When I traveled the world my passion was to visit places near and afar that had always tickled my curious mind. It began with the greater world cities (Paris, Tokyo, Beirut, Taipei, Mumbai, Shanghai et cetera) for work but for leisure I sought out the smaller coastal towns (José Ignacio, Uruguay; Puerto Escondido, Mexico; Biarritz, France; Essaouira, Morocco; Pichilemu, Chile et cetera).
There was something special about these, for most of the year, sleepy beach towns that I really liked: the close proximity to everything by foot or bike, access to the ocean of course, great seafood and produce, tranquility and solitude, likeminded people, a much slower daily pace, and the art of self-reliance.
I stayed in rented shacks or cheap family-run hotels to keep the burn rate low and to connect with the locals. In a small community almost everyone knows everyone or at least knowns of everyone so a small request or a question very often leads to an introduction to someone’s friend, acquaintance, or family member.
In Pichilemu, Chile, I stayed with a surfer in his self-made shack and quickly got introduced to the local people and places. Pichilemu is a sleepy little fishing town with probably the best left point break – Punta de Lobos – in South America. It’s close to the vineyards in Santa Cruz and has amazing local produce, honey, and sea salt.
Every time I worked in Santiago I took the bus at the end of the week and rode the 2-3 hours on bumpy gravel roads to get to Pichilemu for the weekend. Once there I crashed in my new buddy’s spare bedroom, ate the best pizza at the local whole in the wall, picked washed up crabs on the beach under the moonlit sky, bought honey at the rustic and authentic farmer’s market, took cold-water surf lessons, and dreamed of one day living a simpler life by the ocean in harmony with myself, people, and planet.
I was reminded when there that I prefer making by myself over consuming. The morning ritual of grinding my own coffee beans and making my own coffee was a superior feeling and experience to paying a barista to do the same work. When something in my buddy’s shack broke he just fixed it. Did it look as perfect as the work of a “professional” handyman? No, not every time but it always worked and the act of making in itself was very self-empowering plus the fix was immediate – no waiting.
Being educated in the arguments of alternative cost and personal market value (basically saying that whatever work costs less than your earning power you should outsource so you can work more…) I was now experiencing something more valuable: powerful self-reliance, passionate creativity, and innate human ingenuity.
I started to see the world differently like a switch had been flipped on in my mind. I learned that worn was better than new, that I preferred recycled and reused over store-bought and mass-produced, that the act of taking care of and improving the few things I own creates both heartfelt meaning and a whole heap of unimaginable joy.
Last weekend I found a beaten up wooden teak chair on the side of the road and remembered Stefan Sagmeister’s Instagram post about a chair made out of recycled construction barricades. The dirty chair I had found, lacking a seat and on the verge of falling apart, was now filled with unlimited opportunities. All it needed to become my canvas of creativity was a quick scrub, some sandpapering, and tightening the screws.
Now I plan to Google renovated chairs for inspiration and turn the beaten up chair into my own piece of surf shack art. Like my fellow world traveler, Sir Francis Drake, said a few centuries ago: Sic Parvis Magna. Thus great things from small things come.
By the Pacific Ocean, Southern California