It all started with a break-up.
The usual story of gay dating.
After 2 years of bliss in New York together, I got a dream job in San Francisco and we decided to go long distance. It lasted well. We weathered his house burning down, the passing of his mother and my kidney stones. He graduated. He did his first triathlon. I thrived in the new company, adapted to constant beautiful days.
It was in September of 2016, right after our 5th year anniversary, that things started to change.
In October he started “acting different”. He was posting pictures topless, and one in underwear on his social media. He started wearing cologne again. He started dressing different, exchanging his grunge indie plaid shirt and cargo shorts for fitted shirts from Zara with skinny jeans. He stopped hanging out with his straight friends and instead went almost exclusively to gay nights, festivals and parties.
In November, I found the note that his “new friend” had written him.
When I called him out on it, he said he needed space. Didn’t want to “break up”, just wanted to “take a break” and “let’s see how things look in January”.
In December, I made the mistake of checking his social media and saw the pictures of them together on a camping trip.
As January came and 2017 started, I felt so incredibly lost and uncomfortable.
I called him. It felt like more of a courtesy call really. He was surprised that I called, but confirmed that he and his “friend from another country” were now together.
I couldn’t stay in San Francisco, and I couldn’t go home to New York City.
5 years together, talks of getting a Domestic Partnership, all gone.
I remember aimlessly walking through San Francisco one day, lost in replaying all of the events, cycling between love, hate, sadness, grief, shock. One second sure this would “work out” and the next feeling like I would never feel joy again.
The sign was small on the store as I passed it, yet something got me to stop immediately. “Do You Have Questions?” “Are You in Pain?”
I looked up, it was advertisement for a psychic.
A bit on the nose really, but sure. Why not?
The psychic’s name was Laura and she was warm and empathetic and sweet, she smelled like cinnamon.
She told me the things that I wanted to hear and it did make me feel better.
That he was “struggling”, that our “love was real”, and that I would be very successful. Then she told me something that gave me pause.
“I know you are torn between staying here or going east, but where you need to go is South.” She said this with a dramatic pause. Willowing in her countless scarves as her many bracelets tinkled gently. I was briefly reminded of the divination teacher from Harry Potter.
I paid her and thanked her, declined the up-sell offers to clean my chakras and walked back home.
I couldn’t get what she said out of my head. Go south? To where? No place sounded the least bit okay. I even took out a map to see if any cities or states sounded appealing. None of them did.
It was then that I saw Mexico.
Well that was pretty south. Especially for someone who had never once left the country (aside from a brief weekend in Canada).
The more I thought about it, the more this “felt” so completely right. I know I needed to leave. Staying in San Francisco was like living in a painful eulogy. I had been there just long enough that I was starting to get used to it yet it didn’t feel like home, and he was all over it. I saw him in every corner of my house, remembering just months ago how we had kissed goodbye on my sofa, or when he cooked in the kitchen. He was in my car, as I remembered the first time I dropped him off at the airport after we met, or when he bought me a cell-phone holder so we could FaceTime while I drove down to work.
In this way, Laura was right. I couldn’t stay here anymore, and the thought of going back to New York City made me nauseous. I needed to go somewhere.
At this point, I had already left my job, and it was about a week later that I made up my mind and purchased a one way ticket to Mexico.
For the first time since October, I started to feel energized. Excited. I can’t say it was ‘happy’, but it was motion. It was movement. It was life.
I sold my car. I sold some stock. I sent my cat to live with my brother in New York City and I declined the offer to renew the lease. I put almost everything I had in storage, and with nothing more than 2 duffel bags stuffed with clothes, a laptop and a few books, arrived at the airport at almost 6am for my 8:30 morning flight to Mexico.
While on the flight to Mexico, I thought about the border of Mexico as being a large spectral gate. Something that represented the unknown. I couldn’t fathom what was going to happen. I had no idea how long I would be down there. I had no deadline, no timeline, a rather full bank account, some credit cards, and for the first time in my life, an embracing of the total unknown, of chaos and of disorder. It was the exact opposite of everything in my life being meticulously planned, a life without risk.
After a month of lounging around in Mexico splitting times between Mexico City, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, drinking too much tequila and getting very friendly with the handsome locals, I decided to keep heading south.
I had done a little bit of research, but decided to take a more relaxed philosophy and just country hopped until it was time to go to the next country.
Along the way, I stopped by major cities.
For the first time since graduating college nearly 15 years earlier, I was untethered to anything except myself.
I was unemployed, single, homeless. I didn’t even have a set of keys.
After Mexico, I went to Costa Rica, Peru and then made my way into Chile.
While in Chile, I went gradually south along the western border heading to Balmaceda and seeing the breathtaking Marble Caves and Blue Cathedral and spent a few hours on a boat to see the San Rafael Glacier.
The surreal colors of Rio Tranquilo.
Because of my wandering, meandering disorganized approach to this - I had made a mistake.
South America is actually very economical compared to North America and Europe. The cost of living is far less, food and sundries are much less expensive, it’s just the flights that can get very expensive and for the most part somewhat frustrating as you almost always have to fly to the countries capital- so if you are in Punta Arenas, Chile and want to go to Cuzco, Peru, you’d need to take a flight to Santiago, fly to Lima, then fly to Cuzco. (It would be the equivalent of needing to fly from San Francisco to Sacramento, Sacramento to Albany, Albany to NYC instead of just SF to NYC)
As a way to prepare for this, I pre-purchased the country flights months in advance. As I looked over my calendar, I saw in dismay that I needed to leave on Tuesday morning to get to Argentina. A change in airfare would’ve cost at least $1000 and I was arriving in Punta Arenas, the southern most destination in Chile, on Thursday evening.
Torres del Paine was about a 3 hour drive from Punta Arenas, so I figured I could rent a car on Friday morning, head to the park, spend the weekend there and then return the following Monday to catch my flight to Argentina.
That’s when I made my second critical mistake. Being that parts of South America don’t have developed roads, as well as cultural preference, when I went to rent a car the next day, they only had manual cars available. I had never learned to drive one. I grew up on automatics. The woman behind the counter said it was possible that one of their two automatic cars would be returned on Saturday, but it wasn’t probable.
I considered my options, and while initially disappointed, I decided to just spend the weekend in Punta Arenas and hope for an automatic on Saturday. Punta Arenas is an interesting little town. It’s a gateway town, similar to Cuzco for Sacred Valley, it was a town that catered to transients, yet had a strange culture all to it’s own. Notably it’s ship graveyards and history with the water. I was close to the Straits of Magellan and a veritable mine of fascinating history.
I called on Saturday, and naturally the car was not returned. The cashier explained that they would definitely have one on Monday. My flight left at 8:30 am on Tuesday morning, I would be unable to see Torres del Paine.
Strangely enough, that thought didn’t really bother me. I had changed my goals often during this trip and the longer I went without tethers or anchors to anything, the less tied to any particular goal I felt. I took each day as it came and treasured it as a wondrous experience.
The Edge of the World
On Monday at about 10 am, the cashier called me and said a car had just been returned. I could either wait until it was cleaned out and refilled with gas and pick it up at 1pm, or I could come take it as is now and get a 50% discount. I chose the latter, and a half hour later I drove off the small parking lot in a large black SUV.
I know I needed to get out of Punta Arenas, but where do I go? I looked at my phone, looking for any spots of interest that I could reach in a reasonably short amount of time. Cape Wind looked promising, until I researched that it would take about 4 hours to get to and that there wasn’t much to do.
Then it hit me. Looking at the map, I saw I was I about 40 miles from the southern tip of the continent. I wanted to go there. I wanted to see what the “end of the world” looked like. I wanted to stand on the tip of a landmass and see what it would feel like to know that further south would be nothing but miles of ocean leading to the frozen landmass of Antarctica. I had never been so far away from a major city before. I wanted to go there and stand on the edge. I wanted to see the expanse of forever.
This was towards the end of May so the seasons were reversed from what I was used to it. It was very chilly, late Autumn. Punta Arenas and Southern Chile have a few highlighted tourist peaks, but this was a month or so post-season.
I got in the car, I remember it being windy and rainy that day and followed my GPS’ instructions and left town. In total the drive would be about an hour. There were a few small stops on the way according to Atlas Obscura for things of note. Puerto Hambre, the macabre town being named after the first group of pilgrims died of starvation, as well as the “Central Monument”, a place to which when standing, you are completely equidistant to the border of Peru, to the tip of Antartica as well as several long abandoned colonial houses.
About a half-hour into the drive. I noticed it.
I was completely alone.
I hadn’t seen a soul the entire time once I left Punta Arenas. There were no other cars on the road.
As I continued driving, the ocean came into it’s full glory on my left and a beautiful primeval looking forest on my right. The clouds, post the rain, took an almost surreal and bizarre quality of color and texture. I began to be heavily reminded of the video game “Myst”.
Ruins of a boat in the Straits of Magellan
While first listening to my Spotify playlist. I eventually felt it was obtrusive and turned off the music. There was total silence, except for the quiet hum of my car’s engine. I rolled down both windows and enjoyed the blast of chilly air. The tangy smell of the sea creating a strange duality with the earthy smell of the forest. I stopped at the Central Monument. I stopped at the opening of the Straits of Magellan. I turned off on the road leading to Puerto Hambre, just to meet with a sign indicating that the road was closed for a week.
Another old relic
I continued south, feeling a strange sensation of solitude, yet not feeling loneliness. It felt like I was being given a strange and wonderful gift.
Long abandoned colonial houses
It was early afternoon when I had to slow down. I had crossed a small metal bridge and turned onto a narrow road. At times, the road vanished under water and I was grateful for the SUV. As I made my last turn, I saw it and smiled. A sign that while so simple, felt so meaningful.
A simple green highway sign, one of the most common and every day sights you would expect to see. Yet to me, it was remarkable in it’s simplicity and it’s depth: “Fin de Camino”. “End of the Road”
End of the Road!
A simple metal bar blocked the way. This was it. There were no more highways. Nothing but nature. Beyond the metal bar was a small pathway and another green sign indicated that there was a small lighthouse that was about a 2 hour hike. I looked at my phone. It was 1:30. I had made several stops on the way south to take pictures and admire the scenery. I could make it there by 3:30, spend a half hour, then hike back and return to the car at 6 as darkness would start to fall.
Excited, I started the hike. Within a half hour, I began to doubt my decision. Even in a scarf, boots, vest and jacket, I was freezing. Additionally, due to the tides, parts of the path were completely submerged in freezing water. I do not know how to swim, and romantic and poignant as it would sound to take my last breaths in this stunning location, my own genome coding for survival took over and sure enough, a few moments later I slipped while crossing a log and fell waist deep into a pool of swirling freezing water. Luckily I was holding my phone in my hand and when I slipped i just fell feet first and held my arms high. I looked over the rest of the hiking path and saw it was completely submerged for at least 1500 feet. It wouldn’t be worth the risk. I decided to trudge back to the car but shortly after making my decision, I saw a small rock path leading up to the forest.
I climbed up and stopped. I would never be back here again and I should enjoy this experience. I was wet, cold and uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel bad or sick or in danger. I sat down on a moss covered rock in the forest and beheld the strange view of seeing how Autumn looked for a place this far south of the equator. I sat and watched the ocean for hours. Realizing how far south I was. At how infinite it felt. That there was so much empty expanse to the south. I wondered what it would be like to build a boat and let the currents take me. I had no idea what was happening to me, but it felt like it was a deeply personal and spiritual experience. Other then the cashier that morning, I hadn’t seen a single person that entire day. I felt like the only person in the world. Or more so, I felt like I was outside of the world. That the entire world was a play, and I was shown the backdrop. I was behind the scenes. I was in a place where people didn’t run businesses or make or break relationships, or scheme or rob or be jealous or feel guilt. I was separate from all of that. I was outside of all of that. I was just being. I was energy in a physical form.
Everything felt so....absurd. The concepts of money. Of trade. Of war. Of heartbreak. Of looking good. Of being the best at something. It all felt so absurdly ridiculous and trite. I was sitting between two natural wonders. Never before had I seen a forest and an ocean right next to each other and I was in the middle of it. I felt like I was no longer a part of humanity for a day, and instead I could just sit in this random place and have this epiphany.
I decided then, to do something I had been afraid to do for the last 6 months. I had kept in my wallet a picture of us. My boyfriend, my partner, now my ex, hidden all the way in the back pocket behind my insurance card. It was the first picture we had taken together, when I went to visit him in Phoenix and we did a photo booth together at a candy store, with it was a small card he had written to me when he sent me flowers more than a year ago. They were the last bastions and physical memories of our relationship, they were me holding onto the past.
I took them both out and I cried. I grieved. I mourned. I let myself feel all the things I had been avoiding feeling. I let go of all of the lies I had been telling myself, that we would get back together, that this was just a “blip”. I suddenly remembered how the topic of him had come up from time to time during my trip South, and I was telling people “Yes, I have a boyfriend, but we are just taking a break”, but there on the shores of forever, I finally acknowledged the truth. It was over. He was now a part of my past. I tore up both of those things and watched the pieces fall to the forest floor, where the quick breeze took them out and into the sea. Joined by a countless number of infinite memories.
I am not a religious person, I am a spiritually minded one, but tend to be logical and more science minded, but something was happening to me and I felt the most inexplicable sense of gratitude, love, peace and pure joy I had ever felt.
The feeling passed and when I thought of my ex, I could still “feel” the pain, but it was somehow now the pain of healing. Like the relief you feel after going to a dentist and it feels sore, but you realize the rot is out and the mind-numbing pain is gone, replaced by the quiet soreness of healing.
The sun began to set and I realized it would be best for me to start heading back. I recognized I was a very different person, but I had no idea how to articulate why or how. I was just different. Something in my core had changed. Like I had been taken apart and put back together.
I got back to the car and there were still some streaks of light in the sky.
I quietly returned to the car, drove back to Punta Arenas and pulled into the driveway of my AirBnB. At the front door I disrobed and collapsed into the small bed and I smiled.
End of the Road.