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Day 98 – Beach Time (Viña del Mar)

January 16, 2011

Location: Viña del Mar, Chile

Date: Sunday, January 16, 2011

It is now the dead middle of summer. Unlike my aborted beach time in Uruguay the chances of rain here are slim to none. On the other hand, these low odds, conversely, up the probability of skin cancer. Me, I’ll take skin cancer any day.

Stumbling off a 25 hour journey by bus from Chiloe is disorienting at best. From the wilds of northern Patagonia to the sunny beaches north of Santiago along hundreds of miles of road. It’s nauseating, almost.

Despite my aches after spending a night and a day in a race to warmer environs, I forced myself to the beach along with masses of Chilean tourists. After a bit over an hour sitting, trying to read my book in the glare of the sand, I remembered why I’m not a talented beachgoer: at heart I am a poor planner. Today, I neglected to bring an umbrella and, after a while, it gets hot and I can see my skin burning to a crisp and aging from behind my polarized lenses.

I wasn’t the only one who failed to bring portable shade. Amongst the hordes of sand-caked and half-cooked hordes of humans there roamed packs of stray dogs that chased each other through the waves and sand. One stray—a hairy husky—staggered to a stop in front of me and feebly tried to bury itself in the sand, panting as if it wished it had two tongues from which to sweat. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be stuck on a beach like this with no drinking water while forced to wear three winter coats. Unlike the stray, though, I could do something about my discomfort.

I forced myself off my butt and down the coast amongst the sea of people lounging on the sand and enjoying the waves. People stretched as far down the beach as I could see and, in the distance, turned into more grains of sand. Every seventh wave was especially large and would crash into the beach with extra force. I could watch each start to break in the distance and track the white foam moving down along the shore. In concert with the rolling surf, people would jump over or into the incoming wave. Looking down the beach, it was as if thousand s of people were participating in a giant, rolling Broadway chorus line. The crescendo and hiss of the surf combined with chorus of delighted screams. Waves of humanity mixed with a wave from the sea in a dance where the ocean played lead and humanity played the follow. No need for sheet music or an introductory dance lesson here—everyone knew the lyrics and steps.

Strolling along the beach, it’s strange to watch people grapple with the simultaneous need to hide from and enjoy the sun, all lathering up with sunscreen but refusing to go indoors. A sort of odd example where, once again, we humans really want what we really shouldn’t have.

I solve this dilemma by eating an ice cream, then by going inside a climate controlled mall for a classic Chilean lomito—a sandwich made with sauerkraut (chukrut), tomato, mayo, and sliced pork. It was a juicy, unhealthy delight. One more thing I shouldn’t have, but want. I guess we all pick our poison.

Me? I’d rather bite the bullet because of a pork induced coronary rather than die of skin cancer. I’d take skin cancer over being mauled by a tiger. Mauled by a tiger over starving to death on a hike. But I’d take all of the above over the worst death I can possible imagine—dying in a crash in the 24th hour of a 25 hour bus ride. Give me the sunscreen. I’m going back out in the sun.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures today.

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