Atlanta is a special place. When I describe it to my English students, I often say that it is a big city made of many quaint neighborhoods (hence the sprawl). Growing up, I never realized how lucky I was to grow up in a big city, yet still fall asleep to the sound of crickets. I could ride my bike without the fear of speeding cars. There were a lot of trees and green space, open fields and lakes nearby.
Santiago, like most big cities, has anything but quaint neighborhoods. I think it’s good practice for me to learn what it’s like to live in a REALLY big city. Pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way and buses have no problem scaring you out of the crosswalk. I’ve mastered the art of sprinting down slippery stairs to make an incoming metro train. At night, the crickets are replaced by car alarms whirring 15 stories below my window.
But one thing these two homes of mine do have in common is their proximity to the countryside, or in Spanish, “el campo”. In Atlanta, it was easy for my family to hop in the car and drive between only an hour or two to the nearest mountain, lake, river, or canyon. And I’m grateful that my parents recognized the importance of escaping to nature. To my delight, I’ve discovered Chileans are just as appreciative of the notion. So last weekend, we went.
Our location was Olmué, about two hours by bus from Santiago. I really had no idea what my friends and I were doing. We stepped off the bus when the driver said so and started walking. We had reserved a “cabaña” a few days before, but there were no security guards or Google Maps to help us find where we were going. Mama, I can feel you cringing as your read this, but we did what we had to do: we hitchhiked.
All eight of us climbed in to the bed of a beat up white pick-up truck and gave the driver the address of the cabin. He knew where to go. We were really lucky to find him, because the road was about three miles away. We offered him compensation for his generosity, but he would only accept a single can of beer. That kind of hospitality felt like home. The next day we went on a hike in Parque Nacional La Campana, a section of the Andes foothills where Darwin once researched. I tried to get as much fresh air in my lungs as possible, saving up for our return back to smoggy Santiago.
The hike was steep the whole way up, but as these things usually go, the view was worth it. The whole trip was a reminder I think anyone can appreciate. Escaping from the everyday is important: be it the city, work, stress or responsibility. We all need to take a break and breathe.
Olmué was a reminder that escape is always there waiting…but it’s up to us to go get it.
Chelsea Cook is a journalist from Atlanta, who taught English in Santiago, Chile, and authored the series “Our Southern Girl in South America”.