After backpacking through South America for a couple of weeks, it was about time to continue my journey from Bolivia to Chile.
In order to arrive in San Pedro de Atacama, I had to cross the salt flats, also known as the Salar de Atacama. As most of the landscapes in South America, the Atacama Desert was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was stunning!
There were a few Andean Flamingos posing, there were colourful lakes, volcanos with snow covered peaks, the sun was shining on a blue sky with some clouds contrasting the scenery. What else for a perfect picture? I obviously couldn’t miss the chance to take a shot.
After a few hours, I finally arrived in San Pedro de Atacama. A town that lies at an average of 2.400 metres high and where temperatures play crazy (mostly around 35 degrees during the day and around 10 degrees or less at night). The town is surrounded by the Atacama Desert, which is considered to be one of the driest places on Earth.
The hostel was awesome – very hippie style! My travel buddy and I slept in a tent because there was a last-minute overbooking trouble. But we didn’t care! A private tent for two instead of a 12-bed-dorm? Nice! We stayed 3 days there.
We had planned to visit the Moon Valley and the Death Valley, the highlights when you are in that region. And so we did.
One day, while discovering the joys of constantly hearing “que te vaya bien!” from all over the place, I booked a tour and visited both valleys in San Pedro the Atacama.
On this tour we were approximately 15 persons. First we visited the Moon Valley, then the Death Valley. At some point of this trip, the guide was telling us a story about the caves and invited us to go inside those caves to understand what she was talking about. In my head it just went like “No way! I’m not going!” I am claustrophobic and I didn’t want to go inside the caves even though I really would love to explore them. So I stayed outside… alone. Well, I thought I was by myself, but when I turned around, I saw someone sitting on a big rock…
That was the moment I met Gonzalo. A 90-year old man who still wanted to live his dream. I went closer to him and started conversation – in Spanish (even though my Spanish isn’t perfect). He was from Chile but not from San Pedro de Atacama. No, he came from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, because he had never been there before in his entire life and he told me that he couldn’t do this to himself or to his beautiful country. He wanted to enjoy every single moment of the rest of his life to pursue his dream and travel around HIS country.
At first, I didn’t really understand what he was referring to. Afterwards he started to ask me questions about where I came from and what I was doing in San Pedro de Atacama… alone. I answered to all of his questions and told him that I was from Luxembourg (I could hear a clear “Ahhhh síííí?”) and that I was travelling around the world for 5 months but that the adventure would come to an end in a few days. I also insisted on the fact that I was not travelling by myself but with a friend.
He was impressed and asked me if it was easy to fly into Luxembourg if you are Chilean and if you need a visa. I honestly didn’t know the answer to that question and asked him if he really wanted to go to Luxembourg. He genuinely answered “Oh God, yes! If I can, I will do it! I already heard about that country, but I’ve never met someone from Luxembourg! And now I have a friend who can show me around!” I smiled and thought “Why not!”.
He told me that he was always moving from place to place, discovering the world and that he went from Chile to Canada, visited America, lots of countries in Europe (except Luxembourg and a few other tiny countries), backpacked through South East Asia and Africa since the age of 21. He wanted and still wants to – like probably you do, if you are reading this – understand different cultures, explore beautiful cities and its surroundings and experience the unexpectable.
“But now, I am not 21 anymore. I am a 90-year-old man who knows a lot about different countries and continents but I don’t know my own country at all! And that is sad! I don’t want to die until I know my own country well. I went to Patagonia last year and now I am feeling exhausted. I am happy to be able to visit San Pedro de Atacama, its beautiful desert, and in a few weeks, I will head South again. There is so much to see! I want to live the rest of my life doing what I most love, exploring what I most love, my country!”, he said.
I could see a profound joy on his face while telling me about his adventures around the world. I told him that he was probably right and that I admired what he did, how he did it and that I find it amazing that he is still looking for his happiness and fulfillment of his passion at the age of 90! He does not stop exploring!
He looked at me, smiled with tears in his eyes, and answered: “You will probably tell everyone of your family and close friends that you met Gonzalo, an old crazy man… but please consider the fact that I am an old amigo of yours as well! And please, live your dreams. Don’t stop exploring! Do your best to wake up every morning and feel happy. If travelling makes you happy, just do it!”
After the tour, I was sitting in my tent, writing Gonzalo’s story in my travel journal and thinking about what Gonzalo had taught me. His speech didn’t get out of my head for a while – proof is, that I am still thinking about it and writing his story down to share it with you!
I was lost in my thoughts for a long time. Then, my mind started to drift, and I thought “What if Gonzalo is right? What if the most important country to know is our own country? What if we should discover the insights of our country before it is too late to do so? Will we have the courage and energy to travel like he is doing at the age of 50, 60, 70, 80 maybe 90? Who knows! But the fact is that we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but we sure can try to do our best to fulfill our dreams, just like Gonzalo has done – and is still doing!
Clearly a wise advice from an old amigo!
Photos: @ Jessica Gaspar
Curious about Chile? Get inspired by this beautiful country and the friendly Chileans and order your diariesof Chile magazine now and have it delivered home with free shipping.