to me.

Warning lights flash as Lucius is enveloped by the ash
"It is Huacachella, the god of the volcano" whispered Maita. "Since time immemorial Huacachella has demanded a human sacrifice from our people every four years. This time we have refused him his sacrifice, and this is the price that we must pay. As the new chief, I refuse to abandon one of my people to the volcano. No longer will we slaughter one of our own to protect the rest. Come what may, we stand together."
I was incensed! This Huacachella seemed no more than a bully and a common extortionist!
"This behavior is despicable. It is entirely inappropriate to demand human sacrifice and to spew lava at innocents" I told Maita. "I will climb the volcano and have a talk with this Huacachella! Then we will see who is cowed!"