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.

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Celebrating Life in Paradise

I left Taganga. Eventually when we had locals escort us to the police to tell them about being robbed, they said they had no way of knowing if it actually happened. Uh huh. So that’s how it is.

I moved on 6 hours via bus up the coast to the colorful Cartagena that looks like it inspired many a fairytale with its charming facades and flowering trees framing the thresholds of shops and guesthouses. It is an old, colonial city on the sea and it still has its stone wall wrapped around it that now serves less for defense and more for history and holding its gem of a town the way a child holds the glow of a lightening bug in her hands at dusk. It could be a quite inspiring place to write if the words hadn’t been scared so far out of me when my life was threatened in Taganga. I ached for my camera like a missing limb.

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I was physically safe and knew I’d be able to get through the emotional trauma after my highly sensitive self had time to process it. I was walking around feeling bitter that this awful thing had happened to us and begrudging the happy people smiling and laughing and loving on Colombia in the streets. Didn’t they know what I had just been through? I know this is unrealistic. I was just in a bad place.

I had a ticket home to the USA in a month’s time and decided that I wanted to be even more remote until then.

It was time to celebrate life. One way to do that…go to tropical island you’ve never heard of, breathe in the salty air, bury your feet in the perfect white sand, play in the turquoise waters, chill out with the sunsets and have a birthday.

I hopped a plane to San Andres, which technically is still Colombia, but closer to Nicaragua with a distinct Caribbean feel. I cannot even tell you what language they speak…some sort of mix mon, of Spanish, English, and Creole, ya mon, ya ya yaaaaaa, sometimes even in the same sentence. (My written accent is clearly as bad as my spoken accent mimicry.)

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But I wanted to be even more remote and there was another island nearby.

I tell you who is most likely not celebrating life…the poor guy on the catamaran that goes to Isla Providencia, whose job it is to collect puke bags and mop up after seasick passengers for the 3 hour passage. It felt more like an extended mechanical bull ride than a fluid journey over water. Insert headphones, blast music, stare at horizon and try not to count the minutes.

You have to earn this trip to paradise. I was one of the few survivors.

This was one of the more untouched places I have been…and by that I mean no gringo/expat businesses. This made for some interesting interactions. When disembarking, there were two guys writing details from your passport by hand, getting half of the information wrong. I can’t imagine where they are storing the paperwork. Need a ride? Just flag down a passing truck or hop on back of a moto.

Complete contradictions were often given during a single conversation…all with the intention of being agreeable and the path to least resistance. There’s probably a mathematical equation to compare the relationship of the heat of the sun to the laziness of the people, but math isn’t exactly the strong suit here…while sitting in a plastic chair in the sun is much more so.

A group of us from the hostel took a boat ride around the island doing a snorkel version of a drift dive and stopping at an archipelago national park. We headed to the national park early to avoid paying fees, we were told. It wasn’t early enough and we were told it would be an additional 12,000 pesos each. We calmly communicated that we didn’t have money as we had not been told about the fee when negotiating the price of the trip. Some more conversation occurred as we waited and time ticked away. Finally I was told we could pay 12,000 total. Perfect. Someone pulled out a 10,000 peso bill and I presented this to them, emphasizing this was all we had. I was told to wait while they got me 2,000 pesos in change. I love math in the Caribbean!

The snorkeling was wonderful and worth the 12,000…er, 8,000 pesos. I saw a sting ray seconds after diving into the water, then a turtle and a beautiful shark. Then I saw the most interesting fish I’ve ever seen diving. It looked like a thin flag fluttering in the wind, but in slow motion and more fluid as its edges rippled with the water. It had tentacles coming out the back that I didn’t notice until it gave a little flutter kick. Cool!! I thought it was a squid, but was later told it was a cuttlefish. I was mesmerized and followed it along and as it moved from the white sand to swim over some seaweed it changed colors before my eyes. Seriously cool, I shrieked through my snorkel and snorted a bit of salt water. Then I realized I had been following the baby and there was a whole school of them. I could’ve stayed for hours.

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Luckily I didn’t though because there was a party to be had and Roland was having it. Roland is a strung out, rasta man hippy, who, when not hungover, is very enthusiastic about driving his truck around the island and bringing people to his place. His place, creatively named Roland’s Beach Bar, is everything you want a Caribbean beach bar to be. It’s right on the water, with a rope swing into the sea if you care to take a late night dip. There are some hammocks, in fact the bar tender chills in one when not serving you. Thatched roof huts cover tables, other tables are built in beached, wooden sail boats, the perfect chilled out sound track plays, the gorgeous Colombian women who can move their bodies in ways that I can’t even do in my dreams and a fire pit crackles away in the center of it all.

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Paradise turned out to be quite the dose of dreamy. It was wonderful and yet made it quite cruel to board a flight back to the United States, parting ways with my dear friend who was a part of the better portion of my experiences and head home…well, to one of my homes. That word has become quite confusing. And that is how I felt…drained and confused.

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Let’s Go on an Adventure!

The year is coming to a close and a new one will start shortly… It is a time of year where I like to do a bit of reflecting about what has happened this year…who I’ve met, places I’ve experienced, things that I have learned. I also like to start setting intentions for the upcoming year…what am I working on? Where am I going? Where do I want to be going?

This year, one thing is clear: I will publish my books in 2015. I’m really excited to announce my Kickstarter campaign that I’ve launched to help me reach this goal and I’d be eternally grateful if you check out the link, back my campaign, and share it if you’re inspired. The campaign is a for writing and publishing a book about my transformative adventure from Corporate America to Patagonia, including an interactive guidebook for pursuing your passions. 

Continue reading Let’s Go on an Adventure!

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I spent much of last year trying to think my way through things and figure them out, and not enough time paying attention to the feel of things and going with the flow. I’m trying to act on that learning this year. Such was it that when coming back to Argentina, I had a decision to make about where to go for 3 weeks until my visitors arrived. It was the only 3 weeks of alone time I would get between mid-November and early March, so it felt important. The obvious was to go back to Mendoza where I have been living. It was over 100 degrees there and I was craving to be more directly in nature and so I headed back to Bariloche in Patagonia instead.

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On my 21 hour bus ride, I ended up sharing mate and talking in Spanish for hours to the very sweet Argentine, Lucho, who was next to me and on his way to Bariloche for holidays, to meet up with his best friends. I ended up spending the next several days with the three of them. They would pick me up at my hostel and tell me where we were going for the day. This was the best Spanish practice I have had, along with local immersion with these extremely creative, genuine, affectionate, generous people. 

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This was the best welcome back ever as it reminded me of the things that I have really fallen in love with here in Argentina. I have met so many very kind and welcoming people, and once again I love all the kisses when greeting each other and again when saying goodbye. Life these few days was filled with everything tranquilo, chilled out, and very much going with the flow. We spent a day lakeside that felt like it would never end, which was fine with me. A picnic and mate, card games, snorkeling. Sebastian made some cool, impromptu arte en vivo, while the rest of us took a siesta. Lucho set some rocks out on a sunken log and it became a game of  trying to knock them off by skipping rocks…simple, creative fun When the sun was low enough in the sky and the shade was cool, we packed up to leave. 

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We came to another beach that was still sunny and unpacked everything to chill out longer. Juggling, head stands, photography, more mate. This sounds so simple, but I remember feeling so clearly that we wouldn’t do that in the States. When it’s time to go, it is time to go and we’d probably be thinking about how late it is getting and our plans for a bbq or just the rushed, anxiety feeling of “we’ve been here all day, time to move on.” That may be a generalization, but it struck me how much this day felt like a quintessential example of living in the present moment. Nothing was discussed, we just stepped into the sun and it became obvious that we’d stay and bask in it.

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When we did leave, we made another spontaneous stop at a mirador (lookout point) because it was there and why not? This all meant that we ended up going out to dinner instead of having our asado, and we didn’t eat until midnight, but who cares. It was lovely and so effortless. We would have an asado another day. And we did. And it was wonderful.

City, Town, City, Plane

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!