August 29, 2011

The Importance of the Outer Journey

View from my trail ride in the Chilean Andes

Lately I’ve focused considerably on the inner journey – specifically, the path through my own most recent evolutionary shift in consciousness and personal growth, likely one of many such shifts any seeker undergoes in a lifetime.  After moving through that growth cycle this spring, I had an amazing summer, abundant with travel to beautiful, familiar and far-flung places alike.

It reminded me of something: life isn’t all about the inner journey.  The outer journey – in particular, the fact that you have one – is just as important.  And naturally, the two are inextricably connected, for the outer journey sparks and fuels the inner; the inner is mirrored in live lessons and the physical reality of the outer. At least that‘s how it’s always been for me.

Insatiable Wanderlust

Those who’ve read the “meet Karen” page of this blog will know that the outer journey – I’m talking about literal travel here – is one I have been incredibly blessed to have with great ease and little effort of my own.  It’s also been one of immense variety and constancy since I was a child.  And it’s something I’d like to share much more of with you.

My journeys this summer also reminded of my absolute, undying love of travel.  No, not long flights and time zone changes; foreign visas or complicated entry requirements.  Not packing, unpacking, schlepping, jet lag, crowded airplanes and cramped seats.  The rigmarole of transporting yourself and your stuff is the part of travel you try to forget or minimize; it’s the aspect you strive to skim past or float above as fast and with as little involvement as possible.

Instead, it’s the amazing people, connections, interactions with nature, sights, sounds, flavors, adventures and new experiences I’m enamored with.  It’s the adventure and exploration I simply adore.

I’ve always had an innate wanderlust.  Thanks largely to my husband, but also to my jobs and his over the years, I’ve had unceasing opportunities laid at my doorstep to travel far and wide, and several pushes to go further and wider.  Despite early (and irrational) resistance to certain international travel and destinations in particular, I’ve said yes to them all.  The result of my wanderings has been rather unexpected (although likely no surprise to an experienced journeyman): that innate wanderlust is now a perpetually ignited flame of desire to, truth be told, be on the go all the time.  I’m antsy sitting still, even to sit down and write.  I’m bored with the daily pattern of work and domestic responsibility.  I simultaneously aspire to yet abhor routine.

I think I missed my calling as a National Geographic explorer or CNN International correspondent.

You see, the more of this world you experience the more you crave.  Just ask Chris Guillebeau if you don’t believe me.  If you don’t know about Chris, you should – with only 40 countries to go on his quest to visit every country in the world; he’s a poster child for wanderlust. (I’m such a fan I’m bordering on groupie, embarrassing as that may be).

I’ve written about Chris before, when he published his first book, but his recent adventures gorilla trekking in Rwanda and The Congo are as good an introduction to him as any (you can see my question to him in comments there too).

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Let’s go to Chile.  Yes, the country.  After routine but pleasant trips to San Francisco and New York in June, I began my outer journey in earnest this summer with a first time visit to Santiago de Chile.

Daniel making tea for his visitors

And let’s drop in on Daniel (pictured here), a man of about sixty who has lived alone in the foothills of the Andes outside Santiago, in this cabin, for the last forty years.

Daniel's Home

(See what I mean about the outer journey? How often are you going to meet someone like Daniel in the flesh if you never get off your couch)?

Meeting Daniel was one of those windfalls, as I call them, of travel. Allow me a quick aside as I explain.

The biggest difference between my travel style and my husband’s is that I’m the country girl, he’s the city guy. I don’t mean “country” in the sense of farms and livestock and Green Acres (I’m no fan of farm life).  I mean I long to get off the beaten path, out in nature, see the native terrain of a place.  My husband on the other hand loves the hustle and bustle of urban culture, the density of experience, the convenience and luxury of city life.  I’ve learned to appreciate the urban experience well enough, but make it an imperative to make at least one outdoor activity side trip from any major city we visit.  It could be hiking, trekking, biking, skiing or snorkeling, but I’ve gotta be exploring the great outdoors.

Our first side trip out of Santiago was a shot in the dark, to be honest.  A quick Google search on “day trips from Santiago” led me to a company called Chile Off Track with a high Tripadvisor rating, so on the spur of the moment upon arriving in Santiago we booked a horseback-riding trip with them.  I pictured a long afternoon trail ride through the lower elevations of the Andes, incredible scenery, native wildlife and serene vistas.  The excursion certainly delivered all that.

I never pictured meeting someone like Daniel.  We stopped for a break at his cabin, as the trail guide routinely did.  We shared a light lunch and snack with him.  He heated mate over an outdoor coal stove and offered it to us.

Despite his isolation and lack of electricity, the outer world comes to him.  Daily visitors bring news, information, and company.  They also supply material needs: food, medicine, books (he reads a lot).  He has his own irrigation system connected to a nearby mountain stream which provides fresh water for drinking, washing and his garden.

My family outside Daniel's house

He and my husband (Mexican by birth) struck up a conversation about Mexico.  Daniel knew all about Carlos Slim, one of the richest men in the world.  He was current on politics. In the space of our 45-minute visit with him it became clear he knew more about world events, poetry, and literature than the average adult American wired into television and the Web 24/7.

The horses were restless.  The day was getting on (it’s winter in Santiago in June). It was time to go. We thanked Daniel for his hospitality and rode on.

Daniel, the Compass

Even without meeting Daniel, I’ll never forget that trail ride. As you can see from the photos here, the scenery was exquisite. The day was perfect.  It was also our daughter’s first time on a horse.  Those facts alone make for a cherished, glittering memory.  But meeting Daniel added an extra depth, richness, and total uniqueness to an otherwise predictable experience, and with that, a gift only the outer journey can bestow.

Daniel reminds us how we’ve strayed from nature, and how we thrive when we immerse in it.  He reminds us to keep it simple.  He demonstrates how to stay connected to the Earth and each other, and that we don’t need mobile phones, computers and complicated adventure-travel to do so.  He’s the real deal, the complete 3D experience you can only have and fully appreciate in the flesh.

He is all heart, one hundred percent genuine, and utterly defenseless.  He can afford to be – he is trusting and

Main room of Daniel's house

trusted. He is free, unencumbered, and beholden to no one.  He is not tied to any obligation – work, family, monetary.  He is not in debt.  He can afford to give freely and share what he has.

While it sounds as though I’m glorifying Daniel’s chosen lifestyle, I don’t mean to say we should all be living that way.  There are disadvantages to such isolation. I doubt I’d choose his way of life for myself, given the options.  Still, I’d certainly welcome all its benefits in a second.  And to live that way at least a few weeks a year? Count me in.

You see, you meet someone like Daniel on the outer journey, and it broadens your mind, opens your heart, and points you back to your true essence. You remember and recognize your innate self, realize what’s really important. You are called to that centered place inside that feels like home, and once having returned, often wish to rest there at least a little while longer.

True travel does this to me, time and again, and will do it for you.  You can see how the insatiable wanderlust develops, can’t you?  It’s ironic, I guess, that the further I wander, the closer to “home” I come.

Stay tuned for more outer adventures in upcoming posts.  I still have my desert hike, Sam, and the sea turtles to tell you about.

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