Place of Dreams

Within five minutes of being in the Defender, Ronnie pipes up to tell me that the truck is running on oil from all those fried milanesas that are near and dear to the tastebuds of Argentinos. A local restaurant serving minutas (fast food) would serve as our “gas” station and we made a small detour to get a barrel of the used oil.

He hands me a rock as he jumps out of the car. Upon returning he tells me that it is from a meteor that hit the earth in Moldova and that it changed his fortune over night when he came in contact with it. I close my fingers around it, smiling at the idea and thinking, “Porqué no? why not? …could work just as much as anything” and I hope for fortune to melt out of it into my palm.

By the time we’re bumping along the road and flying through the turns around Lago Gutierrez, we are trading stories about the healthy and healing powers of plants. He pulls over to the side of the road to pick a tiny, bitter branch for me to taste, supposedly it helps with digestion or something.

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The final few miles took us down a gritty side road and into Nahuel Huapi National Park. We drove through the wooden gate, through a corridor of trees and into a panoramic view of my new home. Horses wandered around freely, chased by the border collies. A wall of mountains with a skirt of trees that sprouted a waterfall stood guard over the glacial lake.

No explanation was needed for how this place got its name, Peuma Hue (pey-oo-mah, wey), Mapuche for Place of Dreams.

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Having looked through the webpages of this high end, rustic resort before coming, I had been hypnotized by the views, the luxurious log cabins, the descriptions of the healthy organic food and the focus on yoga, mindfulness and magic that immersion in nature brings.

For the guests, yes, the reality is this fairytale. But for me, this would be different. I was coming here as a cultural exchange…swapping work in the gardens and kitchen in return for food and a shared room in the staff house.

As I was introduced to the reality of what this would be like, the perfect panorama I had driven into began to unravel. Anxiety and fear stirred inside of me. My chest tightened and the heat of the emotions boiled up through my body, rising to my face and creating a frenzy of activity in my rattled brain.

I worried about my health, which is always a struggle for me. Would they give us healthy food? Argentina and vegetables…especially of the green variety…don’t always tango together.

What would the other people be like? Nine of us in a tiny house? How would I balance myself among being social, the expected workload and writing my book?

Would I be able to write my book? Would I have the time and space to do that?

What if it didn’t work out? What were my other options? I didn’t have time or money to look for something new.

The uneasy feelings churned inside me as I realized how far we were from town and the nearest place to buy a bottle of wine, which I was wanting right about then. I then took a deep breath and walked in on myself having this reaction. I knew I needed to get some time alone outside in nature to wander, write and work through this.

I spent the afternoon exploring, walking along the rocky shores of the immaculate lake and through the gardens that were still asleep for the winter. I gazed up at the mountains, adorned with snow and stood there admiring their rugged beauty. I walked along the gravel path that wound through the property around the log cabins, crossing the fallen tree bridge over the creek and to the stone temple on the hill.

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I had been independent for a year and a half, answering to no one but the call to adventure. I would now be at the mercy of my new circumstances, losing my autonomy. I would be accountable to someone else’s dream and expectations. I would now have to write in between my work shifts, hoping inspiration and energy would meet me on demand.

I hadn’t thought about this and felt blindsided by it. It was like watching the movie of a book you have read and loved, only to find out that they had gotten it all wrong when translating it for the screen.

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I sat on the steps of the temple and journaled…about what I was feeling, about what I wanted for my time there. I realized that this was a familiar reaction to being thrown into unknowns, fear that it won’t work out. I’ve learned that the best thing to do is to notice what you can control and take positive action towards that, let go of expectations, seek to learn and be surprised. I listed my intentions and started a list of ideas for falling deeply into my life there and committed myself to doing just that.

The negativity and fear wilted away. My heart was now exploding with gratitude for having this opportunity arise for me, allowing me to continue my journey. I felt full of peace, grace, awe and devotion for the wilderness around me, as if these mountains had been calling me and I had finally found them.

This is the serendipity that I had hoped for when setting out to show up in the world and see what happens. I was living in the mountains for the first time and would be there for six months.

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I’ve arrived

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I arrived back in the United States earlier than planned and felt devastated by this. Before leaving for Argentina the first time in December 2012, I had worked with my fears by trying to picture the worst case scenario for my journey so that I could consider how I would react. My “worst case scenario” had included being robbed and failure to discover my passions or finish my book.

So here I was in the early summer of Chicago, safe at home in my parents’ house having been robbed and not so much a published author yet. I felt like I was trapped at the bottom of a desolate well. How on earth did this fantastic journey of mine land me here? Now what will I do? I had this tremendous feeling of “I’m not supposed to be here” even though that is the opposite feeling being home always provokes for me. Everything felt upside down.

In my “worst case scenario” I had thought about how lucky I was that I did have supportive parents and a home to come to if I needed it. And here I was. Only, I hadn’t considered the emotional blow I’d take. I didn’t call friends or family (and I’m so sorry about that to everyone now!). I didn’t talk about the robbery at first. I was afraid to get an “I told ya so” reaction from anyone who hadn’t thought it the brightest idea to go traveling alone.

It actually was a bright idea, a brilliant one. I still felt that and knew I had to get back to it. So I started to dig into my journals and take long bike rides, looking for clues from what I had experienced and learned as to what to do next. I knew that my writing and time in nature were going to crucial in deciding my next steps. I also started to dream up big and little adventures that would not have occurred to me before I had gone traveling long term. I also knew to embrace what was good about this situation, getting bonus time with my family that I would never have had otherwise.

I flew out to LA to see my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. I watched the World Cup games with my brother. I got to connect with my Uncle Rich who I hadn’t seen in a long time and he told me so many new stories! I got to have 1:1 time with my aunts and to attend my cousin Caitlin’s engagement party. I took a road trip with my Dad and brother, crashing their annual camping trip. We backpacked through Porcupine National Park and it was so cool to experience Lake Superior and stunning nature on my home turf. My mom and I took a 4 day canoe trip, camping on sandbars, doing dream work, yoga and cooking over fire. These microadventures made me feel whole again, such special time and surprisingly close to home.

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These may seem like small things, but these are the things that I have missed out on living in another city. This introduced me to a new element in the life I am going after. I knew I wanted a flexible and unconventional life and realized that if I can succeed at that then I will get more moments like these, to be with family without having to give up my wanderlust.

I found a fantastic coffee shop in town that became my daily office. I have always loved working in coffee shops. The symbiotic comfort of sipping a cup of that dark goodness while slowly breathing in the aromas puts me at peace and also awakens my creativity. I love the watching the flow of people and the dynamics of those meeting up with each other or going solo, engrossed in some work. I’ve always had the romantic idea that people are focused on creating, doing of-the-soul kind of work when in cafes…engrossed in novels, meeting to discuss an idea, immersing in studies, launching a new business, writing a book.

I became a devotee to my writing and journaling. I researched all sorts of opportunities and possibilities for grants and scholarships, crowdfunding and artist residencies. I started to build a website, print business cards and work on a personal brand. I sat down to journal one day and was checking in with the intentions for my journey as I would do on occasion, asking myself “What would my ideal life look like?” And then I wrote down a full page of a life vision, including my passions and just enough detail to have something to work towards with enough room for it to manifest in ways I could only imagine. Oh. My.

I had done it. I had done what I set out to do and had not realized it until then. I had discovered what I was passionate about and I instantly wanted to go start it all. And I really wanted to write it all down in a book, the book that had been tip-toeing out of me this whole time.

When Argentina lost the World Cup final, I cried. Not that I have an over-stated attachment to sports, although I am known to get a bit competitive. It felt personal. Warning, this will sound ridiculous, but it almost felt as if I should never have left Argentina and in doing so I took away all the wonderful energy and lessons it had given me and cursed their chances of winning.

I realized that I was longing to be back in South America, to write my book where I had started it and where my journey had taken place. I was not done there and I would not be chased out by three desperate, sad thieves from Colombia.

I have found that when you take actions and put yourself out there, that energy goes to do some reconnaissance  for you, finds the right opportunity and makes its way back somehow. At this time, I received a message from a friend of a friend in Argentina who had read one of my blogs. She asked me where I was and what I was doing. I told her I was looking for a place in the mountains of Argentina to finish writing my book and that I was out of money. She told me her mother owns a place on a lake in northern Patagonia where I could volunteer while I write. It’s called Peuma Hue, meaning Place of Dreams.

I booked a plane ticket, packed my bags and arrived two weeks later, back to Argentina.

It’s a Great Day to be Alive

I like to explore a town by running through the streets and checking out places that way, but as much as I’ve described my writer’s haven as an ideal respite, not all was paradise in paradise. Taganga itself wasn’t the loveliest place I’ve been outside of my sweet writing villa.

It’s quite hilly and the “streets” are bumpy dirt roads, but not in a charming, untouched way…rather in a the-street-is-our-garbage-can sort of way. They also run out of water frequently. Stare at the ocean as long as you like while contemplating that one, the town is just out of water. The majority of our experiences were such that people seemed very eager to take our money and very irritated when they had to do something in order to make that happen. (That is not meant to be a stereotype, but was my true experience). There’s a strip with some restaurants and shops and you can walk along a trail over the ridge to get to another bay with another little beach. That’s about it.

There’s a trail you shouldn’t walk however, and I found that out the hard way…

You could see from town that it went up to the ridge at the top of the mountains overlooking the bay. A friend and I picked our way through the small town to take a break from writing and go for an afternoon hike. It was pretty rocky and steep, not necessarily beautiful, but a challenge. Some locals must have been more used to it then we were because they practically sprinted past us. I moved to the side to let them go and they stopped around us waiting for their chubby friend to bring up the rear, asking us where we were going. “Up to the top!” we said honestly and innocently.

I then felt a jerk from behind as my friend yanked me backwards in response to the guy to my right stepping towards me. Startled, I looked up to see that knives had been drawn. I took my camera strap from around my neck and gently handed it over, submitting to what was out of my control before it would be handled with force.

My friend was calmly talking to them while taking off his backpack. They weren’t too pleased with making conversation and hit him at the base of his neck. They yanked his shoes off, nearly knocking him to the ground before they forced him to the ground at knifepoint anyway. I took my shoes off and was told to get on the ground next to him. We lay there as they went through our stuff.

“Where are your cell phones?”

“Where is the rest of your money?”

“Don’t talk or we’ll kill you.”

“Don’t open your eyes or we’ll kill you.”

“Don’t go to the police or we’ll kill you.”

“Lay here for 15 minutes after we leave or we’ll kill you.”

I almost wish I hadn’t understood Spanish at that point.

We did as we were told, not wishing to call their bluff. I checked out and tried to visualize being back in a safe place as I felt hands at the back of my neck taking off my necklace and then digging in my pockets. (My necklace had the “Om” symbol on it. I can’t imagine it’s the best karma to steal that.) I trusted that all they wanted was our stuff and if we cooperated, we’d be safe.

This did turn out to be the case. My biggest fear was that they would hurt us, that they would take advantage of me or that my friend would get hurt or killed trying to protect me. After helping themselves to our cameras, shoes, cash, my watch and necklace, they took off and every breath after that felt like a gift.

After 15 or 20 minutes we started our descent down the rocky, thorny path in our socks. We saw another man approaching. I was terrified it was one of them coming back for us. As we came closer, we saw it was an older man with a machete. What could we do? We had nothing.

He said through his rotting teeth, “You shouldn’t be up here. It is dangerous.” “Um yeah, look at us. That would’ve been excellent information 45 minutes ago.”

So there are no pictures to go with this blog. That luxury was robbed from me, along with a sense of peace and happiness. Likely and sadly, I will be able to replace my camera before they will change their ways and earn money in honest ways.

It’s been a long process of fear and anger and discernment and forgiveness since then. I will not stereotype an entire country as unsafe. I would even like to return to Colombia some day.

As for the walk itself…in beautiful hindsight it still isn’t 100% clear if we should have taken it or not. Especially as a woman traveling alone, I take extra precaution to keep myself safe, although sometimes it really pisses me off when I want to do something and feel I can’t because of this. My best experiences have come from taking risks and understanding when the advice giver (Don’t go there! Don’t do that!) is being paranoid or if there is a genuine danger…often the former.

It is unfortunate this happened and it did change my course. I am still responding to what showed up that day. My hope is that some day, the sooner the better, the guys who did this will realize that it was wrong and seek to make their lives right. It is so sad to me that people feel so desperate and are so misguided and unsupported in their lives that they resort to violence and a lack of respect for human life. I am grateful for the life I was born into, my family, my morals, my circumstances and I hope to do a whole lot of good with the blessings in that.

I’m grateful that I was not alone in this particular experience and it did bring my friend and I closer together. It really does give you laser focus as to who and what you care about in life.

***Many thanks to those of you who have been following me with this journey. I’ll speed up the posts a bit to get caught up to present time. This event took place at the very end of May. It did change some things for me, but all is good.

If you like what you are reading here, please consider backing my kickstarter.com called: Let’s Go on an Adventure! and please share too. The campaign is focused on writing and publishing a book about my transformative adventure from Corporate America to a life designed around passions and also includes an interactive guidebook to help those wishing to make their own personal changes.

I have 3 days left in my campaign, all or nothing!

You can read more about my story at erinkmac.com and continue to receive this blogs by clicking the ‘follow’ button.

Thank so very much for coming along on this adventure.***

2013 – That’s a Wrap

December came so quickly it really made me question whether I had just been having the world’s best dream and was about to wake up. It was over 100 degrees here, and I wanted all the excuses in the world to just sit by the fire with everyone and share some red wine, and I couldn’t wait to be on the mountain in Colorado.

The first weird thing I experienced was taking off from my layover in Panama to Chicago. They announced that we didn’t have to turn off our electronics for take off. I turned to the American woman next to me asking, “Really??” I could care less about the on-ness or off-ness of the cell phone that I don’t have, but what was said so casually was huge to me. If that changed, what else has changed?? 

As we were landing in Chicago they made an announcement that it was 18 degrees in Chicago. I quickly converted this to Celsius…68 degrees. “What? Chicago has warm Decembers now??” The joke was on me; they were talking in Fahrenheit of course. 

Other culture shock things that showed up:

The instinct to respond to certain things in Spanish, “Si” “No” “Permiso” or insert often-used Spanish words into the middle of an English sentence. Entonces…

I had not lit a stove without using a match for a year. 

Flushing toilet paper instead of throwing it in a garbage can because the sewage systems cannot handle the paper.

Driving a car for the first time in a year was magnificent. Although it was my mom’s keyless entry car, and I got stuck trying to figure it out at a gas station. I almost ended up having to use a pay phone. I felt like I stepped back into time to high school.

Grocery stores/ holistic health stores. We just have access to so much. I cannot even necessarily tell you what, I just know when I am home all I want to do is cook and get the right natural supplements that make me feel good. Things like coconut oil.

On that note, I did eat kale every day while home, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day. I miss it.

It was very strange to shake people’s hands when introduced, instead of giving them a kiss on the cheek. I didn’t like that at all.

To have my own bed, in my own room, with my own bathroom was just magical.

I love buying and giving gifts, and I can’t say I mind shopping so much either. However, I haven’t done this for a year.  And so, the extreme of the Christmas shopping season hit me smack in the face like the Chicago bitter cold.

Otherwise I was relieved to see snow and Christmas trees and people bundled up. Christmas decorations in 100 degree heat with palm trees just doesn’t do it for me. I’m a four season kind of girl who follows Bing Crosby’s lead and dreams of a white Christmas.

I did go shopping in my own closet however, which felt like…well, Christmas!  

This post has gone on too long without mentioning family and friends, the real reason to come home for a visit. Meghan, David, and Bodhi flew in a couple of days after I got home and from then on it was fun and games, Christmas lights twinkling, getting cozy by the fire with good food and wine and stories.

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And I had to bring a taste of Argentina home with me, so one night we made dinner with recipes from Francis Mallmann, Argentina’s most famed chef. Grass fed, free range steaks (the only way to do it), chimichurri, provoleta, a smashed beet and mint salad, zucchini salad with herbs and lemon zest…and of course a bottle or 3 of malbec. Everyone got really into it, making the wood fire to cook the steaks and everything. Que rico! 

We had days of parties with my aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts, great uncles, second cousins. More good food, more good wine, more games, more laughter. We have our share of traditions…reading Twas the Night Before Christmas to my nephew as my dad did when we were kids, The Eve Before the Eve where all 19 cousins meet up at a bar for dancing and occasionally bad karaoke, playing Left, Right, Center (betting game involve zero skill, lots of cheering and shouting, and one lucky winner), and guitar/singalongs til early hours of the morning. We are so much fun, sometimes quite loud, but always fun. I love my family. If it were just a tad colder outside perhaps time would freeze and I could savor those moments a bit longer.

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I headed out to Colorado as well to see friends and to be home, or what’s been my home for the 8 years prior to Argentina. This felt especially strange. I didn’t have a phone. I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have a home. Life goes on and maybe on a daily basis it doesn’t feel like a whole lot happens, but come back after a year and there’s a new hipster coffee shop on every corner, marijuana is legal, and friends have bought and sold houses, adopted pets, had babies, said “I do.”, grown their own businesses…it was very humbling. I knew I loved Colorado when I left, and since I had been gone I would hear myself talk about it and realize that it really is true love. But it did feel strange to be back as a visitor and not back home. There’s a difference.

And there just wasn’t enough time. I got to see so many friends and I didn’t get to see everyone and eventually had to take a breath and be ok with having good intentions. I had a lot of special moments and I loved hearing stories of what was going on in everyone’s lives…I have really cool, creative, adventurous, generous, thoughtful friends I must say. 

I did get two days in skis, a powder day and a daredevil day as I tried to keep up with Christen launching over cornices and weaving through trees. One of my favorite feelings in the world is bouncing from cloud to cloud of fluffy snow, adrenaline building, powder swishing by my knees, so happy I can’t help but giggle out loud. (pic below, making our way to the back bowls)

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There are not words or cliches enough to sum up what the last year has meant for me. If I had to pick just three words to describe it, I’d say challenging, fulfilling, and transformational. Happy New Year everyone!