by Jan Thornhill
I’ve just returned from a fabulous mushrooming trip to Chile. Before I left, I joked that I was going to “Canada south” – my simple way of explaining that I would be visiting a temperate country when it would be cold and wet – the best time to collect fungi. Of course I didn’t mean it literally; I didn’t expect Chile to actually be Canada south. But in a lot of ways, particularly outside of urban areas, it was. Which was not only disconcerting, but discombobulating.
I've been trying to find a word to describe the strange brain/mind phenomenon that kept happening to me. I'd be looking at a woods before we went in, (there were 26 of us fungi fans), and suddenly I'd be transported for a moment right back to Canada. It wasn't déjà vu, or even déjà vu's little sister déjà visite, the feeling while in a new place that you've not only been in that place before, you know the place. It wasn't that at all.
The French have a word for another phenomenon, dépaysement, which is used to describe the feeling of not being in one’s own country when travelling, of being out of place, of being uncountrified. As far as I'm concerned, that feeling is the whole point of visiting foreign lands – glorying in the differences between the new and the familiar. But in non-urban parts of Chile, sheltered in the woods and countryside from the culture and language, I kept having the opposite experience – that, in a dreamlike way, I was actually in Canada, and not 10,000 kilometres away. Anti-dépaysement.
In those moments of being in Canada cerebrally while at the same time being almost as far away from home as possible, the fun was in the double-takes, when I was suddenly taken aback by one or more details that just weren't right, or that were radically different – and my sudden remembering that I wasn't home would instantly teleport me back into Chile again. It was one of the weirdest and most entertaining things I've ever experienced. I loved it.
Here are some photos I took that might give you an idea of why this kept happening to me.
Near Punta Arenas
This picture could easily have been taken on a
Mycological Society of Toronto fall foray...
...except the ground was covered in the TINY
leaves of Nothofagus – the southern beech...
...and some of those trees sported really weird
mushrooms, like these edible Cytaria.
Torres del Paine National Park north of Punta Arenas
Is that the Rockies? Are those
animals in the distance deer?
Nope. That's the southern Andes, and the animals
are guanacos, a type of llama.
We also saw the very un-Canadian
Nandu, or Darwin's Rhea.
Banff? The Yukon?
White foam collecting on the shore?
Nope. An Andean salt lake. Big salt.
Near Puerto Montt
A lovely Canadian fall scene...except
the trees aren't quite right...
...and some of the nearby flowers are just plain weird...
...and exotic fungi (Aleurodiscus vitellinus)
grow in the trees...
...and the tree trunks are submerged
in knee-deep lava ash...
...lava ash so deep it had to be plowed off the highway.
Near Curarrehue in Central Chile
A typical Canadian fall scene...
...but turn to the left and that's a volcano...
...and turn a bit more and you're back in
Canada again, except that's a flock
of parrots landing in a tree.
El Parque Nacional Conguillío in central Chile
Northern Ontario? Quebec?
Not when you pull out and see the lava plain...
...and when you turn the other way you see
the astonishing amount of lava and lava ash from
a 2009 eruption of Mount Llaima...
...and only a couple of kilometres down the road you enter
the other-worldly Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle Tree Forest...
...ancient conifers that are truly weird, and completely
un-Canadian, though some grow in Vancouver.
And, of course, when the clouds finally
move out of the way, there's a giant volcano...
..and in the scant soil, an orange truffle that no one
in our group had ever seen before...
...that might be an undescribed species.
And of course there was the southern night sky,
crowded with stars that looked different than
what I'm used to in the northern hemisphere,
but the bigness is the same wherever you go.