The first eight days: Chile

I started my journey to South America on 4 July 2015. I’ll be sharing snippets of my journey through this blog and wanna flashback to the first week of my travels.

13.7.15

The first thing I remember vividly here: reading Ithaka. This time in Spanish. It was my first day, and it was the last poem I read in New Zealand.

I don’t really know what to say besides all the little things.

I’ve just hitchhiked 1500km up the north of Chile. For a large part, in a 30 tonne truck.

I lived in a fairytale cottage in the magical Elqui Valley and watched sunset from the river.

I’ve been to a fish market in Antofagasta and seen giant seals, and a sunset over the Pacific – from the other side.

I’ve been stranded in the middle of a highway at night in a desert under stars so fucking crystal clear that the skies were three-dimensional – and been rescued by an indigenous couple driving past…who dropped me off right at the doorstep of my next hosts.

I’ve done handstands at ancient ruins.

I’ve visited one of the most beautiful towns on earth, Valparaiso, with cobblestone streets and an explosion of colours, ramshackle buildings and full of life and love and arts and crafts.

I’ve climbed a mountain in the Andes.

I’ve spoken to a mother of four children over five days about orthomolecular medicine.

I’ve woken at 3am to catch a bus, and bruised my hips, shoulders from carrying the backpack, and everything I own in the world now is covered in dust.

I’ve ‘couch’ surfed in a 5-star hotel style room in Chile’s largest city’s richest neighbourhood, complete with a gigantic bed fit for the queen, mahogany furniture and a flatscreen TV.

I’ve walked into a zoo plonked totally at random in the middle of the highway with llamas, monster rabbits, lorikeets, alpacas, and a catastrophic number of doves.

I’ve passed through the world’s driest desert, Atacama, at sunrise and sunset, seen giant dunes as big as mountains and rock-hills awash with copper, bronze, silver for miles.

I’ve been hit on by a girl serving tea in a herbal tea shop and a Portuguese man in the bus I couldn’t understand a word of.

I’ve stared into the eyes of newfound friends until we were both crying.

I’ve carted 2 avocados and 2 tomatoes 1000km up the country in 1 day alongside oodles of organic quinoa, black rice and couscous.

I’ve been asked to write a Focus article for the next UNESCO APCEIU magazine on education to be distributed to all worldwide headquarters, National Commisions, NGOs, allies and partners, and been formally invited to Conference of the Youth on climate change in Paris.

I’ve giggled uncontrollably over giant cactuses, chewed coca and marveled over medicinal plants, loving to bits an old lady growing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

I’ve trespassed into a beautiful vineyard by jumping the fence and sprinted away from watchdogs I didn’t realise were on the other side of the farm.

I’ve snuggled up with a family of six to watch Chile win a game of football against Argentina.

I’ve visited an art museum under government house in Santiago and sung on grounds of ex-presidents’ lands.

I’ve walked 4km up a hill in a midriff top and too-thick pants one burning afternoon.

I’ve washed bird shit off dried grapes straight from the vines and eaten them.

I’ve cartwheeled in foreign parks after dark with a hundred children running around, looked away from couples kissing over bridges, sung in tunnels and 3D murals.

I’ve been told I look Nicaraguan or Colombian more times than I can recall.

I’ve seen a desert full of pink flowers, a beautiful city by the sea destroyed by alluvial floods and freak landslides.

I’ve broken my watch, melted my last coconut oil and accidentally clogged a toilet or two.

I’ve lived in a ramshackle adobe-earth shack in the middle of the desert, with no kitchen, internet, bathroom, and wild dogs crying for the hills every night.

I’ve lived in a house with turtles.

I’ve laughed and shared and been inextricably woven up in the stories of a friendly bus driver, a revolutionary old lady with a dog on the street of wild books, a fine arts student working in a natural juice shop in the middle of a valley searching for what makes her come alive, ex-street kid beaten-up-by-parents runaway-militant-turned-Jehovah’s-witness-turned-truck-driver with three kids and a heart of gold, a hitchhiker-turned-bus-ticket-seller, and a Peruvian taxi driver with an Ecuadorian mum and Mexican dad and a degree in chemistry, two kids and former volunteer in the Amazon jungles with the indigenous – forced to eat monkeys and snakes out of respect of tradition.

I’ve met and shared and loved and laughed with a 22-year old girl still at primary school with disabilities, a fruit-and-veg market lady offering me cups of hot tea and biscuits as I stood outside her shop on the highway waiting for a ride, a super-fit grandpa still working who bought me biscuits, drove me half a thousand kilometres and rang me up the next day to make sure I was okay wherever I was…who bought traditional sweets only from ladies because ‘they sacrifice more to be there, on the highway, selling the stuff;’ a truck driver in a suit who bought me lunch and waited with me at night at a police stop in the middle of nowhere at night till my next ride, an engineering student and yoga-theatre-football lover, supermarket workers who joked about my plans for the day. I’ve woken up to realised that a professional accountant in Chile’s largest bank cleaned all the mud off my boots early on Sunday morning, I’ve talked to an old lady about her cactus icecream, chatted to a marmalade seller in a natural product store and been unable to afford a $4 lipbalm; I’ve kissed an old woman with Alzheimer’s on the cheek and been told I am ‘beautiful’ and babbled on in Spanish to an artist-mathematician-hostel-worker with a $150 home gym kit, an outdoor stove a San Pedro cactus and coca experiment and a love for Krishnamurti.

I’ve gone to bed hungry, exhausted, happy, wildly grateful, amazed, and exploded more times than I imagined.

I’ve felt lonely and messed up.

I’ve been let down in a big way by people I trusted to be there for me – twice.

And each time, I’ve somehow found the space within myself to let go, to forgive and to keep loving and loving and loving.

And all this, in eight days.

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