It was hard to say goodbye to my Dad and admit that this trip we had been planning for so long was over. We were down to just us two girls, my Mom and I and our little “shopping” trip. My Mom is a weaver and I knew it was essential to take her to the north of Argentina where the artesanias abound. Llamas, guanaco, and vincuña wander the landscapes and their wool is naturally dyed and fills the shops and markets.
My parents had told me that they wanted to experience what my life has been like in Argentina while visiting. While I didn’t make them stay at a hostel and share a room with 7 other people and a bathroom with even more, they did agree to try one of the famed long distance Argentine buses. 18 hours between Bariloche and Mendoza to be exact.
It started out utterly entertaining, as the man came around passing out bingo cards for the chance to have some fun with your fellow passengers while competing for a bottle of decent wine. Porqué´no? Then it was movie time. At about 11:00pm as we’ve been listening to the cymbals crashing in the dramatic intro music about every 2 minutes on repeat, we see people hunkering down to sleep for the night, and I am whispering a massive apology to my parents that this is the first time ever that I have not been served dinner on an 18 hour bus ride. We decided to eat the peaches that we had brought with us for breakfast and are throwing the pits in a plastic bag as the lights are flicked on and everyone is woken up for dinner, hilarious and so Argentina. So after a couple hours in one town getting gas, a ham and cheese sandwich, 3 alfajores, 4 movies, and a little bit of sleep, we arrive in Mendoza.
What a lucky girl I am to have two friends come down the the southern hemisphere for a visit. My dear friend Melissa came over Thanksgiving and met me in Mendoza. More than once we ran into friends in a plaza or restaurant and it elevated that feeling of Mendoza being my home right now, which felt pretty darn good. Icing on the cake…I finally had someone to go take a tango lesson with me! We ventured on the Buenos Aires subte to a very bohemian Moulin Rouge-ish venue and giggled our way through some suave moves. …now accepting Spanish teacher/tango teacher applications, por favor!
Fast forward 10 days and I was off to Uruguay by ferry to meet up with another good friend, Michael, who I had met while we were both in South Africa for the World Cup. We headed straight for Punto del Diablo, a chilled out beach town close to Brazil. A rainy day meant we were able to catch up while taste testing some Uruguayan wine. I wish I could tell you the tasting notes unique to Argentina reds vs. Uruguay, but perhaps a wine class is in order for 2014 when I return to Mendoza.
The real highlight though came from a note I had scribbled in my little moleskin notebook, my favorite accessory a la Hemingway. Much earlier in the year I had been told to visit Cabo Polonia for a ‘hippie village meets remote beach’ experience. My philosophy with travel is to write down all suggestions and advice just in case, but to get a feel for whether the ‘Recommender’ has a taste for similar adventure and vibe that me, ‘Recommendee’ has. I also run recommendations by others I trust and do a bit of my own research. I’ve had people tell me hot springs were terrible to then go there and have the most glorious day basking in therapeutic mineral waters held by a gorgeous canyon, aka, heaven. And then I’ve had people tell me to turn right at the dirt road just before the entrance to the national park, go over the hanging bridge, and you’ll find a great swimming spot where you can picnic and hang out with locals. This recommendation was of the latter sort…such a gem.
Cabo Polonia is a national park with the unique twist of a ride over sand dunes and down the beach in a massive 4×4 to get to the desired destination. We were on the upper deck which gave us a panoramic view for miles and a mechanical bull-esque experience to boot. Read: it was as bumpy as picturesque. From there we hiked down the beach to the casita where we would be staying. There are no cars or roads and minimal electricity, the simplicity of it all really lending to an experience of raw beauty. We spent a day hiking out to the lighthouse and entertained ourselves with imagining the dialogue that was going on amongst the hundreds of seals on the rocks below. We spent another day hiking out to a point along the beach, climbing up sand dunes and running and skipping down them like little kids.
We had a beautiful, almost full moon lighting our walk to dinner each night. Sadly the brightness meant that we missed out on noctilucas, the bioluminescence that turns the water into a green, sparkling work of art with a new moon. I never mind an excuse to return to a place though, and now I have one. We had other wildlife visitors to entertain us. While walking along the beach to dinner, we saw shadows in the distance along the water. As we got closer it became clear that it was a herd of cows out for a moonlight stroll. We ran into them again the next day further up the beach. We also stumbled onto a little penguin, traveling solo who had just cruised up onto the beach and was looking around curious, if not a little confused. As were we; a penguin on a beach in Uruguay?
My Uruguay adventure ended in La Paloma, meeting up with another friend I had met in Mendoza. We were lucky to see sunsets from this western coast, but even luckier to have a fire on the beach under the stars with a side of wine. I’ve always wanted to have a fire on the beach. It felt like the perfect end to a year of new beginnings and adventures. So dreamy!
If you find yourself in Mendoza and hear the words ‘la finca’ mentioned in what sounds like an invitation, immediately say “Yes!” or beg your way into an invitation. This is how I found myself taking buses and doing a little hitch hiking with my dear Canadian friend, la artista Carmen and our amigos argentinos, Jorge y Mariel on a glorious Mendocino Sunday. La finca technically means, the farm. In Mendoza this can often be used to refer to ‘wine farms’, read: vineyards. But it also pretty much guarantees a trip out of the city closer to nature, a cultural experience and a mountain backdrop to top it off. I didn’t know what I was getting into, only that la finca was involved and I was to meet my friends at the bus station at 9:00am.
I was still waking up as I made the mistake of buying coffee from one of the little carts in the bus station. Think of it more as sugar water with a hint of instant coffee flavoring. Yikes. My wake up call would have to wait. Luckily our first stop was Mariel’s family house. We were dropped off by the bus in the middle of a road and within 5 minutes managed to hitch a ride with a friendly local. A day of Argentino traditions started. First, it was kisses all around. Mother, father, and then brother after brother appeared from no where to give each of us a kiss on the cheek, just one in Argentina. We shared maté, which is a loose leaf tea that you drink from a gourd through a straw. There is a lengthy tradition around this custom, but basically it involves one person pouring hot water into the tea filled gourd and passing it around. When it is your turn, without touching the straw, you drink all of the tea and pass it back to the pourer who will refill it and continue with the next person. On any given morning, afternoon, evening with a stroll through a neighborhood, plaza, or park you can see many a group of friends or family ‘taking the maté’ together. It is thought to be quite energizing as well, so we shared some maté and woke up to the day.
From here it was a walk through the neighborhood to catch another bus. But not before a round of goodbye kisses and a run in with the neighbors who we exchanged kisses with, talked to for about 3 1/2 minutes, and then exchanged kisses all around again before taking our leave. Carmen and I looked at each other as if we thought our first round of kisses was sufficient to last at least 5 minutes, but quickly realized by the look on grandma’s face and her extended arm that we were meant to kiss hello and goodbye with even a 10 second conversation. I love this tradition. It seems so strange to me to hold out my hand for a handshake now.
Our next bus took us to another neighborhood where we walked to a friend’s house for another round of kisses and maté. We then piled into their car and headed to la finca where there would be a birthday celebration. If I only celebrate my birthdays in this Argentine fashion from now on, I won’t remotely mind raking in the years. It turns out la finca that we were visiting is owned by two brothers and one of them was turning 60. There was a vineyard/mountain backdrop just as I had imagined when I begged for my invitation. The brothers themselves had an orchard of peaches and cherries and they grow other produce as well. They host ‘woofers’, which is short for those who are traveling around by working on organic farms in exchange for room and board. There were roughly 60 people there of all ages and countries who, you guessed it!, each came over to give us kisses and welcome us to the party.
Now it was time for perhaps the greatest of all Argentinian traditions though. As people played chess, ping pong, bocce ball, futbol or wandered the vineyard, several caballeros (gentlemen) were hard at work tending to the coals of la parilla…the grill of course. Some things are universal! Everyone had brought different cuts of meat and wine and there were also empanadas and vegetables roasting in the dome clay oven. When it was time, all 60+ of us sat around tables that had been lined up into one great table in the shade. And then the food and meat just started coming and coming and coming. In the end, it is tough to say if there was more meat or kisses on this Sunday Funday. We shared many toasts, “salud!” and sang happy birthday and I’m not sure if there has ever been a more content birthday man in history. In my own opinion, sharing a meal like this must be one of the simplest and greatest things you can do in this world. One thing that struck me was how easy it all came together and how everyone was a part of everything. There was this massive meal and not a stress in the world.
Serendipity stepped in to give me yet another highlight to the day. I spent hours talking to Rudolfo, one of the brothers who owned the place. It turns out he is a published author and has written many books. He was thrilled to learn that I had stopped in Mendoza to write a book. We shared writing styles and process and creative inspiration and stories and laughed about how you need to be just a little bit crazy to be an author. He told me to treat writing a book like a fine wine, and I understood why this is the place that I have stopped to write. It turns out that he and his brother had built this place to be somewhere for gathering people in creativity, nature, and company…an amazing display of a vision en vivo. This all took place in Spanish and it was thrilling to understand everything he said and to be able to have what I call a “soul conversation” in another language. We have an open invitation to come out to la finca and definite friends for life as cliche as that might sound.
And if this wasn’t enough, day moved into night as the reggae band set up to play alongside the table where people continued to feast. The birthday “boy” himself got up to play the guitar (…what I would consider to be another tradition here. There always seems to be a guitar around and someone who knows how to play it.) A storm moved in and Carmen and I snuck away to capture some photos of the lightening striking down in a grand finale.
This is the sort of cultural experience that I dream of and hope everyone gets a chance to have. I do think it comes from just doing what you love and talking about what you love every chance you get. Connections are formed, invitations are offered, and it all comes together just as it should.
One of my favorite things to do is to take in all of the little cultural musings that make a place a place. Taking in the nuances of a place helps me to consider what makes it unique. Reflecting on how it compares to “home” encourages some critical thinking about why things are the way they are in each place, what I can learn, what I would change, how am I now changed. It also keeps the experiences alive, so when I think of a story or look at a picture, I can feel the memory. (*uses of the word “they” in this post are obviously generalizations and I don’t mean to speak for an entire country. It’d be like someone visiting the States and saying, “they” seem to like Starbucks.)
And so here are some of the nuances I noticed in Peru:
– Even more so than other South American countries, there seemed to be a great amount of curiosity and concern about my solita status (single and traveling solo).
“No estás casado?” (You’re not married?) Nope.
“Tienes hijos?” (Do you have kids?) No again.
“No te gusta hijos??” (You don’t like kids?) Yes, I love kids. I have an awesome nephew.
Sometimes this was followed by a marriage proposal.
I am not a fan of overuse of common facebook phrases, but I can’t help it here…”Machu Picchu was the low light of my travels” – said no one ever. But honesty might be the single most important thing, honesty with others of course and especially with yourself; so I have to be honest.
It felt amazing to arrive in the Sacred Valley. I energetically felt the “sacredness”, especially arriving fresh and raw from the jungle. And in spite of this, I felt a gap, something missing (Hint #1). I had a strong feeling that I was meant to be sharing this with someone, a friend, family, a love. Someone to try on fun llama hats with me!
I returned to Cusco after my time in Pisac with hopes of meeting a travel buddy also seeking an adventurous, remote journey to Machu Picchu, to go it alone and really connect with how the Incas approached the land. Bonus if said travel buddy had a tent! No such luck, no such serendipity (Hint #2). In the mean time I enjoyed wandering the narrow, hilly streets of beautiful Cusco, full of eye candy, leg workouts and traditionally dressed women with llamas. It sure is touristy, but wow is it beautiful. It makes up for every tourist with another beautiful vista of tiled roofs, cobbled streets, ancient churches, bustling markets and a plaza that just makes you sigh.
Finally, against everything I know to be true about myself, I booked a tour. A tour! I have since realized that it is a form of travel that many people enjoy or even rely on. I respect that. I however, am not one of those people in most situations. I like being able to figure things out and explore, following my intuition, senses, my heart. It can be fun speaking to locals, seeking the details of how to go about an adventure, preparing for it, owning it success or failure. If you have ever camped, it is entirely easy to safely approach Machu Picchu on foot without a tour. And I intend to go back and do it. But for whatever reason, I went against my gut and booked a tour.
The girls I hiked with were super friendly and good company, although we had different hiking abilities and outdoor experience. The guide, on the other hand, had a serious case of machismo and often told me I was wrong when I asked questions and such.
“So I saw some Incan mummified children in a museum, who were sacrificed…” “No you didn’t.” Really, hmm.
“I read at the Machu Picchu museum…” “There isn’t a Machu Picchu museum.” Interesting because my ticket stub here says…ok whatever.
They proudly fed us way too much food which sadly reinforced this uncomfortable feeling I kept experiencing about feeding the perceived fat (bellies) while taking from the perceived fat (wallets) of the Westerner tourist in Peru.
But Hint #3 that this just wasn’t my time for Machu Picchu came from Mother Nature herself. After a gorgeous first day of a 5 day trek, we woke up to an equally gorgeous foot of snow. Beautiful for memories, devastating for our trek. We would be forced to return to Cusco (first time in 10 years they say) while stewing just as much over the loss of our money which would not be returned as the bitter reality that we’d be reaching Machu Picchu on a bus, quite different than the Incan approach.
I contemplated whether I should just count my losses and start over some other time. Ultimately, I did take the train to Aguas Calientes and walked the 400 meters of vertical steps to the entrance. I got choked up when I filed into the site and was able to find a perch overlooking her on time to watch the shadows transform to gold as the sun crested the peaks of maybe the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. (and I’ve seen A LOT of mountains!)
I spent the day using every ounce of strategy to navigate against the crowds and it worked as well as it could. I climbed Machu Picchu, la montaña, which is actually the name of a peak opposite of its striking sister, Waynu Picchu, the back drop to every Machu Picchu photo. It did offer stunning views and give me a sense for what the Incans navigated to create this sacred city. Man, they built huge steps for short people! This was a workout day. And ironically, it was 90 degrees without a cloud in the sky (although I did get a glimpse of snowy Salkantay in the distance, the namesake of the trek we had started.)
LLamas act as the landscapers at Machu Picchu, happily munching away on grass and posing for pictures. I tried hard to picture an Incan village/sacred site in action. I hope the central patch of perfect green grass was a futbol pitch! The masonry is truly astounding. The history, the views, the immensity of it all…it really is everything you dream about when you put it on your “Do Now” list (the term I like to use instead of bucket list).
In retrospect, I realized that I went from seclusion in the jungle with like-minded people, operating by sun and candlelight, following the rhythms of nature…to the most sought after tourist destination in South America. Oopsies! So maybe my timing was off, however, I have learned a lot in processing that and was still “wowed” along the way. Maybe it hasn’t been the highlight, but it did shed good light in my life and on this journey.
I’m back! Note to self, don’t break a MAC computer cord in Argentina where you cannot purchase apple products. And now for some long overdue posts…
Following my adventure in the jungle I was grateful to have my friends Doug, Jake and Joe from the retreat traveling with me for a week. We set out to explore Pisac, Peru, which is near Cusco in the Sacred Valley.
We met an amazing man, a stone shaman of sorts, in a rock/mineral/crystal shop who oozed “elderness”. Following his advice we rose at 4am the next morning for what would be one of the most breathtaking full moon to sunrise hikes ever.
After a steep climb through impressive, ancient agriculture terraces that I loved in equal parts for the ingenuity and perseverance as for the beautiful lines they created in my photography, we were rewarded with new views and Incan ruins to explore around every bend as the rising sun worshipped them with golden rays. Something feels so magical abut rising so early and waking up with the sun, like you have some secret hours in the day that you’ve somehow earned. We had the place to ourselves and took advantage of the opportunity to have breakfast on the terraces, do a fun jump photo sequence and practice some Andean breathwork above the valley.
In town we made some amazing acquaintances as well. If you ever visit Pisac, be sure to seek out Kaneye at the “Whole in the Wall”. You can taste the love, dedication and wholeness in her baking and hear it in her voice. What started as a quest for gluten free bread quickly became a new friendship…and yes, amazing gluten free bread too! Pisac is also known for its extensive handicraft market. I spent some time talking with local artisans about their natural dyes, weaving designs, and handmade products in hopes of striking up a partnership to put others in touch with their talent and artesan wisdom. Stay tuned!
Another hike took us into some unplanned snow. Very atmospheric, very wet and cold. What occupied our conversation most though was whether or not the sweet, locally dressed woman with a child strewn on her back had left her herd of alpaca with us with a smile and hopes that we’d take them for the day. As we captured the subject of debate on camera, the alpacas didn’t waste time debating that all they cared about was finding the nearest grass to chow down on. Lunch is served! We weren’t able to herd the alpacas and still hope that we didn’t disappoint our new friend. Ah magical Pisac!
Since the bike trip, I’ve spent the last few weeks in a couple of cities and a wine town. Salta La Linda is a beautiful city in the north. It has an amazing central plaza, that amazing Argentine cafe culture that I love, and several cathedrals that resemble wedding cakes to me. There is a museum that displays high quality Incan ceremonial items along with three mummified children who were discovered as sacrifices on a nearby mountain. It was very sobering to learn about this culture and temper judgment in light of respect for their deep beliefs, but also for life itself. Salta was especially lovely for me because of the company I kept. I met some guys at the hostel who took me under their wing as a Spanish student and also shared with me a night out clubbing, a Sunday asado, and a climb up Cerro San Bernardo. The best news though was that my good friend Pablo who lives in Denver, but is originally from Argentina, was down here for work. It was incredible to see a familiar face and hang out for a few days.
Cafayate is the wine gem of the north, known for Torrontes the white equivalent of Malbec for Argentina. I can’t imagine how beautiful it is in the summer and fall with full vines against the beautiful mountain back drop. As always, I enjoyed tasting wines, but also entertained myself with seeing some cave paintings thought to be a thousand years old, and spending the day cycling through the nearby gorge that has outstanding red rock formations and endless views. Call it an addiction, but biking is such a beautiful way to see things and I love it!
I then arrived in Córdoba, the second largest city in the country, closer to the middle…kind of between Buenos Aires and Mendoza. At first glance it was overwhelming to me, so I went for runs in the park and wandered around until I found its charms. This city has a strong Jesuit influence, which is seen in the many cathedrals and beautiful architecture lurking on the bustling city streets. I also found this wonderful district of antique shops and cafes tucked down alleys off the street that are super cool and atmospheric. It’s a university town and you can feel the young, hip vibe everywhere. There are many places to visit nearby in the hills as well, including a town that many people believe is an epicenter for UFO visits and spiritual energy and a canyon where condors are known to teach their young to fly.
It has been wonderful to be back in Argentina, and I am sure I will love returning to it again, just as soon as I get back from the Peruvian Amazon where I am now headed for the next 33 days! I will be deep in the rain forest living in a permaculture environment with regular yoga, meditation, rituals with indigenous shamans, among other things. I’m wildly excited for this opportunity. Stay tuned!
Time for some more cultural musings that I’ve noticed since I’ve been back in Argentina:
- Having correct change is a complete rarity. I was told the other day that businesses actually have to pay to buy coins because people melt them and make them into jewelry that they can get more money for than the coins are worth themselves. It is not uncommon for a shop to not have change to give you and to offer you some candy instead. “No, I don’t want candy, I just want my change….oh, that is the change.”
- Traffic: The only thing clear about who has the right of way in Argentina is that it is not you, Miss Pedestrian. When you come to an intersection, it seems that whoever feels they have the right of way, does. One direction of traffic will go for a while, until the other side seems to get antsy and edge their way out. Just when you think you’re about to witness an accident, the flow switches for a while….making street crossing a sport for us pedestrians.
- I have a ‘mercado central’ addiction. Especially since I hit Mendoza and north, every city and town seems to have a mercado central. It’s typically tucked away inside a city block like a gem in the core of a mountain. The entrance may look like another store entrance, until you go in to explore and you find that the entire heart and guts of the block is this hidden market with everything from fruits and veggies and meat and spices to handicrafts and electronics, movies and socks.
- The best gifts are the cheesiest ones. I was being helped in a store while talking about how I love Mendoza and think I may move there. It turns out the guy is a Mendocino and was so excited. He told me to hang on and in a few minutes returned with a freshly made key chain gift; a wood cutout of Argentina with some plastic grapes glued to it and signed ‘Mendoza’. To use my dear friend Christen’s words, there’s just this special way down here where people get very excited about sharing a passion or something simple in common and wanting to celebrate it. I hope to bring this sort of sentiment with me when I return to the States.
- You can learn a great deal about Argentina history from the names of the streets and plazas. Every town has streets and plazas named after dates, generals and other important historical figures. They love their generals here! My personal favorite is Perito Moreno, a guy who supposedly changed the direction of a river so that it flowed to the Atlantic instead of the Pacific, which conveniently makes it belong to Argentina instead of Chile…the border of these two countries being determined by the continental divide.
- One night I had a group of 11 Argentinos at the hostel helping me with Spanish. As I was sharing that I love how they always say ‘Buen Provecho’ to each other under all eating circumstances, they start elbowing me and laughing until I realize that a couple of guys had walked in with late night food and I should actually participate in this custom that I love. “Buen provecho chicos!”
- In other language lesson news, in the last couple of weeks I have had a few guys trying to practice their English with me. They have pointed behind them to indicate the past as I had done my first few months here. It made me immensely happy to let them know I understood what they meant and did not think they had imaginary friends.
I’m back in Argentina, although I’d hardly know it. I came to a very different Argentina this time. I landed in Buenos Aires after two days of travel from Honduras and three airports. I breezed through immigration, quickly caught the shuttle into town, rushed to Florida Street with my backpack in tow to change dollars (yes, on the street, more on that later), and did my best impersonation of a run, which was perhaps more like a fast, unattractive waddle to the bus station. I jumped aboard a 26 hour bus ride to Jujuy in the north with 10 minutes to spare, and felt quite proud that all of this had been possible so quickly because I had become familiar with Buenos Aires and my Spanish is getting better.
“They say” you can tell a lot about a person by the company he/she keeps. My most consistent company this year has been “The Great Dane”, Henrik. If what “they say” is true, you’ll find me to be a curious person, passionate about experiences, interactions, learning and photography to capture it all. It’s worked out quite well that his patient, challenging and beautiful pace of travel by bike has matched my style of lingering and soaking in the places I visit. So for one last time in Argentina, I was able to meet up with my friend and share some more adventures.
Jujuy is a city, and is probably often skipped by travelers as it doesn’t have any shining star attractions per se. I really liked it though; I see that as a great opportunity to just wander and notice little things and witness life en vivo. While I didn’t remotely blend, it was fascinating to be the only two gringos in town for a couple of days. There’s a pretty cathedral and we had a wonderful experience pulling up some stools at a street food stand in the market to try some comidas regionales. We had tamales y humitas (like a tamale, a tad more sweet, more likely to be filled with cheese perhaps), and locro (a stew of maíz, beans, pork, beef, sausage).
I woke up on my birthday to the sounds of a parade. Looking out the window onto the street below it was more of a procession for a saint: some brass instruments, a flowered shrine and a couple dozen people following along. This turned into a regular occasion my last couple of weeks in the north…interesting.
A few of my friends had given me cards 6 months ago to open on my birthday. I thought it was the sweetest thing then, but to sit there in the morning and hear from them was truly amazing. I hope I’m a reflection of this company that I keep as well because these women constantly blow my mind. Thank you Katie Mason, Lindsay Vogt, and Susan Lambert!!!
I love to spend my birthday in nature, followed by some live music and awesome company, with my Mom traditionally telling me the story of my birth…it’s fun to see how that works out and this year did not fail me. I walked around the tiny, dusty streets of the little gem called Purmamarca. I had lunch, with wine of course, and the company of a very photogenic 5 year old and his kitten. I walked around the cerro de siete colores…the trail was full of green mountains, orange ones, purple ones, peppered with the towering cordones cacti. I stopped at an artists’ workshop and told him it was my birthday. He was more excited than I was! He poured some maté for us (a prolific Argentine cultural experience that I will write about at some point)…basically it’s a type of tea drank from a gourd and is shared. We watched the llamas against the backdrop of gorgeous alpenglow and he showed me a black and white photo of his Mom in New York in the 40s. Bliss!! Henrik then arrived en bici and we went to dinner, eating llama, drinking local wines and listening to folklore music. So far so good, for 33!
The next day took us to Tilcara, where I decided it was time again to rent a bike and join my cycling friend for a much longer and more rigorous “cycle-tour” this time. I cycled with him to the Bolivia border, which I believe was about ~225km of cycling at about 12,000+ft of altitude, gaining 700m of altitude on one day alone. I like to think of myself as a fit person and that’s important to me, but I hadn’t been training for this and had just come from sea level (or below sea level with all of the diving!). We were quite unlucky with facing headwinds, side winds…actually I named our ride “Anything but tailwinds”. As is often the case with something you hear about, but haven’t tried…I never realized the implications of how much impact the wind has on this kind of travel.
One day in particular, I could not even look up at the horizon and surrounding landscape, my bike was almost toppled over twice from wind force, and I think I may have been growling out loud in a physical fight with the wind. I started picking trees on the horizon and just trying to make it to those trees. And to be perfectly honest, my butt really hurt! One night we didn’t make it to the town we were aiming for and the town we did reach was somewhat of an abandoned mine town with no where to stay. We ended up paying some guys to bring us mattresses and blankets to use in a dusty, old, concrete room in an abandoned train station. Remember it is winter here right now and temperatures are freezing at night. What an experience!
This trip was so many things for me: First of all, I was proud. It was extremely difficult, but I like a physical challenge and I did it. It was a beautiful pace to see the world and a new way to be with nature. I love trying new things and learning and processing my experience (still doing that). It was a lot of time to think. I thought about everything from my heart bursting from gratitude or bursting from the challenge of the ride, thought about my parents celebrating their 38 wedding anniversary and what makes a soul mate or true love, I tried to think in Spanish to continue my practice and unfortunately I also spent more time than I cared to thinking about the wind. I talked to the wind, sometimes arguing, sometimes begging, sometimes trying to see a lesson. I talked to my body…yes out loud even. I thought about my intentions for the year that I set in a rose garden in Buenos Aires and how they are playing out and what my next move is. Lately, I’ve been thinking so much about the friends in my life and family at home and just exactly what each and every one of them have given to me and why I specifically miss them and how much I love them. If that sounds cheesy or cliché, I’ll accept that. It’s truly how I feel.
We started in a canyon and moved to high altitude plains. We passed llamas, the endangered vicuña, sand dunes and spectacular mountains of all sorts of colors. We stayed in tiny adobe towns, rich with bright colored handicrafts, the popular ponchos (not to be confused with panchos which means hot dogs 🙂 ), and hats that kind of look like top hats on both the men and women. Their faces had changed dramatically from southern Argentina as well, and were rounder and darker and looked more indigenous and Bolivian in nature.
In Humahuaca, we hiked up to the monument and took pictures of the mighty cordones at night, enjoyed local cuisine of queso de cabra and quinoa, and went to see the most magnificent pink, zigzag mountains that to me resemble rhodochrosite (the country stone of Argentina and the state stone of Colorado). We spent an amazing day in the remote town of Iruya, which we actually bused to. You shouldn’t go if you have a fear of heights and winding mountain roads. The town is made of steep, cobbled streets where donkeys roam freely, kids carry baby goats around and the people prefer not to be photographed.
We hiked up to a lookout where we watched swooping condors and the mountains that rippled with green, blue, orange, and purple. We met a couple that we joined for coffee and an impromtu Spanish lesson, and then finished the evening with a película (movie) at the cultural center, learning about the region’s history in Spanish. In Abra Pampa, we spent hours playing the Gran Bingo in the central plaza with what seemed to be the entire town sitting in silence, hoping for their numbers to be called. We lost, but it was a great experience and people seemed to find it fun that we were playing and wanted to help us too. We made it to La Quiaca, which seemed to be a crumbling, abandoned town that was mainly a border crossing and from there went to the very remote and tiny town of Yavi.
Challenging, absolutely, but I’m really happy that I decided to go after this adventure, and grateful for the patience of someone cycling around the world to let me have a sneak peak into his world. We’ve had a lot of adventures, deep conversations and laughs the last several months, and I wish Henrik the best on the next two years of travel around the rest of the world. As for me, I’m loving the things that I’m thrilled and challenged to be diving back into…Spanish and continuing my exploration of this awesome country.