In the Andes mountains of Chile, nature cooperates for the improvement of man’s morale better than it does in the southern islands. There is more direct sunlight, and people aren’t as isolated by endless expanses of water. Nonetheless, men and woman do not hesitate to create excitement for themselves, in dull moments of the seasons, by leaving their respective families, and running away with non-spouses.
Conjointly, life’s invariable pattern for young women with any level of mental handicap is the sexual exploitation and abuse by all men who have had more than their fair share of liquor. Alcohol is also a tool of death, as young men sporadically fall to their deaths in canyons or rivers, as they inebriate themselves beyond their capacity to stay on their mounts on the precarious mountain paths.
In these glorious and treacherous surroundings, I have learned the value of pushing beyond one’s personal desires for comfort. One morning during a trip to the cordillera (mountain range), we were enjoying the warmth of our host’s mountain home on a chill day when a communication came over the radio, announcing that our host’s daughter was arriving that same day.
To give the family a private time together, my dad announced a walking circuit to all families living within a three hour circumference. We took off after lunch, and hiked over two mountain ridges in just as many hours. My youngest sister, aged 5 at the time, broke down in tears as we emerged from one valley, with no destination yet in sight.
Our guide pointed out wisps of smoke drifting over the cherry trees, and upon rounding the grove, there was the house. The day was overcast and the constant drizzle had soaked us all. Upon meeting the family, we were all much refreshed as we divided our time between drying out behind the wood-stove and climbing the cherry trees, collecting their juicy and energizing bounty.
We resumed our visits, and they soon brought us to a little house upon a steep and solitary hill. A man on crutches greeted us at the door and invited the seven of us in. We barely fit standing, but the old gentleman astoundingly told us that we were the first visitors in his house, outside of his immediate family. Soon afterward, folks living in the area rallied together and provided a hip replacement for this man. He has since left his crutches behind.
Although that particular hike is one of the most physically miserable experiences in my life, it is also one of the sweetest. Never has hard work brought so much personal fulfillment.
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