Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Perfect Escape

Bahía Inglesa’s white-shelled beaches, turquoise sea, clear waters, abundant sun and seafood make this beach town, 75 km west of Copiapó, bubble over with summer guests. The rest of the year it is a yawning retreat, and even though the water is equally good the prices are slashed and the beach is nearly as deserted as the surrounding Atacama Desert. Locally harvested scallops, oysters, and seaweed sweeten the culinary offerings.

At the beginning of August, my good friend Leah (who is also a volunteer in the south of Santiago with a program named Response-Ability) told me that she was aching to escape the cold winter weather and smog-filled Santiago. After all, she left the U.S. at the end of winter and came to Chile, only to find it just beginning here. The funny thing is, when she told me this, I found myself going a bit stir-crazy too. Almost six months had passed without a single day off and whenever I did have a day off, I found myself working on things I did not have time to do during the regular work day rather than relaxing (surprise, surprise, I know). The winter weather was also taking its toll on my insanity and each day I commented how much I hated the city and missed the countryside. Even more, my boss was driving me crazy and making my life more difficult than it had to be…thus, I was ready to escape too.

Reading the above passage in a Chile guide book, we couldn’t help get excited about this so called “paradise” in the north of Chile, thinking it as the perfect trip to escape. Despite our excitement, we are both working on a volunteer budget and attempting to live out a promise of “simple living;” thus, we had our reservations as to whether this dream could become a reality. After a little bit of investigation and finding round-trip plane tickets for a mere $138 dollars, we realized this was an opportunity that could not be passed up – tickets were bought and August 21 was put on the calendar as the scheduled departure date.

The decision to go on this trip has been placed on my list of “best decisions I have ever made.” It was everything we wanted it to be and much more. Flying to the north was simply incredible (my first despite many trips to the South). The flight provided many opportunities to see across the entire country of Chile at the same time, with Andes Mountains on the right and blue Pacific Ocean on the left. Landing in Copiapó, Leah and I were simply giggling with excitement: we were in the middle of the desert. Nothing around us for miles. We had escaped. :-)

Taking an airport transfer to local Bahía Inglesa (translated English Bay), we travelled through the desert, and again, could not contain the big smiles that appeared on our face. When we arrived in Bahía Inglesa, we were greeted by the turquoise sea, white beaches, and SUN. I honestly gasped out loud at amazement. I could not believe that we had arrived, only having been in grey cold Santiago a few hours prior.

Finding our hostel was very easy, as it sat directly on the beach. Although it seemed a bit odd at first, due to its futuristic dome shape, we found that its facilities were comfortable and it quickly became home with its staff becoming family. This remained throughout our four day stay.

And so, we did what we planned to do: nothing. We laid out on the beach and soaked up the sun. The book was right: off season means the town is virtually deserted. The beach was all ours, no one to share it with (well, except for one day when the Argentinean waiter we met the night before joined us, offering to share his mate.) Each day was capped off with an amazing seafood dinner at a local restaurant. One night was shrimp and scalloped lasagna (picture left). Another night was a broth soup with every type of seafood imaginable: shrimp, crab, scallops, oysters, squid, etc. Fantastic and of course, the meals were never complete without a shared bottle of Chilean wine.

Outside of the highlight of doing nothing while escaping ugly scenery and horrid bosses, two other events were the highlight of our trip. On the third day, Leah’s desire to go running in air free of pollution seemed like a good idea to me as well. And so, we woke up early and ran 6 kilometers to the nearest town of Caldera (photographic evidence of me reaching Caldera on the right). I am not exaggerating by saying that we ran through the desert. Guiding us was a small bike trail on the side of the road and outside of this, there was no evidence of civilization until we reached the next town. Although we would like to say we ran the entire time, the surrounding scenery and the experience alone caused us to stop a couple of times to take pictures. :-P

On the last day, preparing myself to return to reality, I went on a walk with my journal. An hour later I was hiking up a large hill (it is not uncommon for me to search out the highest and/or most scenic spots to do my journaling.) Upon reaching the peak of the hill/small mountain, I stared out upon the world in amazement. On my right, the open Pacific ocean. Straight ahead, the Atacama Desert. On my left, the Andes Mountains. And directly behind me, a turquoise sea, lined with a white beach. All I could do at that moment was praise God. My heart was open and it was a truly magical experience. After journaling a bit, Leah called me on my cell, a bit worried because I had been gone for some time. I told her that she needed to come and see for herself what was causing my delayed return. Her arrival and her reaction were the same as mine, and we shared a moment together in prayer. Additionally and now quite hilariously upon reflection, we also screamed out all of our frustration and stress, saying things like, “I hate my boss!” “I hate Santiago!” and many other things that will remain unmentioned here. :-) All in all, as we climbed down the hill, we realized it was the perfect end to the perfect escape.

Back in Santiago for about the past two weeks, things are good. I am working every day on the exchange program, doing my homework helper workshop in the evenings and visiting the orphanage kids each Sunday. Any extra time I have is spent studying for the GREs I plan to take sometime in November. It feels good to say that although life has returned to normal, with all its frustrations, the calmness that our trip provided still remains and fortunately, still has our tan. It was the perfect escape.

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