I am on a hammock, one leg on the ground, swinging to a slow rhythm. The edge of every swing, the hammock pushes against a plant that reminds me of a papaya tree from my childhood. A gentle creak from the plant marks each complete swing of the hammock. The end of the hammock, where the hammock is tied to a rope that connects it to a tree. brushes against a leaf every swing, gently moving it up and down. The sun shines in and out of view, playing with my eyes. I squint and carefully observe the movement of the leaf. It reminds me of a wave on the beach. Maybe it will work out to the same thing mathematically if I wrote out the equations.
Pucon is a town in Chile close to the start of the region commonly known as Patagonia. It is a great base to stay in, while hiking and exploring the beautiful mountains around, including the imposing Volcano Villarica, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. There are guided tours for more things than you can count on the creases of the fingers of your hand, and there are just as many places you can explore by yourself. I however, did not climb the volcano. I did not kayak, “hidrospeed” (you hold on to a glorified kick board with fins and follow a guide through rapids) or explore the surrounding regions, which are some of the most beautiful places on the planet. Supposedly.
“Would you rather have the bus or your girlfriend?”, I asked Alex.
“I have a lot of memories of her and the kid”. I can’t find the hint of New Mexico in his accent, or the influence of fourteen months of travel. “The kid was seven and in a year on the bus, he could speak Spanish better than the both of us. But staying in such a small place with a girl is really difficult. You have hours of empty road and nothing to say to each other. It got really hard. I think right now, at this age, freedom is more important.”
La Serena is a beach town about five hours north of the capital. It is a quite town, with a nice peace. Nearby (10 km away) is the town of Coquimbo, which has nicer restaurants, and museums and all those other things that are cool. I did not go there. In Punta Ochoros, which is rumored to have Chile’s best diving, I did not go scuba diving. In Vina Del Mar, another beach town (but less quiet than La Serena), I didn’t go to the clean white sand beautiful beaches of Concon, or climb the sand dunes which everyone loves to climb.
I’m sitting on the patio, with six other people. Conversation is flowing rapidly in Spanish around me. I catch some of the words as they fly through the air and run them through the Spanish-English translator in my mind. By the time I get an answer and a guess at the context, the conversation has moved forward. I look at David and ask him, “What are you guys talking about?”. “Many things”, he says. I lean back and let the conversation flow through me. Beside me, a girl from Argentina tries to light her cigarette and the matchstick falls on her skirt, still lit. She slaps at her skirt frantically. I look at her and we laugh. She makes signs for the fire starting from her skirt and then burning down the hostel in a wild explosion.
Santiago is the capital of Chile. A lively metropolis, there is always something happening here. With the Andes about half an hour away, there are a thousand possible day hikes in the area, none of which I did. Santiago also lies in Chile’s wine producing region, which produces some world-class wines. I did not visit any of these wineries. I also did not go to the art museum, in case you were wondering. In Mendoza where I am now, I haven’t gone hiking, or paragliding, or horse riding, and I probably won’t be doing any of those things before I leave on Wednesday.
I’m sitting a table with nine other people. Conversation is all in English, and is about any imaginable topic. Politics, refugees, music, plans for tomorrow. A young man joins us, and I ask him where he’s from. “Egypt”, he says. He goes around the table, asking everyone where they’re from. When everyone’s done introducing themselves, someone exclaims, “There’s at least one person from every continent on this table.”
I later learn that the Egyptian has visited more than a hundred countries already. He’s 23. He’s spending two weeks in Chile, and I can’t help he’s thinking of his life as a list of countries that he has to cross off one by one. I get tired just imagining myself doing something similar. He’s been in La Serena only for a day, and has already gone to the beach, to Coquimbo, eaten in the best place. He’s going to leave in an hour. I’ve been there a week and done only one of those things, and that one only because the beach is a five minute walk away.
When I started this trip, I chose Chile because of the Carretera Austral, a 1350 km bike ride on dirt road, and the Torres Del Paine, one of the most beautiful places on the planet (mountains, rivers, snow, glaciers, lakes, ..). I did not bike on the Carretera, and it increasingly looks like I will not make it to Torres Del Paine.
The smell of weed, and the voices of Esteban, Dan and Moreno, and Esteban’s insistent strumming on his ukelele, waft in and out of my awareness, off-beat with the hammock and the rest of the world, trying and failing (but only just) to pierce the balloon of my peace. Later, I sit by the swimming pool writing this, and I see the reflection of the wall across the wall in the water. On the wall is a badly painted sunset, all orange and fire and no character. In the water is an impressionist painting. I feel all of these things at the same time: the sunset, the papaya plant, the lemon tree above me, the orange-red fabric of the hammock below me, the sun and the ukelele. The green and the blue. The places I did not go to, the place I am.
Pilar tells me, “I like living in places and having opportunities to do things, but actually doing nothing”.