Monday, April 1, 2013

Mejillones, Chile

"you aren't traveling the world, you're only drawing a line around it."   - Erdem Yücel

The decision to travel South America overland by car was a bold yet wonderful idea.  We started in Buenos Aires where I had been living for the last five months or so learning Spanish and becoming accustomed to life in the southern half of this great continent.  The story began in a small hostel dormitory in a conversation with a girl from Chile who would become one of my best friends in my new life in this part of the world.  I was reminded of my first days in Istanbul when I knew nobody and had very little money to get by with.  In both places my energy had spread outward like a drop of rain in a large pond and after some time I built an empire for myself in two faraway parts of the world.  

And so some time passes..  I sit at the seaside view on a balcony of a small sailor-themed hotel in Mejillones, Chile speaking with a new friend named Felipe who is a police officer somewhere outside of the city.  He wishes to go to USA and I wish to go back to Turkey; we are always wishing for somewhere that we are not. 

Thusfar we have crossed the border from Mendonza, Argentina into the capital city of Santiago, Chile.  We purchased a 1992 Subaru Loyale and took it to a mechanic who was a friend of a friend and then made our way along the long Pacific coast of Chile now heading towards the border of Bolivia.  It amazes me the way time passes so slowly yet so fluidly.  I watch as the mountains change colors and the desert becomes sea then becomes desert again.  Regions of this country are named after the foods, animals or other things they resemble and sometimes the name sounds so appealing that we cannot pass up a chance to visit.  My new found friend tells me about the history of this area upon which I now reside and I am learning the account of how this land once belonged to Bolivia.  In South America it is a looming reality that your neighbors haven't forgotten the past.  

Tomorrow we will be faced with a long stretch of drive across the hot desert into a city called San Pedro de Atacama which rests near the border of Bolivia.  I'm told it is among the most beautiful places in the northern half of this long narrow country and I've never been unimpressed by this great place.  It has been a blessing to be here whereas a few months ago I hadn't planned on beginning my travel in the west.

In all of my travels I try to make it a practice to have long conversations with the people I meet and if we are not speaking in English I try extra hard to understand the words that are being spoken to me.  I don't like nodding along and claiming that I understand because to me these stories are what fuel my interest in the world.  Yesterday I spoke for a short time with an old man from Colombia who had fancied himself something of an herbalist selling his tonics on the street sides of this tiny seaside village for some six years now.  We bonded over mutual knowledge about the mysterious noni fruit, an object which requires a bit of knowledge about Polynesian herb lore.

I'm trying hard not to think about the future, it seems we all are wishing to be somewhere that we are not.  The eternal lament of a great song I've come to love, which is really more like a great poem, rings in my head and I'm warned of the dangers of travel.  I'm still not sure what it is that we travelers are looking for or what we expect to find on the other side.  I know that it excites me and repays me in rewards which are much more valuable than money or things of this world that we have been taught to seek.  I still get off on the small bits of knowledge I have bundled in my memory and taken from the people I chance upon.  I was recently told by a good friend to stop teaching her new things and although it broke my heart a little bit I was reminded of the benefits of silence, my stories are enough to keep me company before I fall asleep.  

Before long I will find myself back in the place where I was born among the people who speak my language and have known be back when I was a younger me.  I can see their faces in my dreams and their frequent visits to my sleeping life remind me that I am far away from where I was born.  I've traveled so far that I often find it hard to make sense of it all.  This world is really really interesting, at least to me, and I urge everybody to explore it to the best of their ability.  There is much to be learned and many old boundaries to be erased one small conversation at a time. 

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