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Interview with Fernando Parrado: February 2000
- What things did you find out alter the Andes?
- I found out some crucial things I would use the rest of my life, but although it may sounds rare, the most important thing I’ve learnt in how to take decisions. I always say that at the mountains I took the most important decisions of my entire life in 20 seconds. We were with Roberto on the expedition since a couple of days and we keep walking to try to reach some place but the only thing we saw was snow and mountains. Snow and mountains, higher and higher every time, that was the only thin we saw. Once we reach a summit in which we thought we would find something different from the white of the snow, we expected to see something that raised our hope. When we get to that summit we found that we were still in the middle of nowhere. There were snow and summits everywhere you looked at. It was on that moment in which I decided how to die, I looked Roberto and I said: “We had two options, whether we die here looking at each other eyes, or we die walking. I want to die fighting for my life” and it was for that reason that we kept on walking, and we are alive thank to that. That was the most important decision I made in my life: how to die.

- Or how to live….
- It’s true, that day I decided how to live.

- What things do you value the most today?
- I value simple things. First of all the fact of waking up every morning. I can’t stop thinking that I shouldn’t be here. Nobody who wasn’t there, nobody who hasn’t lived that experience of going back to the death, can ever appreciate how lucky we were. We thought we were not going to survive that experience up to the last minute of the last day. Those were 72 days of condemn. We were destroyed, buried in the middle of a glacier. For that reason each day is like a miracle to me and I try to take as much advantage of them as I can.

- But how did your values and prospect change? What’s, in your opinion, the relation between deep and trivial things?
- I’m a common guy, but with the time I’ve become a very quiet person. People tend to worry about nonsense things. They are on a restaurant and shout to the waiter because the food doesn’t come, when the waiter has nothing to do with that. I’m very quiet and I try, within my possibilities, to enjoy everything I can: a meal, a good wine, a chat with friends. You have to live an experience like the one we lived to notice the difference between the things which are really important and the things which aren’t. In general I feel different from the others in the perception of the daily problems: people complicate themselves, I became a simpler. At work when I found myself having a discussion whit my partner for some stupid thing, I thought it over and say: no, this is not right. Sometimes I think that if business weren’t going well I would jump into a van and I would mow the lawn all day , I would be gardener, which is a profession I like very much. I have the feeling that nothing is irremediable, everything has a solution, besides I think I’m not limited by the society. I always do what I feel, I just don’t care about what the others might expect me to do.

- What’s the most important thing you taught your daughters?
- This might appeared a bit twee but the most important thing I taught them is “love”. I totally agree with that song that affirms that “love moves the world”. The economy, politics, those things don’t exist; the most powerful strength in the world is love. The love for my father made me find the way out of those mountains because I had to save my life for him. The love towards my wife changed my life , the love for my friends makes me happy every day. It’s proved statistically that every man that has done something important in his life did it for somebody else; and generally for a woman.

- Talking about women have you fell in love more than once?
- I’m a difficult guy. I had my passions like everyone else but I think that I’ve fallen in love only once. The day I met Veronica, my wife, my life changed for ever. When I return from The Andes I was still a boy and due to all the things that happened to us I wanted to swallow the life in one go. I lived out of control for some years, I wanted to do everything, to experiment everything I could. I didn’t stop. I used to do motor racing, which was my passion, I used to run motorbikes. I used to travel all the time, I knew lots of people, I was kind of Kamikaze. I had the feeling that I couldn’t waste my time , not a single minute, it seemed to me that the time wouldn’t be enough for me. Veronica calm me, she showed me another world. She took me out of that intensity that for moments became infuriating and injected me some peace.

- What are you afraid of?
- I’m afraid of illnesses, I’m afraid even of thinking in loosing my people. I’m afraid of death. Some people believe that for having it so close, death doesn’t affect me, but it’s exactly the opposite: you never get used to the death. When I fly the turbulence scared me a lot.

Do you travel frequently?
Quite a lot. And although I had sworn never to enter a plane again, I did it almost immediately on my return from Chile to Uruguay, after the accident. Today I travel a lot, mostly for business.

- What is your job about?
- I dedicate part of my time to my father’s company , not much I would say because it doesn’t attract me much. And almost the 70 per cent of my time I dedicate it to write and produce documentaries with my wife, those documentaries are shown on T.V by channel 12, one of the most important channels in Uruguay.

- And what are those documentaries about?
- They are special programs lasting an hour, and they are about the nature; I have other kind of documentaries as well which are about travels, in which I always film a particular route, the route 66 for example in a famous car. I started to work on television because I love films, but as in this country making films is very difficult I had to choose something similar.

- You participated in the film of the book “Alive!”?
- Yes, they called me to participate as a technical advisor and I accepted immediately. It was a great experience. The film crew in charge of the director Frank Marshal, was the same team that filmed all Steven Spilberg’s movies. They did seven of the biggest box-office hits in the history of film industry, so they might know a bit about films. We filmed I Canada in a place similar to Las Leñas. We woke up and there were seven helicopters which took us up to a glacier four thousand meters high. We were more than a hundred people.

- What was your duty in there?
- Well, I told them the story, I talked to the actors about some specific situations. It was funny, because I told them that we had our faces permanently covered to protect us from the cold and the sun, we looked like mummies. We were all wrapped in pieces of clothes and we were dirty, but the actors and the producers as well, were desperate to show their faces.

- So, the film is not a good representation of what really happened?
- The film is a picnic compared with what we lived, is an excursion. There you don’t see the cold, or the thirst, or the death you don’t even see the suffering, but it’s O.K….. I think that anyway it would be impossible to film it just as it happened, and there is also a question of merchandising, they wanted to attract young people.

- Did all the survivors participate on the film?
- No, only nine of us participated.

- And the book, does it tell the true story?
- The book is better than the film. We worked much more for the book than for the film.

- Do you think that the film contributed with the tendency of people to think that it was a sort of an adventure?
- Maybe. I feel that lots of people see this almost in a romantic way. “Good Lord! This kids, all of them young, all friends, they crashed, they walked across the mountains and finally they save their lives.” The truth is that it was much more horrible than any of you can imagine. If I hadn’t the family I had today, I would rather not having born than pass for all we had to pass.

- Today after 27 years would you say that it was an accident or a God’s prove?
- None of them. It was just an experience. As it’s said I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was like winning the lottery but just the way round. It was a nightmare, I used to think: “I’m dreaming, this is not real, I’m going to wake up and I’ll be at the hotel”. But I never woke up from it.

- Since the fourth day you wanted to set off a return expedition, were you convinced about getting to find help or you just needed to escape the plane?
- I knew it was practically impossible, I didn’t believe we could make it but I needed to get out of there. My mother, my sister, my best friends were all dead and I couldn’t stop thinking about my father. I imagined what he would be suffering and I went crazy. We were a very close family. My father and I shared a lot of things, we both liked the same things, and knowing him, I was sure that he believed we were all dead. He’s a practical guy; I knew that my father wouldn’t have the littlest hope. Since the first moment the only thing I wanted was getting out of there, but luckily the guys stopped me, because if I would have left earlier I would have died within the first two hours. During the first month as soon as you left the plane you sank into the snow up to your waist, besides with the cold weather it would have been impossible even trying to return.

- How did your father get to know you were alive?
- It was pretty funny because the news that we were alive started to arrive in Uruguay during the early morning of the 23rd December. That night all the radios around the country informed that Roberto and I were both alive. My father was sleeping but a friend who was studying hears the news. She immediately phoned home and when my father picked up the phone she started shouting: “Mr. Parrado, Nando is alive! Nando is alive!” My father at the same time was saying “Calm down Teresa, I know you loved Nando so much” and that continued until, as Teresa didn’t stop shouting he decided to hang up. So she went to my house on her car, she knocked the door as to knock it over and she made him to turn on the radio.

-How is the life after death?
- I return to life, literally. I was dead and I experimented what happens when somebody dies. When I returned home, my bedroom was all changed, my stuff wasn’t there, my father used my clothes and at the living-room there was a different photograph of me, it was another one, it was the picture of a dead person.

- Did you make any promise when you were at the mountain or during the expedition?
- I premised lots of things, for example that I would go to the mass all the Sundays

- Did you do it?
- I think I went two or tree times.

- Did you saved yourselves or it was God who saved you?
- I expect that God don’t get angry with me for what I’m going to say, but the truth is that Roberto and I saved ourselves. I insulted God so much for the things we lived that I guess that he’s already used to it. It was so horrible: avalanches, precipices, hunger, and cold. The cold was unbearable. We felt our bodies hardening, we were exhausted. We wanted to die. We spent hours and hours feeling that… day after day wanting to die… and you don’t die. The question we asked each other was “Are you all right?” we asked each other: “Are you alive?” and as in general the one who was being asked didn’t have enough strengths to answer the question, so another said to him: “If, you breathe, you’re alive” and he insisted: “Breath! Breathe more! Hold on a bit more!”

- Why some of you could resist and others couldn’t?
- I don’t have the slightest idea. I had always asked myself the same question and I’ve never arrived at a logic answer. There wasn’t a specific quality among the ones who did return. We all had the same will to live.

- How did the fact that you were all friends and from a rugby team influence your survival?
- It was crucial. We didn’t reach the barbarism, the bordering on the animal behavior, because we were friends. In any other situation nobody would have survived that, but we were a much closed group. Each of us was passing through a different state of mind so we took turns to put up with the other’s state of mind. About Rugby, I can say it’s a sport that teaches you to sacrifice yourself for you’re the other members of the group. It helped us to organize our duties since the very first day, we had discipline.

- Was there a leader?
- The leaders were changing with the time, because who wanted to be the leader of some condemned men? But the first of us who took all the responsibility was Marcelo, the team captain. He was a guy of an incredible integrity and he felt guilty because he had been the one who organized the trip. The day we heard on the radio that the search had been stopped Marcelo collapsed. People who affirm to suffer from stress don’t know what are saying; I never saw or felt again such a mental pressure like was at the Andes. It’s really incredible that we had supported so much time…

- How did you manage the tension? Did you have some distraction, some kind of game or something like that?
- No. We lived as if we were in front of a firing squad, there was no place for games.

- Nobody made jokes?
- No. There wasn’t place for humor. Somebody tried once to raise our spirits making some jokes, but there wasn’t any receptivity because most of the time we were too busy trying to survive. Our fight wasn’t to survive one or two days, it was to survive the next ten minutes, half an hour, we fought to survive the next ten minutes, half an our, and the next one.

- How could you manage the death of your mother and your sister among all that pain?
- I don’t know what does manage a death means, but if it’s about cry them I never did it. When I was there I become a survivor machine, completely cold, without any feeling. After their deaths, I buried them in the snow and I stopped feeling in that moment. I thought that if I collapsed in that moment, if I lost my energies crying, I was going to die too.

- And when you came back, what happened?
- I could never cry for them. I guess that when I returned to Uruguay I didn’t want to suffer any more. But I cried over Panchito Aval, my best friend. He was like a brother to me, we always went out together and when I came back and I when to the place we always went I realize that he wasn’t going to be with me any more and I started crying like a baby.

- Is true that, as Nietzsche says, what doesn’t kill you fortifies you? Did all of you return stronger?
- I can’t speak for the others, because what happened to us affected each of us in a different way, but I think that in a way or another we were all affected positively.

- Are you still friends?
- Of course we are, and we are continuously seeing each other because we all live very near in Carrasco.

- How is your relationship with the parents of the people who didn’t return?
- It’s very good. They understand that nobody choose life or death. I think that in that moment it was important for them our testimony, at least some of us could come to tell the story.

- What things have you changed after the accident?
- Now, every time I have to travel, I take a Swiss Army knife hanging on my neck. It’s like an amulet, besides it’s very useful sometimes.

- Have you ever been with survivors of similar experiences?
- I was with survivors of concentration camps and with survivors of a castaway sailing boat near New Zealand. I was also with a man who electrocuted himself, lost his arms and had to be six months at a hospital. In all those cases I felt that there was something which made us very close.

- Can you tell me what that was?
- The fact of have experimented such a close contact with the death, and the new perspective we have about life, the gratitude for having the possibility of start again. In some way, people who have faced this sort of experiences know that having the best car, the best house, or even a profession that turns you into an important person are useless if it is something wrong with the people you love.

- Have you ever been in therapy?
- No, never. When we returned our families suggested us to look for some psychological help. So we all met to eat an “asado” and discuss that, we all agree that it was ridiculous, we didn’t need a psychologist to come back to our lives. The psychologist would have been necessary up in the mountains, not here.

- There is something that gives peace to your spirit?
- I suppose that the same things that give peace to everyone else: I like to be with my people, I like reading while I listen to music…

- Did you have dreams or nightmares about the accident?
- Never in the 26 years that passed since the accident did I have a dream about the things occurred.

- There is anything that takes you back directly into that moment?
- Yes, a sound. The sound feet make by walking on the show at the Andes. That particular sound, is unforgettable to me. We were living with that sound two months and a half.

- Have you ever asked yourself what things would you do different if you have to live that experience again?
- It’s unbearable to me live that again, but I’m sure that what we did were the only things possible to do. Two years ago we organized a special expedition to the accident’s place with Rodrigo Jordán, who is one of the most famous mountaineers in South America. I wanted to place a new cross. We were with the best mountaineer and the weather didn’t aloud us to reach the place. Jordán said to me that what we did without the appropriate equipment, clothes and with the weakness we had was practically inhuman. “You should uncork champagne every morning”, he said “your birthday is everyday”

- How many times did you come back to the accident’s place?
- I return there eight times, my father seventeen. Roberto went two more times and there are some who didn’t return to the place.

- Do the expeditions organized to the place bother you?
- It’s rare because although it is a place incredibly beautiful it’s almost inaccessible. Any person who made the effort to go there must have a good reason to do it, I think that curiosity is not enough. Besides, at that place there is a sort of tomb with a cross, where many times we leave things; I leave my sister’s bear, which she had used all her life, and nobody touched a single object. I think there is a lot of respect for what happened, everything is just as we left it.

- Do you have any scar?
- Just two or three marks on my body.

- Do people recognize you on the street?
- Here, in Uruguay, everybody knows me. When I go out with my daughters they play a game which consists in guessing how many people will come to greet me. Not so long ago we went to a café and a young man of thirty hugged me and told me I was his idol. What I’ve always found rare is that I didn’t choose to be famous.

- Does it bother you?
- No, not now, but at the beginning I remained a little out of place. I was very young. I felt I was the same and what had changed was the world. A week after my return from the Andes I went to the pizzeria we used to go before the accident, and suddenly a man came and when he saw me he shouted: “Nando!” I was sat at the same table eating the same “muzzarela”, but all of a sudden I was Nando for a stranger.

- In the last few years you have given some conferences about how to survive a tragedy…
- Yes, that came up a bit casually. I’m member of an organization called YPO, this organization reunites young chairmen from all over the world. For or five years ago a Mexican friend, who’s also member of this organization, asked me to open an annual convention, casually celebrated in Mexico. I told him that I couldn’t speak in public during more than two seconds, but as he insisted I accepted. I spent almost two months to prepare the conference. That day my friend explained me that all the people present were chairmen, and that it was probable that if they didn’t find interest what I was saying they would leave, he told me all this to be prepared for that. I went up to the platform sweating and very nervous so I forgot everything I had prepared. I leaned my watch in front of me and I started talking. I spoke two hours and a half. When I finished my speech I was very surprised because people started clapping enthusiastically. From that moment people call me from everywhere to give conferences.

- Do you like it?
- I like interacting with people. During the conferences I speak a lot about feelings, family, about the necessity of love, and sometimes it surprises me how interesting people find this things which in general seems so daily.

- Have you ever thought about doing politics?
- Not at all. It has been proposed to me hundreds of times, but I couldn’t. That’s not my world, and it would take me too much time.

- How important is the future in your life?
- I try not to care about the future, it’s not always easy, but I try…
My life is the present, Now this minute. The next one? I will see what to do with it when it comes.

- How do you picture heaven?
- Heaven for me is making love for ever with the woman I love.
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