Arriving in Valparaiso, I feel like my trip is finally beginning.
Santiago was a lot of fun. But Santiago was a relatively easy transition. It’s a city that has Dunkin Donuts, KFC, and Taco Bell. There is not a lot of difference between Santiago and Los Angeles. Maybe fewer Spanish speakers. In Santiago, I mean.
I stayed in a hostel where most everyone spoke English. We traded stories of places we had been, and places we had yet to go. We went out together for meals. We went out at night as a group. It was a vacation that could have happened anywhere; this one just happened to be on the opposite side of the Equator.
I’m grateful for everyone I met in Santiago. I made new friends who I sincerely hope I will see again. I’m grateful for the experience. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes of a new place are always welcome. I enjoyed the six days I spent getting used to life in Santiago. Every day was a good day.
If it seems like I’m being a little somber, well, it’s raining tonight and I’m holed up in a small bed and breakfast in a quiet part of town. Which is kind of what I was looking for, now that I think about it. But I’m also thinking of what someone told me: that I was never going to learn Spanish by constantly being around people speaking English. And I’m not going to learn much about myself by doing the same things I’ve been doing my whole life, even if I’m doing them in a foreign country.
(A quick aside: I’m staying at Costa Azul, a B&B run by a kindly Slovenian couple. It’s hard to tell right now because of all the clouds, but the views of the city and harbor are supposed to be breathtaking. I love the look and decor of the house. It’s a little out of the way of all the happenings in Valparaiso, so tomorrow will be my first experience with the local buses in Chile. And yes, they speak English. And so does everyone else here. So much for total immersion.)
My attention thus far has been outward. I have taken in the sights, learned about the culture and history of Chile. I’ve seen the creativity of this place on display at various art museums, parks, restaurants–everywhere I’ve gone, Chile has been warm and welcoming (although not warm in the sense of temperature; I guess I won’t be getting any more summer this year).
I also learned of the depravity. I visited the Parque por la Paz (“Peace Park”) in the Penalolen suburb of Santiago. It was built on the former site of Villa Grimaldi. Villa Grimaldi was a house bought by the military in the 1970s and converted into an interrogation center. It was where political opponents of the junta led by Augusto Pinochet were kidnapped, blindfolded, beaten, thrown into tiny cells, and executed. They became known as el desparecidos–the disappeared.
But that seems to be ancient history as far as the people I’ve met are concerned. My taxi driver didn’t even know where the park was, didn’t even seem to know that it existed. Which is kind of a strange parallel, considering that, for a long time, people didn’t know what was going on at Villa Grimaldi.
After visiting that place, my own frustrations felt trivial. But that’s what happens when you compare being tortured to having a slow internet connection.
The way forward is to focus inward. I shouldn’t need a reminder of how bad life can be to gain the proper perspective of my own fears. I can do that myself, by noticing my thoughts and simply letting them be. That sounds a little like something I should say while playing frisbee barefoot in the park with Slater from Dazed and Confused. But, already on this trip, I’ve been overcome by my own anxiety.
I believe I am on the right path. But I cannot know that until I get to the end.