I am so happy for you that you are traveling the world and blogging/instagramming/tweeting it. That every day you wake up and see something new, something photogenic. And that you take pictures of it, and describe it with your pretty words, both of which bring one thing into focus while leaving the things behind it in a blur photographers call bokeh and writers call, well, I don’t know what writers call that, but maybe we should have a name for it, too.
And I love the people you meet, and share some tea with, or learn how to make pupusas from, or get the same Vietnamese noodle dish from that has all those letters and accents that mean nothing to me because I don’t speak Vietnamese, and don’t really know much about Vietnamese food, except that pho is pronounced fuh, more or less, and it has that brothy yum plus crisp vegetables, contrast and flavors and well, you know better than me, because you’re in it.
I’m so glad that your life has aligned in such a way (or you have aligned it) such that you can drop everything and go somewhere else, in search of something. Good food, or good photos, stories, yourself, experience, “adventure” (whatever that may be). I love seeing where people go when the world is their oyster. Maybe it’s the less morbid version of asking someone what their last meal would be.
But I also wanted to give a shout out to the people who are staying still. For a few months, for a few years, for a lifetime. Your experiences and stories are no less interesting to me, and your honest descriptions tell me more than photos with six-sided blurred lights with just the right F-stop ever could. I don’t believe you’re not moving because you can’t (unless you tell me that’s the case), or that you haven’t quite figured it out, or that you’re too scared (ditto). I assume that you are in one place because you like it. Because you have the right combination of friends-family-wardrobe-kitchen-culture-chanterelle hunting-dentist-bed (but not all at once), or at least it’s right for you right now.
I trust that you are where are is great for you, and if it’s not, you’ll look at all kinds of fixes to make it better. More self-expression, a new hobby, a different job, more exercise, better podcasts, more alone time, more patience, less internet, fewer PWSYD (people who suck you dry, those needy, non-reciprocal relationships that fulfill the need to be needed, but nothing else), or whatever your better looks like.
In the interest of blogging from the perspective of the second, not of the first, because, although I travel, I am not traveling right now, and although I am an expat, I’m coming up on ten years. If this doesn’t feel like home, then maybe no place ever will.
This is what it looks like when I “don’t go anywhere,” and my city is charmingly photogenic and throws in a few surprises.
This morning I went to take the recycling up to the nicer neighborhoods where they do that kind of thing (I have a non environmentally-friendly bubbly water habit) and I ended up in several places that made me ask WISIBSP? Where in Santiago is Bearshapedsphere? I was just in my backyard, I guess. Where my backyard has a long closed route for bikes and enough water to make it through, and nearby mountains and dirt bike paths that go through gardens of purple blooming agapanthus, which always remind me of fireworks, and a feria I never go to, where they sold me both blackberries and basil, and these together with plain yogurt and honey are fueling this post entirely.
Santiago has become much more bike-friendly, in theory. Let’s say it is more bike friendly for meanderers. For people who really need to get from point A to point B safely, not so much. But on Sundays, there are closed streets all over the place, from 9 AM to 2 PM. Which is handy, since with the exception of the people on bikes (and rollerblades), pretty much everyone in Santiago is home at that time. Near me, there’s Santa Isabel (closed from about Dieciocho to about Portugal), downtown there’s Catedrál (which I would never bike on on purpose, too many baches (potholes)). And then there’s Andrés Bello.
Andrés Bello, also known as the “Costanera,” where the only costa it’s close to is the Mapocho River, which is not exactly so grand that you’d want to spend time near it. It’s one of the main east-west conduits. I always forget that Andres Bello is closed on Sundays, but today I remembered, because I was riding towards the beautiful, peaceful bird-filled Parque Bicentenario, because it has a nice view, I needed some fresh air, and I know they have a punto limpio, which is what we call the recycling center.
But then I remembered that outside of the Café Literario in Parque Forestal, they have bins, too. So I dropped my stuff there, but still thought I could take a spin up to the other park. But then something happened, and I zigged, when I should have zagged, and the next thing I knew I was on a miles-long bikepath (asphalt, then concrete, then dirt) that took me up past the river, with Manquehue and Manquehuito (two hills you can climb) in the distance.
I kept on riding, curious as to when this would end, when I saw I was passing the backs of the fancy restaurants at Borde del Río (a kind of stand-alone foodcourt/boulevard full of kinda fancy restos). And the path kept going. Insert agapanthus, etc. It stopped near the rotunda at Lo Curro, which is at the entrance to a neighborhood called Santa María de Manquehue. I’ve never ridden up there (though I have gone in to climb the hills), so I picked a flattish street, listened to a podcast about chocolate (like you do, do not judge, I saw exactly no cars), and then made the somewhat ill-thought-out mistake of zigging when I might have zagged. Remember how well that went the first time?
So instead of riding back over the river, I ended up at the back entrance (Lo Pirámide side) of Cerro San Cristóbal, looking at the overpass that goes over the river as it curves down, trying to figure out where it made land, and hopefully not on a highway. In fact, I know for sure that there’s a way to get to this overpass/bridge from the street I was on, because I walked down it one day when I had to do something at El Mercurio (the main newspaper). I remember I had to ask a man with a weed-whacker in his hands (with the head in a plastic bag), how to get down to the road from the overpass/bridge (smarter move: take bus or taxi). He indicated that I should follow it a bit further, bail early off a side shoot, jump over a ditch, go past some bushes, come out by some trees, and then run across the very busy street. So I did, like you do, and though I was a bit sweaty, it all turned out just fine.
But today I did not see the trees, bushes or ditch, though I did see a helicopter.
And the next thing I knew, I was at an overlook called Lo Pirámide, which I think might be new, but what do I know, I had left my personal Kansas about an hour earlier. Another cyclist called out to me, to ask if I needed help. Looking lost=win.
Yeah, I said, can you explain to me how to get back over the river, like where do I get on the overpass?
Oh, you don’t want to go up the cerro? Um, no, I said.
Too hilly? he offered.
No, just trying to get over the river, not up over a big hill and over the river. Got a little turned around up in Sta. María de Manquehue, I explained.
He pointed this way and that, asked me where I was from because he’s Argentine, and they do that (many Chileans might not bother), and wished me well. Ok, I’ll just ride up this way, I thought, following where I figured he’d pointed.
And there was this one moment, when there was what looked like a road under construction, and there was a woman sitting in a freestanding booth that may or may not have said “informaciónes” on it. Thinking back on it, she was the person who would have been the one to tell me that if I didn’t take that detour, I was riding over the hill, like it or not.
Which is how I came to ride up what people use as a training hill in Santiago with panniers (used to have the recycling in them), a flowy white shirt (good for sun protection), 3/4 length cycling tights and (wait for it): rafting sandals.
I ride up this hill with some frequency, but haven’t been up this side of it in years. Every turn I’d think, this is where the roads meet up and I get to ride down, right? But it was not to be. Not for some time. In between, I saw many a cyclist of all ages and sizes, including some that were running beside their bikes which I assume is some kind of triathlon training thing, and I do not believe they also swim with their bikes, but I could be wrong. I was wrong about going across the river, you see. People can be wrong about many things. Even me.
The hill is Santiago’s backyard, in a way, with gardens and aerobics classes, and swimming pools (costly!), and plazas, and places to lay in the grass and stare at the sky. But it was so in my way. Alas!
Eventually I found where the La Pirámide road met up with the Pedro de Valdivia exit, and some distance later (2 miles? 3?), was able to get out of the park, and back across the river. From here I could ride back down the still-closed street, amid runners with jostly sleeping toddlers in their jogging strollers, and kids with training wheels toodling behind their parents and skaters with and without wrist guards. There were stands giving away water, and sunscreen, and lending (?) bikes with helmets, which most of the borrowers left hanging from their handlebars. And it was lovely, except that sometimes people who borrow bikes are not the best at riding them, so keep your distance.
I crossed the river again only briefly, to pick up some fruit and vegetables, since my trip had taken far more than the hour I’d allotted for it, and by the time I got back to my feria it would have been insanely crowded. They’ve recently cobblestoned my normal north-to-south street downtown (Teatinos), so I’ve changed my route back from this part of the city, which means I get to pass the Gaudi-inspired lizard sculpture at the Aguas Andinas building, where there is also a large, multi-sided fountain that dispenses drinking water. I took some, and washed my hands in the splashover. I saw a tourist taking pictures of a group of people rehearsing a Peruvian version of the cueca in a little plaza between a couple of buildings, about 50 feet from where I was. I wondered if she would blog about it, post the photo. If she did, what she would say, and what they would look like to a person who doesn’t live here, I wondered. She’s traveling. I’m staying still.
Just before getting to my house, I stopped in at the closest minimarket to pick up some bread, and horrified a whole group of Chileans by taking the fresh, hot marraqueta (like french bread rolls, sort of) out of the store in my BARE HANDS (which I had just rinsed), and not in a plastic bag.
I’m not traveling the world at the moment. But I am traveling my world. And noticing what’s in it. For today, that’s plenty.
How lovely! Yes, I’m also in a travel deep and not wide time. I recently read an article about how travel helps you let go. I couldn’t help but think that it’s easier to let go when actually on the move, because you don’t have to deal with the day to day or the repetition.
But travel and letting go can happen when you’re home, whatever home means.
And somehow knowing the hill and where you can buy fruit and even finding that some things aren’t quite as you remember them are a really wonderful part of travel in one place.
Thanks so much, Leigh. I wouldn’t give up my familiarity with this city I love easily. I do think alot of travel is escape, and that’s fine. Whatever works for you. But it’s not the solution for everyone all the time. You know how long I’ve been meaning to come to visit you, and still haven’t made it. In the end I just adore being at home, much of the time!
I just did a quick 2 week road trip around Mexico after living here for over a year. I love fast travel in a way but it’s also so thin. I was thinking about how many months I’d have to live in Mexico City just get find my favorite carnita stand or to get a handle on what the different neighborhoods are really like. I am moving to Barcelona after this, planning on raising my kids there and I’m looking forward to that intimacy you get when you live in a place. When you fast travel it’s like sending postcards home, glossy pretty pictures of where you’ve been. Living there longer is more like writing a book, there’s so much more context, depth and understanding. I think both have their place but this piece really resonated for me, because I’m moving in that direction, I’m more interested in the stories from those people who stop, look and really live in the places they write about.
Thanks for popping in, Christine. I’m so glad this struck a chord with you. It’s not that I think that fast travel can’t be interesting to the person who’s experiencing it, it’s just for the person back home, well, it’s just a little flash-in-the-pannish. I do like a little rumination there. I look forward to hearing about your family tales in Barcelona. What a lovely city! I hope you’ll have a couch. You know, for guests. 🙂
Nicely written piece. I want to visit Chile so bad. Maybe one day I will be able too.