I live in an era when transportation is fast and communication almost instant, yet I sometimes get a strange panicky feeling of being isolated or stranded. It happened to me in Minneapolis, even though I was in a city of around 3 million people, and hardly ever alone. As I looked out over the city from the Foshay Tower, I could see for miles and miles and miles. No mountains. No coast. Just land. I was in the middle of nowhere. I started to feel slightly panicky.
This is probably why thinking about booking flights to Perth, Australia, or going anywhere in Australia kind of freaks me out. I have nothing against the country, one of my best friends is from there, and another best friend studied there for a whole year. I’m sure it’s lovely. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not very far away, and in my mind, isolated in the middle of the ocean. And within Australia, Perth is all by it’s lonesome over on the Western coast, surrounded by desert and ocean. Don’t even get me started on those tiny islands in the Pacific. It boggles my mind that people live there.
And this is all very silly, considering that I myself live at “the end of the world” in a country that is called a virtual island because of its isolation from the rest of South America.
Before I moved to Chile in 2009, my grandmother gave me the book Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende. It tells the story of the founding of Chile by Pedro de Valdivia, through the eyes of his lover, Inés de Suarez. From reading this book, I’m realizing what isolation really is. The Spanish settlers in Santiago were ISOLATED. They crossed the Atacama desert by horseback, and for a long time had no ships or easy ways to get back to Peru, which was the capital of the Spanish colonies at the time.
At the beginning of September, we realized that our first winter in Chile had come to an end. The weather improved and buds came out on the young trees we had transplanted from the forest to line the streets. Those months had been hard not just because of the Indians’ harassment and Sancho de la Hoz’s conspiring, but also for the forsaken feeling that frequently overwhelmed us. We wondered what was happening in the rest of the world, whether there had been Spanish conquests in other territories, new inventions, what was the state of our emperor…(pg 187-189)
Of course, the Mapuche people had been living peacefully and happily in “isolation” before the Inca, and then the Spanish, arrived. And not to say that I lived like a Mapuche growing up in Vermont, not in the least, but when I was more sheltered, when the only part of the world I really knew was New England, I never felt this way. It’s as if traveling and seeing new places has made me realize how HUGE the world is, and how tiny I am in comparison. When I really was “isolated” up in the countryside of Vermont, I never felt that way.
Gone are the days of trekking across the Atacama or climbing over the Andes mountains or sailing through the Pacific. Now, I can get in a taxi and be at the airport in less than an hour and take a flight almost anywhere. Isolation hardly exists anymore, except maybe in my head.