Sun on my face : The joy of being away from home for a backpacker 

I am sitting in my office, looking at my daytimer.  It is full with commitments.
 I have lunch and dinner engagements, business meetings
filling up my afternoon, a to-do list a mile long.  It's already
mid-December, which means that I have to start planning for Christmas.
Somewhere I have to find time to go shopping to buy presents, but
already my December is booking up fast with weekend parties and social

I try and beg off one of the parties, but the host sounds hurt that I
can't come.  "Greg," she says, "you need to come.  I haven't gotten to
see you in months!"  I feel like a bad friend, so I acquiesce and
agree to come.  I am starting to feel overloaded.  There is too much
in my life.

There is a cure.  I sit back and think of Punta Arenas.

It was February of 2003.  I was on a bus between Puerto Natales and
Punta Arenas in the Chilean Patagonia.  The passenger beside me was
from Hamilton, Ontario, just a few miles from where I grew up as a
child.  We laughed at the chance meeting of two strangers from the
same town 6,500 miles from home.

He was an avid fisherman, and had made many trips to Patagonia to fish
in the cold rivers running through the region.  After spending two
weeks on the plains of Patagonia, he was heading to Punta Arenas to
catch a flight back to Canada.  Having never been to Punta Arenas
before, I asked him what he thought of the place.  "Punta Arenas is
Sudbury on a bad day," was his reply.

Sudbury is a port town in Canada, known for being dirty and cold and
ugly.  At first, I could see how Punta Arenas could be compared with
Sudbury.  It used to be a big deal, sitting on the tip of South
America on the Magellan straight, with lots of ships passing through
as they made their way around Cape Horn. Then the Panama Canal was
opened, and things dried up for the prosperous town. It was and still
is an important industrial port for Chile, and has come back in recent
years thanks to tourism and especially the cruise ship industry.  But
it isn't exactly a sight-seers paradise, especially when compared with
the nearby geographical wonders of the Andes Mountains and Chilean
coastal fjords.

However, Punta Arenas holds a very special place for me.  There is one
moment that really shines through whenever I think of travelling, and
that was early morning in Punta Arenas, Chile. I walked out from my
hotel to a bright sunny day, of which they had been few in Patagonia
since I had gotten there.

I was suddenly struck by how happy I was. I was in a place as far as I
had ever been from home. Everything was at the same time both so
familiar and so alien. Everything that was worrying me back home was
completely and totally off my shoulders. I was totally free to not
worry about anything except walking around and checking out the town.
There were no deadlines.  No one was asking me for anything.  I had
nothing on my calendar.  It was a moment of complete and total
freedom. And the sun was shining.

Whenever I am feeling low, I think back to that moment in Punta
Arenas, and it always makes me smile. So Punta Arenas is not Sudbury
on a bad day. It's the place that represents freedom to me. And that
makes it one of the greatest places in the world .

Greg Wesson, USA

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