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Notes from the home of the hitchhiker

Valparaíso de mi amor

Paluch hitchhiking with Aileen back to Valparaíso, Chile
'Have you heard this tune?' Gabriel asked me typing something in the search bar.
'What's that?' I asked curiously.
'Great song about Valpo man.' I started to listen a bit surprised.
'It's like samba, why?'
'I think Joe's father was Brazilian.' I quickly checked it out and it was truth. Joe Vasconcellos was a son of a Brazilian diplomat married to a Chilean woman. The song was actually a cover of other song called La Joya del Pacífico, but most people knew it by its chorus Valparaíso de mi amor - Valparaíso my love. This tune was fitting perfectly to the feelings we both had about the city.

Life in La Valija changed only slightly, Josefa and Tami had more extra shifts for both of us, Gabriel also started to do some night shifts in another hostel so he couldn't complain economically. I was doing okay, maybe not saving much, but buying a few beers on a night out wasn't a problem. One evening I received a message from Couchsurfing even though I wasn't using it for a while: 'hey if you're still in Valpo and would like to grab a drink and practice your Spanish could be fun discovering some nice bars. Greets. Aileen.' Discovering new bars? Always up for that. And I could afford it!

On the next Saturday after a little chat on whatsapp with Priscilla who moved from Brazil to China to study, I put my new jacket on and started to walk towards Plaza Anibal Pinto to meet Aileen. I was a bit hungover after a crazy night, but if someone invites you for a beer it's hard to say no. I wasn't sure what to expect, her profile didn't have much info, on the road I was usually picking people with lots of description about themselves, but this time it wasn't me who arranged the meeting. When I arrived, a bit late like a typical Latino, Aileen was already there. After exchanging his and hellos we started to walk towards a bar called Pajarito, recommended by Aileen. Like most Chilean girls she had long dark hair and wasn't too tall. Her eyes had this Mapuche* look, but were bigger, really big and shiny. And her name was so un-Chilean, it was actually Irish. I liked it!

Straight from the beginning we had some things to talk about as she studied geography for a while just to exchange it later for pedagogy. She was also very curious about CS because she was still quite new to that. But the thing we were chatting the most about were travels. She wanted to change from being a tourist to a traveller. With my Spanish I felt completely comfortable and while it was still full of errors I wanted to avoid, some people thought these mistakes were cute. Aileen was one of them.

After a few rounds she invited me to join her friends and move to another place. In the same square we met earlier we joined her housemate Oscar and two friends from Santiago, Marina and Pauly. It was Saturday and Pauly's birthday, so it was time to have some fun. First we went to a club called La Sala where we stayed till the end and then the guys mentioned something about an afterparty in Morgana. The place was an illegal club with a bouncer opening the door after knocking, a bar and a dance floor in a normally empty old building. When we arrived there it felt like entering some secret club, place known only by locals, probably only some locals. When we finished dancing and went outside the sun was already up and shining. It was 9 a.m. Fantastic night!

Saving some money was possible those days, but it was slow and I wanted to either find another job or start busking with something. Pantomime was out of the question and giant soap bubbles, which I experimented with a bit in Poland and Ireland, were too unreliable. It was hard to prepare a good solution, even harder to travel with it and the bubbles were really weather dependent. Luckily Gabriel brought me a new idea: contact juggling. When I heard juggling I wasn't too sure about it, but when I saw some videos I wanted to give it a try. It was so different than traditional juggling, it looked unreal! I started to save money to buy a crystal ball, it wasn't cheap.

A few days later Aileen invited me to see Laguna Verde, a village not far from Valpo where we spent the whole afternoon on the beach, looking at the cliffs and chatting over a few beers. The other day I invited her for a movie night in La Valija, then she invited me to her place for dinner and we started to see each other again and again and again. And after meeting her mother twice, once in Valpo and the other time in Santiago where Aileen was originally from, we realised we could actually start calling ourselves a couple. Una Chilena y un loco Polaco**, quite exotic. None of us was actually looking for a relationship, but when you feel comfortable with someone, why not?

Santiago, which I visited for the first time just to buy a juggling ball, wasn't too impressive for me. It was a modern, developed city with a good subway system, great roads and generally good infrastructure, but it lacked that unique vibe Valpo had, it was grey, almost as grey as Warsaw I remembered. When I was there I met up with Aileen who went to see her family and we ended up in an Irish pub called Shamrock. It was the first proper Irish pub I went to in such a long time. I was hoping I would find draught Guinness, but the lads working there told me Guinness didn't sell tap beer to South America. Well let's try some local stout then! It wasn't bad but... after Guinness there was always but.

Plaza de Armas in Santiago de Chile
From Santiago I brought two juggling balls, a cheap rubber one for practising and one made of acrylic for the future. The acrylic one looked like made of transparent crystal and it was easy to scratch, definitely not for the beginners. I started to download videos and books about contact juggling and for the first few days the ball was all I could think of. I saw some lads busking at red lights in front of cars with traditional juggling, but never with contact. It was so much harder to learn, but performed properly it seemed much more magic, much more out of this world.

Winter months were passing by and sometimes the temperature was dropping a lot by nights, never below zero, but without a proper heating it felt cold. With Gabriel we were collecting wood from old burnt buildings or renovation sites to make fire in La Valija. There was only one small stove for the whole hostel, so we were closing the doors and staying all close to the reception looking at the hypnotic fire like at some guru. There weren't many guests at this time of the year, there was even one night when we had no one beside the staff. The way to survive for La Valija was to accept big groups of students coming for conferences. They were not as much fun as travellers but bills had to be paid.

On the beginning of September everyone started to talk about the eighteenth, the awaited Fiestas Patrias, national holiday commemorating the beginning of the independence process, which started in 1810. I remembered Aileen and Pauly talking about it the day we met, saying I had to stay till the eighteenth as it was a mental party all over the country. At that time I said I would probably be back on the road. Many weeks passed and I was still in Valpo and it actually felt like we met yesterday. It's so easy to get stuck in a place you enjoy.

The celebrations unofficially started at the weekend before the eighteenth and in La Valija we put national flags all over the place. Girls bought loads of meet for the barbecue, the fridge was also full of booze. Aileen's parents came from Santiago with her little brother Jorge, as well as Pauly and other friends from the neighbourhood and they were also throwing a barbecue every evening. The most popular drink during Fiestas Patrias was terremoto, a strange mix of sweet white wine, grenadine syrup and pineapple ice cream. After a few glasses I could literally feel an earthquake in my head and that's what terremoto meant. One evening Aileen, her parents and friends came to La Valija so I could celebrate with my two new families at the same time. Then we all went out to ramada in Playa Ancha, a site full of tents selling food and drinks with live music and dance floors. These venues were the places where most Chileans enjoyed their national holiday, drinking unbelievable amounts of terremoto and dancing cueca, their traditional dance. It didn't seem too easy, but after many earthquakes everything was becoming easier. Maybe beside coming back home.

When I had a few days off I was sometimes disappearing from the hostel and staying in Aileen's house which was a nice change. We both loved to watch The Big Bang Theory cosied up with blankets with her cat Pascual warming up our knees. When one day Pauly popped in we went for a short trip to Horcón, a fishermen village fifty kilometres north from Valpo. A small beach in its centre was filled with colourful boats, the coastal mountain range was blending with a blue haze of the ocean far up north, the day was fresh but sunny, it just felt perfect. After grabbing yummy empanadas filled with cheese and sea food we wanted to go to another beach, but Pauly's car suddenly didn't want to start. At the end she had to call her insurance company which sent a tow truck and because there wasn't enough room for all of us in the cabin I came back sitting inside the car on top of the truck, holding confused Pascual. Perfect day!

'Let's go to La Campana again' Gabriel came up with an idea one afternoon.
'Actually why not,' I said. 'I'll ask Aileen, maybe she wants to go with us.'
Aileen arrived in the morning and after another sip of coffee we went to the station to take a subway to Limache. Beside the three of us there was Anne-Katherine going, a German girl staying in the hostel. Aileen was excited and worried in the same time as she never climbed any high mountain and La Campana wasn't the easiest trek. We were warned again that the final trail to the summit was closed for the winter, but we ignored it just like the first time and now we had much more daylight than in June. I had to wait sometimes for Aileen, it was a bit hard for her, but when we reached the top I was really proud. This girl had more than twenty pairs of shoes in her wardrobe, but none of them were proper for trekking. This time we could see not only the mighty cordillera, but also the ocean on the other side and the cargo ships in Quintero Bay.

'Can I ask you something?' Aileen broke a moment of silence while walking through the streets of Cerro Concepción the other day.
'What would you say if I liked to travel with you?'
'Em...' I wasn't expecting that question at all. 'Well, we could try, but it's not always easy.' I said diplomatically. I wasn't really sure about this idea, in the first moment it felt like someone was trying to take away my freedom. 'Maybe we would have to first try if you like it. We could go somewhere for a short trip.'
'Would be great. You know I really want to travel, but I'm afraid to do it alone.'
Aileen visited some beautiful places in South America, once with her cousin, the other time with her brother Freddy, but she wanted to do something more wild, more independent, not the typical tourist stuff. That was great, but deep inside I was afraid of losing my independence. I never really travelled with someone for longer, the maximum was probably two weeks and I really loved to be alone on the road. So many crazy situations happened on my way maybe because I wasn't part of a group, which usually is more closed to others. And the best was that I could always change my plans without discussing it. I really needed to think about it.

A few days later Gabriel asked me if I wanted to work in another hostel as they were looking for a receptionist and he had already two jobs. I was absolutely up for that, so we went to the place straight away. The hostel was called Barrio Paraíso and was just two blocks away from La Valija. Francisco, the owner of the hostel was a young lad, maybe in late twenties and he seemed really chilled out, fun guy. After a little chat the deal was done, I would start the next day. Perfect! Barrio Paraíso was more like a small hotel with only six private rooms. When I arrived there on the following day I was surprised that there was no proper booking system in a computer, just a good old copy book and pen. I didn't have to worry about online reservations, Francisco had mobile internet so he could manage it and call me to note it down. The place was very quiet, most of the guests were couples staying in their rooms when not sightseeing. There was actually nothing to do sometimes so I could watch documentaries and films or read books. On my second shift there I flicked through one of the guidebooks about Chile and after some recommendations from Fransisco I had an idea for a short trip with Aileen.

We wanted to start hitching early, but somehow didn't leave her house until midday. Aileen's backpack was full of nice food we prepared earlier, well it wasn't her backpack actually, she borrowed it from Gabriel. Her previous trips were made with a suitcase on wheels, she was diving into the world of backpacking and hitchhiking for the first time. We took a bus to Viña del Mar and on the way to the same spot I was using to hitch to Mendoza we popped in to one shop to buy a camping gas. I finally bought a tiny stove and could now enjoy hot coffee even in the wild. I took out a sign saying Los Vilos, our destination was Elqui Valley in the north, famous for the production of Pisco***.

'Hold the sign, it's your turn!'
'No, I feel embarrassed.'
'You wanna hitch and you're shy to do it? Come on Aileen!'
'Not yet, not yet. Ah, I feel so shy about it!'
I started to laugh, it's funny how we react when we try new things, sometimes in a completely different manner than we imagined. It took us more than half an hour to find a lift to the peaje in Quillota and slightly less to catch another ride. The family of three was going only to La Calera and at first I wasn't sure if I wanted to end up there as there was no station, just a motorway junction of Ruta 60-CH and Panamericana. We jumped in anyway and these good people did a detour to bring as to a Copec. For Aileen it was a new thing to see that someone wanted to do such things so selflessly. At the station I started to look around for a quiet spot to camp, it was getting dark, but a few minutes later we were sitting inside a truck.

We had a lift to La Serena, the truck was going far up north, but the driver told us he would stop for a nap in Los Vilos. When we arrived there we asked if we could camp beside the station and as always there was no problem at all. We warmed up some food, prepared a beautiful salad and some tea. If I wasn't invited for a meal I usually wouldn't eat that well on the road. Having a stove was definitely a change and having Aileen on the side was even bigger change. She cooked really well. My tent was a bit small for the two of us and all our luggage, but it didn't feel cold and the night was freezing. So far only pros.

At 4 a.m. we started to continue and by eight we reached La Serena. We couldn't see the transition of the landscape, once it got bright we saw semi desert around. In La Serena we took a bus to the airport in the eastern part of the city and then stuck the thumb out again. It was my thumb, Aileen still couldn't do it. With one quick lift we arrived in Vicuña welcomed by the heat and the blue sky. So nice. We were both tired after so little sleep the previous night and it was hard to motivate ourselves to move our asses from the town plaza, especially after a few beers. At the end we took a bus to Pisco Elqui where we decided to stay for the night. We pitched the tent at the top of the village in a place suggested by the locals. We had a fantastic view of the green valley surrounded by desert mountains. All the agriculture could exist there thanks to the irrigation system and we had one ditch with clean water next to our tent. A few more beers and we went for a desired sleep.

Green Elqui Valley surrounded by dry mountains in central Chile
Elqui Valley
The next day we spent wandering around the village, sipping coffee in a lovely café and taking pictures, and in the afternoon we started hitching back. We both had to go to work. Aileen just found a job in a restaurant after spending the last couple of months on the dole. There wasn't much traffic, so I was practising contact juggling on the roadside and after around two hours without any luck we jumped on a bus to Vicuña. From there we quickly hitched a ride with one woman going a few miles down the road and just a second later with a guy driving to La Serena. We spent the night at the bus station where we managed to have some sleep. In the morning, after ten minutes at the traffic lights near the bus station we got a lift all the way to Santiago. Nearly five hundred kilometres with a huge Mack style truck. In the capital city we stayed at Aileen's family house in Maipú and the same evening went out with Pauly to see the concert of Miami Horror, a band I never heard of before, but girls loved it. From the road straight into the crowded live show.

The winter was over, the days started to be warmer and longer and it was time for me to renew my visa again. Mendoza for the third time. Aileen had never been there so we decided to hitch together and Deo was happy to host us in her new apartment. Once we left the coast it started to be hot as hell. It took us only a few lifts to get to our destination, all of them with Chilean drivers. Aileen even showed her thumb once! The heat in Mendoza was terrible, even worst then in San Felipe or Los Andes and it was just the beginning of December. I knew the city already and as we had very limited time because of our jobs we did very little sightseeing. Aileen preferred to look for Christmas gifts, especially for books which were really expensive in Chile because of the tax. It was nice to see Deo again and even though she seemed always happy, this time she was flying. She was getting ready for her Euro trip, something she was dreaming of for a long time. We came back to Valpo very late at night, but not because of slow hitchhiking, but because we left Deo's place late. It was hard to wake up early after a night out.

With the beginning of the summer we had more guests and Gabriel was really happy about it because he started his own business beside working in La Valija. As a surf lover he began organising surfing classes and trips for people staying in the hostels around. I went with him once and it was just as hard as I imagined. The waves twisted me so many times, it was like being in a giant washing machine. I didn't manage to stand on the board for more than two seconds and after a few hours spent in the water I was so wrecked I almost couldn't hold a cup of coffee in my hand.

Shortly before the Christmas time I got really sick with a strong fever and I wasn't sure if I would spend it in Santiago with Aileen's family. Luckily the infection lasted only for one and a half day. When we arrived in the house, beside the little Jorge there was Freddy, Aileen's second brother who lived with her in Valpo, as well as her grandparents and obviously her mother and father. Jorge couldn't wait for the arrival of Santa, he was talking about it all day long and it reminded me my nephews when they were younger. Santa finally arrived in the evening on the back of a pickup and went through all the neighbourhood, kids were in heaven. One of the gifts Aileen received was strange, it was an email. In the attachment there was a map. It was titled: Adventure 2014 - probable route of Aileen and Paluch. That was a present from Polish Santa. When Aileen saw it she started to cry and it really touched me. I didn't expect to see it, but I was sure I wanted to give her exactly this gift. By that time I was sure I wanted to travel with her. Later on came Pauly and Mary, the family good old friend and we had a couple of beers, loads of meat and Bison Vodka with apple juice, a cocktail from really exotic and far away country called Poland.

December was about to end and that meant everyone was preparing for the New Year's party. Most hostels weren't selling rooms and beds per nights but in packages and the prices were in my opinion way to high. The city was preparing a fireworks show, and it had ambition to be one of the biggest shows in the world. Geographically Valpo was great for that kind of stuff, lots of hills with great viewpoints. I watched it from the terrace in the house of Tami and it was really beautiful experience. The fireworks were brightening the sky above the ocean not only near Valparaíso but also Viña del Mar and far away in Reñaca. It lasted for nearly an hour. The party was everywhere, people were filling every corner, every staircase and that night drinking on the streets was officially allowed.

In the summer La Valija had much more staff than before and it was sometimes mental, especially when we were fully booked. Earlier we had our own space with Gabriel in the attic we adapted, but now the attic was full of mattresses and backpacks, it was hard to get a bit of privacy. There were up to seven staff members and it meant we were throwing a lot of parties between us. Only me and Gabriel were there for longer, most people were coming and leaving. We had some personalities from many countries for example Lisa, Sophie and Pierre-Jean from France, Tania and Greg from England, Felix, Anna and Alina from Germany, Greyson and William from the US, Rebeca from Sweden or Angelo from Brazil and Paolo and Elisa from Italy. The walls of La Valija had seen a lot, the best saying we could apply to our hostel would be 'what happens on board stays on board!'

With the summer passing by the good vibe between me and Aileen also started to pass by. Somehow the things started to go down. I made a mistake, she made a mistake, than me again. I was trying to fix it for a while, Aileen also gave it a chance, but after some time I realised it wasn't possible. A relationship is not some kind of device where you change a part and it works again. Sometimes the only solution is to break up. And that's what we did.

Soon after the break up I had to go to Mendoza again and decided it would be the last time. I would have three last months to spend in Chile, maximum two to save more money and the last one to see the north of the country. By that time I pretty much gave up the idea of busking with the contact juggling, at least for a while. With two jobs and so many things happening I couldn't find time for it and maybe it was just a flash in the pan, I had it with other things in the past. It seemed like the only thing I was really devoted to was hitchhiking. I never got bored with that. In Mendoza I was hosted by Deo's friend Natalia, as Deo went to Europe. Together with her friends we went out one night to an open air club in Cacheuta higher up in the mountains, where we could dance looking at the stars. Lovely place. Hitching through the border was very easy again and to come back to Valpo I needed only two lifts.

A few weeks after our last chat I received a message from Aileen. She was wondering if I was doing okay. Yeah I was and I was happy to receive that message. I didn't want to throw away our friendship to the rubbish bin only because we broke up. So many couples are unable to speak after they finish their relationship. I couldn't understand why. That message showed that both of us still could have a chat over a coffee or beer. It's better to look into the future than get stuck in the past.

I began to feel that these were my last weeks in Valparaíso and I wanted to enjoy them to the full. I started to go out a lot especially that we had an expert of night life working and living with us. Rebecca, who soon after moving in became Gabriel's girlfriend, was hired for the summer by Josefa to organise night fun for the guests. After some problems with neighbours we couldn't throw crazy parties in La Valija anymore, so we were motivating people to go out together to one of the clubs. One of our favourite was Terraza Mimi. It was probably the cheapest option to have a crazy night. There was usually good electro music and even though there was an entrance fee, everyone was allowed to bring own booze inside.

After one night out I was walking back home happy drunk and when I was close to La Valija I was suddenly punched in my head without any warning by three motherfuckers. I ended up on the ground and while the two of them continued to beat me in my head, the third one robbed everything from my pockets. Cerro Concepción was always a safe place and even though there were some assaults in the last week I thought it was just a bad luck. Now I was the unlucky one. After waking up the next day I fainted walking down the stairs. A minute after getting better I fainted again. The girls called a taxi and we went to the hospital where after many hours of waiting my brain was scanned. Doctors said everything was ok and all I needed was some rest. The same evening Aileen popped in to see how I was feeling. Everyone in the hill knew about it because both Josefa and Francisco spread the news so people could be more cautious. More or less in the same time Francisco's girlfriend Luisa and her friend Paula, who was living in Barrio Paraíso were also robbed by three guys, maybe the same ones. Carabineros were receiving reports but not doing much more about it. We all started to be quite paranoid those days.

Fire in Valparaíso in 2014
Valparaíso on fire (source:
One afternoon on my way to Barrio Paraíso I saw really dark cloud above one of the hills. It looked quite unnaturally. Soon the sound of sirens was echoing in the city. I turned the tv on. Forest fire spread with the wind and many houses were burning. The wind was mental that day and it was really hard for the firefighters to put the fire down. A few hours later the cloud covered all the sky, ashes began to cover the streets, the air was filled with smoky smell. After work I came to La Valija and there was no good news. It was still spreading, gas tanks were exploding, power outages were affecting all the city. I woke up in the morning and everyone was talking only about it. It was already certain that it was the biggest fire in the city's history. And it wasn't over. The state of national emergency was issued, soldiers were all over the place, many streets and roads were closed and fire engines were rushing up one by one. Helicopters were soon brought, but the fire, fuelled with strong wind wasn't giving up for many more hours. It lasted for two days and the first estimates were saying about two thousand houses burnt to the ground and at least two people killed. These numbers were rising.

It was amazing to see how quickly the citizens organised themselves, not even waiting for the official help from the government. Centres of support were quickly established and everyone rushed to help. Students and workers who received days off went up the hills to remove the rubble. In the centres volunteers were collecting and organizing gifts that were being brought by private cars and trucks sent by many companies. In Centro Cultural Trafon which was turned into one of those centres I managed to get dust masks, gloves and a shovel and I jumped on the first truck that showed up. When we arrived at one of the affected hills the view was shocking. It was like post nuclear war zone. There was so much rubble to be removed, immense work had to be done to rebuild the area, but with more and more volunteers walking up the hills with shovels in their hands it was going fast. The sense of solidarity was unbelievable. Sometimes I had goosebumps when shovelling.

After volunteering for a few days I had to take extra hours in Barrio Paraíso, Fransisco wanted to help some families he knew whose houses were destroyed. Aileen popped in to the hostel to talk about all that craziness. Everyone was affected by that situation, even foreigners who were just visiting the city when it happened. After some chat about the fire I told her I was about to leave in two, maybe three weeks. It was time to be back on the road. Her eyes turned sad and she started to cry. Again I wasn't expecting that kind of reaction. We agreed to go out soon and have some longer conversation. I was working a lot, but she was working like crazy. We didn't have a proper chat for a while.

Two days later we met up in one of the bars in Subida Ecuador. Our conversation quickly moved to travels.
'So are you planing any trip soon? Saving anything to make it happen?' I asked her.
'Actually no, I didn't save anything.'
'I don't know, somehow I didn't.'
'So what's your plan and what you do with your life then?
'I work a lot recently Paluch.'
'And still don't save. And in your free time?'
'I go for longboard sometimes.'
'And watch TV?'
'Yeah as well.'
'Aileen, I'm a bit disappointed. I thought you wanted to travel, to do something great with your life.' She didn't like these words, but I think she had to hear them.
'With you everything seemed possible, but...'
'Because it is possible, not only with me, there are so many women travelling alone, or with friends.'
'I'm afraid.'
'Fear is a natural feeling in life. I was afraid many times, I told you that. And I told that you have to treat it like an insect, confront it and kill it.'
'Yeah you told me. I don't know...' she seemed lost.

Aileen was one of the people that needed to be pushed. The fear of unknown was paralysing for them, while for me unknown was like a drug. I was always curious what was behind the next corner, but not always wanted to check it out. Sometimes I was too afraid. But it changed, partly thanks to other people. Now I was trying to push people to step out of their safety zone and start living. Life is now not tomorrow! I changed so many things in me and my life in the past. It was a process, but the most important was the first step. And sometimes we need someone to show us where to put our foot first.

After that meeting we started to speak more often with Aileen. One weekend Pauly came from Santiago, she wanted to say goodbye and we went out together with Oscar. We started to remind ourselves the way we met and the crazy parties we had. The other day I went for the last time to Santiago and stayed at Aileen's mother house. There was also her cousin Claudio and we were chatting for hours over a few bottles of wine. She was a trade unionist, really strong woman. She told me crazy stories of the fights she had with police during protests on the streets of Santiago and Valparaíso. I received a goodbye gift from her, a book about Salvador Allende. The next day I went with Freddy to their grandparents' house for lunch where I had a chance to say goodbye to their father. Then we hitched together with Freddy back to Valpo.

I was getting excited when thinking about being back on the road, but in the same time it was the hardest time since the beginning of my trip. I was about to leave behind so many fantastic people. Some of them I knew for a year. Yep, I spent a year in Valparaíso, it was hard to believe. My goodbye party was already planned, Fransisco offered to organise it together with Tami and Josefa in his mother's gallery Belle Epoque, which was just in front of La Valija. All the staff from the hostel was obviously invited, as well as all Francisco's friends I met in his hostel and all the people from Aileen's house.

During the barbecue party in the gallery we were reminding all the craziness that happened during the last year. It was so funny sometimes when I was coming to work to Barrio Paraíso. There were days I was showing up in the reception and Francisco after a quick look into my eyes was saying: 'oh man what happened the last night, throw yourself into the hammock upstairs!' and I was doing it, lying in the hammock in his room and watching TV trying to recover. The other time it was the other way round, I was coming fresh and he was hungover as hell. Or Tami and Josefa laughing of me coming back to the hostel at nine in the morning still slightly drunk repeating: oh what a great after it was. And probably the most funny was the question repeated so many times: 'Paluch when are you leaving?' And the answer always was: one more month and I'm gone! 'Or maybe one more year?' some were asking at the party, some still didn't believe I would leave. Eh Valpo, what it does with people! After the barbecue we went out dancing to El Playa and I came back home at... nine. What an after...

I had a goodbye gift for Aileen so I went to her place one evening. In La Valija I found a camping gear left by some guests and I thought that would be a great present for someone who wanted to travel. Aileen didn't have any stuff like that. She was happy to receive it, but in the same time tears started to run down her cheeks. I wanted to give her something that would motivate her, I believed she would find the strength in herself to overcome her fears and do what she wanted to do. It's easier to believe you can do something when others believe in you.

On my last shift in Barrio Paraíso Aileen popped in.
'Read it later,' she passed me a card with handwriting.
'I will!' I put it on the desk. I wanted her to stay for a cup of tea or coffee but she didn't want anything. After a few more words she gave me a big hug.
'I have to go, I'm working now. And if I stay any longer I will start crying again.' I looked deep into her big Mapuche eyes, they were wavering like in Japanese cartoons. Then she turned back and disappeared at the bottom of the stairs. I started to read the card: 'There are people who changed me, but no one as much as you...' My eyes were probably wavering as well.

In the morning I went to Barrio Paraíso to say goodbye to Francisco, Luisa and Cristina who was doing early shifts, then went for the last walk in Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre and came back to La Valija. My backpack was lying ready on the couch near the reception. Before the hug and the last photo I played the video prepared by Paula from Barrio Paraíso, which had a compilation of my pictures from Valpo and a familiar tune: La Joya del Pacifico. Faces of everyone were so sad. I was repeating: c'mon guys we'll see again, I'll be back one day, but soon Tami and Josefa started to cry, then Tami's daughter Kata and Rebecca. Only Gabriel was trying to animate the mood. After endless hugs I put my backpack on and started to walk down the Papudo Street still hearing the tune in my head and thinking: Hasta la próxima Valparaíso de mi amor!****

* Mapuche - group of indigenous peoples from central and southern Chile.
** Una Chilena y un loco Polaco - a Chilean girl and a crazy Pole.
*** Pisco - strong liquor made of grapes.
**** Hasta la próxima - till the next one.