Friday, October 13, 2006

Alive! a Uruguayan story

<<previous next>>

A day like today, friday 13th, thirty four years ago, a plane departed from Montevideo, carrying a team of young uruguayan rugby players and relatives, former students of the Stella Maris high school to play in Chile, only that it never made it to their destination, Santiago.

The plane crashed in the Andes mountains, and an odyssey of seventy two days started. The survivors of the plane crash had to endure extremely cold temperatures, starvation, and more deads. In their desperation they resorted to eating human flesh of the dead in order to survive.

The true story inspired several books, and a movie, called Alive, starred by Ethan Hawke. I remember getting angry with the movie cause I felt it lacked references to Uruguay, and was not very accurate on some stuff, like calling mate "tea" in the first scenes where the pilots are drinking mate.

The different portrayals of the story, in particular the books, are filled with details, of the everyday life in those conditions, how they fed on chocolate and whatever food resources they had at first, the avalanche they went through in the middle of the night that killed some of them, and how they were able to receive radio transmissions and listened when the rescue parties gave up the search for them.

Finally when they realized that they could count on no one other than God and themselves they organized a trip that would go looking for help. The three person party that would search for help was formed by the fittest of them. Recently National Geographic released an article where a team recreated the trip Roberto Canessa, Nando Parrado, and Antonio Vizintín did in their quest for help, and they say it's a tough trip to do, even for trained people with the proper equipment.

When they were rescued the story was huge with the press, and they went through tough times explaining the flesh eating. My mother told me once that the argentinean press was really hard on them, and labeled them cannibals.

Living in Uruguay meant listening about this story along the years, and sometimes even crossing the survivors in the streets of Montevideo. When I was a teenager there were a couple of black humor jokes going around about Parrado in relation to the flesh eating issue.

Today Parrado is a national TV personality that can be watched every Sunday in a eternal program called Vertigo (about cars & rally racing), and goes around the world giving motivational conferences based on his experience. He's written the last book released on the subject, called: "Miracle in the Andes, which word is it's good, since it's first hand.

I guess is one of those examples when reality beats fiction, It's an incredible story about human survival against all odds, and adaptation to extreme conditions. One that makes one proud of being Uruguayan.

(picture taken from the official site of the andes tragedy)

Read more!