I climbed onto the moon; I had been sick early in the day, but I still trudged up the sand dunes, climbing steadily in search of the perfect view of the sunset. I found it sitting on the edge of a cliff, even though I’m deathly afraid of heights. My feelings alternated between nausea at the sheer drop to the rocky crags and wonder at the moonscape around me.
I knew from landing in Santiago two weeks earlier that I was in a different country, but Valle de la Luna wasn’t a different country — it was a different world. As the sun began to set, shedding flames on the dunes, I gaped. I stayed on that cliff until the last minute — until the bus began to pull away. It seemed like looking at the jagged rocks, with the hazy Andes in the backdrop, left me thinking, and I have been ever since. I want to live my life without trepidation; I want to be able to see Valle de la Luna again, and again, and again. The world is filled with beauty, and I will be searching for the feeling of finding it in a sunset on the moon; I will be amazed at the world.
It was in Chile that I learned more about people than I ever could from a class. Together with a group of 7 teenagers from the United States, I explored the wonders of the “country at the edge of the world.” But most of all, I explored the wonders of people. Even though I know nothing of cows, or farming, Megan and I could laugh about anything. Sometimes I didn’t understand what Cameo was saying, but he taught me his slang, and now I hope to confuse people too.
People are really the same no matter where you go; people all want to connect — it’s just up to you to continually forge that connection. It can’t be easy — nothing is — but once that barrier is crossed, not even language can separate people. If you can take that step into the unknown — in my case, Chile — you will be surprised by who meets you halfway. Perhaps Chile was the “unknown” that allowed us “gringos” to link to each other so easily. Foreign countries can be confusing to say the least, so we clung to the one thing that was sure — people. I will never remember my “gringo” friends without Chile; they are as inseparable as lovers’ hearts. The sand blazes behind their faces in my mind; their voices are exclaiming over the geysers, or flamingos, or a curious artisan fair.
It makes me smile now, to realize that I’ve been to Chile. It seems I was just at the airport, wondering “Do I really want to go?” But now — it has taken residence in me. In my lungs is the raw air, giving me life afresh; in my pockets there is still some sand.
But, most importantly, Chile lives on in my mind, and will until I take that step into the unknown once more.
Shir Livne of White Plains, New York won Honorable Mention for this essay.
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