Street Music in Santiago, Salt Flats and Contradictions

Ancient saguaro cacti, Uyuni Salt Flat tour.

I don’t know why, but it’s been hard to get myself to write this week. Perhaps it’s because so much has happened since my last post, or perhaps it’s because I’m content to be hanging out in Santiago, Chile, sipping espresso and reading poetry—contentment sometimes being the killer of writing. Or perhaps I just needed a break; after all, pondering my future and all the possibilities that await me when I return to Minnesota in March often wakes me in my hostel bed at night—you can only think and process a finite number of ideas, memories, hopes, and dreams at once, much less write them all down.

To catch you up: After spending a few days in Maipo Valley (located about an hour in bus south of Santiago, Chile), I’m back in Santiago, Chile, at a quaint café called Café Forestal, soaking up both sun and a laid back, artsy city vibe. Staff here make a tasty mocha using almond milk and very dark chocolate—thumbs up.

What is Santiago like? Besides sunshine, views of white-tipped mountains and a plethora of comfy coffee shops, there are musicians. Here, skilled classical musicians—flautists, opera singers, string players—flaunt themselves in the afternoons and evenings amidst colonial architecture for change in a basket. A saxophonist serenaded café customers near the Plaza del Armas. There’s so much music I’ve been inspired to buy an instrument small enough to travel with from an Aymara man from San Pedro de Atacama. It’s called an ocarina.

Music, books and coffee in the Lastarria neighborhood of Santiago, Chile.

Just the other night, my friends and I listened to a chamber group of college-aged string musicians in the street of Lastarria; their specialty was the waltz. There was no conductor; they simply picked a tune and all started playing together. That evening I’d bought a cigarillo flavored with organic chocolate tobacco, and I must say, I was in my element, enjoying the music and that earthy flavored cigarette.

Chamber musicians jamming streetside.

Another reason I haven’t written, I suppose, is that I’m constantly researching the next place I’m traveling to–and Patagonia looms wild and large as the next segment of my itinerary. When on a trip like this one—seven months, seven countries—you are on the move every few days, and you must constantly plan ahead. I like it and I don’t sometimes. It’s exhilarating and it’s exhausting and it challenges your ability to live in the moment.

Let’s move back in time two weeks to San Pedro de Atacama, located in the north stretch of Chile just across the border from Bolivia. Here I stayed a night and went with friends to observe the stars where the tour guides used a badass powerful laser to show constellations and nebulae. Stunning, that was.

In the days leading up to stargazing, I was riding in an SUV for three days across Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni. This place feels like another planet–not Earth.

Moises, our guide, is good at taking silly perspective shots.

Surprisingly, three species of flamingos hang out in these otherworldly parts, in the steaming, poisonous, audaciously colorful lagunas filled with the chemical arsenic, along with minerals. Geysers and smoking volcanoes are plentiful.

Both nights my traveling comrades and I stayed in salt hotels; you walked barefoot and could feel the white culinary pebbles crumble. Salt is everywhere, obviously. And in the middle of a salt desert, you definitely had to pay for a hot shower.

Backtrack to Potosi, Bolivia. My friends and I toured the Cerro Rico mines, where silver and other metals have been mined for hundreds of years. To watch miners who voluntarily choose to do this work, sometimes starting it in their teens, effectively guaranteeing a shortened lifespan due to the hazardous conditions of working in a mine (most develop silicosis, for example) was, needless to say, a sobering and informative experience.

Before Potosi there was Sucre, the pearl white gem city of Bolivia and its original capital, where chocolate shops adorn many corners, well-kept parks and gardens are ubiquitous, and a large dinosaur footprint park looms just outside the city.

When it was time to go, we had trouble getting out of the city as it was shut down for protests—some citizens are not in agreement of extending Evo Morales’ ability to be elected again—though given the results of the court ruling, it seems the people have decided for him after all. As a close friend from Colombia elucidated for me: His situation seems to be one of contradiction; he wants to nationalize and protect his nation against foreign interests that would exploit resources and take income away from his people; but in order to develop the country there must be roads built through indigenous, sacred areas.

Contradictions, I’ve realized, are the truth of life. If I cannot embrace contradiction and its ubiquitous presence, I am living in a dreamworld. I don’t have to agree with the contradictions that abound in life, from politics to my own personal psyche, but I have to learn to live with them.

The juxtaposition of opposing realities and ideals reminds me of an earlier sentiment I’ve experienced, the reality of wanting two opposing things at the same time: to be stable and to travel; to be free and single and to have a partner to share my life with; to be alone to think and to be in company with close friends. To continue traveling because I am in love with places and cultures different from what I know; to go back to Minnesota immediately because I am sometimes utterly exhausted.

At times I wonder if I am going mad; I wonder if any of these oppositions will come to resolutions, or if my life is meant to be a juggling act. And I also wonder: Do others feel this way? Or is it only me leading a pack of contradicting wolves in my head?

Christmas will be spent with my traveling friends Priya and Peter along with others in Santiago, Chile. So far it looks like we’ll indulge in some fine Argentinean wine, a chocolate cake (if I find an oven!), and other goodies, perhaps out in one of Santiago’s many leafy parks.

I have to confess, though I’ll be missing my family I haven’t missed Minnesota winter once (GASP!) during this time. I certainly look forward to celebrating Christmas Eve in Chilean summer sunshine.

Your fan,

Cici

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