BY COLIN PERSONS
A feeling of inescapable stagnation built as I inched toward finishing my third year at MSUM, despite the glorious seasonal change that brought its usual pleasant mix of sundresses, longing for class-free days and lawn chair beers in my 12th Avenue backyard.
Even this wonderful emergence from the windswept days of tundra season seemed too insignificant a change for me. I don’t know whether it was the months of cold, too much Travel Channel, too many jealous perusals of study abroad albums or the mundanely flat geography surrounding our beautiful little home, but all led to one conclusion: I wanted out for a while.
While I’m all for the annual week long occupation of the famous spring break beaches, the duration and integrity of such a trip seemed extremely unlikely to appease my yearning for true adventure. So, my eyes shifted further down the map. South America’s lawless, rugged beauty has always been attractive to me, Spanish always the most logical language to pick up.
After researching study abroad programs, countries and costs, it was clear; I would go to Chile. I didn’t have the money for Spain or Australia and lacked interest in Asia. Chile presented a relatively safe option at a low cost in a country as geographically diverse as any other on the globe.
A little less than a year later, after spending an embarrassing amount of time in John Alexander’s kitchen cooking and saving money, with one semester of college Spanish behind me, I was on a plane to Santiago, Chile. After a week of acclimation, I caught a bus to the coastal twin cities of Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso to take a few classes and establish a home base for my travels of South America.
Admittedly, the first week was overwhelming. Touching down in Santiago I departed baggage claim and entered a tunnel of chaos. A chorus of “Taxi!? Taxi!?” rang out over a dull roar of Spanish banter. Catching a cab and failing miserably at my first attempt at conversation with a Chilean, I eventually arrived at my hostel, labored through another conversation and headed up to my room.
That night I fell asleep with the window open, a cool breeze blowing in along with the sounds of a city of seven million people and at least a million dogs. I awoke to a feeling of true freedom, liberated from the pressures of what I was supposed to be doing; an unprecedented opportunity for life experiences laid in front of me.
A week later after several sensational meals, chess matches with old Chilean men in the park, a couple nights out until 6 a.m. and countless embarrassing language barrier incidents, I was coastal bound, capable of ordering food, explaining my background and my reason for being in Chile.
In Vina, after becoming briefly acquainted with the city, my host family and the students in my program, I craved a fistful of the experiences I’d set out in search of. I’ve spent the last month and a half on a travelling binge, never spending more than a week in the same city, never carrying more than what I can fit in a pair of backpacks. In this month and a half I’ve seen, done and learned more than in any given month previously. About half of these travels have been with members of my program, the other half solo.
In this month I’ve rafted down a river, surfed my first wave, jumped from cliffs into lakes, hiked on a volcano, through a rainforest and above the clouds. My last week was spent fairly close to the bottom of the world in Patagonia.
Torres Del Paine National Park (No. 5 on National Geographic’s top 100 most beautiful places on earth) gave me an opportunity to backpack through this spectacular part of the world, taking in as much as I could of the glacier capped peaks, drinking straight from pristine rushing rivers and climbing up to overlooks I won’t soon forget.
Along the way I’ve met countless people from around the world who have dropped what they were doing to travel this continent: doctors, policemen, engineers, writers, who felt the same stagnation as I. From the chatter on hostel patios I’ve picked up quality insight into foreign perspectives regarding the U.S., global policy, beer, food and the future.
I’ve learned that Russians can laugh, a “French kiss” is not what we’ve made it out to be, Chileans are always late, you can actually make a living off of street performances, Europeans roll better joints than us and the difference between a tourist and a traveler.
The escape of stagnation has been more fulfilling than I could have imagined. Yet, I’d do just about anything for some American fried chicken, a Juicy Lucy or a Grain Belt. Two months down, three to go.