”This is what happens when you travel.” ”No,” he said. ”This is what happens when you open up.” I didn’t answer, because what he said was so right it stood strongly on its own. I needed to come all wrecked to this desert, to this magic little place in the middle of South America to see the stars in all their clarity for the first time in my life. And in their shining tirelessly and obliviously to our attention, I heard a conclusion to a certain story. Atacama, this is for your gifts.
I was merciless to Santiago during my first week in Chile, finding a few places I adored and feeling a strong apathy towards everything else. I came wounded and the city buzz and violent chaos couldn’t cure my fragile weakness and mental emptiness. Not this time. Markets, street art and a certain hill attempted bravely to do their thing, but their powers faded after a couple of concentrated moments. And then came the Monday I happily left it, but feeling the knot of anxiety growing inside of me all along the 24-hour ride to San Pedro, I thought to myself I was getting into something I was even less ready for. I do not have the energy for dealing with all the unavoidable tourism agencies, I’m a self-organized solo-traveler, please no. When I think I almost canceled it and went straight to Valparaiso, I can only be grateful for my occasional stubbornness.
Because I came, I saw, and I was conquered.
Right after getting off the bus, I felt the welcoming vibe of the town in the form of a local who, occupied with his own clumsy grandmother, but seeing my fatigued confusion, kindly showed me the way to the main street … twice, the second time even before I approached him myself again. In that empathetic smile, followed by a confirmative nod, I could already see there are places on this Earth not even tourism can ruin. At the hostel ten minutes later the same positive energy was lightly flying in the air, enveloping the colourful cushions, hammocks, steel structures and canvases. On my last night, sharing glasses of red Chilean wine with local guides, I was thanking God strongly for the exact same reason. Funny, how many times during traveling through an unknown country one’s agnosticism fails.
Yes, there is no place for an empty atheism here, feeling the strong power of nature in its vastness, beauty and a certain kind of timelessness that shows in a form of an imperceptibly slow change to human eyes through a long un-narrated history. In its nothingness that is ever so full. ”Welcome in the middle of nowhere,” said our guide with a satisfied look and glow in his eyes, during our first stop on my last tour that Friday morning, after a bumpy road-less ride. All around us was only a never-ending stone and sand of the Andes plateau, somewhere in the distance there was already a salt lake waiting for us to see it, but right now, our glances rested on that eternal emptiness that was shining more calmly in its perseverance than those always buzzing lights of our vacated cities.
No, I couldn’t get away from the healing power of nature here, ever since I got on the first tour with two optimistic and helpful Americans and a bunch of Chileans, mixed with Brazilians, by my side. When I finally got my feet set on the dusty paths of the Moon Valley, caressing the salty rocks with the end of my fingers and the extra-terrestrial landscape with my pupils. The peace of your soul comes in the form of gratitude and acknowledging your own luck, sitting at the edge of a stone and admiring a sunset, colours painting their tones on the dehydrated soil. Looking forward to getting up early after a sleepless night, just to go all the way up to the 4000m and feel the cold wind messing up your hair while you’re trying to convince yourself that this time you are not looking at the high-quality National Geographic poster. No, the Red stones and the lake and the Volcano are right there at the sight of your own eyes and camera. But relax and don’t take too many pictures, it’s the living memory of the moment that counts, leave some space for the stones of the Rainbow Valley and some breaths to take away to the Salt Flats and the flamingoes…
Until the evenings come and you share a talk over a fire with some French, New Zealanders and Germans, or music enthusiasm over a beer with Chileans who escaped Santiago for the long weekend. Until the last evening comes and you end up at the end of the road from town, after a long-awaited home-cooked meal and a couple of glasses of wine, feeling the sand everywhere under your clothes even when only sitting still, getting it into your sticky hair when you lie down to see the sky better. And there they are then, the stars, the constellations, the Milky way. And you once again start breathing. You found the joy you had been looking for, running hopelessly through the streets. You feel content, finally, for a moment at least.
And then you hear: ”Some people, we travel the world to open ourselves up and then we return home and see some of us are able to do this right there on their doorsteps. But ultimately, there is no right or wrong … There are only different ways for love to get to us.” And you silently agree.
Because you chose your path, now you can peacefully follow it and feel the love flowing in and out of you all along the journey. Because you are good and always will be.