The gauchos of northwest Argentina sing their hearts out to Salta. I asked Ana, the guide I’ve met up with on a couple of occasions here in Salta, the meaning of some of the folklórica songs we’d heard. She smiled, turned a bit red, and said, “they sing about their love for Salta, how they’re leaving their hearts behind when they ride away.”
There was no need for embarrassment, I understood exactly what she meant. The process of travel is the great distiller of life. The dislocation of your self from the everyday grind is polarizing. The meaningless elements disappear in the shuffle, perhaps never even considered. But the important parts, the heart, stick in your mind and gain prominence. I remember feeling this way after a six-week trip Sarah and I took in 2006. By the end, we knew we needed to spend more time with family and friends. That’s what was important after being outside of our workaday routines. ESPN and TCM, games and drinks out at the bar, trips to big box stores – all this crap really didn’t matter.
So here I am in the last week of my trip to Argentina. The time abroad traveling solo has been an intense chrysalis. It’s no secret to those I’ve met along the road (and perhaps those I’ve Skyped with) that being apart from Sarah has been difficult for me. Not from incapacitating loneliness – there definitely have been lonely times but CouchSurfing has been a good cure – but because there has been a tangible cap on my enjoyment of the experience.
And this, I’ve found, is the face of love. It is different for everyone – hell, some dictionaries have no less than 30 definitions for the term. For my part, love has been an investment of my self into Sarah. There is a part of me that only feels joy when Sarah and I are experiencing it together. If it is real, how can traveling not cast a floodlight on your missing bits of self?
Late last night I did a 9km round-trip hike to San Lorenzo and back to Sapoland in the cool and misting dark. My pants and fleece were sodden. I listened to David Gray and often sang out loud in the near-deserted reaches of northwest Argentina – dripping water, croaking frogs, and the occasional car speeding past me the only other sounds. I could have been anywhere; I was effectively nowhere. These “blank canvases” provide the best backdrop for introspective thought. Though I am alone on this trip, I am thankful that travel has delivered such a pure and distilled insight. It’s just one more reason to hit the road.
Tomorrow I fly to Buenos Aires. On Friday I fly back to the United States. And while I’m leaving Salta, like those caballeros Ana told me about, I’m returning to my personal Salta. The place where I left my heart.
Listening to: Eluvium