written feb 24, 2022
A post from the archives, capturing the moment I realized I was ready for a more stable & calm existence, prompting me to start making my way up north to Boulder, CO where I reside now. We are still in negotiation with the insurance company. Lightly edited in the time since.
Cerro Castillo is a small town sitting on Route 7 in Chile. There is neither a station for gas nor one for police. Busses to the neighboring towns run on some days and not on others but nobody seems to know the full schedule. All who work here also live here and everyone who lives here welcomes those who don’t. Tonight is night number five in this quiet abode.
It’s sunday night. We’re half an hour away from town. Listening to an audiobook of scary stories and looking forward to checking into our hostel. The plan is to eat dinner, sleep, hike, sleep, and head on south. The car follows the curves of the road, the beautiful scenery sliding on past. The right front wheel quietly nears the cut-off shoulder … and falls in.
Reality enters slow motion. Brakes are activated, tires skid, ABS does its best but even the best is not enough on this particular combination of gravel and wet concrete. We slide across the road and hit the gutter on the other side. Airbags deploy. We’re airborn. Impact.
We’re hanging upside down in our seats, cookies and apples scattered in a wholly new arrangement to the messy one prior. It’s dark and smoky. The lights are on and the engine is off. I undo my seatbelt and collapse into the puddle on the ceiling of the car. I help Nancy down from her seat. She’s shaken but ok.
We try to orient ourselves. My ears are ringing. Everything is backwards and upside down. The audiobook is still playing, but the words aren’t making sense anymore. I pause it because I can’t think. It doesn’t help.
The passenger and driver doors won’t open. We hear voices outside. Someone gets the back door open. It becomes brighter. We scramble out and are met with a dozen worried faces. The police are called but they’re a ways away. We’re told to put on our jackets as it’s freezing but we can’t feel it through the shock and adrenaline.
We hug one another. I can’t hear much in my right ear and can’t formulate many words or thoughts beyond “passport” and “phone” and “we’re ok”. Nancy digs my phone out of the car and hands it to me, instantly making me feel more at ease. I amble around, not entirely sure of what to do, and what not to do; having seen this scene before on roadsides yet being unprepared for being the one in the scene.
Another vehicle stops and two familiar women emerge. It’s the hitchhikers we picked up days earlier in another part of the country, who just happen to be in a bus passing by. Nancy stays with the car for the police as our friends get me into the bus and we head to the town’s clinic. The bus driver is driving too quickly for comfort. Maybe it’s just me. I close my eyes to relieve the pounding headache and we soon arrive.
There were no serious injuries and no other cars involved. The rental car was a total loss. The past week has been a strange juxtaposition of life in an idyllic, still town and phone calls with international corporations and legal systems very far removed from the simplicity of these quiet streets.
Knowledge about the town and its runnings is held socially & informally; not encoded anywhere permanent or searchable. Getting to the regional police station was impossible without the whatsapp number on a sticky note. Google Maps and its assurances about business’ hours are mere snapshots of a reality that once was, secondary to the schedule of the owner and the availability of fresh eggs that morning.
In a town this small, the components of what makes a town a town are made clearer. There is the place people get dropped off and hope to be picked up from. The places people go when they are hungry and thirsty. The place to buy cigarettes and find someone to smoke them near. The place you go to inquire about a place to stay the night, and the place you try when that one is full.
A town is the place people bring you if you suffer a calamity outside of it. The place in between the other places but one with hot water, power outlets, fresh meals, and knowledge about the surrounding region.
Cerra Castillo might not be a large point on a map, but it is a a significant point of opportunity, access, and predictability in the vast emptiness of the land beyond its borders, and I am grateful to have made my refuge here.