I have no name for it, but everyone at some point has the feeling grip there consciousness, the whim to pull up stakes and make the world their oyster. Some feel this urge more strongly than others, some feel this nudge only slightly and are then knocked back to their reality, some have a desperate longing for this travel and wayfaring experience, and never heed the call. Then there are those who gaze at the world about them and cannot shake the lure to sell all and put mileage on the odometer, those who are not easily brought back into reality. I am of this final category. This inclination towards more foreign parts of the world had pulled on me long before it landed me in the northern reaches of the Argentinean Patagonia in the alpine town of Bariloche.
Why leave? Perhaps there is a sense of escapism involved, an attempt to alter fates in lieu of the pervasive 9-5 American dream and the fresh faced grad rat race to $100,000 to salary and safety. Or maybe it’s a flee from a culture hell bent on overconsumption and under appreciation.
I know I fall short of an idealist—so I’ll say the real goal lies within the conservation of youth. I don’t want to peddle my young, virile years away for the corporate good, nor do I want to make smart moves with my mutual funds and 401k so that one day I may support my old, over consuming, and entitled self. Youth has virtue and value beyond that. One of which is it needs few things and responsibilities to sustain it. Why not appreciate the childless youthful liberation of a small bank account and no assets? Let me roam free through the great palaces and forests of the world, see the sights that will churn in me a nostalgia for the globe-- traversing this Earth so that I may learn who I am in this sea of billions.
Billions, and billions of people. Yet I find myself in one of the least trampled, most isolated corners of the Earth. Deep in the southern hemisphere, this slice of terra firma sandwiched by the worlds two great oceans and contained by their fury. Notorious weather and the Antarctic lay directly south. Within lay a vastness and remoteness, a place untouched by the outside world and unfettered by the smog’s of industry. Too far off the beaten track for the meek of spirit, the type of journeyman you meet in Patagonia is one who comes to quench his need for the earth in its rawest form. And within this fury and beauty lies the lake, the hill, and the cabin in which I call home for four months of my life.
The city of Bariloche itself is strewn along the lake Nauhel Haupi, hemmed in by mountains. My introduction to the city came with a decent from 30,000 feet, landing in the airport you get a sense of the vast landscape immediately. Treeless images of Montanta or Colorado come to mind in passing. The airport décor that greets is reminiscent of a Canadian layover on a smaller scale, totem poles and cypress molding. Most arrive from Buenos Aires, within the untold hundreds of airlines that fly throughout South America, only two make their way down to Bariloche. Braver souls tend to take the twenty four hour bus ride from Buenos Aires or longer from any other large city. Those with deep pockets sometimes indulge in the possible water route across the border from Chile.
Bariloche, is the largest population center in the barren Patagonia, with 120,000 or so permanent residents. The city’s main populace is centered on the southeastern shores of the lake. The city center is perched on a steep hill four or five streets deep, extending up a few hundred vertical feet from the lake. Beyond this lies the plateau fenced in by surrounding mountains which harbors most of the local residents and paths untrodden by tourists. A thin strip of cabins, schools, and alpine resorts unfurls itself to the west city center along the lake shore. Stretched in increments of kilometers, this extension of Bariloche is a more docile escape from the city itself. Kilometer 8.5 gives you a view of the largest ski slope in South America. Kilometer 12.5 provides a cluster of cerveceria artensnals, local microbrewers. Kilometer 17 opens a trailhead to the seventh most beautiful view in the world according to National Geographic, Kilometer 25 checks you in at Llao llao, Argentinas most famous and exclusive resort, frequented by wealthy moguls and European politicians. All of this, city, and 7000 other sq km included are contained by Argentina’s largest and oldest national park.
In my first few days in Bariloche I met a Seattle native named Tony, in his late 30s early 40s, traveling through the city. Tony had recently quit his job as a biologist in Tanzania and was now burning through his accrued frequent flier miles to see Patagonian highlights. He had claimed that Tanzanian lab mice needed far too much attention to be kept alive and despised the six or seven work days a week necessary to do so. Tony was now exercising a mid life career change to the nursing profession, which would allot him to work a more reasonable three days a week. After our communal hostel over dinner chat, Tony offered to get Taylor and I touch with his newly acquainted friend from Buenos Aires, who happened to need a month long house sitter for his Bariloche vacation abode. Tony pitched it to us as a free rent and a good way to stick around the city for awhile, he himself would have taken advantage of the opportunity if plans weren’t already in place for an early morning flight down south to climb some of the world’s southern most peaks. After a few calls, it turns out his friend balked at the idea of complete strangers access to his private residence, but Tony’s quick (and just) judgement call on our merit was more than enough to initiate acceptance in to the league of Patagonian travelers. Somehow Tony struck me as the prototypical Patagonian wayfarer. Escaping the grind and chains of an overbearing job, wild-eyed, and in search of the overriding frontier atmosphere that pervades Patagonian towns and its wilderness.
Nearly 6000 miles and 60 degrees of latitude away from native shores, American influence is as far away as it can be for practically sharing a time zone. With the exception of the occasional traveler like Tony, only the rare peep of America is seen. Granted, Budweiser is sold at supermarkets, Lady Gaga played on city buses, and Twilight sold at boutique bookstores by the shelf full (though in Spanish)—though, for better or for worse, these are things almost expected of any place in the world with electricity. By and large there is more of European feel to these Argentinean cities that is lacking in the US’s closer Latin American neighbors. McDonalds and every other fast food joint remains absent, Peugeot and Renault are more common that Ford and GM, peanut butter is not in attendance at the local grocer (and that’s all there is, no Wal-martarian behemoths), and Argentinean Spanish comes off with more of an Italian flair. Recalling his traveling days as an IBM executive in the US, my Argentine neighbor even remarked that his colleuges often pegged his English accent as Russian influenced.
Landing in Bariloche and deciding to stick around for a few more months occurred as an almost simultaneous verdict. Two nights in a hostel, about as many emails, ample use of Google translate, and we were able requisition, for the next four months, a cabin a few kilometers outside the town along the lake. Thus was my graduation from a traveler of these lands to a resident. Exchanging the awe of a passerby for a daily stimulus of mountian air and nightly view of southern stars.
I started seriously saving for a sailboat about four years ago. That’s when I decided that I can’t go to concerts anymore because when I go to a concert, I want a beer. All of a sudden a $10 cover turns into $25 if I want a record or something.
These last three years have really been about shaping our desires through a life of saving rather than destroying all our desires by wanting to go out and buy stuff. We didn’t really go to concerts for the last three years at all. We were on this hardcore saving plan, where every ounce of money was going into the bank or going into a mutual fund, just trying to get as much money as possible. Then we did it, and everyone was like, “Well, that was weird. How did you do that?” It’s not that hard if you just realize it. If you want to go backpacking in Patagonia for a year, if you want to live in Europe for a year, make a plan. It’s totally possible today.
From what I could tell, these young pips have yet to be signed by any label. Though this certianly wont last for long-- there must be something about the soaringly bleak landscape of Iceland that inspires musical epiphany. Watch Of Monsters and Men perform 'Little Talks' live in a room for KEXP here.
Rehashing a year that was chock full of good music is never easy-- tunes seemed to ooze from artists on a weekly basis. Take a listen to some of 2010's best and pat me on the back for a robust list of musical insight.
10. Jonsi - Tornado
9. The Black Keys - Tighten Up
8. Delorean - Stay Close
7. How to Dress Well - Ready For the World
6. Band of Horses - Compliments
5. James Blake - Limit to Your Love
4. The National - Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
3. jj - Right Side of My Brain (The Dream cover)
2. Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt
1. The Arcade Fire - Suburbs II (Mountians Beyond Mountians)
Worth Mentioning (in an honorable way of course)
Crystal Castles - Not in Love (ft. Robert Smith)
Thoughts from William Gibson