Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Chile’

Tales from the road.

In Adventure, Travel, Writing on May 28, 2012 at 6:00 am

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” ~ Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1958)

Perhaps the best vacation I’ve had was when I came down with Lyme disease. (Before continuing, I should mention that vacation, trip, adventure, and travel(s) are all a different genre in the art of temporarily moving from one place to the other–I leave you to think out the distinctions by which one crosses boundary with the other.) We were in southern Spain in a rented car and were coming out of the mountains. I got sick but continued to drive, not wanting to burden Carole with the mountain driving. When we got into Benalmedna I was getting a headache. By night fall I was suffering the only migraine of my life. Terrible thing, a migraine.

We ditched our itinerary and spent the next two weeks moving from beach cabana to pension room to cabana. It was the only way I could have possibly read the complete Leatherstocking tails of James Fennimore Cooper, Library of America edition.

Dozing on the beach, reading Cooper, dozing again. It made for a perfect vacation, but for the weakness in the legs and dizzy spells. I got through Cooper and by the time I got home I was a petrie dish of infection.


Once flying back from Chile, night flight, I sat next to a Chilean farmer. He had a nice smile, bad teeth, and expressive eyes. We exchanged pleasentries then he nodded off, with a little toot-fart. Eight hours later the farting had not stopped and I hadn’t the heart to wake the poor guy. He seemed tired and worthy of a good flight’s sleep. It didn’t matter, I don’t sleep on planes anyway.


My first trip abroad, Carole and I in our youth, arrived in Jerusalem as night fell. It was the first night of the High Holy Days and the streets where flooded with pilgrims en route to the Western Wall, the only remaining portion of David’s temple.

It was a transportive experience. By midnight the crowd in the Old City was dispersing and we, six hours in a new country, where thinking of bed. Only, in our excitement, we’d not taken notice of our lodging–except that David was in the name. (It was not the famous Kind David Hotel. We did not have the budget for that.) David is to Israel as Smith is to the states. The hotels sporting the name are as infinite as loaves and fishes.

We found, finally, an English speaking taxi driver who had the requisite compassion and good nature to take two kids from the US to every hotel in Jerusalem incorporating the name David. Thus was born the spirit of adventure, a thing most potently realized in the ignorance of youth.

Perhaps we got two or three hours sleep that night. I don’t remember. I do, however, remember waking up in a major foreign city for the first time in my life. It was then that the travel virus infected me. I’ve been hosting the bug since. Like malaria, it lies dormant, then suddenly springs on one, unawares.

So sorry if you’ve received this post twice. It was supposed to go up Monday morning, the 28th. I think I hit “publish” not “schedule” and perhaps sent it out into the world without proper introduction. Oh, the plaguing details of this mission I’m on…

I should blame jet lag, but it’s been a week since I returned and how long can I claim that excuse? It’s been 56 years of jet lag, if one were to calculate with honesty. But the details are plaguing–perhaps a plague is just what I need.

Chile – A repost

In Adventure, Travel on May 4, 2012 at 6:00 am

Since I’m traveling, I thought it appropriate to drop in a little travel piece I wrote a few years ago. It was published in the travel section of the Baltimore Sun in March, 1999.


It was January and I was thinking forward to spring and fishing my favorite trout stream. Winter for a fisherman is a time of anxious restlessness. But it was not winter everywhere and it occurred to me that the rivers in the Southern Hemisphere were running strong and fast and the trout were probably rising. Within 30 days I was on water in Southern Chile.

Roughly three hours south of Santiago by air, this western region of Patagonia has become a draw for fishermen the world over. I stayed at Isla Monita, on a trip arranged by Frontiers International. I was joined by five others, two from the states and three from Europe. The trip lasted ten days, however four days were spent in travel. The area was remote, requiring two flights after touching down in Santiago, a two-hour overland ride and a short boat trip to the lodge, where I was welcomed by Anne and Fanz, my hosts. There was no phone, fax or email at the lodge. The food was outstanding and meals were complimented by fine Chilean wine.

Trout live in beautiful undisturbed places and there are not many places more beautiful or remote than southern Chile. Though the fishing was the draw, the mountains and glaciers and night sky punctuated by the Southern Cross alone would have made the trip worthwhile. The wild geography of Chile consists of 4,300 miles of coastline, yet the country is, at its broadest, only 110 miles wide. Over 2000 volcanoes speckle the countryside.

The rivers flowing out of the Andes are fed by run-off and mountain glaciers. They are big deep rivers, rich in nutrients and aquatic life, supporting a trout population famous in fly-fishing circles. The native trout of these rivers grow large and jump high. Twenty-inch fish are the rule, not the exception. One member of our group landed a 31” brown trout. The rivers also are sport to kayakers, many of whom were headed to the region for an international competition the week following my departure. The mountain backdrop draws climbers and trekkers as well.

I don’t think Chile comes to mind as a travel destination for many. My experience was a surprising delight. I did not anticipate a country so diverse and appealing.

“…largely ignored…”

In Death, Travel, Writers on October 20, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Full quote: “It is good to live in a place largely ignored by the rest of the world.”

The quote is from my favorite living American author, Jim Harrison. It’s from his new novel, The Great Leader. (My review can be found here.)

I was deep in the lake region of Patagonia, maybe five, six years ago, I don’t remember. (Time and space, especially time, escapes me.) I met George, from France, the village of Joan, of the Arc fame. He’d come, as had I, to chase the brown trout that were big deep in the ice rivers of the Andes, the Futalafu and other rivers. Huge trout, weighed, not measured. (Not fifteen inches but six pounds. And more.) Blue green rivers, fresh out of the mountains. One thing leading to another and I discover George is a reader. “Who is your favorite writer,” I ask. “Jim Harrison,” he responds. I jump–yes, jump–“Mine too,” I exclaim. “He is,” George says, “the only writer who combines the life of the mind and the life of action.” Leave it to the French.

But, the point being the quote: What is it that makes a man (me)  what to go further and farther away to the place people largely ignore? Is there a place where a person can hide? Escape? Evaporate? It will happen soon enough, given a few years, or less, and a person, all of us, will be extinct. Gone. Vanished. Dead.  And we will be so very dead as to not even know it. So why rush to the place that is largely ignored, either specifically or, in a more surreptitious manner, figuratively? Can’t answer that. There comes a time, as Hemingway observed, when we (might)  decide to sprint to the finish line. He did. Don’t think I want to sprint. I’m more of an endurance guy, taking my time. But the destination is the same, all together the same.

They say a society is not a civilization until the poets arrive. I believe that. I hold my lantern to the darkness, at the foot of the citadel, outside the drawn gate, alone, peering into the darkness, looking, waiting. Where are the poets? Where is the civilization? Will they arrive before the extinction?

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.”

In Technology, The Examined Life, Thinkers, Writers on June 30, 2009 at 1:53 pm

I spoke recently with a young acquaintance who had, as she called it, “gone off- line.” Worried about obsession, she had exercised a discipline unique in modern life. She had logged off and then simply and purposefully disconnected her internet cable. I found this particularly interesting, in that I too am concerned about obsession. “For good,” she says, with emphasis. She is young, as I said. And the young are drawn to absolutes.

“I was getting compulsive,” she confessed. She related that she normally started her session by checking her email. Then she would browse the web. But as the on-line hours ensued, she found herself surfing the net aimlessly, casting about with no apparent focus. “It was worse than channel surfing,” she said. “I hated it, but I couldn’t stop.” I asked if it was difficult going cold turkey. She said yes, that it was hard. “But more disturbing,” she continued, “now I feel out of touch. I even deleted my Facebook account. I’m a pariah.” She looked disconsolately across the room. She had hit upon another cherished theme. Fortunately, the world is rich with opportunity for reflection.

Pariah. The word comes into English from Tamil paraiyar, the plural of paraiyan, a caste name, meaning literally “hereditary drummer.” It is derived from the name of a drum used at certain festivals, and later evolved to capture the essence of the Indian caste system, the untouchables. Thoreau picked up the theme in Walden, the pariah’s manifesto: If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. My acquaintance was a social outcast. It was a course she had guided and could blame no one. But now she was troubled. She was no longer connected. She had checked out, gone off-line. She consciously set herself apart from her on-line peers. She had declared her independence, and in do so, had declared herself an untouchable.

I have thought about going off-line, about disconnecting, moving to my personal Walden and picking up my drum. It is an inviting idea to anyone remotely self obsessed, like myself. I gather there are some who have not at one time or another wished for a life of self-involved quiet and contemplation? Yes, of course there are. Many more, I suspect, than those feeling cramped and wanting to break away from it all. In general, though, Americans, I believe, trust in a singular independence, our pariahness, collectively and independently. I think we fancy ourselves each different and independent, yet similar, sharing common goals and aspirations. Are we not, after-all, collective practitioners in pursuit of happiness? Our pursuit has forced upon us a homogeneity that is at times comforting, then again repugnant. Too, I think it is a tendency of Americans to think of ourselves as different from all the rest of the world, as if we were One Nation (of pariahs) Under God. But these matters were far from my youthful friend’s concerns.Going off-line is not a passive statement of individualism. It is a bold step in today’s terms, particularly and uncomfortably bold.

I have friends, Franz and Anna, who live a remote area of South America, the lake region of Patagonia specifically. They had but one connection to the world from their island lodge, a satellite phone. Several weeks after visiting them, I read that Iridium, the satellite telephone company, had gone out of business. Its orbiting satellites were rendered silent, as were Franz and Anna. A few months later Franz was traveling in the states and I caught up him. I asked him how Iridium’s demise had affected him in Patagonia. “It put us in a real jam,” he said. “Any time we wanted to call someone I had to take the boat across the lake and drive into town.” This was no trip to the Seven-Eleven. The journey to town took two hours, crossing the Yelcho, then four-wheeling a gravel road. Town consisted of a handful of small buildings with corrugated metal roofs, one of which had a phone line. Now there is someone off-line.

There is no groundswell of primitivism afoot today, no Luddism. To the contrary, technology pariahs are few and far between. I know a fellow, an early adapter, who a couple of years ago retired his PDA  (do you remember those?), claiming that he missed the tactile pleasure of holding a traditional writing instrument. “I even missed the scratching sound of writing on paper.” However, last year he stood in line for eight hours to get an iPhone. Someone recently gave my son a beautiful calf-skin leather journal. He likes the feel of it in his hand, which is not something you hear usually said about a laptop. But he does not use it.

Ned Luddan English laborer, fearful of jobs lost to technology, destroyed weaving machinery around 1779. He garnered followers who were dubbed Luddites. But there is no Luddism in going off-line, no yearning for turning back the clock. Fear of technology is not at root here. I don’t think my young friend is afraid of a technological future. Rather, there is something deeper, more akin to the spiritual, at work in her misgivings.

Some cultures practice that a photograph steals part of the soul. The Sioux Indians, for example, believed that each exposure dissolved some vital layer of life. I have a friend—he does not own a television—who says that T.V. robs us of our intelligence. That, I believe to be not far from the truth. A vital layer of life goes to rest in front of the T.V.. My off-line acquaintance found herself aimlessly staring into her computer at night. She said she had “to get a life,” that the internet was stealing it. I have to wonder if we are losing bits and pieces of ourselves as we are given over to the subtleties of modern existence, not only its technology, but also its conveniences and entertainments? I suspect after a fashion that we are being blindsided. For example, there is a phenomenon in animals where they become “naive” if natural predators are removed. After a generation or so they forget their enemies. Wolves recently re-introduced into the wilds of Yellowstone had easy pickings until the moose realized they were going to be eaten by them. This is what I mean by the subtleties of modern existence. Consumption and predation are related and I have a fear that one can too easily morph into the other. To repeat an axiom, nature is balanced.

In 1965 Joan Didion wrote:

Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble.

She closes by saying, “And I suspect we are already there.” She was writing on morality and consumerism and of course the grand era of the ‘60s, but on a larger canvas, as it relates to our possessions, I agree, we are in bad trouble–as recent events, the crash and burn of consumerism, suggests. It seems to be the nature of things human that stuff we own will soon enough own us. I live in a world devoid of natural predators. I fear being like the moose in Yellowstone, growing forgetful and waxing naive. I resist.

I harbor an odd hankering to be a technology pariah, independent of cables, connections, satellites and modems. I respect my friend’s decision. There is a stubborn romanticism to the contrariness of the idea, and all fashion of contrariness holds an innate appeal for me. But truth be known, I am connected and will stay connected. One year I did all the Christmas shopping online. My wife couldn’t face another year of it and I relieved her. It was no small annoyance to her that I never left my desk and that the children’s presents arrived already gift wrapped, including cards. That was reward enough. The razor’s edge of technology is to ask where it stops helping and becomes a thing obnoxious. “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race,” begins the Unabomber Manifesto. Would Thoreau be Kaczanski today–presumably without the violence–if he was around? He did, after all, spend that famous night in jail.

I often drive without the car radio on. I like the unhurried quiet of Sunday afternoons. I avoid the mall. I prefer cross-country skiing to downhill. My life is a balance of avoidance and seeking. Avoid noise, crowds and rushing around; seek quiet, stay calm, be stable. Being on-line helps. There is a great deal one can accomplish in the quite nether realm of technology, whereby one avoids much of modern annoyances, such as traffic, surly clerks, pollution and canned music. To my friend’s point, however, I am conscious of the slithery Faustian tendrils of technology. I don’t look too hard into the computer. I’ve made an observation: The Sioux were right. A computer screen does not reflect your image. It absorbs it.