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…