LA SERENA, Chile- I spent yesterday in Valparaiso and left on a night bus. Young couples were kissing everywhere. One getting on the bus with me, the other to be left behind. I know how it feels to depart from someone you love. It is perhaps the most unnatural feeling that a person can ever experienced — it just feels wrong.
I got into La Serena — the city of churches — around six thirty in the morning. Feeling this time was too early to move into a hotel, I hiked down to the beach. Upon arrival, I just laid down in the sand, enjoying the sun. It felt good to be somewhere where the sun was in full bloom, it really improves the spirit to look up into the sky and find it clear and bright rather than slate grey and opaque.
I got a little too close to the sea and an errant wave soaked my boots. So now I sit in the common room of the Residential watching my boots and socks dry in the sun. They are glittering. I am really enjoying these sunny days — a big change from the fringes of Patagonia. After a couple weeks of clouds and rain and cold who would not welcome the bright and shining sun?
. . . and so I met these two Belgian girls. I forgot their names but such things are usually not of much importance in travel. They told me that they were going out last night because they did a stretch of home stays and were feeling a little parched: they wanted to party. They fed me overly hot salsa that they made and we became comfortable with each other. We were drinking $1 to the liter Chilean wine. The invited me to go out with them.
So — as I had absolutely nothing else to do — how could I refuse?
So we went out into the streets searching for some people they met the previous night at a break dance party.
A break dance party? Yes, this is seriously what they said.
During our search we ended up meeting another group of kids on the beach. They seemed to be just as good. They gave me some pills. I was drunk and I guess I figured that I may as well have a measuring point for absolute stupidity: I ate them.
The rest of the night I cannot remember. I think I just obediently followed the Belgians around. I remember finally growing bored with watching every Chilean guy on the beach trying to court these two blond girls all night long and tried to go back to my room.
I ended up waking up in the streets. Along Poets’ Lane I, apparently, passed out. I only know this because it is the only logical conclusion after waking up just before dawn in the street. I do not know how long I was out for or what happened, but when I got back on my feet it was clear that I was still in tact. I was not robbed, buggered, or bothered. I pealed myself up from under a palm tree that grew out of a partition in the road way and stumbled back to the guest house.
“Get in!” a voice rang out from a Volkswagon Bug in the street. I had returned to where I passed out in the street the night before in an attempt to reconstruct what happened. I was interrupted in this attempt by a group of guys yelling from the car. They were using English, and I was the only foreigner around, so I figured that their demand was meant for me. They looked vaguely familiar. Figuring that they could more than likely help me put the pieces together of what happened the night before better than I could staring at a road and scratching my head I walked over to them. At closer range it became apparent that they were the kids I was drinking with on the beach from the night before. They were smiling, seemed friendly.
I jumped into the car.
We drove to the beach, sat down on a concrete rail that divided sand from road, and cracked open a few beers. We laid back, talked some shit, watched the waves roll into shore. I basked in the friendship. In the month or so since I began this journey in South America I mostly found myself sitting alone, then bam, I arrive in La Serena to find myself surrounded by friends.
We soon got up and they took me over to one of their friend’s houses. More people arrived, a party erupted. I felt out of place — my Spanish can get me where I want to go, but knee deep in a social environment it does not keep me a float. But, to my surprise, after a few beers were downed the Chileans decided to give their English a try. It worked.
Then, Latino style, the males at the party began fighting.
Yelling, scream, pushes, fists, the brawl tumbled through the small house. One of the kids, whose name was Freddy, that I arrived with was fighting one of the kids who lived in the house. I think Freddy may have let on that he screwed the other guy’s girlfriend. Everyone in Chile seems to screw each other’s girlfriends, there is even a popular radio program about it. The girl in question also happened to be pregnant. A paternity test may now be in order.
It was time to split. The kid that I showed up with told me to leave with him, a queer kid who lived in the home told me to stay. Now, they were fighting over me. There was not much of a decision: I split.
“His girlfriend is pregnant, but I don’t know if he is the father,” spoke Freddy on the car ride away from the house of the fight. “Maybe I am the father,” he said with a laugh. Another kid in the car piped up when he heard this.
“Maybe I am the father,” he said. Everybody was laughing now.
“No, maybe I am the father,” another kid in the car offered up.
“In Chile,” Freddy explained, “nobody really knows who the father is.”
By the next day I just wanted to be away from it all: the alcohol, drugs, not fully understanding what was going on. But Freddy had other plans: we would do LSD. To my dismay, LSD turned out to be cough syrup mixed with some other pharmacy drugs.
We were driving around in his friends car — out on the prowl, yet again. I did not like where this was going. Freddy hawked his cellphone for the money to buy the ingredients. I sat in the backseat of the car as he planned and plotted with his friends in quick Chilean Spanish that they knew I could not understand. I was being towed around like a barge tied up behind a tug boat going down a canal.
Travel is a continuous exercise in self-determination. I did not feel in control of my situation. I did not have a very good feeling about my surroundings. I began thinking there could be more to the plan than was being shared with me. I had the feeling that what I lack in knowledge of my situation would not work to my best interest.
“Man, I’m tired,” I said aloud in English, “I think I am going to go back to my room and take a nap. I will meet up with you later.”
My friends looked surprised.
“Can you take me back to my hotel?”
They did. They were adamant that I meet them again at 3PM.
At 3PM I was riding at 100 kilometers an hour in the back of a Pullman bus going north up the Chilean coast. I am unashamed to say that I took French leave of that predicament.