I turned 49 somewhere between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, either asleep, reading or watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I was flying home to Buenos Aires with my family after a three-and-a-half week vacation to the West Coast of the U.S.
Both of the movies were inspiring enough for me to jot down a few notes for a novel I’m writing. It’s about a 58-year-old man’s final adventure in Tierra del Fuego, where he traveled alone at the end of the gold rush to try to recover the riches he’d lost running too many cattle to Chile. A snow storm had killed all the cows a few years earlier.
The man was in his fifties when the cattle disaster struck.
I’m almost that age.
On the flight home, I thought about the parallels between his story and mine. In my 23 years in my adopted home of Argentina, I’ve seen my own financial prospects go from zilch as a 26-year-old immigrant to enough to buy two properties, a plot of land and a car, only to lose an apartment when my debts became unmanageable. We eventually got up to date on our finances only to accumulate more debts after nearly a decade of double-digit inflation that peaked (so we hope) at 40% in 2016.
Am I prone to follow in the footsteps of my novel’s protagonist and run off on my own to search for gold out of necessity?
I should worry.
The character of the protagonist is based on my great-grandfather, an American who came to Argentina in 1870 after graduating from New York University looking for adventure much like I did.
He settled down and had a dozen children, binding him to his work as a dentist in Buenos Aires, save for his not-frequent-enough-for-him explorations of the country and constant perusal of maps for potential gold sites. Ten of his children survived childhood, and I think his devotion to his family helped him press on as a largely city-bound dentist to provide for them.
But when he lost everything in the cattle run, and with his children then grown and leaving home, I think his goals shifted. He didn’t want to end his life as a failure. He had to do something to restore his previous riches, or at least try to.
Hence, in 1906 he set off on an impossible journey alone to look for gold as he had always wanted – and died in the process.
His story was on my mind as I turned 49 somewhere over Central or South America. We were returning from a kick-ass vacation exploring the West Coast by car and motorhome. We saw national parks, towns and big cities, and we got in a good number of hikes and explored several beaches.
For my three kids, the trip may prove unforgettable.
“This place rocks,” my youngest daughter said of the Las Vegas Strip. My son beamed at the Golden Gate Bridge and loved his visit to Alcatraz. He had studied both before the trip, and so he knew a lot of facts like the color of the bridge: international orange. He said we could all live in San Francisco, and he agreed with the others that Santa Cruz, a cold-water surfing paradise, would be a good fit for our family for its surfing and walkability. And there’s a great bookstore.
My eldest daughter, who just turned 14, summed up everything pretty well: “This was the best vacation ever.”
The other two kids, ages 8 and 11, were inspired enough to declare that when they grow up they want to live in motorhomes and travel the world.
I guess my birthday could be considered kind of crap because I was stuck in an airplane.
But it wasn’t.
I was with my wife and three children, and we are all thinking about our lives, thinking of change and not settling for what has become our routine in Argentina, but instead doing something new out there in the world, out there in what is the wild for us.
It was a great birthday.