As most good writing days go this one starts off with tea – hopefully honey filled and mixed with milk or cream. In this case it’s milk and it came from a box that likely spent a couple of weeks sitting on a shelf in one of the eltit grocery stores here. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to write which in some sense is a bad thing but really as far as the world goes has been a really good thing because it means that I have been lejos (a long ways) from the world of technology and internet, which is never anything to complain about. So I would like to apologize for the absence of my online presence but I would be doing myself a dis service if I were to do so. This month has been nothing less than spectacular as I walked below the hanging glaciers of Patagonia as well as healing as I let the wind take away so many years of built up worry and struggle.
Brooke and I just spent the last 33 days living out of our tents, eating oatmeal everyday for breakfast, befriending, condoling, and encouraging Kevin through the worst of roads, climbing rocky mountain passes, and stringing our souls to silence in the vast mountains of Patagonia. We started off more or less as strangers and now share something so profoundly deep that it cannot be put into words. Our souls have been touched and intwined in a place that has shaped us, nourished us, and put us back in the world whole. We started strangers and have ended sisters, friends, companions, and kindred hearts in this life. She has taught me much about how to be a woman who is courageous, complete, comfortable with her flaws and able to celebrate her successes and her beauty. I don’t know that I believe in fate or in karma but I do believe that people come into your life when you most need them and Brooke was, and remains, a gift that I will forever cherish.
We started our trip in the windy and jagged peaks of Argentina Patagonia walking in the shadow of Fitz Roy where we watched the full moon set over Cerro Torre and the first rosy light of dawn kissed the high alpine peaks. Condors flew overhead and the air bore the scent of dried grass and ripe berries. Brooke and I were tentative with each other, complying, holding back just slightly, not knowing what was to come or who the other person was.
We moved down to Puerto Natales, where the wind knocks you over when you run, the doors of salons have a list of Chilean slang words for the confused and weary traveler, and where I learned that Brooke can’t really drive. We went food shopping and had to fight other gringos for boxes of granola, overripe bananas, and bags of what we later came to refer as “death rice” but we were on our way to hike around the famed Torres Del Paine and we were willing to put up with the struggle.
Kevin got a flat as we drove the 150 km to the park entrance and we laughed in bewilderment as cars flew past us on the dirt road, in the pouring rain, uninterested in helping two girls change their tire. We discovered we were missing a bolt and spent the night in mechanics housing at the back of some hotel which wreaked of cigarette smoke and stale sweat but it was a roof over our heads and moment of reprieve from the wind.
Five days of walking the Lenga clad ridges around Torres left us humbled and awed. Hanging glaciers grumbled in the clouds overhead, wind screamed through the valleys, turquoise waters glittered in the fierce sun and always far overhead there were mountains. There were people too though and we got tired of the constant murmur of greeting on the trail too polite to ignore the passing travelers. Some of those travelers became friends, like Katy from England who didn’t know how to pack her backpack or put up her tent, who wore sunglasses nearly as big as her face to protect it from the sun. Katy who shared her peanuts, made us laugh, and blessed our lives through her honest and unapologetic expression of herself. Brooke and I became “that group” who people steered clear of. Our laughter so bubbling at the surface that we constantly were stopped on the trail, legs crossed, purple in the face, silently shaking, and trying not to pee our pants. Finally I had found someone who didn’t bat an eye at my dry sense of humor but who reflected it and we lost ourselves in the joy and addiction of constant and overwhelming laughter.
We spent one morning huddled underneath a big boulder hiding from the wind and snuggled down in my sleeping bag nursing mugs of coffee we had brought with us to watch the sun rise on the towers of Torres. It was 3:30 when we left camp and the stars blazed in the velvet sky and we could see our breath by the light of the moon. A line of headlamps like fallen stars trailed behind us up the mountain and into the night. We sat with our coffee and with our friendship in the silence of the morning each lost in thought and prayer and gratitude for the life we have been given. I recited the Robert Service poem “Call of the Wild” for Brooke and she cried. She sang for me and I felt a still peace touch my heart and burn there like a living ember. I can still feel it.
We left and went north through the flats of Argentina, to the Atlantic coast, and back to the west and back into Chilé. Kevin got another flat and smoked profusely every time we turned him on. A mechanic advised us to sell him while we still could. He lost all his suspension and we had to rename him Señor Bajito. We arrived in Patagonia National Park where red and golden grass reminded us it was fall and we had been in South America for a long time. We feel the physical distance from home and think of our families The calypso waters of the Baker River traced the circuitous line of the mountain slopes and we climbed steep trails through pines, breathing the warm vanilla scent of home. We were nostalgic and spent a day dancing in the grass feeling our youth and our freedom.
Rain drove us north out of the park and towards the needle thin and black peaks of Cerro Castillo where the silence found us and we welcomed it. Our legs grew strong and our packs grew lighter and our laughter faded into the thoughtful silence of hearts seeking answers and taking comfort in the proximity of another heart close and warm and alive. We lay in our sleeping bags in alpine meadows and watched clouds race across the sky and tumble towards the peaks. We bathed in streams so cold it gave you a brain freeze and shook ourselves like dogs spraying rainbow drops of water from our wet hair. We snuggled close in the cold mountain nights and cried with mirth over breakfast at 6:30 when Brooke pensively said, “I could eat apples and blueberries until I become….I become… how’s your breakfast?”
Further north we went searching for friends and music and river days at the Futalefu Festival. We tried to dance to the old techno music but found ourselves huddled dat the back of the stale gymnasium alone, bored, and reminded of middle school dances. Big blue water on the Futa made up for the bad music though and Brooke squealed and squeaked and laughed her way through her first ever rafting trip unfazed by the big class IV and V water. It was cold and rainy, water trickling down our helmets into the neck of our dry tops. The air was heavy with the scent of decaying earth, and river algae, and I felt at home. We perfected our homeless skills and camped out in the city plaza, our breakfast route of oatmeal and coffee drew onlookers but there was nothing unique about that. We were quiet though knowing that our trip was coming to a close and we weren’t ready for it.
We drove to Argentina late into the night, singling our favorite songs, and admiring the way the light was pouring through the gaps in the clouds dazzling the grasslands down below. We stopped a million times to pee as is our tradition and our pace and arrived in El Bolson late at night where we broke our regiment of tent camping and splurged on a shared bed for the night. I was sick and dying for a shower and a bed that didn’t involve me inflating it first. We didn’t have enough pesos between the two of us to pay for a room though but the gentleman who owned the place let us stay anyway. I am always impressed by the South American sense of generosity.
Alarms sounded early the next morning and we rose in the dark. I’m bad at goodbye. I held Brooke and tried not to cry and drove off into the cold morning light, wrapped inside my sleeping bag. I texted her from Bariloche, after listening to our songs on repeat for four hours, already missing her company. We have been in separate places for exactly one week now and I miss her like I would my right arm. I take comfort knowing though we will see each other soon as I move to her state this coming North American summer.
I asked myself a lot this last month how I am so blessed. Blessed to have met Brooke. Blessed to be in Patagonia. Blessed to be exploring my heart in this country. Blessed to be given answers to questions that have been crying for attention for a long time. Blessed to have given my heart to a place and people and know that it is being given back to me whole and restored. Daily I send my thanks into the mountains, it comes from a heart overflowing with gratitude and newly discovered grace, and for love of the world.