Sunday, April 24, 2016

One More Day

A few months ago a friend asked me to write her an essay about why I travel - what's hard as a solo traveler and why I go anyways. My first thought was, "because I fall in love with places." And that is certainly true. This week it was Pisco Elqui, a little town way up a canyon to the east of La Serena, Chile. I sat on the bus as we drove up the canyon, my smile growing by the mile. I loved it, wholeheartedly, from the moment I saw it. The fact that town consisted of four streets. The fact that much of town was shut down for the winter. The irony that this valley is famous for getting around 320 days of sunlight a year and it was cloudy enough I couldn't see the high mountains. The women selling ice cream who laughed once they realized I would come back everyday. The rooftop bar selling pisco sours made only with local ingredients.

When I checked into the hostel I paid for two nights. I stayed longer. There was this glittering freedom to being able to wake up each morning and think, "I don't want to leave. Just one more day" and stay. Because it didn't matter, I could stay until I knew where I was going next. Or perhaps, until I climbed to the highest point above town (six days). It was limitless. Each day was mine to spend.

I keep hearing my friend's voice in my head, singing to me, "...Take. Your. Time." It was a day at university, just before he left for a semester abroad, and we were sitting around listening to a new musical soundtrack. This time was different. First, I recognized one of the singers, despite not knowing the musical, The Last Five Years. This is one of two times I have said something about music to this friend that impressed him. Second, I didn't have my knitting. So, we sat around and played war while we listened. Aimlessly flipped over cards and swapped piles just to avoid sitting still. At one point my friend looks up and tells me I'll like this song. I listen more carefully, and I do like the song, which is a story about being given more time, enough to take a chance and follow a dream. Now, in general, I did not find this a particularly insightful song. There are plenty of songs about following your dreams that don't involve magic clocks. But I have returned to this moment many times simply because it was such a perfect afternoon, it just slipped away happily with a good friend. Maybe that's why I still listen to the song so much.

Time is a funny thing, it's the type of thing that is infinitely appealing when you don't have quite enough of it. But when you suddenly find it on your hands, it can be hard to know what to do with it. To feel like you're using it wisely.

Sometimes using it wisely is laughing while your new friends complain that the restaurants are closed and then debate what to make for dinner until the store owner laughs. And sleeping in and having the second cup of tea. Eating ice cream on the swings. Following all four roads that lead out of town in search of a hike. Those days that pass away happily, relaxed. Those slow moments that I consistently undervalue.

"You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by." -James M Barrie

My last day I hiked up the hill above town. I started walking first to one point, then the next, and eventually just decided I was going to the top regardless of the threatening clouds and relatively few hours until dark (I have never said I make decisions well). It was just me and the sagebrush, zigzagging up into the sky. Fleeting glimpses of the high peaks during breaks in the clouds. A reminder that this town was small and the world was big. I finally reached the point, and was startled and saddened to realize it was a false summit. Just the tip of a field that stretched up to a higher ridge. Despite the pangs of summit fever begging to continue, I turned around and started down, trying to make it back before sunset. Slipping and sliding back down the gravel slopes. I stopped once and just laughed. Grinning and shouting my glee across the hillside.

Fremont likes it here too - he wasn't that excited about the tropics

It was sliding down that hill that I realized I was ready to move on. That my feelings of limitlessness were reaching their limit. I had gotten what I wanted: sleep, an excellent pisco sour, time to read my book, a glimpse of the southern night sky, and a wander in the mountains. A chance to sit and watch the world spin and catch my breath. A new tentative set of plans (let's see how long these last). A lot of laughter. And a few more of those fleeting golden moments.

Including a sunny afternoon here with music and a game and a friend. This time the game was the focus; my friend was re-teaching me the rules of chess. We sat on the porch in the sun, listening to music, and I lost first one game and then another. And it was golden, another perfect afternoon, slipping away happily.

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