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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The Return

<from September 2014>

I feel like I’m on my third or fourth life of this dream as I’m arriving back in Argentina once again to make a go at writing my book here. Each time I’ve been able to come back I’ve learned so much in the process and have had new challenges and surprises awaiting me…what will it be this time?

I walk out of the airport to find my friend Jose waiting there for me with a cab and it feels more like home every time I come back. We talk excitedly, firing questions back and forth, filling each other in on what’s been going on in our lives lately. We’ve both been navigating a transition from Corporate America to trying to start new careers around our passions. I have this satisfied feeling in me, a deep longing has been quenched, to be back to my passion project.

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Carolina, Jose’s roommate, practically knocks me over with a hug and smiles and I feel a connection as if we’ve already had the inspiring conversations we proceed to have over the next week, the three of us holed up in the tiny kitchen, sitting on the counters, passing around maté and sharing stories and ideas about living a meaningful life. It feels good, no, priceless to have a tiny community of like-minded people to interact with and exchange support.

I quickly get to know the people at the fruit and vegetable shop around the corner and can never resist going into the bakery next door to get some hot chipá (little balls of chewy cheesy bread, made from tapioca flour and naturally gluten free). I love shopping for food in this way, each little shop specializing in their one thing; the conversations and relationships formed with the locals; everything whole, fresh, in season and homemade.

We turned the living room into a board room (a very cute boardroom), having brainstorming sessions and building websites. The brainstorming…I love, ping ponging questions and ideas back and forth and I’m reminded of my skill set and the parts of consulting that I loved. It feels so energizing to generate ideas and get creative, to help someone get clearer on their vision and be one step closer to manifesting it. The hardest part of building a personal business for me though is the business and technology part…hoping the challenge and frustrations will pay off if I can stick to it. Pretty soon my 5 year old nephew will likely be better at this than I am.

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We take a break to meet up with Lucho and head over to the feria de matadores…a traditional market where you are a minority as a tourist. I stand out with my blond hair and light skin, but I feel at home with the melodic castellano being spoken around me, the scents of choripan (a chorizo sausage and chimichurri sandwich) and locals strolling around the art stalls with their thermos of agua caliente (hot water) tucked under their arms.

We follow the crowds to the main stage where folkloric music is being played and everyone is dancing. Couples are circling each other, hands in the air, snapping their fingers to the rhythm of the music. Lucho and I try to join in which provides a great laugh to each other and everyone around us as we do.

photo credit - Jose Gastaldi
photo credit – Jose Gastaldi

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I get waves of feeling like we had been at the market a while, feeling it is surely time to leave, until I’m reminded of a quality I love about Argentina…busy-ness and rushing about just isn’t glorified in the least. It is the exact opposite. We won’t eat dinner till midnight anyway, we have loads of time. We end up staying for hours watching as the dance progressed to one where they twirl scarves about and caress each other with them.

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I stand there watching and smiling and feeling in my whole body that it was the right decision to come back to Argentina. It just feels so right to be here and I feel energized and motivated to accomplish what I came here to do.

**If you enjoyed this blog, please consider making a donation that will go directly towards helping me finish writing and publishing my book. Also, check out my website for writing, photography and transformation practices. Muchas gracias!**

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.***

Write Till You’re Wrong

When I followed him up the stairs and onto the terrace, I knew I had I found the perfect Caribbean writer’s haven before he even opened the door. It was up a hill with a balcony overlooking a tiny bay with mountains that held the blue sea in a sweet little embrace. It was dry season, so the hills were a rusty, brambly tangle of bare branches and tall cacti…not the tropical green I was expecting. From my vantage point, the tree tops hid the shabby town below and hosted big iguanas that would sometimes climb to the top branches. The place was small, open air with a beautiful view, and it was my retreat. It was so wonderfully situated that the sun set over the sea even when I imagined we were facing east. Magic! This is where I would write my book, in Taganga, Colombia.

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Continue reading Write Till You’re Wrong

Holy Mangos!

I had the brilliant idea of waiting until Good Friday to do the pilgrimage up to the little church on top of Montserrate, the backdrop mountain of Bogotá. And it was a brilliant idea if you like to participate in what the entire city is doing at once. It was holy week and people were eager to be holy. If they weren’t there, they were spilling out of the churches into the plazas or visiting the salt cathedral, which is 180m underneath the ground. I still feel holy from having been in Bogotá for holy week. I even scheduled my bus just on time to catch a procession going past my hostel with drums and incense, men and children in dark purple, silk robes, carrying huge statues of the stations of the cross. I watched them walk past by candlelight, saying prayers, and made it to the station just on time for a trip to the coast.

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I was headed for Palomino, a beach town on the Caribbean Sea near Venezuela that was written up in the book as a chilled out, long, dreamy stretch of beach with a strong current that backs up to the jungle. The current actually ended up being just the right strength for me to swim against, perfect for a daily workout if I didn’t mind the occasional salty wave in the face. “Town” was one street with casual, local restaurants, fruit shacks, and pool halls lining each side and a sandy road that leads you to the beach in fifteen minutes.

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Continue reading Holy Mangos!

Settling into Mendoza

It was tempting to keep traveling north and explore more of Peru, but I had a feeling pulling me south back to Argentina. It occurred to me that although the adventures I have had this year have blown my mind, the feeling was fleeting. It was fleeting because I hadn’t yet created the life to support being able to do this sort of long term travel/ wandering. The goal was never just to travel, although wow…how amazing that has been. The goal was and is to create a new life entirely around my essence, passions, and values. With exploring other cultures being one of my great passions, it made sense to start this journey by traveling. Really simple actually: I love this, so I’m going to do more of this and see what happens. (click links to read my article and other blog that talk about these things a bit more)

I knew that doing this alone was important too, but wasn’t exactly sure why. What I’ve learned is that traveling alone has really let me leave a lot behind; job, commitments, familiar crutches and time suckers. What has come with me are fears, habits, and who I am as a person, how I process things and make decisions, what I feel. So traveling solita exposes me to unknowns and I learn to listen to myself, process things myself and really to just be myself in the truest sense.  Sometimes it is lonely and sometimes it is such a gift and opens up all sorts of opportunities.

So with my goal in mind and embracing this unique opportunity of the ultimate alone time, the travel aspect started to feel like it was fleeting. I felt like it was time to settle for a bit and focus on writing, reflecting on what I’ve learned and to decide what is next for me in this journey. Mendoza had always been in my mind as a great city for living and I traveled for a week by land to make my way back to the land of Malbec.

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I took a pit stop in San Pedro de Atacama, a very picturesque desert in Northern Chile with many a volcano gracing the horizon. The vast emptiness of the landscape resonated with the emotions that I was feeling…I thought it had been scary traveling alone at times, but as soon as I headed south to “officially” start living my new life, every fear and doubt bubbled into my chest. I felt so anxious, I missed seeing new landscapes even before I arrived in Mendoza. I took these thoughts by bike out to a laguna for the day. That night I met a writer, a girl starting a fair trade business with her sister and a guy who is creating a documentary on healing in the Amazon…sooo, basically my life. Point for synchronicity!

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When the bus came into Mendoza I remembered what an oasis it is, the green tree canopies shading every street in this dry desert town. I walked through the familiar streets and welcomed this city as my new home as I passed flower stands calming my fears with thoughts of buying a fresh bouquet to make my apartment my own. It is spring here now and the whole city smells like a flower. It’s incredible.

Now all I have to do is find an apartment. Who knew what a cultural experience this could be? For weeks I told anybody and everybody that I was looking for an apartment. The usual response was something along the lines of “ok great, I’ll let people know.” “Thank you, but can’t you just tell me a website I can go to? I want to find a place this week.” Now that I’ve been through the experience I can see why people laughed when I said this. A lot of people live at home until they are married, even into their thirties. People tend to stay in places for a long time with a typical lease being 2 years and requiring someone to vouch for you. There are websites as it turns out, but most things happen by word of mouth.

So I started trying to do things to meet people and put myself out there. I started going to a language exchange group to practice Spanish and share English. I met with the Vines of Mendoza, a company through which you can buy a vineyard and make your very own Mendocino wines. (I’m allowed a shameless plug in my own blog, no? I’m now writing for The Vines blog about the wine experience and culture of Mendoza). I met up with friends that I made at the hostel while I was here in April and May. After a week on buses and the most intense neck cramp, I treated myself to a massage and a local woman at the spa offered me a room in her home, although she didn’t have water or electricity somehow. So all of this helped me get acquainted and involved in Mendoza as a home and eventually I did find a place for a month and immdiately bought some flowers. Oh the luxury of my own space!!!

At first I was so excited, all I did was stay in and write and cook and watch movies in Spanish to keep practicing. I found that being in nature isn’t just a hobby or occasionally fun, but something that is critical to my happiness. So I took a weekend trip to Uspallata, a mountain town where I was able to watch the sun set over a river and the full moon rise with my new Mendocina friend who had gone horseback riding and hiking with me that day.

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Part of me felt intimidated and tired of always going out on my own and always trying to meet people. And yet, when I stayed holed up in my apartment in the city I missed interactions and the impromtu invite or conversation. So I said yes to an invitation to go to a wine tasting event for the day. And I sought out events in Mendoza and was able to find a polo tournament and talk some friends into going who brought more friends and suddenly we had the most wonderful day in the sun, tasting champagne and watching the horses and riders compete against a gorgeous mountain backdrop.

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Stay tuned for more stories of my life here (there are many now) and also for my book. I finally started writing it and as you can imagine, am feeling quite inspired by the adventures I’ve had this year.