mountains to MOUNTAINS

Alzar School | 08.11.13
Jessica hugs a eucalyptus tree at our take-out on the banks of the Río Teno
Jessica hugs a eucalyptus tree at our take-out on the banks of the Río Teno

From the thick plastic portal window on the exhausted plane, Chile was a swath of green kissed by fog and mist. It was a pretty sight, but the aerial view gave it a two-dimensional feel. The Andes looked like something from a child’s pop-up picture book; brightly colored but one-sided and flat. The difference between seeing the Andes versus physically being in them is hot versus cold, up versus down, in versus out. As we drove through this mountain range, I was constantly trying to get used to how truly large each peak was. I used to think that I live in the mountains, but I worry that when I return to Idaho, what used to be proud mountains will be reduced to hills in my mind.

Before we arrived in Chile, I thought it was normal to pass someone on the street and not say hello, or to simply say, “how are you” and not wait for the answer. I viewed these things as unfortunate facts of life. In this country of tall mountains, however, there also happen to be very friendly people. Even after almost two weeks, I am still surprised by the generosity, openness, and outgoing attitudes of nearly everyone I meet and talk to. This is a country where in small towns people call out to you from the other side of the street and ask not if you will take a picture of them, but if you will take a picture with them. With my limited vocabulary of Spanish (or castellano), it sometimes seems intimidating to talk to people who I don’t know. But day by day, I’m realizing that it’s better to try and feel silly than to be silent and risk not getting a taste of the culture and the chance to learn.

The challenges I have faced in a couple short weeks have already begun to give me more confidence, both on the water, paddling, and walking around towns, trying to figure out how to talk to people in a new language. Since being in Chile, I have learned new tenses in Spanish. I have chosen lines down rivers and paddled with more gusto than ever before. And I’ve met some of the friendliest people of my life.