My good friend Erica and I decided that our spring break in Chile was meant to be an "indie" movie, complete with a journey, a cast of eccentric characters, and plenty of self-discovery along the way (along with adversity and emotion), so I'm going to go along with this cheesy gimmick to write about our Great Adventure to the other side of the Andes.
Title: El terremoto que me tembló
I can hardly believe it's been a month since I was in Chile, and since then so much has happened some of the details of my trip are a little hazy. However, I do know it was the craziest and most incredible week of my life, and I'll never forget the people I met, the places I saw, and the experiences I had. We arrived in Santiago de Chile on February 25, took a bus to Valparaiso, then wandered up the coast to Quintero and Ritoque, eventually making our way back to Santiago. The real star of my story could be the massive earthquake that shook the country my first night in Chile, but I'm sure you've all seen the news, so that'll play a minor role. Yes, it was a tragedy, and affected millions of people who are now without homes, but I wouldn't say it was the climax of my trip...no, more like the narrative hook that jump-starts the plot. My most vivid memory is the people who were there with me, and how how we connected, and went our separate ways and found each other again and became part of each other's lives. Maybe I'll never see them again, but in these moments of my life I felt some sort of deep bond with a group of complete strangers, free spirits wandering around South America much like myself, unsure of where life would take them. And for that week I spent in Chile, life took me to places I never expected to go.
The Cast (in order of appearance)-
Erica Woodson-plays my traveling companion and wonderful friend, who stuck by me until the very end with a good sense of humor and a plucky spirit.
Nikki Zeiter-plays the third traveling companion who takes off in search of her own adventure
Sebastian-the morbidly funny hostel roommate from Finland whose eccentric mannerisms and mutual amusement make for comic relief. He rides a fix-gear bike, wears high socks, safety "googles," the same ill-fitting plaid shirt everyday, and has unhealthy obsessions with both Coca-Cola, socks, and Snus
Edun & Ella-Norwegian girl and Israeli girl who we become close to
Tim & Ben-English chaps
Simona, Lovisa, Allen, Gonzala, Dominic, & Andrew-lively bunch who work at the hostel in Santiago and guide us through earthquake drama, and we have several crazy nights with them
Anna & Feijtje-hippy girls from Amsterdam we meet in Valparaiso and then again in a tiny surf town
John & Felix-skateboarding French Canadian dudes who help us find peanut butter and we meet in Valp, then Ritoque, and then back in Buenos Aires
Minor characters: Sergio, a Chilean; Kika, hostel worker; creepy girl who wanders around Pio Nono; Christian, hostel owner in Valpo; New Zealanders Chris & Ross ; the surfer dudes in Ritoque; the drunk old guys on the streets of Bellavista; and many others
Synopsis: Nikki, Erica and I arrive in Santiago, check into Bellavista hostel, and go out for an amazing seafood dinner (I have the ceviche). We sit at one of the crowded outdoor cafes on Pio Nono (main street in Bellavista) and share a pitcher of Escudo, the cheap domestic beer. Slightly tipsy on the both the beer and how amazing Santiago was, we sit on the rooftop terrace looking at the stars over Santiago...
At about 3 or 4 in the morning we're awakened to what can only be described as shaking, with a terrible sound of howling wind and things shattering. The next day, in the aftermath of the quake, everything is chaos. Powerless (literally without electricty and internet) we sit on the roof in the bright sunshine and dusty air, bonding over what happened and listening to my radio to news of rising death tolls, destruction in the South, and rumors that the airport would be closed indefinitely. We wander around the empty, ghost streets of Santiago in a daze for a few days, drink lots of Escudo, and follow Sebastian around before packing up and catching the bus to Valparaiso, where we stay in a backpacker's hostel and spend a few days wandering the dizzying streets and bro'ing out before making our way up the coast to a dusty little town called Quintero. We hitchhike to Ritoque, a surf village, and spend the next 3 days in paradise. After the stars come out at night we sit around the bonfire grilling meat and drinking pisco with a rowdy bunch of surfer dudes who don't speak English. We relunctantly return to Santiago and spend our last crazy night in Chile partying with the hostel staff. Our flights have been moved around but we make it out of Chile and back to Buenos Aires.
Moments of self-discovery: the aftermath, deciding to go on with our travels despite how worried everyone back at home is, Nikki's departure, sitting around a bonfire looking at the stars and the Pacific ocean, coming back to Santiago to find our friends are still there, looking down at the city from the top of Cerro San Cristobal, and all the disagreements, hardships, hilarious moments along the way, and the beauty of the country and the sadness of leaving it behind.
So there's our epic movie: two friends on an unforgettable journey. And it really was. Chile is the most amazing place, I can't even begin describe to you the experience. And now that I'm writing this, things are coming back to me so clearly it's almost as if I'm there again. But I can't emphasize enough that it was the people I met that changed everything for me. Each and every person had an impact, and I hope they remember me just as I remember them, not just as travelers, locals, surfers, hippies, Europeans, whatever, but people whose dreams cross paths as they wander South America. Everyone had something different in mind when they came here; but whatever they're looking for-freedom, adventure, exotic places, "hot babes," good surf, new people, can be found in South America, where anything, literally, is possible, and everyday is an adventure. I feel some innate connectivity to these wanderers, who much like myself want to live life as they chose, without boundaries, and full of risks and cities and people and night skies. Even now, as I'm thinking about the endless possibilities, I can feel the ground beneath me tremble.