“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
I’ve been mulling over that quote for quite some time now as I prepare for my honeymoon adventure to the other end of the world. It’s a blindingly obvious thing to say, but: Chile is a long way away!
I’ll say that again, this time with a different build up. It’s an amazing thing to say, but: Chile is a long way away! If travel makes you modest, what will travelling for nearly 24 hours to get to the farthest extreme of the planet do to you?
Next Friday we will be setting off on a long-haul journey that could only be longer if we were going to Hobbit-land, New Zealand. But the prospect of an entire day on a plane watching Lord of the Rings marathons doesn’t excite me as much as it does my wife.
I have never been on a long-haul flight before. Never been beyond my beloved Europe. Most of my travels have been Mediterranean-centric. And I’m proud of the Mediterranean. Proud to belong to it. It’s the cradle of civilization and, oh, tapas! It’s a safe, heart-warming place to visit. But for a honeymoon trip, you don’t want safe, and we’re certainly not getting warmth.
It will feel undoubtedly alien to leave Malta in a typical July heatwave and land in winter-land. We still have to figure out the fashion-logistics of that. But that’s part of the fun. Yet this contrast, this idea of changing seasons in a matter of hours, gets to the crux of my feelings about this trip: what the hell are we going to find on the other side?
It is fairly easy to do your homework these days. I know as much about Santiago and Chile as Darwin probably did when he visited. All from the comfort of my home. And yet, no matter how much you read about the history, geography, gastronomy and literature of a place, you are still trudging along in the dark.
Without a shadow of a doubt I will see a blaze of differences in Chile. The Andes. Patagonia. Snow. Real Chilean wine. Fatty pork unceremoniously buried under an avalanche of chips and fried eggs. Indigenous peoples. A currency which will make me a millionaire. And travelling south for hours and still being in the same country.
But what I’m almost more interested in are the similarities I’ll find. The Baroque churches. Spanish. Presumably Zara – there’s always a Zara. World Cup games being aired. Catholicism. Pablo Neruda. These similarities are a poignant reminder of the endless reach of history’s dirtied fingers.
Chile is as different from Spain as it could be, physically. Yet, it once belonged to Spain and it still bears a lot of similarities to it, socially, culturally. So despite travelling to the cold, southern extremes of the world, I’ll still be able to communicate using a language I have long been familiar with. I’ll also be seeing a lot of churches, churches that remind me not just of Spain, but of home, too. Even after travelling nearly 12,000 kilometres, I will still find the same bell-towers and hear the same bells I can hear from my bedroom.
And if this doesn’t make you modest, I don’t know what will.