Monday, July 9, 2012

The Notebook

Today I was rooting around in my desk and found the notebook that was my constant companion during my stint living in Santiago, Chile. It is torn to pieces, the binding broken and exposed, but it contains everything. Hundreds of new (Chilean) Spanish words that I was absorbing as fast as I could, bus schedules, the class schedule at the school where I taught, lesson plans, names of bands the students wanted me to check out, almost a hundred to-do lists, notes on differentiating appropriate uses of my new vocabulary words, the business card of the street comedian who embarrassed the living day-lights out of my friends and I and sold our kisses for tips. Everything. Or almost.
       I had intended to write while I was there. I am known to send some epically long but entertaining emails while abroad, and I love studying people and their culture and trying to explain how I see the world. This notebook contains almost no writings though. Truthfully, I was rather unhappy in Santiago. I felt stifled and that it wasn't where I was supposed to be. This isn't to say that there weren't moments of joy and small successes, great friendships and lots of laughs during my time living there, but I regard it as a whole as sort of a personal failure. It is something I have trouble reflecting on or talking about. This is why I did not write during my time there. The only two writings I have are from my backpacking trip north, once I had left the city behind, living out of a backpack for a month. The following entry was scrawled at the end of my notebook from one of my favorite South American cities, San Pedro de Atacama (Chile).

Dec. 15, 2011
I'm really liking San Pedro. My first impression was terror---flat expanses of dull gravel with crumbly hills and mountains in the distance. It got dustier as we approached the outskirts of town until we were dropped off at a tiny bus station/office made of what looked like remnants of wooden pallets. The town looked small, empty and dusty, and the lack of green had me on edge. When we arrived to our hostel, we were relieved to see that it wasn't as poor and basic as our first impression had led us to believe. In fact, it might be the cleanest hostel I've been in and has a wonderful authentic South American feel to it. It is on the outskirts of town tho, and although the inside is very nice, the neighboring structures are poor and dusty. The people seem to be doing just fine. The center of town was such a delight. I know most travelers aim to avoid other travelers, and shun all that is "touristy," but San Pedro is such an important jumping off point for many travelers and I was delighted to venture into town the first night to discover all the other foreigners (mostly non-North Americans actually) strolling the main street, Caracoles. The street is entirely travel agencies, artesianal and souvenir shops, over-priced restaurants and money exchanges, but it has such a nice vibe. The days here are hot and the sun is strong, but the mornings and evenings are so fresh and crisp. The stars at night are bright like back home and I never tire of looking at mountains in the near distance. 
     Although the town is hot and dusty, there are so many stunning things within easy reach. Multi-colored mountains of solid rock and gravel and hardy yet colorful shrubs and grasses surround lagoons of the most unnaturally bright blue-green water, with flamingos and vicuña no less. Not too far from there you stumble upon a valley of volcanic rock and dry adobe in the most fantastic shapes, so dry and barren as to resemble the surface of the moon. Upon following this valley further and up, you can reach a lookout that provides a stunning view of yet more fantastically shaped rock and gravel mountains sprouting from a surprisingly fertile and green strip of life spreading across the view.
     Whether out and about, gasping from the altitude and unearthly and contradictory landscapes within reach, or hanging out with the brilliant and interesting mochileros [backpackers] also staying in the hostel, listening to the strong wind tear at the corners and uneven surfaces of the buildings, it is a good place to be. 


San Pedro--Walking from the center of town towards the hostal

The roof of our hostel. Even in Santiago many roofs look like this

The hostel

The hostel again

The beginning of Caracoles, with the volcano Licancabur in the distance

La niña del hostal

One of the lagunas altiplánicas

The view after trekking through the dry adobe canyon, the fertile strip fell into shadow

The ever-present pastel hues

Right on the border of Chile and Bolivia

This is technically Bolivia, but it is merely a hop skip and a jump from San Pedro

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