The Desert of Nostalgia

hitchhiking northern chile desert

I feel strange this morning. A bit disconnected. But not that disconnected. I think, to be honest, I’m a bit bummed I’m not working this morning. I have the entire morning at my disposal. A vast chasm of space.

Last night I continued my current theme of not drinking alcohol during the week. I went to the grocery store where I bought an empanada, some cooking oil, and an avocado. The goal was to make burritos a lo gringo, but I forgot to buy tortillas. So I ended up having rice with onion and avocado smothered in Valentina sauce, accompanied by a Dr. Pepper, and watched the first episode of Black Mirror. I found it quite disturbing. It actually almost ruined my night. I’m sensitive.

I’d be a bit surprised if I’m still in Guadalajara in a month. And it’s not that I’m desperate to leave, I just think there’s a good chance I will. Every time I think about the world and it’s vastness, all the places I could see, all the places I don’t even know exist, it seems a shame to stay in one place. I wonder what’s happening in a cafe right now in Vladivostok. I wonder how it smells to wake up in London. I wonder what it would feel like to be drinking mate in the southern Chilean town of Coyhaique. To wake up, have an espresso, and take off down a dirt road in Sardinia.

A year and a half ago I left the apartment where I was staying in Seattle, took the ferry to my parents’ house, and then set off for the Olympic Peninsula. The goal was to surf a well-known river mouth that night before sunset. When I got there, there were no waves. Or there were BARELY waves. But I got in the water anyway. I was so happy. Overjoyed, actually. I got in the water and it was already almost an inky black and I sat in the stillness by myself, looking out at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the pine-tree covered hills of Vancouver Island in the distance. Finally, a tiny wave came, just big enough to ride, and I stood up, pumped once to the right, , rode it for a second, jumped off, yelped, and stood there on the rocks, feeling the water around me. And then, looking back at the sky that was changing from dark blue to black, I walked back to my 1995 Honda Civic and started my journey. That night, I slept in a Walmart parking lot in Tumwater, WA. The next night I slept in Oregon, and within two weeks I was crossing the border into Mexico, and driving south, south, to Guatemala, Honduras, Central American and beyond. And so when I say I think about what it would be like to be drinking mate right now in the southern Chilean town of Coyhaique it’s because on that trip I remember leaving Coyhaique, having just bought a pack of Lucky Strikes, right around sunset, and on the way out passing the huge statue they have in the roundabout that’s a hand holding a mate gourd and a sign that says something like, The Mate Capital of Chile.

When I say I think I might be leaving Guadalajara soon it’s because of memories like these.

But enough nostalgia. There’s no need to be nostalgic. You can’t get the experiences back, though I’ve certainly tried to do so. And most of the time when you’re living an amazing experience you don’t even realize it in the moment. In fact, the best experiences are by definition the ones you don’t realize are amazing in the moment. In fact, they could kind of even suck in the moment. This has happened to me plenty of times. This might even be happening now, with Guadalajara. It’s never possible to know. And plus, our brains have a way of shielding us from painful memories, like going over an area of lump sand with a rake and smoothing it and smoothing it until it’s beautiful and you could never tell a storm took place. Our brains are like a forest that replants itself in the wake of a forest fire. After an unpleasant event everything is black and charred, but with the first rains the seedlings sprout, and then the trees start to grow, and in few years you have a juvenile forest, and with enough time you can’t even tell a forest fire took place. The very fact that the past is deceptive, that are brains are tricksters, is a good reason not to dwell on it. But sometimes it’s nice to dwell, at least a little. To look at pictures and remember a particularly special surf session, or a statue of a hand holding a gourd of mate.

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