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Crying, Fire & Interim

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I left Palena Friday morning at 8:00 AM.  I don’t think I’ve ever cried more in 24 hours.  But as I said to my dad, I think one of the worst human feelings is isolation, and this week, I have felt more connected than ever.

When my sister graduated from high school, I felt sad but distant during the ceremony; only later, wandering alone through the classrooms, did I cry.  But leaving Palena, I cried big, full-body shaking sobs, in farewell embraces, wandering the streets, and then on buses by myself.   There was no coaxing — this was my body speaking, in the arms of my peer-friends, my mother-figure friends, my beloved children, and most especially in the arms of Melissa and Tito.  I have no comparison for this feeling, because I’ve never said goodbye to people I love so much, not knowing when I will return.  I cried leaving Boston last January, but there was never any doubt about my return to my parents, nor of their constant presence during the year.

And then, at 5:30 PM on my last day (Thursday), I was in a brief rest from crying, happily eating pineapple and strawberries at my neighbor’s house, when we saw the smoke rising behind the school.  Outside, we felt the heat and smelled the burning from a block away, saw black burning bits fall on the lawn.  Another neighboor immediately climbed her roof with a hose, watching the wind carrying the danger across all of Palena.

Within minutes the entire town was crammed into a few blocks.  Men ran carrying gas tanks — though we heard the explosions of some that were not saved.  Outside of the office, we gave water to man in a wheel-chair who had been evacuated from the hospital (adjacent to burned buildings, luckily saved).  A young Argentine couple stayed in the Foundation house, their bed & breakfast burned.  When we went to see the area after the fire was put out, only a few posts remained, with the tin roofs sitting on top of ash, still smoking.  The neighboring houses that didn’t burn were busy returning their possesions, having taken everything out.  They had covered their roofs with wet towels.

After the fire was controlled (unfortunately fire-fighting is a volunteer position in Chile! ), it became known that Don Juvenal Mancilla, a neducation administrator somewhat equivalent to superintendent, had died.  He lived in one of the two hospedajes that burned, houses that served both as bed & breakfasts (such as where my parents stayed in July) as well as long-term pensions.  I wasn’t emotionally close to Don Juve, but I saw him almost every day, and was in his office once a week asking for a signature or to reserve a van.  Wednesday I drove to one of the rural schools with him, and promised I would come by on Thursday to say goodbye.

As Melissa said, “Now you know the full cycle of fire.”

On a different note, I am writing tonight from El Bolsón, a small, beautiful city in Argentina where you can kayak/hike/swim, savor fresh pasta or an artisanal beer alongside European & Israeli tourists, and get dreds put in your hair.  This interim is just what I need: part crying, part staring at the walls as it all seeks in, and part enjoying this summer I have so very much longed for (it’s been extremely hot and sunny!)

Today I checked out the wonderful crafts fair, enjoyed my dream lunch of empanadas (one tomato/onion/cheese, one chard/onion/cheese), cherries, and an artisanal beer (which cost the same as all the food combined, though the grand total was $6.50).  In the afternoon I took a bus to a lake.  I haven’t been in a body of water that has enough room for my body since August 2010, so I swam with the glee of my seven-year-old soul, regardless of the clouds.

Crafts fair

Lago Puelo, El Bolsón

I seem to have left my camera cord in Palena, so the photos I’ve provided are from Google, as well as a map of my itinerary for the next week:

Friday, December 16th: Palena –> Futaleufú –> Esquel –> El Bolsón.

Saturday, 12/17: El Bolsón.

Sunday, 12/18: El Bolsón –> Bariloche –> Osorno –> Stgo.

Monday, 12/19: arrive in Stgo in the morning, see friends here.

Tuesday, 12/20: Stgo –> Viña del Mar.  Beach!

Wednesday, 12/21: Viña –> Zapallar (another beach!)

Thursday, 12/22: Zapallar –> Stgo.  9:00 flight, Stgo –> Toronto.

Friday, 12/23: Toronto –> Boston, 10:04 AM.

One of my favorite things about this itinerary is the opportunity to return to Chile one last time.  Argentina is nice and has better food, but it doesn’t feel familiar.  I scan my wallet for weird-looking coins to find the Argentine pesos in the mix of the Chilean ones, and laugh in my head as people talk in the accent we so frequently imitated in Palena.  I am excited to return to my dear Chile tomorrow, if not my beloved Palena.

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