Lanco, Chile: Reflections on Small Town Life

 

View of the main street of Lanco from N.’s apartment

Eight months ago I went to Curico with a friend. As we were wandering around the deserted, dead streets of the city (it was a holiday weekend) we started to muse about what it would be like to live in Curico. Not as a gringa, but as someone who grew up and lived in Curico their whole life. It was hard for us to imagine.

Fast forward to last week and I find myself in Lanco, Chile, a small town of 16,000 people on the northern tip of the newly created 14th region of Chile, Region de los Rios. It’s about 70 km from Valdivia and 90 km from Temuco. No one comes to Lanco unless they have a reason to. It’s not touristy at all. I was there because N. works there managing a construction site and I wanted to visit him and get to know that area of Chile.

One morning dawned rainy and ruined my plans to go to Lago Panguipulli, so I decided to explore Lanco. I started contemplating what it would be like to live in Lanco, to have lived there my whole life. It depressed me. From what I could tell, the main activities of Lanco natives were hanging out on the steps of the tiny Unimarc, sitting in the plaza, walking on the railroad tracks, chatting loudly on the corner of the street under N.’s window about everything but the price of tea in China, and driving your car around and around town with no apparent destination. How could people live like that? Don’t they long for the hustle and bustle of a larger city? Don’t they get bored? I was certainly bored and I had been there 3 days.

Chewing the fat outside the clock store
Now, a little history about myself. Santiago is the first city I’ve ever lived in. I like living in a city, and honestly don’t think I could live anywhere in Chile that wasn’t Santiago. But my desire to live in a city is a recent phenomenon. I grew up in Vermont, in a tiny town of 2000 people. I lived on a farm until I was 15 years old. I know approximately everyone who lives in my town, and most people who live in the neighboring towns. Was I miserable as a child in this town “in the middle of nowhere”? Not at all. Completely the opposite. I had a great childhood. I never once remember wanting to move to the city of Burlington, VT, much less Boston or New York City. For me growing up, Lanco would have been a metropolis.

So if growing up I wasn’t miserable, the residents of Lanco must not be either. My problem was that I had only been there three days. My life was not in Lanco. When you grow up somewhere, you have your roots there. There will always be people you know and you don’t need a million different activities to entertain yourself. My favorite memories as a child center around the games my sister and brother and I used to make up, the times spent at family gatherings, playing hide and seek in the corn fields with my friends, going to bonfires and barn dances and generally just enjoying the company of the people in my life. I imagine life in small town Chile must be similar. From an outsider’s perspective it may seem mundane, but I’m sure if tourists came to my hometown, they would think the same.

Another view from N’s apartment

 

That being said, I don’t think I could go back to living in my small town. My friends have mostly grown up and moved away, and while my family still lives there, I know from experience that I need a network (however small it may be) of friends to keep me sane. However, I now have a deeper appreciation for small town life. It’s a perspective I’ve gained only by leaving.

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