FOREWORD: This is yet another e-mail written to a friend, then hijacked for use on this blog. If God holds right to privacy laws sacred, I’m going to a hell where my private life will stream continuously on public television.
This is one of many attempts to write you during the craziness of the past month. So many messages have been cut short by my parental tour guide responsibilities or the thousands of activities in Chile during these summer months. Every time I go back to finish the half-written messages I have a whole new set of ideas and happenings to tell, and I start over. My mind’s freshness seal, it seems, expires every 12 hours. I write now mashing everything that has happened since I last wrote into one mail. Also, tomorrow I leave for Peru and will not connect much on the road so I wanted to write you this much deserved response before leaving all home comforts, including wireless, behind.
I’m in my Chilean friend’s apartment, the same friend who hosted me upon arrival to the country. It’s true, everything comes full circle. She, her fiancée, and I just sat down to a meal, drank wine, talked, then I hurriedly did the dishes and rushed, literally rushed, to the computer because I feel some sort of urgency to write you, to write you now. I’m not sure if this is a sign that my message will do you well—which I hope it does—or if I’m inventing this universal interconnectedness that I somehow feel to have tapped into at this very moment. It would be beautiful if every time you thought of someone they too were thinking of you, don’t you think?
News: Patagonia already seems a distant dream, but a colorful, sunny one where everyone is happy to be alive and you can walk on snow with sweat rolling off your forehead. It’s definitely got that end-of-the-world feeling, or that middle-of-nowhere doldrums, depending on your definition of remote. Patagonia, more specifically Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, and the national park Torres del Paine where we spent our days, are like no place I’ve ever known yet strangely similar to rural Nebraska. The whole region is dotted with small towns, everyone knows everyone’s business, and there isn’t much to do other than hike mountains or drink in bars. And there is ample time to do both: the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm.
The whole area is beautiful, simple, wholesome, especially Torres del Paine, even if a bit overrun by outdoor enthusiasts fighting for their quiet piece of paradise. Toward the beginning of our hike, on the more desolate and less-traveled Circuit route, we barely saw other hikers. Since you must stay at official campsites each night we’d see the same Brits, Israelis, lone Chinese guy with bright red tent, and Dutch gearhead couple who put my travel-light philosophy to shame with their daypacks and bivy sacks. My dad and I chatted with the other hikers each night after dinner and became friends, the common experience a sort of friendship glue. I fell into good terms with some Chilean guides who, upon asking details about their jobs, told me insider info about an elegant hotel near the park’s border that hires foreigners. I haven’t heard back from them since sending my resumé, and I’m not too hopeful, but I’m shopping around for a way to spend my time until Bolivia’s rainy season lets up in March. There is an island in Lake Titicaca that sounds like a likely week to two-week retreat if the freezing rain is still heavy and back roads still muddy once I cross the border.
My dad and I got along well enough during his 24 day stay. It was the longest time we’ve been together continuously since I was a child. There were definitely moments that pushed both of our patience levels—mostly on strenuous hiking days where my father’s body could give no more or I was dizzy with hunger—but I was always aware that it was a special moment in time, that never again will my father and I be together in the wilderness at the end of the world. He has since written that his vacation was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that he was glad to share it with me, that he was proud of everything I’ve accomplished, even my decision to renounce the world awhile and be more introspective during my travels. He too became more introspective during the camping trip. Every night he scribbled in his journal and ate by the camp stove with meditative eyes. More than anything though, I think he realized that he is no longer young and fought with the idea awhile before finally accepting it.
The park’s most difficult part is a snowy mountain pass through a Himalayan-like valley where you kick hard into the snow on the upclimb, creating an icy ladder with which ascend. My father had to stop often, rest, and still the peak did not show itself. The fact he could not sprint up the ridge seemed to frustrate him, not that he is an inexperienced hiker, but because he was annoyed his body could not and would not do what it so easily did as a youth. Of course, he and I summitted to an incredible glacier view that spread to the horizon and the rest is history, but we both learned a lesson. His lesson is probably somewhere in his thick journal and I’m guessing it has to do with accepting his current life stage; mine continues to be the same theme of enjoying everything youth has to offer while I can. My knee seems a bit arthritic lately but I’m hoping its just a lazy pain, that the bike and physical activity with bring it back to normal.
My mother’s arrival to Chile brought with it an entirely different kind of travel. We mountain men had to become civilized again, showering, napkins, the whole bit. The mountain lodge I reserved south of Santiago was especially memorable. Both my mom and dad said it was one of the most soothing, unique places they’ve stayed, third to a hotel room overlooking Iguazu Falls and a B&B with a bedroom ocean view in Panama—a former vacation spot I organized for them…I’ve been better about calling my parents since they left and their voices glow through the receiver every time. My conscious effort to let my parents know how much I love them on this trip has been more powerful for all of us than I could have imagined.
Tomorrow I’m hitchhiking with another American I met back north to Peru. I barely know the guy but I’m a good enough judge of character to know from the few beers we shared at a party that he’ll be fine company and an interesting conversationalist. He’s another happy misguided soul in South America traveling for the fun of it. We’ll take a public bus to Santiago’s farthest northern suburbs, maybe even a taxi from there to avoid poor and potentially dangerous neighborhoods, then hold up a sign and wait. There are several beaches and small desert towns famous for unearthly rock formations and star views we’d like to visit, but we both agreed we’ll just let the destinations unfold with the people who give us rides. It’s a narrow country and the sites are never far from the highway. After the Texas/North Carolina race through the back road veins of the U.S., catching a ride north on the only highway should be simple. We may be a bit vulnerable when we cross into the great Atacama desert, the driest expanse of land in the world, and the rides could be few and far between, but the stars will be mind-blowing if we need to roadside camp. Yes, we’ll bring plenty of water….
…It’s late here and I want to spend time with my friends before leaving tomorrow, so this mail is coming to close even though there is so much more to say….