Sierra Nevada

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Below is a passage I had written during my four night stay on Volcano Sierra Nevada in the South of Chile.

I recently decided to spend some time in the mountains as I have long been intrigued by the idea of living alone in the wilderness (a long time fantasy since reading books such as Thoreau’s Walden and Krakauer’s Into the Wild). The vastness and unmethodical beauty of Southern Chile’s terrain left me in awe, despite having, quite possibly the worst sleep of my entire life. Apparently the people who deemed my tent to be “one-person” forgot to include that this person must be a small child who enjoys cramped spaces. Cramped spaces can become almost tolerable though by bending your knees and lying on your side. That is of course, as long as you don’t have hipbones. No matter how sleep-deprived you are or how many horse tranquilizer pills you have ingested, I can assure you that as long as you are a human being, you are not lying comfortably on your side on the mountain ground. Luckily though, I solved this little endeavour about halfway through the night. I placed my blowup travel pillow under my hip and used a spare pair of socks as my pillow. Due to my sheer lack of comfort this was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make. The aftermath of this clever maneuver might actually have included seven or eight minutes of a light sleep. I’m not too sure. What I am sure of is that I woke up (a short time) later to find my lower body in an excruciating amount of pain and the pillow nowhere in sight. After a frantic search I finally found my pillow under my hip where I had left it. It of course now was popped on the account of the many thorny burrs clinging to the outside of my pants. After questioning the man upstairs about what possible misdeed could’ve been so severe that he saw it necessary to impose the thorn catastrophe on me, I tried my luck at sleep once again. In a state this uncomfortable your only true chances of sleep lie in between the two minutes of switching positions, and becoming uncomfortable and switching again. Also remember though, that every switch brings about a severe jolt of pain from rolling onto one of your many sunburns. Now fortunately the pain from the sunburn is only temporary because by shifting you’ve then managed to allow any sort of warmth you’ve collected in your sleeping bag, to escape. The nights are as cold as the days are hot. I wore (and this is not an exaggeration) every single article of clothing I packed, including a winter jacket. Usually I would use one of my sweaters as a pillow but in these circumstances I couldn’t even spare a T-shirt. Well at least I only have three more nights of this…

The Four Chileans

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Since leaving Marchigue I have adopted a much more rugged means of existence. Perhaps it was an attempt to neutralize my overly-comfortable stay at the hotel or perhaps my intrinsic lust for a more primitive lifestyle finally prevailed. Whatever the motive was, I have come to appreciate the effect. On March 3rd I woke up in my tent on the beaches of Pichilemu. I had decided that I would familiarize myself with the Chilean coast and thus head North. A decision sparked on the account of my frugality and a desire to endure a bit of suffering, had lead me to decide to make the 80 km journey from Pichilemu to Matanzas on foot. After four hours of walking I realized that that might have been an unreasonable, maybe even stupid decision. I decided to hitchhike in an attempt to cover some ground.  Now seeing as this was my first time hitchhiking I had to be on my guard. In Canada the only people sketchier than hitchhikers are the people who pick up the hitchhikers. Thus I was a little skeptical when I stuck up my thumb and the very first car pulled over to offer me a ride. The car that had stopped was a sleek black van. I had to triple check to make sure this wasn’t some Chilean taxi service that was going to stick me with a 60 000 peso bill after dropping me off. It turns out it was just Pedro, a government worker who had become bored whilst driving home from a work meeting. Now people had warned me that it was dangerous to hitchhike and after three minutes of driving with Pedro I knew why. He wasn’t a threatening person by any means. Rather he wouldn’t keep his eyes on the road. Nowhere near to be exact. I think he felt that it was his obligation to be a polite Chilean ambassador and look me in the eye while I was talking. Although the thought of imminent death made time almost stand still, my time with Pedro was short lived. He dropped me off on the highway before taking a side road home. I thanked him for the lift and thanked the heavens that my feet were on pavement once again. After feeling refreshed and confident I began walking again before I got tired and put up my thumb a second time (this became sort of a routine for me). A young, surfer girl with a large Buddha on her dashboard gave me a ride and after that I was picked up by an electrician who had aspirations to be a musician. We talked about music and he asked me what my favourite genre was. I told him “I like rap and country and I really like J Cole”.  I gaged from his response that this was not the correct answer. He then listed off numerous American bands who I had never heard of with names like Dream Voltage, Electric Voltage and Voltage Express Avenue. Now after being dropped off by Jose Manuel, the electrician I noticed I was only 35 minutes away from Matanzas so I eagerly marched forward. After about two hours of walking and thinking “I’ll just do one more corner”, I finally became a bit skeptical and double-checked my map. As it turned out the map was correct. Matanzas was 35 minutes away. As long as you were travelling 90 km/h in a machine with four wheels and an engine. I cautiously changed the little car icon to the walking man and held my breath. 6 HOURS 47 MINUTES!! Nope. I immediately put up my thumb as I heard a car approach from behind me. The car stopped almost immediately. It was an old black truck with tinted windows, covered in dirt. “Well” I thought. “This was it. I got cocky and this was how I was going to meet my demise”. I cautiously walked towards the truck recognizing my options were a bit limited. Even if I didn’t have my 30 lb. backpack I knew my chances of out running a car on a desolate highway were slim. I got closer and noticed there were a bunch of tools in the bed of his truck. Probably for murdering hitchhikers. My whole body shook as I slowly opened the door. When I looked inside though all my fears were put to rest. There I saw a young, innocent looking man smiling with horse teeth. I liked him already. After talking for a while the man told me that his name was Fernando and that he was on his way to a meeting for the Jehovah’s Witnesses of La Boca, Chile. He invited me to come and I politely declined. Before dropping me off we made a quick stop at his house so he could change into his church clothes.  When he returned to the car he was carrying a bowl of melon because he thought I’d be hungry. I was. Amazed and almost inspired by the generosity of this man I decided the least I could do to repay him was to go with him to his meeting. I saw the horse teeth in full affect when I told him “I’d be happy to go to your meeting”. After the service we went back to his place where he lived with his father, brother and sister. We dined on mollusks and I talked philosophy and religion with his father late into the night. Had I asked I’m sure he would have invited me to stay the night but I was too excited to camp out again. As I lay in my tent on the same beach, 80 km North of where I woke up that morning I thought about the four Chileans I met that day. They were four people who lived four very different lives but shared one underlying characteristic. They were all genuinely good people. I had travelled over 80 km, eaten a full meal and learned a few things along the way. All of this hadn’t cost me a dime. March 3rd, 2016 – I lived solely off the kindness of strangers.

Returning to the road

Plagued once again with restless feet. It is time to hit the road. My time as a waiter has taught me many things. One of which is how to organize the 46 different pieces of cutlery required to eat a dinner roll. Beyond that, I have begun to recognize that the negative stigma associated with “work” arises from routine. Eliminate this aspect and work almost becomes therapeutic. Frequent changes in one’s environment will keep the brain constantly stimulated. I have made great friends and great memories here but finally I have become jaded with my work. A once novel and fascinating experience has now become a tedious and mundane chore. Thus my motive for leaving. Although this place has been nothing short of a palace for me I have ruefully grown to resent it. My living here is far too comfortable. I crave the raw experience that comes from instability and uncertainty. I yearn for a carefree existence free of obligation and commitment. I now leave Marchigue not knowing what I will encounter or where I will sleep tonight. True, raw experience. And if history has taught me anything it’s that when wandering, man always ventures Westward.

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Las Montañas

The mountain will always test the character of the man. Upon initially gazing upon a mountain the mind immediately adopts one underlying desire. To summit. To conquer. I believe the allure derives from the simplicity of the structure. For the view from up high is only surpassed by the view that is higher. Thus the peak of the mountain will eliminate the otherwise ambiguity associated with human emotion. An intrinsic sense of closure that illustrates man’s triumphant defeat over nature. For there is no greater feeling than to know one can go no higher. So what then does a man need to climb a mountain? Solely the trait of persistence. The closest activity that I can think of that resembles mountain climbing is running. For there is no strategy, no outwitting ones opponent, no means to an end. But where the runner has markers to track his pace, the climber has nothing. Far worse, the climber has illusions of markers. To hold perceptions of progress is a dangerous activity when attempting to conquer a mountain. To search for points of reference will be to search for disappointment. Part of the mysticism of a mountain arises from its illusory nature. Thus the climber must adopt (above all else) a sense of persistence. To keep moving forward. And with this mindset one does not reach the peak. Rather one recognizes that they have reached the peak.

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