Eight years have elapsed since I spent a year studying abroad in Chile. So when I was deciding on the next destination to visit post-expiration of my Brazilian tourist visa, I figured I was too close to my first ‘home away from home’ to not make at least a brief return.
That sliver of a country sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the towering Andes will forever hold a special place in my heart. It was my first time leaving my country on my own, where I truly learned what ‘homesick’ means, and where I dove headfirst into a pit of strangers and emerged with lifelong friendships.
It’s never easy to uproot yourself and settle into a new place, but I can confidently say that my study abroad experience in Chile was one of the best years of my life. How could I not return?
When I was planning the trip to Chile, the nostalgia of returning didn’t really hit me. (Perhaps I was too preoccupied with a deserved farewell of my then home of six months, Brazil.) But as soon as the plane started to crest the Andes and descend into that all-too-familiar smog-filled valley of Santiago, the tidal wave of memories flooded back to me.
It was a flood built from a collage of random memories, ones that had been sitting dormant in the depths of my mind for nearly a decade; things like walking on certain street corners, riding the bus, clothes drying on a rainy day, or the landscape on a particular stretch of highway. Even the smell of my friend’s apartment oddly enough brought back memories of the apartment I had lived in. It’s crazy how our brains can unknowingly store so much info and release it from the vault when called upon.
And as I roamed the streets of Viña del Mar I could picture 21-year-old me walking on the same sidewalks, entering the same supermarket, or hanging my wetsuit on that 5th-floor balcony overlooking the ocean. It felt like watching something between Tupac’s Coachella hologram and the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Some things were different, but most were just as I left them in Viña. My house had been painted white, and I can’t even remember what color it was before, but that white was noticeably different than when I lived there. That house’s same first-story window that once stood at the foot of my tiny (at times flea-infested) twin bed still peered over the sidewalk below. The same old rickety buses still sped up and down the street, still decades behind the technology of Santiago’s public transportation system. And my gym — the one that housed various stray cats — was right where I remembered it around the corner.
I also discovered that some memories had been incorrectly stored in my brain, or at least they had become warped over the years. I swear my street was narrower. Wasn’t it? And the downtown of Viña del Mar of my memories had somehow morphed into a more elegantly organized place than it proved to be in reality (perhaps fond memories leading to subconscious bias). To put it nicely, the inner beauty of Viña is what counts.
And then there are the people that gave this place life when I lived here. I once had a vast web of friends and acquaintances in this town. However, being here eight years later, I realized that many of those connections had faded with time. While I certainly spent quality time catching up with those who were closest to me, I found myself enjoying a lot of my time alone, which is fine. I like my alone time.
This trip to Chile will be short-lived, but it was a pitstop well worth my time. It was like a dive into the old memories of a scrapbook. And while it has caused my mind to wander into memories of the past, it’s also another chapter of the story for the present — more experiences, people, and intangible souvenirs added to my adventure.