The Wild Dogs of South America
A unique aspect of South American towns is that each one has a community of indigenous dogs. It's been one of the pleasantries of my journey through the Patagonia region and beyond over the past few months.
It's not uncommon for a neighborhood dog to take a liking to you and follow you around for a while. Sometimes for miles. When we rented bikes in Pucón, a dog ran alongside us for about 20 minutes along the lake. At some point he disappeared, but I kept my eyes out for him as we circled back.
The other day I was sitting on the beach and saw an older, scruffy black dog sniffing around in the dunes. I whistled up to him and he looked down at me, squinting in the wind. We looked at each other for a bit, then he trotted down the other side of the dune. Fifteen minutes later he strolled up next to me and sat down in the sand. We hung out there for a while and chatted about what it's like to be a Pichilemu native. Then he bid me farewell and continued on his daily rounds.
The dogs down here all look good too (not like in Peru, where stray dogs are treated very poorly). They're healthy and happy, free to roam wherever they please, and have likely never known the confines of a leash. In some ways I feel like I'm time traveling down here with respect to dogs. Before dogs became "man's best friend" they were something like wolves. Wild. Only once they realized that being great friends makes for a good food source, they started to stick around humans. Down here, it's like I've taken one step back in the evolutionary track of dogs getting the role they've taken in the west. In these small towns, most dogs don't have owners. Instead they feed off the collective help of the community around them. And it works well.
Often, starting in the twilight hours and heading deep into the night, there will be dog parties. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to participate in a proper dog party (no humans allowed?), but I got woken up by them all the time. Basically, all the neighborhood dogs gather together somewhere and start barking and howling for a chunk of time. I don't know why they start barking, or who started it for what purpose, but it's a nightly occurrence. Maybe it's role call. Or maybe they're just celebrating life and being dogs. I like to imagine them running circles around a big campfire just howling and barking like mad. As it turns out, there are wild humans in Sweden who also take part in a similar ritual. It's known as the Flogsta Scream - AKA the Human Rendition of the Dog Party.
I heard echoes of my first dog party in El Bolsón, Argentina, and they continued through all the small towns I ventured through; down to the southern tip of Patagonia in Puerto Natales to the tranquil surf town of Pichilemu.
Three days ago I got on a bus to Santiago and landed in the throes of the big city at rush hour. Cars honking, people bustling in all directions, hundreds of stalls and stands and markets, a quickness in the footsteps, people in suits looking at their phones, parents dragging their children along by the hand. I didn't see a single dog. The only sounds I heard at night from my hostel were the sounds of sirens in the distance and of an inconsiderate roommate ruffling through his pack that sounded like it was full of plastic bags.
It turns out that the city dog parties are invite only.