Daily Archives: July 10, 2011

The Rush Of A Desert River

Today I decided to leave the town center of barren Calama, Chile, to go find the longest river in Chile, the very circuitous and as I discovered, very cold Loa River. The river originates high in the Andes Mountains and snakes its way across the northern portion of the world’s longest country. The Loa courses high above sea level along some of its stretches. Its fresh water from the mountains becomes brackish in some areas. That is certainly true when it makes its way through Calama.

I took a very long walk along the river, following its banks as much as passage allowed without actually going for a swim. In some areas, the river is very deep and the water is ice-cold, even through the desert. There was no way I would leave the Loa without at least dipping in a toe. I took off my boots, my socks, and rolled up my jeans and went in calf deep. Brrrrrr. A cold shock to the system, but then I started to get used to it. Or maybe I had just grown numb to the freezing temperature.

It was an absolutely beautiful day in Calama. I was confusing the glands that regulate body temperature as I felt the warmth of the sun heated my upper body while the chill of the river froze my feet. I got out of the water and sat on the banks of the river. There is something especially soothing about sitting by a river out in the middle of nowhere with birds singing in the afternoon. If I were a bird I’d sing all day, too, living out here in this beautiful wilderness.

I will never say I love Calama. Since starting my journey more than five months ago, I have seen prettier places. But even in ugliness there is beauty. Just look at the rundown houses in Venice, the paint peeled, the stucco grimy, the facade aged. Even those are beautiful. So in Calama, you can find beauty if you look with a certain eye.

Despite the fact I spent the entire afternoon walking along the banks of the river, I still had some energy left to clown around, as you can see from these pictures. Now, there are some people – and I wonder sometimes why I still call them friends – who will criticize me for “having too much fun” as if life is to be spent in eternal misery. To them I say, I’ve heard you. You’ve already said your piece. Live your life the way you see fit, unhappy or otherwise, and I’ll continue to do what what brings me joy – travel – which is meant to be enjoyed. I’m not exactly in Paris – not yet – or some very cool city, but I will make the best of Calama and enjoy it as much as possible.

To the rest of you who don’t mind a little silliness every now and then, I leave you with a photographic essay of  how I spent my day. Until next time…

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Marred By Plans

It was just one of those days that did not go according to plan. In retrospect, I should have just hopped on a bus and gone to San Pedro de Atacama, a village about an hour away that draws thousands of visitors because of its natural beauty and archeological importance.

My weekend plan was to simply get myself settled in Calama: shop for groceries, wash some clothes, do some sprucing up in my room and the house. Most of this never came to be after the call came.

On the line was Javier, who runs the language lab at the International Institute. He said a student who had canceled her English lessons the previous day wanted to pick up the lessons at 11 a.m.  – in about a half hour from the moment I received the call on my day off! I hesitated. I reminded Javier it was my day off. I said I had things to do.  It’s only one class, he said, one hour of my time. Rats!

The muck mucks at the institute have a habit of calling the teachers last-minute on their days off to come in to work, I was warned. Stand firm. Hold your ground. Say no. And I could have refused, but less than a week on the job as an English teacher I decided this once – and only this once – would give up part of my day and on such short notice to rush in to work because, as I suspect, someone dropped the ball. This was my gift to the muck mucks. I will give 100 percent during my regularly scheduled work hours – Monday through Thursdays, with minimum 12-hour days on Tuesdays and Wednesdays – but come Friday, Saturdays and Sundays, that would be my time to recover from those very long workdays and to use as I please – not to report to work again with no compensation. That’s not helping me and it certainly would not be helping the institute as if I allowed this to continue I would turn up for work exhausted. They certainly don’t want that?

So my roommate Zack was in the shower. I had to wait my turn. I had about 15 minutes to spare to get to the office. Fortunately, it is just across the street from the house. A walk across a dirt field and I’m there. Still, in and out the shower, into clothes, grab all my teaching materials, out the door, takes time. And yet, I managed to get to work in time. And of course, the student is late.

I’m not one for excuses. Chileans walk with a bag full of excuses. The main thing about them is that they’re always late. They laugh it off as a Chilean thing. And nobody apologizes for being late or for making you wait or making you late. “I’m Chilean” is the closest thing to an apology.

But I’m not going to beat up on Chileans on this. It’s frankly common in most Latin American countries. And because Miami is a very Latin city, it’s common in Miami, too. So I’m used to it. You just have to grin and bear as much as you can. Patience. Lots of patience is required.

So my student shows up 15 minutes late and she wants my personal history: where am I from? How did you learn Spanish? Do you like Calama? Fine, fine, but I tell her to ask the questions in English. She struggles with a few of the words but she gets through the questions. Now let’s begin the lessons.

Slightly more than an hour later I leave the institute, head home to quickly empty my backpack, and head for the grocery store. I will use the empty backpack to carry the groceries home. It’s a bit of a walk from the house to the store. But it’s a beautiful sunny day and I don’t mind walking.

I get to Lider, the Wal-Mart-like grocery store – which I then learn is actually owned by Wal-Mart. But where are the shopping carts? The store is packed with people. I ask a security guard about the shopping carts and he points to an empty spots where they usually are and says that there aren’t any and that my best bet is to go down to the parking garage and try to find one there. Oh-k!

I walk to the underground garage and find that dozens of other people have the same idea – stalking shoppers leaving the store – for their shopping carts. I try a few times but every person I ask already has someone waiting for the cart. I spend a good 15 minutes walking from person to person exiting the store. Nope, sorry, the cart is taken.

I go back upstairs to the store and still no carts. I decide well, maybe today is not a day to shop. I will pick up as much as I can carry and come back not on a weekend – maybe Monday when all these folks are at work. So much for grocery shopping.

Laundry detergent was high on my list and it was one of the items I was able to carry without the benefit of a shopping cart. Cool, so when I get home I can at least do my laundry and have some clean clothes. No such luck! Saturday is was also apparently the day my other two roommates, Thomas and Pamela – a couple from what I like to call “the other Portland” – Portland, Maine – had a load of laundry already in the washer and a full basket in waiting. Hmmm…Oh-k! Maybe I should clean up around here, tidy up the room a bit. Nah! You know what? I think I’ll go back to bed instead. I probably never should have gotten out of bed in the first place. Will get it all done next week. But no matter what, by weekend, San Pedro, here I come! At least that’s the plan.

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