Our life of travel is taking a pause. No more cities, buses or metros for a while while we live a remote life, bare and exposed.
We are currently guests in dog heaven. For 8 weeks we are dog-sitting 4 dogs in a beautiful remote cabin on the coast of Chile (and cabin-sitting!), a few hundred kilometers north of Santiago. Our directions here were to take any bus north out of Santiago and ask to be let off at kilometer 178 (I certainly can’t tell you!) on the PanAmerican Highway. Then we were to cross the 4 lanes of traffic – hurdle the metal highway dividers – and look for a green bench and dirt path.
Well, with my embarrassingly remedial Spanish, we were miraculously able to navigate our way on a bus north and then again, miraculously, stop the bus just one kilometer past where we needed to be. Wearing both backpacks and frontpacks, we clumsily hurdled the metal highway dividers – are they all this high? Hoofed it back south 1.5 kilometers until we saw the bench and what looked to be THE dirt path. Our directions were “walk downhill on dirt path, then uphill, look for a red and white sign, turn left, pass through a gate, now you’re in the trees, head toward the ocean, keep walking – the house overlooks the ocean.” Indeed it does. We couldn’t get closer to the ocean without being in the ocean.
Here we have joined a tribe. This is more a dog sanctuary than a home designed for people, where we are their guests. The pack dictates our days. We adapt to their schedule. Their rules. In the absence of movement, our lives are now just about this place and these beautiful dogs.
Every morning I run with the pack. It’s never clear who is leading whom, but we all end up at home together at the end. Luna, the female alpha dog, surely there is greyhound in her genes, always takes her cue from me, looking back to make sure we’re headed down the same trail. When she sees that I am indeed behind her, she excitedly motions with her head as if to say “hurry up!” Widget, with her crazy-soft black ears, grey chin on her Lab-like face, trots along, sometime cautious, sometime instigating and taking chase. I can see her fox tail disappear into the trees. The lone male, handsome Boomer, distinct with his classic black-brown coloring, is always easy to spot when he chooses to join the pack. Otherwise, he’s off exploring and finding other dogs to bark at. Then there’s the newest and youngest of the pack, Puppy, the terrier-poodle mix puppy, who tears through bunny territory, leaping gazelle-like through the brush and then whizzes by me on narrow trails. They allow me to believe I’m their pack leader, but we all know the truth.
In return for walks and food, these 4 beautiful creatures remind us of the joy of play, love us unconditionally, snuggle with us at night and sloppily kiss us in the morning when it’s time to run. Already they have totally and completely stolen our hearts.
Back at the house, we care for plants with grey water produced from washing. Water is precious here – every drop is re-used via a system of hoses, holding tanks and an old rusty water pump. Food waste goes into the compost pile. Wild birds visit a makeshift bird bath and seek out the bird seed scattered on driftwood posts.
Since water is scarce, we are mindful of what we use and keep an eye on the water level in the cistern uphill. The tasks of obtaining supplies such as water, gas and food create consciousness of needs versus wants.
Limited supplies are a 2km walk to the village. Here we can buy simple things like eggs, cheese, bread, pasta, rice, toilet paper and limited veggies. Otherwise, a 5 hour round-trip via bus takes one of us – one stays with the dogs – to the closest town where we can access a cash machine and fill up our backpack with luxury items like salsa, coconut milk, beef, beautiful fresh veggies and hot sauce.
And we thought we couldn’t simplify our lives any more than when we sold our possessions to live out of our backpacks. But here life’s necessities control. We have stripped away the excess. Our only distraction, the pesky internet, our lifeline to our host, Lorraine, and the world out there. But we pay for our usage, 3 precious gigabytes at a time. The remoteness allows us to reflect, be quiet, and take in the elements around us. Time takes on a different meaning.
During the day, from the front porch I watch cormorants glide an imperceptible distance above the water, amazingly keeping formation, undulating in flight, matching the rhythm of the waves. Or, I spy a lone pelican, hovering like the brush of a kiss over the cresting waves, somehow sensing just when to avoid the moment it breaks.
Our walks, filled with smells of eucalyptus. Watching the pure joy of the dogs, running free and unencumbered. The floor of pine needles, soft and aromatic. And then of course the constant ocean – our doorstep. Each day it tells a different story with its ever-changing personality. Most days the waves sound like mini-explosions, the sound now our everyday soundtrack. It’s those few times, when like a lullaby, the quiet ocean makes us listen even more. Clouds disappear into the horizon, or does the horizon disappear into the clouds? I never realized how many colors the ocean could display – and so many different blues! Either way, at times I dare not look away for fear of missing a golden hue or pink ridge above the clouds. No camera can capture its breadth. Only the best painter could describe our view.
The realization of day changing to night comes with our front row seat to the biggest light show on Earth. One that’s never the same from day to day.
There are days when boredom sneaks its way in, that’s honest. The funny thing about simplifying a life, when it’s just about the basics, no excess, what is real and true stares back at you, uncomfortably. But this is not to say our travel life is a life filled with excess. This entire journey has really been about living a remote life, no longer filled with familiar comforts of home. Now our home is wherever we are.
So, here, our current home, we will live our remote life, stripped down to the basics, just for a brief moment. We will spend our days with the pack. Enjoy the elements. Relish this time.