Patagonia March 2012

“I climbed a path and from the top looked up-stream towards Chile. I could see the river, glinting and sliding through the bone-white cliffs with strips of emerald cultivation either side. Away from the cliffs was the desert. There was no sound but the wind, whirring through thorns and whistling through dead grass, and no other sign of life but a hawk, and a black beetle easing over white stones.”
― Bruce ChatwinIn Patagonia

What way to start my long overdue post than a quote from one of the great travel writers of our time. I cannot better those words.

My itinerary: Flew from Buenos Aires to el Calefate, spent a day at the Benito Moreno glacier and then a bunch of time at the Torres del Paine Park and then boarded a boat and cruised from Punta Arenas, round Cape Horn, to Ushaiuia and then back to Buenos Aires.

On my way across the border between Chile and Argentina, my friends and I stopped to pay homage to Gauchito Gil (read more about his legend here Gauchito Gil) – we brought him a delicious beer as an offering for help & safe passage on our journey (and he came through!). The following pictures are just some of my shots – please enjoy – amazing weather (didn’t have to wear my waterproof pants very much – not a fan of the waterproof pant but a fan of being dry for sure) and well, amazing trip.

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“Travel does what good …

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – Freya Stark

A good midweek thought…

Mexico: a kayaking story for cinco de Mayo…

.. or as my family likes to call it… the near death kayak.

About ten years ago, my family decided we wanted to start traveling for Christmas – get some sun in before the long winter haul of the the northeast USA.

We’re not the all inclusive, cruise people so we decided to go to an Eco-retreat & head for Tulum, Mexico to get there before everyone else did (PS everyone already had gotten there first – I maintain it’s still an escape but it’s not the deserted place described by the backpackers of old). Amazing open beach, delicious food (slightly expensive but yummy all the same), margaritas…. who could ask for more?

I am not going to share here where we stayed as it’s our own fault for heading towards a resort that placed the greater emphasis on eco before we were all really ready for salt water showers, ancient plumbing, very public windows. It was one very very expensive camp out which by the way serves us right. I caution any traveler who wants to fake rough it that sometimes, it can seem that one is paying a premium to do just that  – just be happy you have a bed, walls, roof – forget the thread count, the natural products in the bathroom – you’re staying in a slightly enhanced tent/yurt and either be cool with that or stay somewhere else.

I also blame the bizarre cold snap – you know when the Norwegians staying next door complain it’s cold, well, it’s cold. The mother told me she was worried about her nine year old in the night and tried to cover him up with some more towels and he thought she was giving him a reassuring pat, to say, hey kid, I know it’s freezing & you’ll make it. We comforted ourselves by eating lots of delicious seafood & tacos, going to the Coba ruins, heading into town for supplies and swimming in cenotes, sitting in the sun (really only very cold at night). We just were missing one thing – some time on the water and some kayaking. No worries, last day we planned to head out on a sunset kayak in the nearby biosphere with some bird watching.

There were a number of warning signs… it was far too windy for kayaking, the van was terribly late picking up all the other people at the resorts/hotels/cabanas on the way (who were only going for a motorized version of what we were going to do) and the clincher…. the exhausted and speechless group of returning water people who had been out before us… bells should have rung for sure… but we’re good sports or at least 75% of are (be nice – don’t guess correctly that I am the bad 25% ) and we’d made it through seven days in the Swiss cheese walled cabin, we were ready.

Off the four of us went…. two people to each heavy old fiberglass kayak, no sea skirts and wind so strong now, white caps in the normally calm bay. We were introduced to… let’s call him Pierre (not his real name) – a Frenchman, maybe 22 at most, escaping France for some fun before his real life began. There was a safety briefing but as we’d all kayaked before – both on lakes and ocean – he deemed us fit to shove off. And yes, we were wearing life jackets.

Immediately, we struggled but we pushed on – off across the white capped water, towards an island in the middle to see the birds (later to be called by me the f%^king birds) and while I wasn’t in the greatest of shape, my sister and her friend were so believe me, it really was hard. We had conned the poor friend into coming with us – know her family were practically survivalists to our hedonists.

I was too focused on paddling to notice Pierre had grown agitated – I was maybe appreciating a rest by the island – wishing I were safely motoring around the other side, enjoying a nice Pacifico beer.

My mother, who had been paying attention to all the water swamping into the kayaks, never one to take anything lying down and the most experienced, asked what Pierre’s plan was – she already had identified the way we came as the path of no return. He seemed baffled at the wind, at us and began to lead us to the edge of the mangroves looking for something… and we looked… and we paddled… and we looked… and great news… the sun started to set – really set, not all nice glowing pretty light but headed towards blackness set, no moon in the sky set.

Then…. bad news, he got a bit huffy and then announced that the only way back was the way we came. I’m going to say here that every single one of us cursed him, Mexico and  whoever brought kayaking into vogue.

The wind was blowing at us, not behind us and the waves were just as white capped and the dock now seemed miles away. First words out of his mouth after we swapped boat mates around (I’d like to note here that my sister’s friend got Pierre’s solo kayak and I got him), he advised us whatever we did we had to stay together.

Nope, first thing that happened, the wind blew us all apart…. of course.

And so, Pierre and I began the 1,000 stroke journey. He started hoping aloud for rescue and repeating the F word (totally better if you could hear the French accent).. why didn’t they miss us? he wondered, why don’t they bring the boat to get us? where was everyone? I just paddled.

Eventually, things got better as they do when one is actually going to make it back to dry land. The wind had actually blown a lot of the water out of the lagoon we were in and so you actually could touch, the water was warm and the wind did start dying down. Pierre, bless him, did stop cursing and we got busy. Paddle for ten minutes, gain 1 foot of ground, stop, dump out the kayak, repeat… this went on for some time but we started to make some ground. It was black as night (heck, it was night) and one small criticism of the all natural biosphere – there was only one teeny tiny dock light to guide us in (yes, people, I realize that is the point of the biosphere). I stopped counting my strokes and we got close enough to hear our solo kayaking friend calling our names… she of course being the bad ass that all her family are had reached the dock in good time.

One small problem, where were the others? My mother and sister were still at large and surely someone could get the motor boat out to look for them now? But not to be, no gas… no driver… no key.

I have missed sharing my mother was in her seventies – I have heard from friends we shouldn’t have brought her out but you try telling a sassy, strong 70+ she’s too old to do something she knows how to do better than you that she cannot come along? My sister and mother did not know they could not touch and therefore the whole scenario was much more dramatic. They had struggled longer and paddled further – finally capsizing as the boat was too full with spray and waves and were attempting to swim it it in (impossible to do).

Flash forward…. they did finally show up, just as the gas and the boat driver did. We weren’t going to have to spend the night in the lagoon, clutching the mangroves and everyone survived, sore, but just fine. My sister said she pictured us in a magazine that often features survival stories that have gone wrong…. family lost to lagoon. I shouldn’t joke and I don’t take this lightly. I think anyone who’s spent any time near or on the water knows who things can go down hill quickly – I’ll include high water, low water, frozen water, white water in all of that warning.

We still got our included fish dinner – my mother refused to eat it, stating she was almost with the fishes and was offended… we returned to our camp, sorry hotel cabana, brought her the medicinal gin & tonic and had some good laughs with Pierre who agreed we had been almost screwed.

The moral of this tale… well, you can figure that out.

Happy Cinco de Mayo to you all.

Travel & Tears… a short list

“This is your captain speaking”

The most dreaded words in air travel without a doubt. Nothing like being 30,000 feet in the air, meal service under way and learning the plane is turning around, back to the land you just left, no local currency in my pocket, no mobile phone and yes, the yearning deep need to return home. Just happened to me on my way back from Argentina and Chile last month.

The airport in Buenos Aires was too hot, three machines were working to check hundreds of people in, the border control line was miles long and I was tired, thirsty and ready to get back to my life. One of those nights… the plane took off an hour late and then the captain came on to say, oops, we’re turning back, the great albatross of the Boeing 777 had some fuel line issues and rather than landing somewhere else, we needed to go back and decide what to do. I enjoyed the use of the word we by our captain. Giving us all hope we’d somehow be able to be part of the decision.

And so back we went and back we sat for four hours on the runway, checked out of the country, facing days of sold out flights. Thankfully, there is a happy ending but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Have logged countless hours on airplanes by myself returning home from school, adventures, family stuff, you name it. Lots of waiting, too much thinking, trying to sleep in uncomfortable positions, always over scented by expensive duty free perfume, my mind shuffling through the last decades of my life (yes, DECADES). The walkman, then the discman, and now the iPod providing a moving soundtrack to my thoughts – my inner teen always seems to be running the show in these moments.

My mystic crystal friends would tell me it’s the unsettled energy of being in the air, adrift and ungrounded I am certain (and you that know me well, like a lot of crunch in my granola if you catch my drift). Amazing vistas, delicious food and all that being away brings me has to be followed by some sort of reckoning, right? %#$ is usually my lazy mind’s response…. can’t I just think about glaciers and empanadas?

Nope, instead, I begin to write furiously…. lists and more lists. Things I have to do when I arrive at my destination, people I need to visit, call, email that I have overlooked/neglected, bills I need to pay, places I need to visit. Have scraps and scribbles of bucket lists and plans I find all the time. From telling X that my feelings are more than friendship, to going through my closet, all of it gets reordered, re-packed away in that emotional luggage we all carry around.

Life decisions are made, relationships begun/ended, plans laid, all before the flight attendants tell me to put my seat back up for landing. I am an emotional gal (please see the mystic crystal paragraph above) and what does deep soul searching and poking about in my emotional file cabinet do… you got it – I always get embarrassingly weepy – nothing like a public cry. Usually, side benefit, I scare my anonymous seat mates into not wanting to speak to me for the rest of the flight. Note to self… always get a window seat.

My top five teary plane moments:

1. Right after my father died, I watched Whale Rider (http://www.whaleriderthemovie.co.nz/). I sobbed, a snotty nose, dripping, gasping sob – the ugliest, most embarrassing public cry on record. I am not Maori, I am not a whale rider but I was a woman who was missing her father terribly and that movie uncorked all of it. No one was watching me except my friend who could have but was blissfully asleep. The credits rolled and so did a montage of Dad, my family, advice he’d given me that I was too proud, too young to accept or realize.

2. I was headed back from Tanzania the first time and my heart/mind/soul was just too overwhelmed by all that I had seen that I just broke down. In most of the first world, many of us have so much, so so much, too much perhaps – safe water, education opportunities, good health and when not, good doctors/hospitals, but mostly, the chance to change our destiny through hard work, loans, luck… we may not feel like the USA is doing well economically but on whose scale? As much as travel can broaden my mind, it also makes me uncomfortable but like the tears, deep thoughts and all of it, well, I’ll take it. And don’t get me started on all the big cats, vast savanna of the Serengeti, zebras and all the natural world… it should be the first on the list for the two pronged attack on my psyche but Dad takes it.

3. Just to lighten the mood here…. this memory is crying from laughing so hard. My parents were wacky bohemians – there’s no better way to put it – my mother was a refugee from her staid childhood in the wealthy northern Chicago suburbs and my father an actual refugee from Cuba. See my 1st post here ever beginning at the beginning for how our family vacations usually went down. This time we were in the Atlanta airport and my bold and sassy mama’s skirt hook broke and there she was walking down a very very crowded terminal in her slip. My sister and I took off at a run and in the background, we could hear her yelling our names and glances back, there she was still clutching her skirt. Not sure why we ran, we must have been too young to realize that no one would know this crazy woman belonged to us if we just pretended she didn’t. Reunited at the gate,  my family boarded the next plane, laughing so hard we were crying. It’s not really that funny unless you have met my mother and understand she has a voice that can be heard in space when she wants to but that day, overtired and headed home from a trip to the Cuban relatives, well, we cried the best kind of tears together.

4. The study abroad cries – am cheating because this is really two times. I was lucky when I was just eighteen to be able to move to London for a school year for my first year of college. Apparently, my parents, who had traveled by themselves in their late teens/early twenties, felt I was up to the responsibility of being overseas for months – I really wasn’t so sure about that. Nonetheless, I remember being terrified and thrilled all at the same time.  I left that August and two minutes into the first flight, the reality hit me and the tears busted loose. My very best friend had come to the airport too – headed off for her own adventure in the South Pacific later that month and we wouldn’t see each other for a long long time – endless hours on the phone would have to be replaced by onion skin paper letters – boy trouble would become possible telenovela scripts. And yes, the snuffling whalerider cry (see #1) …. it was on like Donkey Kong. This story has a happy ending…. a reprieve at Christmas, I got to come home for a few weeks and if we flash forward to that newly christened Londoner’s flight back, I cried because I wasn’t the little girl who left. I cried then because I knew I was going back to a world where I was going to not quite fit into. I cried because maybe just maybe part of me knew forever more, I would be stricken with incredible and joyful wanderlust (I doubt this last part but I like to give that emo 18 year old some credit).

5. The grateful cry…. of course this post has to have a circular theme so this is my this is your captain speaking cry of just a month ago. When the plane finally did re-take off (headed for Puerto Rico, then JFK – a miracle solution to a bum fuel line – we’d just do the long haul in medium hauls instead), I cried the tears of a traveler who is overtired but who’s caught a bit of luck. A similar cry to my Tanzania moment but I am older now, I’ve been even more places and I am a different sort of grateful. I choose this moment as the last on my list because in so many ways, it’s the accumulation of all the others. I am a woman now – not a young twenty something who has lost her father (I personally hate this expression – I do know where he is & what happened… he’s not actually lost but never mind, using it), not the wide eyed young tourist who is evolving into a traveler (a post for another day, the difference between a tourist & a traveler), not the teenager who is having her first moments of adulthood in a foreign land, not the young girl who is learning not to take embarrassment so seriously & remembering to laugh with her family (I have elevated this to a fine art). I am all of those teary people and more. I think age can make you grateful for the small things – the $10 bill you find in your pocket, the many online and real life friends that populate my life, my sweet dear family who have been here for the whole ride, and yes, the realization that I didn’t have to get off that plane until I was back on my own soil, didn’t have find my bag, didn’t have to find a place to sleep, didn’t have to fight lines and more lines to get myself home the next day. I cried that night just a month ago because I am blessed, I am lucky and yes, I am grateful for the people, the lands, the sights, the experiences I have had and will have more of in this world.