I woke up on the five hour flight from Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile just as we were beginning our descent. Outside, the lights of the small Chilean towns nestled in the valleys of the Andes stood out brightly against the darkness of the uninhabited countryside. It was as if I was looking simultaneously up and down at the night sky. I felt as if I was sandwiched between the stars, flying through space and time.
In a lot of ways I do feel like I’m a space traveler, gliding along at light speed. By embarking on this fellowship, I’ve left my old sense of time behind, just as an astronaut traveling at such high velocity would. For the next eight months, the rest of my world will continue without me: my friends will go on to enroll in graduate schools, to begin careers, to start families. I feel frozen in a state temporal nirvana, zig-zaging among the possibilities of this world, among the infinity of the human experience, with little regard for the timeline of my home. I didn’t notice it until after I had watched my friend’s SUV pull away from the Detroit Metro Terminal early in the morning on August 31st, but it is beautiful. It is more than I could have ever hoped for.
The journey from my condominium in the residential area on the south side of Ann Arbor to my destination, a small bee farm in the rural part of central Chile, was long, much longer than was necessary. However, I wanted it to be that way. The little quirks of three flights, two layovers, and two bus rides, made the trip more powerful.
During my first flight there was an irate middle age woman who chose to spend the entire first third of my trip mocking our flight attendant because she kindly asked that the woman remove her bare feet from the chair of the passenger in front of her. At first glance this unruly woman was nothing more than an angry, selfish person. However, later at the airport terminal under the transit center’s fluorescent lighting, I could make out deep shadows under her tired eyes as she pushed a loved one in a wheelchair towards their next gate.
On my first layover in Miami, with seven hours to kill, I took an Uber to a beach nearby. I remember sitting under the shade of a palm-thatched hut, staring out at the vast and powerful Atlantic. In the distance there were enormous freighters tracing the horizon. I watched them make their way around the Florida coast and contemplated the fact that they carried shipping containers full of Barbie dolls and toaster ovens that had seen more of the world than I, even in twenty-two years on this planet. Eventually my gaze made it’s way down the coastline, along the beaches littered with luxury condos and resorts. They had a nice aesthetic, especially when juxtaposed with the parasailer hovering in the wind and speed boats carving white rifts in the blue face of the ocean in the distance. I took a moment to consider that this was where traveling stops for many people in our society, a luxury resort on a coastline. I supposed that that’s understandable, the world can be a scary place, and that scene was so picturesque: the epitome of comfort and “happiness.” Even to me it really did look nice, but I smiled, knowing that I wouldn’t be there long.
A few hours later I boarded my plane to Lima, Peru, accompanied by two incredibly nice UCF graduates who had traveled much of the Caribbean and South America. They were headed to Cusco, Peru to do volunteer work and they were kind enough to offer me a mountain of good advice for my travels.
In the Lima airport I spent the next four hours wandering the terminal and generally being confused about what time it was. I was also very concerned because as the hour approached my boarding time, my flight did not have a gate assignment. I found myself pacing the building, gazing up at every departure screen that I came across. I resorted to asking a gate agent in broken Spanish why my flight didn’t have a gate. He happily replied in near perfect English that I would just have to keep waiting. I decided to take a quick nap, waking up only five minutes before my boarding time. My alarm had been set to the wrong time zone. I rushed over to the gate agent and was given a handwritten boarding pass. A couple minutes later I was on my five hour flight to Santiago with a row all to myself and fell asleep, eventually waking up to the scene I described earlier.
In Santiago, there was no gate for our plane, only a staircase. As I stepped off its metal and into the freezing Chilean night, I looked up and saw that the cloud cover obscured the stars. A bus pulled up with only standing room and the crowd of passengers climbed aboard. I held my bag tightly. We pulled up to the terminal and made our way to customs where a bored-looking beaurocrate stamped a receipt and handed it to me. The airport was cold, and as I exited the security line into the country, I was greeted by a horde of taxi drivers looking for their next fare. I made my way through the mass and began to seek out the bus that I was supposed to take from the airport into the heart of they city. I walked into a restricted hallway and a guard in neon yellow jacket stopped me. In broken Spanish I asked where the busses were. There was no chuckle followed by a pleasant response in English like I had experienced with the gate agent in Lima, only suspicious eyes. He said something I didn’t understand and pointed in a direction. I followed his finger out the terminal door and back into the fridged morning air. Eventually I found the bus I was looking for and climbed aboard. Someone had told me that they accepted US currency, but that wasn’t true. The driver waved me away. I turned around, pushed my way past the line and found a place to exchange my American money for Chilean Pesos.
My second attempt at riding the bus was more successful. I made it past the fare. Though I had to fumble with my new money a little bit. I took a seat in the middle of the bus which soon became packed. As we left the airport the day was just beginning, but there was heavy cloud cover and the sky was a dim gray. Midway through the trip I turned to the girl sitting next to me and asked whether we were going to where I thought we were going. My stop ended up being relatively obscure and without her help I would have ended up on the Metro. I exited at a bus terminal and mall in the heart of the city. At some point during my voyage, I had lost track of time. I wandered past security guards in neatly pressed uniforms and protective vests, past gray store fronts obscured by imposing metal bars. Forgetting that I was the early morning, I questioned what had happened to make the place feel so empty and cold.
Eventually, I made my way to where the busses were housed, up a flight of stairs in the back of the building. The station had about twenty booths set up, with bright colors like a row of concession stands at a carnival. Each company had a booth where a cashier sold tickets. I smiled at the woman behind the counter of the bus company that I had been instructed to use. I purchased a ticket and the cashier pointed to a number taped to the window of the booth. Bus #84. I made my way to the end of the terminal where my coach was waiting, finally boarding my last bus.
After another 30 minutes I arrived at the bus stop where my host, Jaime, greeted me. We climbed into his manual transmission, four-door Ford ranger and started the thirty minute journey through the valleys of the Andes’ foothills to his farm near Codigua just southwest of Melipilla. As we approached our destination the asphalt road turned to bumpy dirt with the scars of water run-off-chiseled into its face. In the background the high peaks of the foothills loomed majestically, and the sun finally peaked through the morning clouds. The road was now lined with cattle wire fences and chickens pecking at the ground. We pushed further into the Chilean countryside, following the snaking valley roads. As we made a bend just beyond one of the foothills, two dogs rushed out to greet us. They chased behind as we pulled into the dirt and stone driveway of Jaime’s ranch. To our right, horses from the pasture adjacent to his property gathered their morning drinks from a small man mad canal. Jaime parked the truck and I grabbed my bag from the back seat. We walked inside where I was greeted by Jamie’s wife Mayela and another volunteer from France, Monia, they greeted me with smiling faces and showed me to my room.
Twenty-six hours after my departure from Ann Arbor, I sat down on the knitted blanket covering my new bed and grinned. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. Yes, it was long, yes it was tiring, but the sense of satisfaction I felt at the end of it was well worth the hassle. That is because all those obstacles—the transfers, planes, busses, currencies, and strangers—that some may describe as undesirable or too stressful, to me, are the joys of living . They are beautiful impediments that increase the likelihood of conflict, of a necessity for problem solving. And I love conflict. It is what makes life exciting, and more importantly, it is what teaches us about the world, about others, and about ourselves. Life is conflict, the more you face and are able to overcome, the more fulfilling your time on this planet will be.
Maybe some think that the way I went about this journey was wrong, or inefficient, but I think that I did it exactly how it needed to be done. Because convenience comes at a cost. By always taking the easiest path, so often we miss out on some of the greatest beauty of life. Of course, sometimes there are good reasons for that: timing, school, work, family. But while I’m here, gliding through the world, timeless, without deadlines or a necessity for efficiently, without any goal other than my own fulfillment, I don’t have an excuse to miss anything.
Thank you for reading. More to come soon.