i don’t think i could just travel

A few weeks ago, I was catching up with one of my oldest friends. Kyle and I first met in Mrs. Kennedy’s “core” class in 6th grade at Piedmont Middle School. I’ve known Kyle since we were just beginning to be people.

My favorite moments with Kyle have almost all happened spontaneously. The morning after my first Halloween in Santa Barbara, I called Kyle. Want to drive to Vegas and see if we can get tickets to night two of the Phish Halloween run? The thing is—I’m a huge Phish phan, and most of my friends are not. Only a true friend will withstand 3+ hours of improvised “jams” when Phish isn’t really your thing. It kind of has to be your thing; you have to get IT. To the untrained ear, Phish can sound a little chaotic, excruciatingly unfocused and ramble-y. There’s a lot going on.

But we make the drive from LA to Vegas, and end up at the MGM grand 30 minutes before the sold out show.  We had backup plans if we didn’t make it in, but we find face value tickets in the lot, just as the show was starting. The show was incredible. One of the best I’ve seen. (I’ll avoid too much Phish talk, but the highlight was def FYF. They played the song for some guys in the front row with a biiig sign, who went on to absolutely lose it when Mike began it.) We spend the rest of the night running around the city, and met 3 guys who flew out from Michigan for the run. They told us that by far the best purchase they’ve made in Vegas were these motorized scooters. We end up racing them down the hallways of the 15th floor of the MGM Grand. These are the types of situations we tend to find ourselves in.

 

But we’ve also spent a fair bit of time exploring national parks in Southern California. I grew up backpacking in the Sierras, the mountains–Yosemite, Teton, Inyo NP. But I realized that I might be more of a desert person during my first trips to Death Valley and Joshua Tree. Crazy things happen out in the middle of the desert. Lizard Lee keeps and maintains a commune surrounding a series of hot springs in the dead center of Death Valley. The U.S. and foreign militaries test jets and train pilots in the same gorge. Lots of cows too. I love the strangeness of it all. Anything can happen.

Kyle brought me to Eureka Dunes for my first time, where we had one of those weird desert moments. It took us a couple of hours to get into the park, and another three just to get to the top of the 3-mile long dune. And at the top of this dune, in the middle of the valley, we managed to run into a father and his two daughters. You could tell just by the look of them that they were true desert children, and young too—maybe 4 and 6 years old? They came equipped with a ski sled to do some dune-sledding. They were well-versed enough to know the sand is best for sledding a few days after the rain. It was strange. Death Valley and Jtree aren’t like the popular National Parks. Other desert goers are few and far between. You are pretty much left to your own devices. We were all thinking, the same but Kyle said it:  this isn’t an easy place to get to? How strange to run into someone out in the middle of this giant dune…

And also to jtree. We spent an afternoon making post-modern yarn sculptures.

When we spoke last, Kyle had spent the past few months back home in the Bay Area, and was about to ship out for his next stint in Europe. I was calling from Chile, pacing around in the park I live in. I was trying to stay relatively close to the restaurant whose wifi I steal from time to time. I was curious what was next for Kyle. He told me his travel plans—Israel, possibly driving from Greece to France, etc.

He also told me he wanted to find a job somewhere in Europe. He said something along the lines of—I don’t feel like I can just travel. I get bored after a while. After 4 months, I need something more.

I had also come to a similar conclusion. After spending 7 months driving south, beginning in southern California, and gunning for Chile, I was ready to slow down. To get back to work.

I came to Chile with a grant to develop methods of introducing students with no programming experience to computational thinking. I began my research project in March. And for those first two months, I worked non-stop. I worked weekends. I had to clarify my coffee orders to keep myself constantly over caffeinated. No, I don’t want two cappuccinos, I just want one drink with two shots of expresso. I didn’t have any friends, but I wasn’t lonely. I knew I would meet the right people in time.

Those first two months of focus were so refreshing. Coffee! Early mornings. Checklists. I missed that stuff. I was feeling purpose-less. Like a blob. Just floating.

But more than just feeling productive, I felt inspired for the first time in a long time. I almost felt sad about how I was before. It was like I had been in a haze and I was just coming out of it.

Since I started college, I don’t know that I’ve believed in anything I’ve done. After maybe 7 years, I finally feel like I’m getting my spark back. I feel like I’m working on something worth talking about.

And more than just my work here,I am starting to fall in love with this country. I took my first trips in my van. I fell in love with Pichilemu, and got super worked at Puertecillo. The cute way Chileans speak Spanish. Vegetarian empanadas. The insane, raw landscape. I say this all the time to everyone, but this must be what California was like 50 years ago. Sometimes you paddle out, it’s perfect. And there is just no one around.

I guess what I think I’m realizing is how good it feels to live and work in a new place. I’ve felt more at home than I have since I left California a year ago. I’m understanding this country more than I ever could have if I were just passing through.

I’ve made real friends here. I’ve found community. I want to write about them. Nadine came from Australia and she bought a bus (a micro, as they’re called here). She is converted it into a rolling home for her and four more. I think they are somewhere in the Atacama right now. She built the bus while living with two Chilean guys (hi Manuel and Jaime;) who are local legends. They are putting the finishing touches on their 4-story treehouse, made with strictly recycled materials, and launching up their surf film outfit. I feel inspired by the people around me. Staying in one place is nice. I feel like I have roots here.

Chile is home for now. My work has gotten me so tangled up in this place. It’s going to be hard to leave. I try and meditate as much as possible, to try and slow down the passage of time. It’s not working, but I’ll keep trying. Maybe I’ll just stay here.

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