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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Solita en Bariloche

So with a few weeks to myself in Bariloche, I decide how dreamy it would be to build an A-Frame house with a writing tower, 360 degree windows, on the lake, cozy fireplace with an alpaca rug on the wood floors. I sketch it and imagine myself inspired, writing there, taking breaks to kayak or ski, depending on the season. Maybe after I write a best seller… 

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Until this dream can be realized I decide I can still head to a mountain hut to do some writing. I plan a 4 day trek, staying at two refugios (simple mountain huts where you can pay a fee for a mattress and use of the kitchen). The first day goes well, but reminds me that I’ve been away from mountains for a few months now. The hike is easy, but a steep walk up Cerro Lopez for a few hours with panoramic views across this massive, mountain-lined, deep blue lake. Parque Nahuel Huapi, one of my favorite places. I have time to read and write and talk to the couple who run the hut and their curious son. A simple life preparing meals, running up and down the trail with supplies, talking with the different guests who pass through, drinking lots of mate of course. There was a huge group of about 50 pre-teens that must’ve been about 10-12 years old. I was rather surprised to watch as they were served the highly caffeinated mate as well at about 9pm. Start em young I guess! I thought they’d keep me up all night, but can only guess that they were packed so tightly into their room that they couldn’t possibly even talk. This isn’t that big of a hut. 

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I knew the next day would be challenging. Within minutes of starting the trail, I was using all fours trying to keep my balance with my heavy pack on my back, my short legs fully extended in a reach to hoist myself up and over boulders, a trail hardly visible. So hardly visible in fact, that I lose the trail. I know from other hiking that I have done here before that sometimes the “trail” is across, up, or down a scree field and not entirely clear, so I follow what I think is the trail. I hike across a stretch of loose rocks, across snow, up to a ridge. At this point, I see a gorgeous, still, turquoise lake that looks as if it has been painted on the earth. Gorgeous and yet there isn’t supposed to be a lake there. I’ve gone the wrong way. I’m trying to get my bearings with the map, thinking to myself, “Where am I supposed to go?” Just then, one lone condor comes up over the peak, flies passed me over to where I am supposed to be, loops back around to fly directly over my head and away into the distance. I think, hmm, that was interesting timing and strange. I study the map again and realize that it flew exactly where I needed to be. Great news! I also realize that I am now about 3 hours out of my way by the time I get back to where I should’ve gone. Bad News.

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It was still early in the day and the middle of the summer with a 10:00pm sunset, so I went for it. This was a crazy tough hike. I ended up with bruised hands from how much I was lowering myself down, pulling myself up, slipping here and there on everything from loose gravel to chunky scree fields to having to use ropes to rappel down large boulders. Remember doing the crab walk as a kid? When you’re on all fours, butt towards the ground? That is what it was like to get down these peaks, to stay balanced with a pack on. I enjoyed the challenge immensely, but to enjoy the nature I had to stop and take it in. Every step I took required complete focus on that step and nothing else. I spent much of the time mentally encouraging myself while also reprimanding myself for going alone. I know you are not supposed to, and while I did see other people along the way and knew I would be ok, I had no desire to become another movie plot line, having to cut my leg off and crawl out or something. (In the photo below I had come from the other side of the pass behind me and then across the valley up to where I am in the photo)

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After 10 hours of hiking crossing two passes, hiking through a pretty valley, across several ridges with views of Cerro Tronador in the distance, I made it to the next refugio on an elevated mountain laguna. Laguna Negra. I spent two nights and days reading and writing and dreaming about my future Patagonian A-Frame cabin.

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The rest of my time in Bariloche was overcast, crazy windy, and chilly. This actually ended up being a good thing in terms of hunkering down with my journal and toying around with the guitar that I’ve been wanting and finally, finally bought! I befriended a French/Swiss guy, Igor and we’d have lingering breakfasts enjoying the view out over the lake from our 10th floor hostel. A good friend of mine had just been guiding kayak trips in Antarctica and our paths were able to cross for a few days to do some day hikes and share meals with other travelers. So good for the soul. It was definitely the right choice to spend this time in Bariloche.

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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.