Monday, January 14, 2008

How Way Leads on to Way

I land back in Coyhaique for my hard-earned summer, and find the countryside ablaze with purple lupines and yellow sagebrush, the air fragrant with clovers, and the new addition of aggressive horseflies to the rotating cast of Patagonian characters. Summer here, I soon learn, is a moody mix of brutal hot sun, whipping winds, spitting rain, and...well, snow. The constantly changing weather brings a steady supply of rainbows over the valley to the north, which happens to be framed perfectly by my kitchen window, so I am happy to drink mate at the table and enjoy Pachamama's show.

The holiday season here in the deep south may be devoid of Macy's window displays and the garish tunes of Christmas carols on every radio station, but you won't find me complaining. On Christmas Eve I find myself happily lost on the winding dirt roads outside of Coyhaique. Every turn of the road reveals a surprise: a stunning turquoise bend in the river, a river bank covered in wildflowers, a baby cow standing on its spindly legs, a waterfall pouring from the hillside... I feel as if I am opening the stocking of a lifetime. When the sun finally sets it is almost 11pm, and the deep pink and red sky inspires Anne and I to dance in the middle of the road as if we've just scored the winning touchdown in the Superbowl. Who said that Christmas Eve was just for little kids?

Perhaps the best thing about my return to Coyhaique is seeing my students around town. I am showing my school to Kelly, a good friend from the United States, when we encounter a few of my students wrestling on the lawn behind the building. Nicolas Perez, one of my best and brightest, straightens himself up and greets Kelly in English. "How are you?" he asks, with nary a prompting from me. "I'm great, and you?" she replies. Nicolas scrunches up his face and appears to be thinking. "Mmmmm...I'm okay," he decides. I burst into applause, and although Nicolas seems a little embarrassed at my overzealous reaction, I don't know how else to commemorate my proudest moment as a teacher.

I see many more students around town, their faces glowing with the discovery that the "Miss" has not yet left Coyhaique. Sadly, I am rapidly forgetting their names, and I struggle to place them without the context of the classroom. I exchange pleasantries with them and watch them walk away with their families, choking on the realization that I am no longer an important presence in their daily lives. In my righteous stint of volunteerism, I believed that I was one of the few adults who really cared about these kids, even taking the time to learn 300 names. Now I must realize that I, like many others, am just another person who entered their lives and then left.

The summer days pass as rapidly as the rain clouds move through town, and I find myself frantic to slow down time. It is sometimes a blessing and other times a curse that life keeps moving independent of our own personal velocities. Although I realize that extending my stay in Coyhaique is neither practical nor plausible, I wish I could suspend this moment forever. Still, I know Coyhaique will not hold the same mystique as we roll back into autumn, and I would find a restlessness creeping inside me if I attempted to hold on.

With these thoughts I prepare for the next adventure: a journey by bicycle from Coyhaique to Villa O'Higgins at the southern terminus of the Carretera Austral. The idea of this journey is to explore the more remote areas of Patagonia, document the way of life there, and illuminate the growing concerns about the proposed hydroelectric dams that may change the landscape forever. It is my hope that by documenting this journey, I can stir and inspire more souls with the magic of this almost forgotten land.

I would like to thank you all for following this blog and sharing in my adventures here at the end of the earth. If you have felt a fraction of the wonder and amazement I have stumbled upon down here, I've done my job. Please check in for links and information about the upcoming bicycle journey and documentary project. And if I happen to disappear, look for me on a winding dirt road somewhere near 49 degrees south...

May you all have journeys that leave you wiser, stronger, and more content!


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