Gaucho See, Gaucho Do – An Authentic Life

Don’t all spontaneous adventures start out with an invitation to road trip out to the desert to buy goat skins? Enter again, Lucas, the dapper gaucho who I had met at Estancia La Alejandra for the incredible experience on horseback. We’re sitting in a quintessential Argentino cafe in Mendoza, basking in the high sun and enjoying a bottle of white wine at lunch on a Tuesday, like ya do, when he mentions that he was going to head out to the desert where a guy who knows a guy who owns a roadside restaurant and raises goats, occasionally sells their skins for leather…great price. As a teenager, Lucas had headed out to the desert to live with the Huarpes people and apprentice to their particular style of leatherwork, developing quite the knack for this unique skill. This is what lunch is like with Lucas, casual mentions of indigenous art and errands to the desert as if he were talking about picking up the dry cleaning…chilled out, unconventional, and full of surprises. Ok, so maybe it wasn’t an invitation, but I immediately invited myself anyway.

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Solo Luz, Solo Amor in this Mountain Community

I felt like I could just as sensibly be communicating by carrier pigeon as I told the guy at the bus terminal shop that I was looking for Emilio’s community and asked if he could kindly tell me how to get there. That was about the sum total of information that I had…that I needed to go see this man in the mountains and I should just ask for him at the bus station and go from there.

“Ah, si, si, la communidad del Milo. Bueno…” and he proceeded to tell me how to walk a few miles down the street and cut through some brush to the dirt road that would lead me there. It would be the first time I was showing up at a stranger’s house, unannounced, expecting to stay for 4 days; I suppose the walking would’ve brought welcomed time to think through my introduction. I opted for a taxi instead, albeit out of character for me, I felt nervous enough about the scenario ahead and didn’t want to start off by getting lost.

Continue reading Solo Luz, Solo Amor in this Mountain Community

Riding to the Hills

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.

Continue reading Riding to the Hills

2013 Last Hurrah – Uruguay

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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

Picture Perfect Pisac, Peru

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Deep into the Amazon I Go

The air is so sweet and so dense that you just want to eat it. This was my first impression of arriving to my 5 week stay in the Peruvian Amazon. My senses were overwhelmed in the best way possible. I had my own little hut complete with mosquito netting, a desk, candles and a hammock. It was about a 15 minute walk into the jungle and I spent much time there writing, being and listening to the symphony of sounds flow with the time of day.

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I had met a couple of acupuncturists while hiking in Argentina who had told me of this place in the Amazon. It is winter in Argentina and I decided it would be a good time to give myself the gift of my own space and time to soak in my experiences from this year. And of course being deep in nature is the best place to do this!

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There was life everywhere! When the sun shone through the canopy, all the different leaves and vines and life would light up with a bright glow. You can quite dramatically feel the vibration reach a unique intensity around you. There were hummingbirds, ducklings, butterflies by day and tarantulas, bats, cockroaches and spiders the size of my head by night. I only saw a few snakes…no anacondas!…but I’m sure many more were hanging out. To be clear, the mosquitos did not discriminate between day and night; they were relentless!

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We spent our time doing everything from yoga, Qi Gong and other body work, to dream work, meditation, walks in the jungle and incredibly refreshing swims in the river (a tributary to the Amazon!) with the piranhas. Playing music and singing were a huge component as well, and perhaps my favorite.

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The jungle has immense healing properties that we were able to experience. There are many sacred plants there that are known for their healing properties. It was like that saying “there’s an app for that” except, “there’s a plant for that” no matter what you were trying to address. We ate so clean and so healthy and also worked with different plants and teas depending on our personal health needs. All meals were cooked over open fire and enjoyed by candlelight. I feel completely detoxed and am experiencing energy like I have never felt before. You can check out the movie Sacred Science for some more insight into this place and the healing stories that it has supported.

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We had many ceremonies, sometimes with local/indigenous shamans, aimed at collective healing and transformation. In the last such ceremony as we were holding an all night vigil, I was feeling intense gratitude and was focused on sending love to my family. I literally thought, “I hope they can feel this love right now.” A few days later when I left the jungle and checked my email, sure enough I had received a note from my Dad about this. During that same night, at 2am, my parents woke up to an owl that had flown to the window and was wildly hooting away, trying to get their attention. They both said they could tell its message was something in relation to me. Don’t call me Harry Potter or anything, but things like this really do validate my belief in collective consciousness.

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If I had to choose three words to describe my experience, I’d say intense, awakening and community. This month gave me the opportunity to connect with nature and like-minded people to continue discovering, learning and growing in such a unique way. Every person and every situation has something they can teach you. How cool is that? I’m grateful for the experience to focus on the art of living and tapping into my connection to all that is alive.

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With experiences like this, it takes me quite a bit of time to process and integrate it into my natural way of being. So while I could gush about how amazing it was (and it was), I really believe it will be in my day to day life that I feel and live the discoveries and practices I experienced in the jungle. I’m now off to make my way down through the Sacred Valley, home to some old rocks you might know as Machu Picchu, en route to Argentina.

Birthday and Biking to the Bolivian Border

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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