South America: Reflections on the Road in Chile and Peru

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Cordillera Blanca

It’s easy to let your mindset change after returning home from a long adventure; however, if you keep your eyes open and your plans fluid, you never know what will plant the seed of your next trip. When assimilating back into the “real world” of work and daily routine it is easy to feel down and lose the curiosity and openness we all have while traveling.

I recently spent an amazing eight weeks in Peru and Chile. I explored diverse and wild cities in Peru, surfed beautiful breaks with locals, trekked at over 15,000 ft in the Cordillera Blanca and visited Inca ruins in the sacred valley. In Chile I enjoyed colorful cities, endless coastline, small towns, pristine valleys, remarkable food and wine and even the eerily beautiful faux German town of Puerto Montt in the south. It was a trip I had planned and put off for years, and one I just didn’t want to end.

Missing The Road

On the flight home all I could think about was work. I desperately wanted to reflect on my past eight weeks — my first time in South America — but my state of mind began to shift. I photograph real estate for a living. Not awful or particularly inspiring work, but a life I was able to secure after a few years of networking, wedding photography and bartending. I was flying to Florida to photograph a slew of apartments and condos in Miami for the next three weeks and began to become excited for the comfortable feeling of eating breakfast in a familiar place.

I’m embarrassed to say it at times, but I really do love Miami. It’s an ugly city on the surface, bad 80’s art deco, over-the-top cars and more plastic surgery than class, but it’s fun. The real locals are tough and the weather and beaches are as good as it gets. The first few Miami vacation rentals I was photographing were high class modern flats in South Beach tower. The owner was renting them on Roomorama and some of the other new shared economy sites that are popping up. If you have spent a lot of time in the photography field, these gigs are becoming more and more plentiful and I am frequently using them to build up cash after a trip. I managed to bum a free night off one of the owners, which provided not only a nice first night back in the states, but a good intermediate stop and a nice launching pad to explore this new yet unfamiliar city.

Puerto Montt Osorno Volcan

Puerto Montt Osorno Volcan. Photo courtesy of Charlie Daniels.

Something Unexpected

It’s easy to get lost in yourself at home; Maybe we don’t talk to strangers as much, meet as many new people or don’t try new things; however, these are the joys of exploring the world, and just because we are home doesn’t mean we can’t stay open. The next few vacation rentals I was photographing were busy. The owner was showing off some of the units and it was a diverse crowd that I felt the need to interact with while attending to my duties.

The law of big numbers applies to all and the more people you interact with at home the more chance you have to be wowed just as if you were traveling. While working I met a passionate Argentinean couple from Bariloche, a small mountain town just over the border from Puerto Montt, Chile that I had seen on the map, named Matías and Sofia. We got to talking — I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about Chile — similar to an Argentinean raving to a Canadian about America I guess, and they couldn’t stop talking about the horrible economic situation in Argentina.

The value of the pesos has been dropping rapidly, while many top officials, especially President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, have become increasingly wealthy. The past year has seen the currency drop lose almost 30% of its value and coupled with tight restrictions on converting capital into foreign currencies and caps on businesses increasing prices to match, have lead much of the Argentinean middle to desperately search for ways to keep their savings safe. Real estate has become a major investment, especially high end places like the guesthouses I was photographing and have become safer investment than the banks at home.

Matías and Sofia were both incredibly interesting to me and we decided to spend the night out getting dinner together. My first two nights back home and I barely felt like the trip had ended! I finally was able to give Chile a rest and informed them I had really meant to visit Argentina as well, and heard about Bariloche but money ran short and I was back home taking pictures of the future setting of dabuacherous parties in Miami. Just that quick they invited me down whenever I could make it. When I travel, I go, return, plan on going back, get lost in work and become side tracked with some other journey, and I think they were calling my bluff. No matter what the deal sealer was I wouldn’t need to stay long photographing joints in Miami as the partial economic collapse was making it extremely cheap to travel to Argentina, and they recommended a small hostel in Bariloche — Patanuk. By the end of the night, I was set, I couldn’t wait to go, and had something in my mind to look forward to and keep in the travel zone.

Reflections

It is almost a month later and I’m getting close to leaving. Bariloche sounds as if someone dropped Switzerland at the foothills of the Andes. A small skiing town surrounded by beautiful lakes, jagged peaks, plenty trekking and climbing and beautiful architecture, coupled with a stop over in Buenos Aires and what should be a good adventure traveling the almost 1,000 miles South West to the mountains.

It amazes me what can happen to you anywhere, where life will take you and people will lead when you keep and open mind, stay curious and don’t find the post adventure blues.

Contributed by CHARLIE DANIELS, an avid traveler and explorer.