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30th Anniversary
Interview with Roberto Canessa January 2002
- How do you see what happened in the Andes after 29 years?
- Well, It seems to me like it has happened to other person. When I look my kids, who have the same age I had when the accident happened, I realize that it’s incredible how I could survive. I think it was the innocence we had that helped us to survive together with the faith in God and the self-strength. Today almost 30 years after the accident I don’t remember how I felt, I just remember the facts, but evidently (and luckily) all the anguish and sadness that implicated fight until die I just don’t remember it anymore.

- What do you think about the book and the movie Alive?
- They are people who had the luck of have not been in the accident, so they give an idea of the things that might happen to human beings and the difficult situations they might have to solve. Both documents show from different angles what is a difficult situation and also how do human beings react facing the cruelest adversity.

- Do you think that this experience led you to an approach to nature?
- Yes, totally. There we were mountain men, even when I got home if a car passed close to me I freaked out, because at the mountain something which moves is either an avalanche or a stone. I think we became very basic humans, and that’s the fight between man and nature, you learn to love it to respect it and to live with it. The nights at the mountain, in spite of the cold, were an incredible spectacle; seeing the moon reflected on the snow. I will never forget that!

- Was there any change on your religious beliefs after the accident?
- Well, I think there are two types of Gods, one which is shown to you at the School, sitting in heaven and sending rays to the people who are on earth, and another one who is the one we knew in the Andes, we practically lived with him and we asked him help constantly. You get closer to the idea of the death and you think you are just passing through life, and that life is an accident in which the only real thing is that you’re going to die. With those parameters we learnt not to care about our possibility of dying because we were in peace with both our souls and God. In that constant talking with God we begged him the salvation to be difficult but not impossible. You were there and saw a friend dead, a friend who ten minutes earlier was alive.

- What was your relationship with the Catholic Church after the accident?
- I think that the Catholic Church is a big organization which tries to help by showing support for people who need God’s consolation. I also think that there are some great priests who are constantly giving support to people. It’s an institution that has done a lot for men’s progress, and sometimes people try to stain it by saying “I believe in God but not in Catholic Church”, “I don’t believe in priests”. It’s totally unfair; all the generalizations are pretty unfair. For example in the Catholic religion the priests have to give up everything and I think that giving the dream of having a family up must be really hard. But I have a great respect for the Catholic Church.

- How did you physically feel having hardly anything to eat?
- Being at 3500 meters high you walk 20 meters and you are already out of breath, and in the snow while you walk you sink. What’s more, in those places there is no path or threshing or anything like that, each walking is in an inhospitable and unpredictable land. For us moving forward was terribly difficult, we didn’t know if it was because we felt physically tired or if it was the mountain that made it difficult. There was a moment in which we walked 33 steps and we stopped because the “Orientales” were 33, we believed that those steps were about 20 meters, and as we knew that we had to walk more or less 80 kilometers, which were 100.000 steps, each step was “a step”. And that was how we moved forward to our objective. What kept you strong was thinking about the next day “maybe tomorrow” was what kept us alive 72 days, “maybe tomorrow” we’ll get out of here, “maybe tomorrow” we’ll reach the summit, “maybe tomorrow” was our motive.

- Do you and your partners meet periodically?
- Every 21st December we meet to remember together the possibility that God gave us for continue our lives, as well as to remember the friends who aren’t here anymore. Actually, we met little ago to celebrate the 50th birthday of Bobby Françoise. It’s a brotherhood in which we argue and dispute but always keeping a sense of membership, united by a terrible experience.

- How is your current relationship with Fernando Parrado?
- My relationship with Nando is really good, he’s a quiet and measured guy, and I’m more explosive. He’s the godfather of my son and I’m the godfather of his daughters, I had more affinity with him, we get on well with each other.

- Through these years, how did you face your relationship with the relatives of the people who died in the accident?
- Very good, they wanted to know what had happened with their sons and daughters, how had they spent their last minutes, what had they said. So it was very important for them that we told them as much as we could about that. I’ve received a lot of support from Nogueira’s family, when we won the championship they were the first in hugging me meanwhile, with the others was different, more distant because we didn’t know each other before the accident; But in general it was very good, even the nephews of my friends, the ones who didn’t return, play in the rugby team. We all know each other from the neighborhood; the truth is that relatives have helped us a lot.

- Has your attitude towards life changed in any way after the accident?
- Yes, you realize that you’re a fool because you have everything to be happy and yet you complain about your life, you don’t realize what you have until you lose it. Not having a place to sleep, sleep over the snow, have to eat dead people in order to survive, while at home you always have some food; Even the water, we had to melt the snow during an hour to drink a glass of water. Most of us receive more than we need and give less than we can, that was certainly something I learned at the mountains. Having a place to sleep, to eat, it’s more than many people have, you should value it instead of complaining about the things you don’t have. The truth is that the strength is on ourselves, evidently if we would have sat to wait for our parents to rescue us, we would have died.

- How did your experience influence on your children’s education?
- I taught my children to respect people for their moral and ethical values, not to be dazzled by material qualities, but by the honesty of men, to be grateful in life, to study and try to make progresses by their own means (that’s the most difficult part to me).
They have lots of friends and have a lot of fun together. One of the most beautiful things I have, as a memento from the past, is a recording in which somebody asked Hilario (my son) if he was happy for having his father alive, and he answered that he wasn’t happy because it was a tragedy, but that he understands his father and knows that he fought for his life and the life of his friends. That means a lot to me, when Hilario walked through the Andes (when he was little) he was asked if he knew that walking on the mountain was so hard, and he said “yes, I knew it because my Dad told me so, and he never lies”.
I find that image of father very important; I expect them to have respect for themselves, their family, and for the others, that’s the important thing.
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