Punta Arenas, Chile
‘Is your friend coming or not?’ asked Carlos, sipping his beer on my front porch and chewing on a freshly made tortilla. All my friends were over at my house that night; I was having a little get-together for my friend Andrea, who was visiting me from Mexico with Manuel.
Do you remember them? They were some of the first people I met on my travels; I stayed at Manuel’s house in León for a few weeks back in 2009, and we had some good times in Mexico City. Anyhow, Manuel and his cousin Andrea had come to Chile for a vacation, and decided to stop by Punta Arenas for a week to say hello and explore the sub-arctic region of Magallanes…and maybe drink a few tequilas in the process.
That night was Andrea’s twenty-third birthday, so I had bought some liquor and invited my old friends Carlos and Checho to the house for a good old fashioned cumpleaños. Manuel, our Master Chef, was busily whipping up some classic Mexican party food; fresh-made tacos a pastor, enchiladas, and first-rate meat and onion burritos. We all sat outside in the cool night air, shivering slightly, but having a good time. I had just gotten back from work and I arrived to find the party already started.
‘So, is your friend coming or not?’ Carlos asked again, lighting a cigarette. I stared blankly back at him.
‘You know, your friend! The one you told me was coming earlier. From, where was it…France?’
‘Ah, yes!’ I’d forgotten I’d told him about it earlier. A few weeks before I had gotten an email from my friend Johnny whom I met back in Ushuaia. He sent me the contact information of a French girl named T (she requested I not use her real name here) who was living in Punta Arenas at the time; someone whom he figured I would get along with. I trusted Johnny’s judgement, so I sent her an email telling her that we should meet for a drink sometime. After two weeks of no response from her end, I figured that I had been blown off. However, earlier that day I got an email in reply saying that she would be back in Punta Arenas that day, and would I like to meet her somewhere? I responded by inviting her to Andrea’s birthday bash at my house.
‘Well she’s supposed to call me. We’ll see if she shows up or not,’ I replied to Carlos, who gave a non-committal shrug and continued to smoke his cigarette.
‘But,’ I started, remembering why I had told him in the first place, ‘you need to remember something.’
‘So, this is a girl who is from abroad. I’m sure she has different ways of interpreting things that are said.’
‘I don’t know, I’ve never met her, but I think it would be best if you guys just toned everything down a little bit while she’s here. We wouldn’t want to offend her, after all.’
‘OK, sure man, we’ll tone it down. I’ll tell Checho, don’t worry. You know, I’ve never met anybody from France!’
‘Well, she said she’d be coming over tonight. We’ll see, man. Just remember…tone it down. ‘
Carlos and my other friends were great people; I owed them a lot for all they did to help me when I first arrived to Punta Arenas. As I’ve written before, they had provided me with a place to stay, food, clothes, you name it; that, to me, said a lot about their character. However, they were extremely vulgar people.
It wasn’t in a bad way, really, it was just how they talked and their mentality. They swore, drank heavily, and were oftentimes lewd with the passing attractive woman on the street. Their jokes were almost always dirty, and made at the expense of everyone there, sometimes including the joke-maker. But that’s the way many Chileans in their social bracket behave; it’s somewhat of a cultural stigma, and is very common in this country. In my eyes, it didn’t make them bad people; it just made them a little ignorant, which sometimes can’t be avoided and certainly shouldn’t be held against a person.
We continued to drink while Manuel whipped up the best tacos I’d had since I last saw him in León. We sat around and shot the breeze until I got a phone call from T around ten-thirty. I answered, slightly drunk, trying hard to hear the voice coming out of the earpiece over the shouts and laughter of my drunken friends.
‘Hello? Hello?’ I shouted into the receiver. The voice replied to me in Spanish, so I went inside so as I could understand what was being said. T said she was on her way to my house, but was unable to find my address number, which I had given to her as 551 Ignacio Carrera Pinto. I told her that was the address, but she still sounded lost, so I told her to meet me at the nearby bus stop.
I walked down the outdoor corridor that led to the street and unlatched the black iron gate in front of my house. I walked down to the bus stop and there was T.
Long, flowing brown hair spiced up with various braided strings and beads of many exciting colours framed the smiling face of T. I grinned goofily back and gave her a hug.
‘How are you?’ T asked me in Spanish. She gave me another radiant smile and said, ‘You know, I looked everywhere and I swear there is no 551 Ignacio Carrera Pinto! The cab driver and I looked up and down this street, but it wasn’t there at all! Are you sure that’s the number?’
‘Well, I do live there.’
She shrugged. ‘It must be hidden, then. So which way?’
‘Right up here. I’ve got some friends over, there’s a birthday party going on.’
‘Yeah, I know! I brought gifts!’ T held up a plastic grocery bag, which she reached into and pulled out a bottle of rum.
‘Well all right then!’ I said, smiling. ‘Let’s get to the party!’
T and I walked back up Ignacio Carrera Pinto until reaching my house. I opened my black iron gate. ‘This is where I live,’ I said. ‘See, Ignacio Carrera Pinto number…oh…451.’ Oops.
‘Riiight. 551, huh?’ said T, chuckling as we went in through the gate.
Our arrival was hailed by my friends as nothing short of a miracle.
‘Weeeeena Patreeck, who’s your friend? She’s really hot, man!’ said Carlos, slapping me on the back and spilling beer on his shoes. I rolled my eyes and introduced T to my friends, who had somehow became twice as drunk since I had left ten minutes before.
Manuel was blaring Mexican bande music from his iPhone stereo, so it was pretty loud. T took a seat next to me and we began attempting conversation over the noise. It wasn’t going well, since the noise made it harder for me to understand Spanish. Usually I can get every word that is said, but when all those distractions are going on it goes down to about 50%. I asked T if she spoke English. She did, so we switched languages. Communication was much easier after that.
T had been on her own hitchhiking adventure around Argentina since November of 2010. From the heart of Paris, she caught a flight to Buenos Aires on a quest to make sense of her life. She had quite an interesting mix of heritage: born to a Chilean father and an Italian mother in France, which meant she technically had three nationalities, though by law she could only have two. She chose Chilean and French.
Aside from simply travelling, T was also working on a project: she carried with her a laptop and a mini projector, with which she would organize movie showings.
‘Movies are some of the best ways of telling a story,’ T told me matter-of-factly. ‘Not only that, but a good movie can inspire you, and maybe even change your life and the way you see the world around you. My goal with this project is to simply show people movies they otherwise would have never seen; movies that are off-the-grid, underrated, and beautiful.’
T had a collection of thousands of movies on her laptop, dating from 1917 to the present. In the past six months, she had organized movie showings all over Argentina, from Iguazú to Ushuaia. What a beautiful idea!
‘So, you are a friend of Johnny’s?’ T asked me.
‘Yeah, I am!’ I replied, nodding. ‘Johnny is a great guy, I met him during my first day in Ushuaia in a YPF gas station. He used to give me free coffee and rolls once he got that job waiting tables, which was really nice of him since that’s when I was eating mostly stale bread every day.’
‘Johnny is a great person,’ replied T. ‘I met him in Ushuaia as well; he used to come over to my house and watch every movie showing I did. Such a sweet guy! And with the most impeccable manners out of anybody I’ve ever met; you can tell he was raised well.’
‘Yeah, he sure knows how to keep his social niceties in order,’ I said. ‘And it’s strange, because sometimes, he does it right out of a tent on the side of the road! I’ve never seen such an wierd mix of class and vagrancy.’ I gave a laugh. ‘So you were in Ushuaia as well? What were you doing there, aside from showing your movies?’
‘I was in Ushuaia for about two months working as a volunteer for the Tierra del Fuego National Park. It was a wonderful experience!’
I imagined it had been, and wished I could have gotten in on some of that while I had been in Ushuaia. They gave her a free place, at least, which would have been better then the Hamburg Süd shipping container I’d lived in for twenty-six days.
We continued the conversation, though it began to get more difficult as my friends became more loud and drunk. They didn’t like the fact that we were speaking in English, because then they couldn’t understand what we were saying. So Checho, in his drunken state, decided to do a “translation” of our words into Spanish. He would translate every sentence we said into extremely vulgar things, much to the utmost amusement of Carlos.
I said to T, ‘Yeah, this one time in Ushuaia I was at that old boat in the bay -‘
‘The things that you are doing to my ass feel so good!‘ translated Checho.
‘…and I decided to go and start asking sailboats for rides to New Zealand.’
‘I want you to keep sticking those things up my ass, because I like things up my ass!’
T gave him a rather dirty look, then responded, ‘Oh, yeah, Johnny and I used to go down there all the time. It’s a really neat old boat!’
‘I want to suck your dick and have hot sex with you in the back of a van while covered in oil!‘
This continued for awhile, until I could tell that T was getting pretty pissed off at Checho. So I told him to please stop, since she was obviously getting offended. I reminded him that I had asked him to ‘tone it down.’ He said sorry gringo, I forgot, my fault, and seemed to forget about his fun new translation game for awhile. Then he started back up again about twenty minutes later.
‘…and then, they took my passport!’ said I.
‘I can’t belive how many men I had sex with that night!’ translated Checho, shouting.
T’s face darkened, but she tried to ignore him. ‘So how long did you have to stay in that city? What did you do there?’
‘You should start fucking me in the ass! I like getting fucked in the ass!’
‘All right, that’s it,’ said T, and turned on Checho. ‘Okay, I’m asking you nicely, will you please shut your mouth?’ she said to him in perfect Spanish. ‘I can understand every word you’re saying, and it’s offensive! Really, do you think it’s all that funny? We can’t even have a conversation here!’
‘OK, sorry. I was just joking around…’ responded Checho glumly, his game ruined.
T and I continued our conversation, until later, apparently forgetting T’s admonishment, Checho began once again translating. T was getting increasingly upset with Checho, and Carlos as well (especially after his comment “La T me interesa,” which roughly translates to slang for “T gives me a boner.”) After a few more minutes, T decided that it was time for her to leave. I walked her back to her hostel and gave her a hug goodbye.
‘Sorry about my friends. I told them to be more respectful before you came.’
‘Those guys are assholes,’ said T. ‘No respect for anybody, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s disrespect.’
‘I know what you mean. Still, they were just drunk,’ I said, shrugging. ‘They’re actually very good people, if you can get past it all.’
‘Well, I don’t want to,’ said T. ‘I’d be happy if I never saw them again.’
‘Don’t worry, you probably won’t.’ I assured her.
I stared at my feet for a seconds, then said, ‘So…’
‘So…’ she replied.
‘How much longer are you going to be in Punta Arenas?’ I asked.
‘I really don’t know. I would like to try to show a movie or something.’
‘Well, I’d like to see a movie.’
‘Then we should get together sometime,’ said T with a smile. ‘I’ve got your number, I’ll try giving you a call tomorrow.’
We stood in silence for a few seconds, and then T said, ‘Well, I’d better get back to my tent.’
‘But I thought you were staying in the hostel…?’ I said, confused.
‘I am. But it’s only a third of the price to camp in the yard. And they let you use the showers!’ She gave me another hug and went through the gate. ‘See you tomorrow!’ she said, and disappered into the darkness.
‘Bye,’ I said, and gave a lame little wave. I took a deep breath. Hitchhiking around Argentina. Camping. Sleeping in a tent in front of a hostel, even though it was freezing outside. Three nationalities, none of them American. Language skills. A sense of adventure. Beautiful brown eyes, things hanging in her hair. What a woman, I thought as I walked back home. What a woman…
T didn’t call me the next day, but she did the one after that. I received her call just as I was getting off of work. She invited me to a curanto, which is a social event like an American Bar-B-Q, but with traditional Chilean food originating from the island of Chiloé. After going home and changing out of my monkey suit, I headed over to the hostel where T was pitching her tent.
There was a large group of people huddling around a burning stove on the inside of an old barn that was in front of the hostel. T greeted me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek and began introducing me to some of the people at the hostel. Kevin, an American who had been travelling around South America on his motorcycle for close to three years, was the only really interesting one. The rest were fair weather travellers from Germany, Spain, Argentina, and the north of Chile.
T and I got ourselves a few heaping plates of Chilote food and sat down to eat. As usual, it was fantastic. The Chilote food has a distinct flavour and preparation method; consisting of sausages, some strange dough cakes, and, most importantly, clams, the food is boiled in a pot with spices and large stones. The dough cakes are uncooked before you put them into the pot, and are basically steamed in the vaporized juices of the sausage and clams. The stones are put on top to hold everything down.
T and I munched happily on our food while sipping chicha, a sort of unprocessed wine. We listened to the Germans drone on about some unmemorable bus ride in Uruguay, and talked to Kevin a bit about his motorcycle travels, which were actually very interesting. The vagabond bikers have a whole subculture to themselves, just like us hitchhikers.
T and I began talking more about our plans. My kayak adventure was, of course, hailed by all there as totally mad and suicidal. T seemed very concerned for me about this trip, so I told her about my plan, and how I had it all mapped out.
‘It still seems like you would need to make a thousand preparations for a journey of this magnitude,’ exclaimed T. ‘Listen, I know this French guy who went from here to Caleta Tortal a few years ago, he planned for years, and had a medical team following him the whole way!’
‘Well, by the time I leave, I’ll have been planning this for about a year. I’ll be taking every precaution.’
‘It still is something you should not simply…well…leap into.‘
‘I know. Look, I’ll show you my planned route, I’ve got lots of information on there.’
T got out her laptop and we started looking at my plans. Afterward, she seemed to feel a little bit better, but still seemed worried.
‘Here, let me show you the website of this French guy. You should email him.’ She typed for a moment, and then had the web up on the screen. ‘OK, look here, here’s all the preparations he made…’
The French guy certainly had attention to detail. His route was meticulously mapped out on nautical charts; he even had the depth of the water every five nautical miles.
‘And look here, see how many weather days he had to take?’
I leaned closer to the screen. As I stared at the LED lights illuminating French Guys’ route around Isla Newton, I became acutely aware of how close I was to T. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember what we were talking about at all; the only thing I could think about was the fact that she and I were mere inches apart. T continued talking about something, but I didn’t hear what she was saying. All I noticed was her breathing right there next to me; the way she moved her hands around when she talked, how her many bracelets rattled around on her wrists. At one point she shifted slightly in her chair, and then her leg was touching mine. It stayed that way for a few minutes before she shifted again. My leg felt cold after that.
Later, we began talking about T’s plans. She had no definite idea about where she would go next, though she did know that she was going to Porvenir (Chilean city in Tierra Del Fuego,) soon to go camp in the pampa for a while. I was acutely jealous, since I would be doing nothing but working in the near future.
‘Yes, I think I will leave for Porvenir in a few days,’ T was saying as I finished off my last clam. ‘I think I will leave some of my things here at this hostel, since I don’t want to take everything with me to Porvenier. Still, I don’t know if I trust leaving behind my laptop and everything…’
‘Well, you’re welcome to leave it at my house if you want,’ I offered.
Her face lit up. ‘Really? You wouldn’t mind?’
‘Not at all. Don’t worry, all your movies are safe with me.’
She gave another one of her ethereal smiles. ‘Maybe I’ll do that, then!’
‘It’ll give you an excuse to come back, at least,’ I said with a wink.
The next day T called me again and asked if I wanted her to show a movie at my house. I thought that sounded like a grand idea, and told her to stop by at nine.
T arrived with a small bag in tow, apparently containing all of her cinematic equipment needed for our upcoming evening of entertainment. We went up the narrow spiral staircase that led to my room (which I had just cleaned, and was uncharacteristically sparkly) and began unloading her bag. Out came her small white laptop, about three hundred different types of cables, and a small, completely smooth and buttonless black cube of some sort. Further investigation revealed it to be T’s mini-projector; it looked like something out of 2001: A Space Odessy.
T and I began looking for a good place to project the movie. My walls were a sickly yellow colour, so we decided to try and project it on the ceiling. However, we had issues getting the cube projector stable, as it didn’t have any way to point straight up.
‘OK, well, maybe…just try building a little wall of stability around it,’ I suggested as T struggled with her tiny projector. ‘Here, use these socks.’
‘Your socks?’ said T, wrinkling her nose.
‘What? They’re clean! I just washed them.’
She reached out and gingerly took one, examining it cautiously. ‘Well, all right. I guess it doesn’t smell too bad.’ She began tying it firmly around the small device; once she had made what she felt were satisfactory knots, T slowly released her hold on the contraption, which stayed in place. ‘Well, I guess this works. Let’s turn it on.’ She located a hidden on-switch somewhere on the mini projector, which revved to life and began spurting white light in all directions like the Cube from Transformers.
‘Well, let’s start watching, shall we?’ said T briskly. I turned off the lights and we both lay down on my bed, staring up at the ceiling. Unfortunately, this caused the Cube to move a little, thus projecting half of the movie on the wall and half on the ceiling. After more adjustments, we tried once again. A few minutes later, the screen moved again. This continued for about half an hour; we adjusted; it moved back. We adjusted; it moved back. Even if the screen was just a tiny bit crooked, T would make me stop the movie so as she could fiddle with the projector again.
‘We can’t miss a single moment of this movie!’ T would say every time I told her I was fine with watching it a bit crooked. ‘I can’t stand it when something is not right, with the projection or the sound or whatever. It keeps you from really getting into the movie, you know? And this is one of my favourite movies!’
Finally, we decided just to forget the projector and watch the movie on her laptop instead. This proved to be much more comfortable for the both of us. I set her computer in my lap and we began watching the movie for real. At first we were just sort of sitting on the bed, but then we started stretching out. Then T was really close to me again, this time leaning up against me.
Hm. I thought to myself. Gotta do something proactive. Take it to the next level. Um, let’s see…
I decided to go for the highly original and totally not stereotypical ‘stretch and hug’ routine. Yeah, don’t mind me, I thought to myself, just stretching out my arm here, no big deal. I gave an exaggerated stretch, as if my arm hadn’t been moved in close the three years. Then…Oh! Wow! It looks like my arm came to rest around your shoulders! How about that, what are the odds, huh? That was totally an accident, but now that it’s there, we may as well just keep it there, right? Yeah, let’s go ahead and keep it there…
T didn’t object to my ‘stretch and hug’ routine. In fact, she snuggled a tiny bit closer to me. After that, I tried very hard to pay attention to the movie. I found this difficult, because now I could actually feel her breathing against me. My thought process went something like this:
Hm, this guy is sort of crazy, he’s bought a plastic sex doll from Russia and now thinks she’s a real woman?
T’s hand is touching mine now. Should I touch it back?
Yeah, the whole town thinks this guy is crazy. Talking to a plastic woman’ll do that.
Should I start holding her hand? Would that be too much?
Now he is ‘dating’ the manikin. Wow, what kind of thing would make a guy think a life-sized sex doll is real? Loneliness? Insanity? Too many mushrooms?
Yep I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna hold her hand. Yes! She’s holding it back!
I wonder the manikin’s voice sounds like to this guy, because they seem to have a lot of conversations. Does it have a Russian accent? Brazilian accent?
I can smell her hair; it smells like citrus. Her hand is soft; I could hold it all night.
This went on until the end of the film, which turned out to be fantastic and with a great message. T’s taste in cinema was very agreeable; an eclectic mix of romantic, intuitive, and socialistic movies dotted her hard drive, combining together to make an extremely effective mode of alternative education. I had no doubts that if T continued her project with the enthusiasm and drive she had then, she would carry on being successful.
After the movie was over it was getting quite late, so T said she should probably get back to her tent at the hostel. I tried unsuccessfully to be off-handed when suggesting that she stay at my place; it was, after all very cold outside. To my dismay, she said no, since the next morning she had to get up early to catch the ferry to Porvenir. I said that was true, but still, this could be her last chance to have a real, warm bed for quite awhile.
‘Well, it is cold outside. And raining,’ said T, grimacing. ‘Well, do you know what time the ferry leaves tomorrow?’
‘I believe it heads to Porvenir around nine.’
‘And is your house closer to the port than my hostel?’
‘A little bit.’
T seemed to think it over for a moment, and then said, ‘Well, all right. I suppose I could stay here for the evening. I would like to give my tent a break,’ she said with a smile.
‘Great! Well, I’ve only got this one bed, but I can sleep on the floor if you want.’
‘We’ll see. But first, we must go back to my hostel and get my tent and other things.’
We walked back to her hostel and came back with two huge bags. After somehow managing to get though my front door, we set them down heavily onto the floor of my room.
‘What have you got all of those bags?’ I asked incredulously.
‘Oh, just things. Now, let me see if I can find some dry socks…’ T opened the larger of the two bags and began rummaging around inside. Out came a myriad of interesting things; I noticed several pens and pencils, assorted documents, a large plastic folder, three or four books, some wires, a huge box of band-aids, various different types of creams and pills, a folding comb, two small stuffed penguins, miscellaneous lengths of bandage, and a small camera, among other things. Finally, T located some socks. She changed into them and climbed into the bed beside me.
‘Well, good night! said T.
‘Good night,’ I replied. I began turning over, then remembered.
‘Hey, did you want me to sleep on the floor or not?’
No reply; she was already sound asleep. I shrugged and got under the covers, extremely aware of every small point our bodies were touching.
The next morning T woke up rather early. She shifted around for a moment, then mumbled to me, ‘What time is it?’
I looked at my phone. ‘Half past eight.’
‘I still have time to get to the ferry, right?’
‘I think so.’
T gave a luxurious stretch and said, ‘I slept really well last night. No wind, no cold; it was perfect.’ She gave a sweet smile. ‘Thanks for letting me stay over.’
‘No problem,’ I replied. ‘But you’d better get going if you want to make it to the ferry on time.’
T gave a huge sigh. ‘Well, now I don’t really want to leave!’ She gave a little chuckle. ‘You’re spoiling me with this warm house!’
I smiled. ‘Well, no-one is making you leave. Anyways, you’re welcome here for as long as you want to stay. It’d be nice to have a little company, anyways.’
‘Well…’ T appeared to give it a little thought, then said, ‘I guess it wouldn’t hurt to stay a little while longer. When does the next ferry leave?’
‘I’ll catch that one, then. In the meantime, let’s sleep a little longer!’
That sounded like a fabulous idea to me, so we got back under the covers and slept ’til noon.
After two more fabulous days at my house, T went to Porvenir. She left her laptop and all of her movie equipment at my house, a surprising responsibility that I took very seriously.
‘How do you know I’m not going to steal all of your things?’ I asked her. ‘This is your whole project you’re entrusting me with.’
‘I just trust you,’ said T with a shrug. ‘You know how it is, being a hitchhiker yourself. Some people, you just get that vibe from them, you know? That trust vibe.’
I knew what she meant; still, it was an honour.
After a week in Porvenir, T came back for her things. I told her that the offer to stay as long as she wanted still stood; with little hesitation, she decided to stay with me for another week. That turned into two, three, then four weeks; all of a sudden, I found myself in the first relationship I’d been in since I was seventeen. There were no formalities, no ‘I like you, do you like me’ conversations; it sort of just happened. Apparently, my attraction to T was not entirely one-sided. And just like that, I was no longer alone.
T and I began spending every possible moment together. It was lovely to not feel isolated in the world anymore, but at the same time it was frightening. As each week went by I became more and more accustomed to her being with me; after a month, her waiting for me when I got home from work became the only thing I really looked forward to in the evenings. The only benefit to the stationary lifestyle.
Sometimes we would take little hitchhiking trips during the weekends into the wilderness around Punta Arenas; to Puerto del Hambre, to Isla Riesco. We would camp, take long walks through the pampas, hunt for calafate berries, and barter with local fishermen for fish to cook on the hot rocks in our campfire. We lived, laughed, and loved there in the grasses along those austral shorelines. Even as the physical days got shorter and the winter began to move in, every day with T felt like a year, or even two. Those days were some of the best of my trip; not because of the adventure, or the exhilaration of exploration; it was simply because I was no longer alone.
During the week, I had to work. Every time I came home for lunch T would have some fantastic meal or another waiting for me. ‘My Italian uncle taught me this one,’ she informed me once as she poured more fabulous sauce over my spaghetti. It was probably the best meal I’d eaten in a good three or four months, and I was devouring it with gusto. Then I was scolded for biting the noodles into pieces so I could fit them in my mouth more easily.
‘If the Italians saw you do that…’ said T, shaking her head and giving a little tongue click. ‘Who taught you how to eat pasta?’
‘Americans,’ I said, trying to slurp the noodles up without biting them.
I began to feel conflicted. What would I do when it came time for me to leave in my kayak? T had already made it clear she wouldn’t come with me in the boat, but was completely open to the idea of spending the next couple of years hitchhiking around South America. How many women are there in the world that will speak those words? Before then I’d only heard them in my dreams and imagination. The lure of adventure in the kayak suddenly met fierce competition at the hands of love. Would I really be so selfish as to leave this wonderful woman behind to go sit in a plastic boat for two years? Or would I really be so naïve to think that anybody could actually stay in a long-term relationship with me, and sacrifice the opportunity to explore Patagonia in the most appealing way?
These thoughts kept me up at night; it all really came down to one simple question…which was stronger? My love for adventure…or my love for love?
Before then, I had never been in love, and figured I never would be. It seemed I was immune to the stuff; good riddance, anyways. The world was open to me, and there was nothing tying me down. But under all that, I was still painfully aware of every lonely night I spent; every cold, disconsolate evening I lay in some drainage ditch, wishing I had someone to share my sleeping bag with. Someone to keep me warm; some one to laugh with, to cry with…to live with. Regardless of how eventful my life has been, it’s undeniable that there’s always been sort of an empty space somewhere deep down inside me, a space that no amount of adventure can ever fill. In the clutches of indecision, I often found myself thinking back to something Chris McCandless wrote, alone and starving in the Alaskan wilderness, shortly before he died:
Happiness is only real when shared.
I’ve always figured that was just something he wrote because he was disillusioned and dying; I would always have someone around me. I could talk to my rides, at least. But after these years on the road, it became obvious that no matter how many truckers I chatted up along the highways of Latin America, I was still just as alone as Chris was. Maybe not physically. But mentally, I may as well have been in the Alaskan bush, with no-one to share my deepest thoughts and feelings with. Alone, in every sense of the word.
In the last days of April, after T had been in my life for almost three months, I was forced to make the decision. T wasn’t able to find a job in Punta Arenas, so she needed to leave. She needed to go to Santiago, visit her aging grandparents, and get a job for a few months. We ended up meeting each other halfway; I would still go on the kayak, at least until Puerto Montt. But I had to make time for her afterward, something I was already planning on doing.
Our goodbye was full of hope; we both knew this was not the last we would see of one another. As I watched T’s form disappear down the road and into the dreary April weather, I felt an immense sensation of loss wash over me. Nothing would stop me from seeing her again; that much was for sure. I would follow her from this the end of the earth and to the opposite one. This was far from over.
That day began a new chapter of my time in Punta Arenas. I can divide it into four sections as of now: The Homeless Month, The New House and Job Months, The T Months, and now, the post-T months. It’s really hard to believe I’ve been living here for half a year now. Time flies when your working for a living, I suppose.
About two weeks after T left, I got horrible news at work: the administration in Santiago was doing some major re-organisation, and the entire staff was facing cuts in their hours. After all was said and done, I found myself with less than hal the hours I had before, and consequently, less than half the paycheck.
This was devastating for me; the kayak trip was planned so that I would just be able to afford all the things I needed for the trip by the time November arrived. But with less than half of my monthly stipend, I would have needed to stay working in Punta Arenas for two years if I was to save enough money.
That was something I simply refused to do.
And so, just like that, six months of planning went down the toilet. Six months of pouring over charts, sending hundreds of emails, and negotiating with the Chilean Navy. Six months, wasted, an all because the bureaucrats in Santiago decided profit was more important than employee satisfaction. Before, when I used to go to work, it smelled like learning. Now it reeks of corporate greed, and no amount of bleach sanitizer our cleaning lady Rosa sprays in the air can kill the stench of greed.
Like any creature of Earth, I’m forced to live by the rules of natural selection: adapt, or perish. And so, I’ve adapted. From the ashes failure rise the hopes of the future. A future that, without a doubt, includes Brazil.
The new plan is this: I’ll finish out this month at Tronwell. There’s the slight possibility that I will be offered a transfer 250 km north to Puerto Natales, and a significant raise. The local bosses were sorry to cut my paycheck, and knew how much I was depending on the money. If I’m offered the transfer to Natales, I will take it. It’s only for two months, but with full-time pay, and lodging and food paid for. That will put my saved money into the neighbourhood of 2.1 million pesos (US$ 4.450), which will provide a nice buffer for years to come. If I’m not sent to Natales, it’s back north for me at the end of this month, with about US $1.300 to my name. Enough for a Brazilian visa, and enough for a dugout canoe in Atalaya, Peru.
Before the kayak, the Amazon was the plan. And now, after the kayak, the Amazon is still the plan; the Amazon was always the plan. There’s no way I’m leaving this continent without spending a few months in muddy waters of the largest, wildest jungle on our planet. Nothing short of imprisonment or cerebral malaria can stop that one, not now that money is no longer an issue. I’ll be able to get all the supplies needed for the trip in Peru for practically nothing; not like Chile, where equipment prices border on sacrilegious. With $500, I can get everything I need in Lima before starting my original Amazonian Adventure: Peru to the Atlantic.
I usually like to finish up my posts with a rough description of what I’ll be up to in the future. However, it seems that every time I do that, something else ends up happening. So I’ll leave you with three simple things I know I will be in my life during the next year:
and, most importantly…
Bring it on, Road Gods…