If asked to describe my time in Santiago in just one word, I would say ‘solitary’ without hesitation. I live on my own. I work from home because there is no office for us to congregate in plus many of the team work remotely. Not to mention that most the actual work is solitary so aside from a weekly meeting with my boss, and a flurry of emails, work doesn’t provide much connection. I don’t speak the local language so meeting people is hard. Moreover, because I am going to be in Santiago for two and a half months, it seemed like an uphill battle to make friends.
Last year, I was blessed to meet a group of great people who quickly went from strangers to friends I felt like I’d known for years. But with such a short time here, I knew I’d be in for another round of blubbering goodbyes and I just didn’t have the stomach for it again so soon.
Though I consider myself a pretty social person, I need a bit of quiet solitude to keep me civilized.
Thus, the first few weeks I was in Santiago, the lonesome independence was a welcome break. I could do what I wanted, when I wanted. I could move anonymously through sunny Santiago, leisurely exploring the different barrios and noticing the local quirks and customs. Their penchant for bedazzled shirts and tacky platform shoes. The missing ‘s’ on Gracias and the indiscriminate attachment of ‘po’ to many phrases which defines Chilean Spanish. The street performers who attempt to make rush hour traffic endurable. The street dogs that know how to cross the streets at cross walks. I also imagined all the things on my to-do list that I would get done. Finishing my cryptocurrency course so I would receive my certificate on the blockchain (say wha’?!). Officially launching my side hustle that has been on hold for ages. Finally getting around to painting a watercolour tryptic of small succulents that inspired by Pinterest. Dealing with all the hassles of changing my email address from Hotmail to Gmail (ambitious goal, I know). Having the undisturbed stillness to read The Untethered Soulwhich Jolene said changed her life. These were no small feats and time would be the remedy to my procrastination.
Not to mention, living in a new and foreign country, everything task requires extra energy. Figuring out where to get good Greek yogurt (still looking), learning how to recharge my pre-paid phone plan (which is not done at your mobile phone company but at the pharmacy incidentally), sampling all the ice cream shops within a five-kilometer radius from my house was a week’s work of activity. (Okay, the ice cream chore took two weeks to do because Chileans LOVE ice cream). But the rest of the time, much of life here looks much the same as life anywhere – I still roll out of bed without an alarm, gobble poached eggs and spinach for breakfast, lament my daily exercise routine, putter away at work, pour a glass of wine while cooking dinner and generally spend too much time pointlessly scrolling Facebook. Same, same but different as the Thai saying goes.
But slowly the solitude wore on me. Quietly at first. So quiet it fact that I didn’t even realize it. I filled my evenings with video chats, catching up with friends around the world. Next, Netflix became a permanent presence in my apartment in the unassuming and sneaky way that only Netflix can. The soft-chatter of familiar sitcom reruns a sad substitute for the friends I was unknowingly missing. Initially, I could nurture my need for connection by joining a walking tour and chatting with other tourists, gossiping about Trump’s latest shenanigans with my Spanish teacher at our bi-weekly lessons, or milling about in the Parque Forestal and feeling more alive just by being in community. In moments where I was aware of the creeping loneliness, I kept telling myself, “I only have another month here and I can do anything for a month. Plus, it doesn’t make sense to start anything new now that you are halfway because you’re leaving so soon.” Wrong-o.
A few changes in the travel schedule for work meant my time would be extended here for another whole month – an extension of approximately 22%. Turns out there are boundaries to my appetite for solitude and if I could go back in time to my arrival, I would definitely shift my approach. Despite being beleaguered by endless goodbyes, I’d invest more effort in getting out there with people – through an exercise class or joining the Spanish-English language exchange, pretty much anything where I’d meet people.
So after nearly two months, it was a welcome surprise, when an extended and particularly rainy, cold Vancouver winter nudged my mom and sister to venture south to get a taste of my Chilean adventure.
I relished the opportunity to impress them with my clumsy Spanish and be the most thoughtful tour guide I could be, sharing the tidbits of local knowledge I’d acquired in my short time here. I loved having the two of them squish into my tiny apartment, suitcases exploding in every corner. When they left, I had no time to be lonely as another spontaneous traveller destined to escape winter landed on my doorstep: Raincloud Wright.
We ventured down to the Lake District in Southern Chile - probably the rainiest, greenest part of Chile that I could have taken someone trying to warm their chilled winter bones. I, on the other hand, loved it. Two months without rain in Santiago and I was craving the fresh, clear air that only comes after the rain. (The nostalgia was short lived though).
At the end of three weeks of visitors, I’d grown so used to the inanimate company of the extra cot, that when I moved the it back into storage, the gap it left in my little room mirrored the gap in my heart.
Though my Instagram feed may feature picturesque landscapes and enviable escapades, it sometimes fails to tell the whole story. Even on the best days, travelling solo for long periods of time can be hard. For me, working alone is hard. Being an outsider in an unfamiliar environment can be hard, especially when you don’t speak the language. But most of all, living without a familiar social circle of good people is the hardest. We have a pretty universal guide to what makes people happy and it’s not very complicated. Relationships. The key to a long, happy, and healthy life is having meaningful relationships with people we can count on.
While I wouldn’t trade this adventure and all its learnings for the comforts of home, my appreciation for the fabulous people in my life has grown exponentially. And with any luck, I’ve tugged on your heartstrings just enough that maybe, just maybe, you’ll dream of coming to visit me ;)
"Spells of acute loneliness are an essential part of travel.
Loneliness makes things happen."
- Jonathan Raban
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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