Alejandro met me at the station. I did not know him, so our meeting was unplanned. He knew I needed a place to stay, though. His trained eye had spotted me as soon as I stepped off the bus. In fact, even though he might not have known what I looked like, he knew I was going to be there just as he knew everyone else before me was going to be there. If I had been in the US then I would have been skeptical. We don't offer our homes to strangers as they do in Chile, but I knew this was a common practice so, despite the fact it was my first time, I knew what to do.
My jeans were rolled up to my knees and my shoes were tied together and looped around my bag's shoulder strap. The sun beat down from the east while I walked south toward Coquimbo. Alejandro said it was too far to walk, but I had nothing but time on my side and nothing to do but walk and walk and walk.
- Alejandro: Seven thousand per night. You have your own bedroom, alone.
- Me: OK.
- Alejandro: It this way, half hours walk. You want to take bus?
- Me: I'm out of cash. I need a cambio to exchange my money.
- Alejandro: OK, we walk then. Come, this way.
- Alejandro: You need cash?
- Me: I need a cambio, to change my Argentine pesos.
- Alejandro: You have cash.
- Me: Yes, but not Chilean. I can't pay you until tomorrow.
- Alejandro: Is OK. Tomorrow you go to cambio and pay me then. Is OK. No worries, no worries at all.
- Alejandro: Where you from?
- Me: I live in Boston. In the US.
- Alejandro: Boston? Yes, that is a rich part of the country.
- Me: Not for everyone. I'm moving because I can't afford to live there (I lie).
- Alejandro: Yes, it is expensive. Yes, yes. I learn English from My Fair Lady. You understand what I say?
- Me: Yes, I understand perfectly.
The downtown is pretty, too. I mentioned the cobblestone streets and churches, but what I can't describe, and what photos can't illuminate is the atmosphere of calm sauntering from one street to the next. There's an easy feel to simply walking around. And while the shopping district isn't strictly closed for walking only, it feels as if it is; it is so much so that I found myself wandering out into the street with my head up high, gazing at the sites, and frequently honked at by on-coming cars.
The sun was hot and high in the sky by this point in the day. I was about three-quarters of the way to Coquimbo, which is the rough-and-tumble port town at the other end of the sand from the pretty La Serena. My head was getting warm and I didn't have a hat with me. Was it a mistake to continue? Maybe, but what was there to lose except for peeling skin?
The next day I went looking for new places to stay, but all the hostels were full. I was stuck staying at Alejandro's with the two girls again. That was OK. It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough. Dinner was fish and rice. I had some homemade ice cream for dessert.
Google and it came up to be a little less than 25 miles round-trip. "That's not a problem," I lied. "I walk that distance all the time." He then showed me that when he was young he and some friends had walked from the other side of the peninsula in Coquimbo to La Serena. "We were drunk and had girls with us," he said. "They didn't want to walk but there were no taxis. It took us many hours. Many, many hours. You know My Fair Lady? I learn English from that, and my brother. He was teacher of English. My English is good?" I told him it was.
The bus stopped at the pit stop again, but I saved my cash. I didn't even run next door to the Esso station as I did on the way up. Instead I napped as much as I could and took in the scenery, too. In a few hours I'd be on a plane back to Boston. I had learned so much and yet not enough during this two-week trip. Chile wasn't what I expected it to be, but it was enough, and that was what I needed. No, unlike what some have said, this is not an adventure. Going to Chile is not the end-goal. The goal is to write, and if I went anywhere that peaked my curiosity then I likely wouldn't write. I'd explore instead, and that is an adventure. I don't care what I learn down south. Sure, I'd like to learn some things. I'd love to climb as much as I can, and to learn a little Spanish would be helpful, but I don't care so much about that. I just want to write, so what I learned was enough. I'm going to plop my butt down and write, and then go home, and then maybe someday, when I've done what I want to do and my curiosity has peaked and I know what to look for then maybe, just maybe, I'll come back and learn and see more. But in the meantime, all I want to do is write.
Click here for all 2009 Chile and Argentina pictures.