After more than two years of writing for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, I quit my job. No longer will I write about what the children of Hamilton County are learning in their classrooms and whether the school board thinks seatbelts on buses improve safety. I am moving to Chile, to the Torres del Paine National Park way down at the Southern tip of the country. Someone I met there two years ago when helping repair the park’s most damaged trails offered me a job — actually, two — last month. I start on Monday.
I will be marketing for Fantástico Sur, a Chilean company that arranges treks for hikers and naturalists. As part of it, they have asked me to start a bi-lingual magazine, which I have happily agreed to. I’ll also be guiding for AMA, a company that educates visitors about the park’s environment and helps them complete projects that conserve it.
In addition, I hope to publish some travel articles on my own… and soak up the language and lifestyle.
Deciding to leave Chattanooga was incredibly tough, and I went back and forth with it for weeks. I loved my full-time writing job at the paper, which allowed me to interview, for example, the governor and a first-grade teacher in the same day. I enjoyed hiking, cycling and paddling in and around Chattanooga, and I knew I’d miss lounging around my sunny apartment on Saturday mornings and listening to my friend’s bluegrass band practice on her porch. Plus, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my friends and boyfriend. But I decided to take the leap, to find out what I don’t know and to let the experience take me where it will.
I found this passage in the 2001 Best American Travel Writing, which I picked up at McKay’s Used Books in Chattanooga the other night:
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring ourselves what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and to fall in love once more.
Pico Iyer, from “Why We Travel” in Salon Travel
I may encounter frustration and loneliness in the far Southern reaches of the world, but I may also have experiences that change how I see the world and live my life. I just don’t know, and that’s the fun part.
And now, for some fun facts about my destination, for my sake as much as anyone’s: * Chile is tall and slender, stretching along the southwestern coast of South America. It’s as long as San Francisco is from New York, but only 150 miles wide at its widest point. * The northern part of the country is desert, the mid-section is a fertile river valley, and the southern landscape is made up of a string of rivers and volcanoes that dissolve into a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, peninsulas and islands. The Andes Mountains border the country to the east. * Chile is a republic. Michelle Bachelet is Chile’s first woman president, elected in 2006. * About 85 percent of Chile's population lives in urban areas. About 40 percent live in greater Santiago. Most have Spanish ancestry. * The local currency is the Chilean peso. * About 89 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, about 11 percent is Protestant. * The average Chilean expects to live about 76 years. * Chileans are required to attend 12 years of school, and 96 percent of adults can read.
I have three short days before my plane departs for Santiago. Time for the business of shuffling boxes and realizing exactly how much stuff I have accumulated.