Our most colorful character for today is Renato Alvarado Renato, also known as “Machi”, and by “colorful” I mean “interesting” and “impressive”.
Where do I even begin?
Machi was born and grew up on the island of Calbuco, in southern Chile. Calbuco is just across Reloncaví Sound from Puerto Montt, where he lives now.
When he grew up in the 1950s, Calbuco was the sort of place where kids went barefoot all the time. Maybe a bit of it was that they were somewhat poor, but it was also a working community along the shore, in a fairly rainy climate (see A Change of Latitude), and shoes only got wet and had to be removed anyways. Then, as his student compatriots grew up and started wearing shoes more and more, Machi didn’t. He just stayed barefoot, going to college barefoot, and even becoming a doctor at the University of Chile, where he was a contemporary of Michelle Bachelet, the once and future President of Chile (she was President from 2006 to 2010, and was just elected again and will take the reins on March 11). Ms. Bachelet was also going to medical school there at the time.
The only time he ever really wore shoes for any length of time was when he did his military service; for some reason they insisted.
Machi is also the nephew of a well-known Chilean poet and author, Edesio Alvarado Barceló.
You might think that his nickname, “Machi”, is derived from “macho”, but it’s not. Or you might think it’s related to the Spanish “mago” (wizard, a cognate of “magician”), but it’s not that, either. It’s an Araucanian word from the region around Puerto Montt, and it means “shaman”, or “medicine man”. Considering that he’s a doctor, that’s entirely appropriate. Add in the bare feet, and shamanistic spirituality comes to mind.
When Pinochet seized power in Chile, Machi was one of the resisters, one of the real freedom fighters. He was thrown in prison, in the hellholes from which the Desaparecidos just disappeared. He still has the scars from the torture, and hepatitis from the conditions there.
There is a documentary out, Following the Ninth, that has the focus of highlighting the power of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The Ninth was one of the songs sung in Chile outside the prisons to try to lift the spirits of the prisoners. In the trailer, starting at the 3:15 mark, is a section on Chile that features Machi.
In 2004, Machi walked across Spain (barefoot, of course) in a pilgrimage to visit Santiago de Compostela, what’s called the Camino de Santiago. Here’s the story, “Barefoot” Chilean Doctor Astonishes Spain that appeared in Las Últimas Noticias.
(Spanish original: Médico chileno “patipelado” asombra a España. Here’s another Spanish story about it Un médico chileno recorrerá descalzo 750 kilómetros del Camino de Santiago.)
His peripatetic ways have earned him an awesome caricature.
Man, he’s got one, and Alan Bruens has one.
I really need to get one of my own.
He’s also stayed active in trying to improve his country, running for Parliament in 2005, Un patipelao al Parlamento; and the City Council just last year.
Of course his root still lie in the coastal environment of Puerto Montt, where he is a gynocologist specializing in medial imaging. Boats have always been a part of his life.
He’s translated that into helping the youth around Puerto Montt, where he is the Director/Coach of the local rowing club, Estrella Blanca (White Star).
They recently went to the World World Rowing Masters Regatta in Italy, where they won a gold medal in their category.
Machi is proof that, even in today’s “civilized” world (which all too often seems to be synonymous with “shod”) there is still room for a barefoot life, and an impressive one at that.