December 2011 – January 2012
It is 2 am and I am lying in my bed with the window open, cool air soft as a lovers touch on my spine. It is Friday night and this town is quiet. This is a place that feels sleepy even when brimming with tourists. My mind, however, is awake and alive. At the end of January I will begin to wander again, this time heading North through Patagonia.
This stop along my migratory route was needed, I am centered, focused, and have the energy to resume wandering. The bleeding of my wallet has temporarily stopped. I traded this hemorrhage for a new malady these past couple months, the losing of my mind. Any of you who know me well will understand. I took a job…in retail. Me, in retail…I know, crazy right? I’m a person who can’t stand shopping unless it’s in an outdoor gear store or a booth at a music festival. I am afraid of malls, I literally feel sick when I spend too much time in one. What made me think that this aversion would somehow be absent just because of my geographic location? I have no idea.
I have, however, discovered the purpose of this lapse. I have decided it was a reminder. You see I was working six days a week, for a total of 45 hours. Long lunch breaks meant that my entire day was used up working. My day off consisted of laundry, shopping for food and cooking a large pot of lentils or beans that would serve as my main meal for the week. It hit me when an email from my cousin congratulated me on finding work and expressed hope that I was enjoying the exploration of Patagonia. Exploration? Nope. It really sunk in; here I was, on the other side of the world living one of my dreams and instead of basking in this reality I was instead doing the same thing I had been in the states. Spinning my wheels, working too much at something my heart was not involved in.
Another revelation came to me during this down time. I was chatting with my friend when I heard myself talk about the road I was going to go down next, the attempt I was going to make to write professionally, and have it actually pay the bills. I listened to the words coming out of my mouth and realized that this is one of the reasons I was on this adventure. I had wanted to find a new path, to discover what to do with myself in the next chapter of my life. I hadn’t even realized that I had found it. So perhaps my mind needed to be lost, so that I could once again find myself.
A taste of Natales:
(This section is for you MM, lots of pictures and a map, as requested.)
Of all the places I had been through in Chile, why did I choose Puerto Natales to stop in? I could write pages on the way this place feels, the way it smells. Instead, I’m going to try and show you.
Because the perros del calle (street dogs) are friendly and well fed by the locals. They will follow you around without being a nuisance. The will play with you if you’d like them to. This one is my favorite, he likes to fetch rocks.
Because houses like this one, which looks as if it is sinking…(notice also the upper “porch” which consists of a rotting pallet, I’ve seen the door cracked open but fortunately I don’t think anyone stands on it)
Because older people hang out in their doorways watching the street and wearing clothes that match their houses. He’s not the only one, I had seen so many examples of this that I finally asked this guy if I could take his picture. The look he gave me clearly said ‘you’re whacked lady’, (told you I was crazy in Natales) but he agreed.
Because after the first time I went into the restaurant next door to where I was staying and asked for something vegetarian, they started preparing things for me. I’d be walking to or from work and on many days the man would come outside and say ‘Today I made tortas de acelga!’ (chard pancakes), or ‘We have carrot and onion frittata!’. They thought it was weird when I asked to take their photo on my last day in town, but agreed nonetheless.
Because the family of hostel I stayed at for close to two months treated me like family. They invited me to Christmas and NYE dinner. They shared food with me and I with them. Rules for the house such as times the kitchen was available they said did not apply to me. Plus the cutest little girl EVER lives there.
Because though I was not working at a job I enjoyed, the friends I made there were wonderful. I had people to hang out with in Natales, especially Fernanda who I hope will be a lifelong friend. Something that took me over a year to find in Reno, and that really my whole life has not been easy for me, happened in a matter of a couple weeks.
And finally, last but not least, I love Puerto Natales for the community it has. I don’t have a picture of this but I do have a story. The family I was staying with has a 15 year old cousin just diagnosed with a brain tumor. While most of the medical is taken care of by the state, the family still had to miss work, pay for a flight and hotel as well as ancillary expenses to get their son to the hospital in Santiago. This hardship could bankrupt them. While I sold all my belongings to travel the world, they would do the same to try and save their son. In response, we have BINGO. Yup, BINGO. They told me there was to be a benefit for the boy, so of course I said I would go. One of my Sundays I went with the family to a local gymnasium. Thinking this would be a small event with a handful of people I prepared myself for a game I hadn’t played since grade school. We got to the auditorium and to my surprise, it was jam packed. It had to be a large chunk of the population there to play, and I later found out that BINGO is big here, and always played for charity. It was more than three hours of play and the prizes were all food. There were parts of cows, lambs, chickens and sacks of flour and grains. That we were not playing for cheap, stupid prizes furthered my love for this place. These people mostly struggle to make a living. The town is built on the tourism for the National Park Torres del Paine, which means all the income for the year comes in about three months. It was solid proof that those with less tend to give more. How could you not love that?!