30 July 2011

A Winter Shower in Valparaiso

Valparaiso is charmingly sketchy and beautiful in its own way. I have felt overwhelmed by the loud cars and busses, the huge buildings, the crush of people. Welcome back to civilization. Oh yes, and watch your bags like a hawk. No one is going to find your house and give you back the ipod you forgot here. 

It was a strange night in Santiago, a collision between nostalgia for the beginning of the program and saudade for those who never came back due to the weather, Chilean disorganization, and the occasional collapsed lung. It was incredibly helpful to have a sounding board of other volunteers to talk to about my experience, and to see them visually react to the set of circumstances that I've lived for the past five months felt cathartic in a way I did not anticipate. The weight lifted again.

I noticed that this time, Santiago didn't feel as scary as it did when I first arrived. Sure, the buildings felt huge and there were so many cars and busses and people everywhere...but even the stray tear gas didn't phase me. I just pulled up my scarf and walked on. It didn't burn too badly. I didn't get hit full on. Patagonia and crazy changing circumstances have made me adaptable as never before. 

That adaptability came in handy tonight when we arrived in Valparaiso with no hostel, no map, and not-quite-adjusted backpacks digging into our shoulders. We walked for over an hour, up stairways and down hills. Through sketchy passages marked as streets but little more than a one-person stairwell. We eventually found a cheap hostel (in every sense of the word) and checked in. 

I hadn't showered since Magallanes. Or brushed my hair. I slept fewer than three hours last night. Let's just say that not showering was not an option at this time. 

I went into the first bathroom in the hostel, and promptly turned around to leave. The toilet was jammed full of toilet paper and the shower had black mold growing almost in vines on the tub. My own personal Hanging Garden of Mold. I went to the other bathroom. 

The window to outside was wide open. No screen, but that's nothing new. The building has shifted and the window misses the mark by a good inch and a half. No big deal. I turn on the shower and struggle to find the sweet spot between heat to singe one's eyebrows and cold to freeze my feet to my flip flops. I finally found it and had just settled in to wash 1700 miles of dirt out of my hair when it turned cold and stayed cold. The shampoo in my hair wouldn't make lather. 

Between the cold air entering through the window and the freezing water, this shower had just turned into the coldest shower of my life. I stuck my head under the spray and tried desperately to avoid the freezing spray. When I put my head back up, I gasped at the knife-like cold of my hair on my neck, and then exhaled sharply. 

My breath appeared in a cloud in front of me. 

Yep. One more thing to put up with on this trip. Cold showers in the middle of winter with the window wide open.  I had no choice but to lather up, gather my determination, and wash under the stream of barely-liquid water. And now I can't seem to warm up. That which doesn't kill me...gives me a cold?


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