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Llamas Gordas

What´s the Point?

CHILE | Sunday, 18 November 2007 | Views [3441] | Comments [4]

OK - so here we are, thousands upon thousands of miles away from home, only hundreds of miles away from Antarctica, our senses dazzled by glaciers, condors, and impecccable Chilean vistas, and dulled by horrific Chilean food.  We came down here almost on a whim with reasons such as "There´s an amazing national park down there" and "I think you can see glaciers" to "I want to get out of the rat race" and "Maybe we can learn some Spanish and lose a little weight".  Personally, I have been ogling this trip since at least March 2004, when I wrote letters to every bishop in Sicily and Namibia (no exaggeration) begging for a room and a meal to do some volunteer work.  Meli´s experience in Florence for 5 months a few years back has been calling her away again just the same.  Our desire is common and echoed by many - just to be "there" and not "here" - well not all of it, but for the love of God, the romantic parts.  I would read Zorba the Greek and dream of distant ports, fishermen with gnarled hands, roasting meat on the spit, valleys and mountains - the stuff that makes you click on travel deal emails when you know you have neither the time, money, nor desire to fly to Buffalo for $49 each way.  So here - we left, all of our possessions on our back, and indeed have had distant ports, roasted meat, met fishermen and women who work in markets, realty agents, car salesmen, gas station attendants - beautiful people all of them.  The lust to go finally (finally!) quenched, the experience had room to teach us some lessons.

Melissa and I came down here with several vague ideas - namely, to see enigmatic Patagonia, to meet people, to get out of the American mindset and mainstream, and to find a calmer, more beautiful, slower place to call home for a bit.  In each city we traveled, it became evident to us that the last reason was the most important and most nagging, and there we had it - lesson 1, we want a home.  In every place we visited (except Chiloe!) there was talk of "could you live here?", visits to realtors, the scouring of the local paper for a good rental property, and the talk of short term employment.  But in the end, something wouldn´t work, and we would end up on another 10 hour bus ride, sometimes with broken hearts, to yet another place to look for a home.  We would be in places with other backpackers - mainly rowdy Australians (no matter what age, these guys party ALL THE TIME) and haughty Europeans (not to generalize - we met some very nice Europeans too!) - and would try to distance ourselves from them as much as possible.  We didn´t want to pass through, take what we could, and go home to tell stories.  But without a home or source of employment, both of which tough to find while on the run, that is exactly what we were doing - and it didn´t jive with us.  Lesson 2 - we are not backpackers by nature. 

But the worst, harshest realization, the one that really clinched it for us, however came when we were leaving Punta Arenas and the dog shelter, broken hearted after yet another failed attempt at finding a home and lending a hand.  Since we have been in Chile we have seen very little human poverty - it´s here for sure, but not like you see back home in the big cities, nor like you see back home in the indigenous communities.  This "third world country", and I say that with the utmost sarcasm, as this country is by no stretch of anyone´s imagination "third world", seems to have its act together.  In some places, the unemployment is less that 4%, good by any country´s standard.  No, down here, what you see everywhere, is stray dogs.  I am the first person to say that you have to help people before you help animals, but this is ridiculous.  You see animals absolutely everywhere - EVERYWHERE! - with broken paws, gouged-out eyes, bleeding tumors, cold, sick, being hit by cars, mothers with 6 puppies, and they are all starving.  The worst part about it is that these are dogs, and as we all know, dogs are as capable, if not more capable in many ways, as humans are to love.  Passing through a place like this you need to say "It´s not my problem" and walk as fast as you can without making eye contact - kind of the same way we do back home when the guy on the train begs for money, but without the balm of excuses for not helping, since these animals only need food and love, and they bear no responsibility for their condition.  Neither Melissa nor I are "it´s not my problem" kind of people - in many ways, we are both way too soft-skinned when it comes to suffering.  And I know you find the same everywhere - some places with homelessness, some with environmental degradation, others with political corruption, still others with loss of native culture, war, sickness, refugeee crises, famines, destruction of the local farm economy through free-trade agreements (it happens!), drugs - you name it.  Anywhere you go, once you scratch the gilded surface, you are faced with suffering. And there was lesson 3 - we can´t move through a place, see pain, and keep going with smiles on our faces. 

So, naturally, being honest with ourselves, we had to make some decisions, especially with that beast, the desire to get out, sated and sleeping for the time being.  First, we decided that we would never travel as backpackers again with no general plan to give back.  That kind of aloofness is both selfish and naive.  The example of Che Guevara on his quest through South America is a beautiful one, but only if you need your eyes opened to the plight of the people as he did before that trip.  Once they are open, this kind of trip is mere indulgence.  Second, we need to find a place where life moves with the environment, respects the environment, and above all, is surrounded by the beauty of nature.  Third, travel for the sake of travel is cool, but when its just that, it needs to be in a place like Florence or the Virgin islands, where we go simply for the beauty of it all and maybe then, just for a week or two.  Fourth, the next time we go to a place like South America again (Brazil, anyone!), it will be with some work lined up or with a crazy adventure planned (boat the Amazon, climb Aconcagua - Kev Meirose I´m lookin at you!) that can incorporate some community or ecology efforts.  Fifth, if all we want is a place to stay, community with nature, a way to give back, and the simplicity of life outside the US mainstream, we need look no further than Melissa´s town in Portugal, where, oxala, we will be in the Spring and Summer.  And last but not least, Chile is beautiful, Argentina´s Italian flare makes the food and the people more inviting, and Macchu Picchu is only a little ways away, but there is no place like home for the holidays.  See all you bastards in mid-December!

much love

Steve and Meli


Tags: Philosophy of travel



Steve and Melissa, sounds like you've learned a valuable lesson and you've had a lot of fun doing it. I will be so happy to see you guys on the holidays. Aunt Janice is having Christmas Eve this year so please join us.

Remember this line from a famous movie that we used to watch when you were kids, Stevie? "There's no place like home" and that was after you clicked the heels of your red shoes and held your dog in your arms.

Be safe and enjoy the rest of your incredible experience.

Love, Aunt Patti

  Aunt Patti Nov 24, 2007 12:54 AM


I seriously want to get you guys set up with a book agent! So glad you had an enlightening trip and thanks for allowing the rest of us a bit of vicarious living. I will be in Philly/Jersey over the holidays and would love to try to meet up.

  Christie Nov 27, 2007 3:53 AM


Very interesting reading. Hate the part about the starving, etc. dogs. Love, Dad

  Dad Dec 1, 2007 2:43 PM


omg that was sooooo awesome ttyl

  textmexoxo Dec 1, 2008 10:38 AM

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