And There Was Life!

I could hear Jorge repeatedly calling me from somewhere beyond the house walls, the sound of it echoing slightly in the dim cool interior. Jorge showed no sign of ceasing or coming inside, so, sighing, I set down my book and amicably wandered out.




He pointed at something in the garden with our bright orange spade. I squinted at the row of tomatoes and black mint but saw nothing beyond the usual array of green leaves and black soil. Rolling his eyes he lifted a leaf to give me a clearer view.


“Oh!” I exclaimed. “A tomato!! It’s so cute!”


This brought on more eye rolling from Jorge but we high fived and I ran to grab my camera to document some of our first produce.


The garden, apart from the appearance of our first tomatoes, has had a whole slew of unfortunate events occur within it’s small and leafy confines. First off, a well-meaning reader of the blog suggested I put salt in the garden in order to keep the marauding slugs at bay. That seemed like an excellent idea to me and I happily flung salt far and wide until things were thoroughly doused and presumably armored against the slugs. The salt didn’t quite have the effect I was hoping but to be fair the slugs did not seem to return for some time. Perhaps though that was because they had nothing more to eat seeing as how most of the plants promptly wilted and died within a space of twelve hours. Evidently the salt needs to go around the boarder of the garden and not on top of the leaves. I suppose anyone with any real sense of how to grow plants would know that, but for me this whole garden thing is rather an unknown. Live and learn, right? Or perhaps in this case die and learn.


A few things managed to survive the salt attack – mostly the garden beds where I neglected to put salt – and a week ago I finished collecting the sugar snap peas, pulled out the rest of the lettuce, which for reasons unknown to us was bitter and inedible, and harvested a few potatoes the size of my thumbnail. I think they were tasty but hard to say seeing as how they were so small.


The largest and strongest of the plants were just recovering from the salt – they lost a number of their leaves – when our septic went absolutely berserk and naturally the septic hole (and yes I mean hole and not tank) happened to be, you guessed it, directly below our biggest garden bed. Jorge and I spent an afternoon relocating our peppers, cabbages, roses, sweet peas, and the last surviving squash, to a new bed and mournfully bid the potatoes goodbye. I was pretty sure everything was going to keel over from the shock of being transplanted but on the contrary the cabbages seem to have flourished in their new and shadier environment. So much so that yesterday they had an incredible transformation and have now become cauliflower. Who knew a plant could do such a thing? I nearly choked with laughter when I pulled back a leaf on the biggest plant to see how it was doing and discovered a little cluster of white florets. I turned to Jorge snorting and asked him what exactly it is he had bought from the farmer.


“Repollo.” He replied, clearly baffled.


We had gone over this a number of times already. The word for cabbage had been difficult for me to remember and he clearly thought I had forgotten it once again.


I grinned, “You’re sure about that?”


I pulled back the leaf a little further and pulled him towards the offending plant.

He had the grace to look thoroughly abashed but said in as dignified a way as possible.


“Well that’s lucky. I like cauliflower a lot more than cabbage anyway.”


So I suppose the thirty or so cauliflower seeds I planted yesterday are no longer needed but who’s to say what disaster may befall the huerta next. As long as the tomatoes survive I’ll be happy.


Oh, and as a side note, we got rain this week! The first time in a month, and it rained for real. None of that sprinkling spitting nonsense that leaves one feeling damp but the ground parched. We had a proper three-day downpour that has left the ground springy and the air heavy with the smell of moisture. People practically danced in the street when the first heavy drops fell a few days ago. Maybe the tide of fortune is turning. I hope so. We could use a little bit of grace.



Garden Days

Black dirt from our garden has stubbornly lodged itself underneath my torn and work worn nails. I don’t mind too much since it is really just a residual product of spending time with my hands plunged into the black humus earth of Chile. We have a small huerta alongside out house and Jorge and I have been dedicatedly tending each seedling plant with tender love for three months now and we are just starting to reap the reward. Unfortunately though, a multitude of slugs, snails, and other slimy creatures seem to have also been feasting on our precious garden and at least in the lettuce, cabbage, basil, cilantro, and onion beds they have gotten the better of us. I’ll take what I can get though and ate a lunch of sugar snap peas… which are currently our only leafy garden survivors. Have no fear, I have beets, cabbage, arugula, and cucumbers incubating in jars on the counter and intend to start a new wave of vegetables as soon as they sprout. I will let you know how the defense goes against the garden pests a few months from now. It will either be an update saying I have scurvy or am myself turning green and beginning to photosynthesize. Let’s hope for the later.


Things haven’t been the easiest for our small green friends though as summer is in full swing here and the days have gotten hot. Worse though is that things are also getting muy seco. Patagonia is infamously cold and rainy but as global weather and climate changes, things here have been getting warmer and dangerously dry. Last summer I remember well that it rained on the night of December 31 just before midnight and didn’t rain again until March. That was less than normal and the lush hillsides of Pucon became brown and leaves crackled underfoot in the height of summer. People are afraid that we are going to see the same kind of summer again this year. It hasn’t rained since before Christmas and I spend time each morning sweeping away yellow leaves and dust from our front door.


Storm clouds have been building on the horizon as of late and they are met with an air of reverence and with a plea for water but they remain distant and disappointingly inactive. Jorge tells me that the river is dropping every day and high season hasn’t even started yet. We are people who live off of the wealth of water in so many different senses of the word. What will we do with out it? I have been turning to the garden and attempting to create a kind of green and edible sanctuary. A place where I can pretend like the climate is behaving normally. When I water, I don’t just water the garden plants, but the trees and the surrounding grass as well. I even go so far as to spray water up into the leaves overhead just to watch it drip and catch the afternoon rays of light. Each soft plop into the turned earth below is its own moment of harmony. It is a poor substitute for the weeklong downpours this area is known for but for now it will have to do.



In general though life in Chile has been good since getting back here a little over a month ago. It is the first time I have gone abroad with the intent of living in a place and not merely passing through and I am loving it. Sometimes it surprises me that I am living in a foreign country. Surprises me in the sense that life has taken on a rhythm like it does in any other place and things don’t feel, well, foreign. I attribute this sentiment to the fact that I have finally reached a level of Spanish that I am comfortable with. By no means am I done learning the ins and outs of Spanish but I don’t have to think about it anymore. It simply is. If you ask any of my high school language teachers whether or not I would ever become bi-lingual I am sure they would choke with mirth and give you a resounding no. It is incredible how life can change.


More updates to come. Internet is few and far between for me and usually requires a trek to a nearby town (10 minutes walking, 10 minutes in taxi, 30 in bus, and another 10 walking) to reach suitable wifi at the house of Jorge’s mother. So, as dearly as I would like to be blogging more you can see why perhaps my posts are rather sporadic. No internet can be a blessing – it makes people enjoy each others company in the evening rather than watching Netflix or surfing Facebook – but the realms the inter-webs have their merits too.


I leave you with the knowledge that I am sitting at my dining room table as a write. Afternoon sun is filtering through the boldo, matico, and cherry trees in our yard dappling the wildflowers with golden green light. Volcano Villarica, stoic and solitary, is cloaked in clouds but visible through their shifting forms. A few nights ago I woke to the sound of an explosion and a violent but short earth quake. We ran to the window and were rewarded with flames leaping from the great mouth of the volcano. It was – as Chile so often seams to be – enchanting.





Am I Still in Mexico?

It’s eleven o’clock at night and the road is starting to get blurry in my vision. Gus snores peacefully on his bed behind me and I feel a certain equanimity steal over me. I was tired too though and more than ready to be looking at the inside of my eyelids and not the road winding steeply into the mountains of Baja California before me. Cactuses point spiny arms towards the stars which at this point are blazing fiercely in the cold sky and I sigh. I was on the road again and leaving Mexico less than three weeks after arriving. A twinge of regret pulled at my heart. Was I leaving too soon? Perhaps so and yet… I knew I was returning to something my heart ached for with a fierceness I could no longer suppress – Chile, a land of ice and fire, full of unspoken secrets, and winding dreams. I was returning to a love kindled in the roiling rapids of the Trancura and in the valley of the Cochamo. I was returning. That was enough.


I’ve been fortunate to travel to a lot of places in my life. Beautiful landscapes, coupled with fascinating and gentle souls. Places that I have loved and yearned to return to. Yet, there has been only one place that felt like it could be home and for some reason it took me leaving it, not once but twice, to realize that there is something special about Chile’s towering mountains, deep lakes, and swift rivers. To say the least of it’s people. I fell in love with the landscape the moment I set foot there a year ago but fell in love with it’s people like one falls asleep – slowly at first and then all at once.


A steep curve up a mountain pass pulls me back to the present and visions of snow capped peaks and glaciers recede into the more immediate moment of red rock and still desert nights. I spy a small dirt road peeling off to the right and swing haphazardly onto it sending gravel and dust flying into the air. A few kilometers down it becomes wide enough to pull off and I drag my weary body from the driver’s seat and start the quick routine of setting up my gear to sleep: bear spray, dog fed and watered, sleeping pad, bag, headlamp, car keys. Check. I lay quietly for a minute enraptured by the stars, cold, white, fierce in the dark sky and let my mind dissolve into the night and into the cradle of sleep.


I wake before the dawn. Gus has one paw resting on my chest and his golden eyes are open and watching me. I yawn and a cold wet nose bumps my cheek. I reach out of my sleeping bag and pull him in a little closer to snuggle. He obliges willingly and proceeds to breathe heavily into my face making me gag and laugh all in one go. My laughter catches in my throat though and I am overwhelmed with the urge to cry. To cry for this one particular soul held in my arms. How does one explain love for a dog? It is like having a child but one that chooses you and has given their life to yours. It is a gift beyond reckoning and my heartbreaks every time I leave Gus behind. I feel a little comforted knowing that my parents love Gus as much as I do but that doesn’t ease the ache in my heart all too much no matter how strong my gratitude. Leaving behind love of any kind is not a pleasant process and does not get easier with time. I had tried in vain to find a flight back to Chile that allowed me to have a dog as cargo but to no avail. So I pulled him in and rested my cheek on his soft head and breathed in the scent of dog and let the moment linger in the stillness of the morning.


Thirty minutes later I ushered Gus back into the car and we were off again long before the sun was showing any inclination to rise on the jagged skyline. I had planed my drive to put me at the boarder in broad daylight and intended, come hell or high water, to be there before the sun set. Eight hours later, four of which were spent being hopelessly off route (something I didn’t even know until my little mountain road ended at a gate and a large sign that read “Mexico National Space Observatory”) I realized that I had not even the slightest chance of making my daylight boarder crossing a reality. I laughed, quietly at first a shake of the head and a quivering in my chest but it quickly deteriorated into full-blown hysterics. Gus barely batted an eye. Apparently he was getting used to my varied emotions at the moment. When the tears had finally dried I put my truck in gear and started back down the mountains and towards the coastal plane far in the distance.


Tecate glowed in the dusky light as I approached from the south and I doggedly followed my iPhone’s directions directly to… to a fence. Great I thought. A fence. Not a boarder crossing at all. I backtracked and tried again. Same result. Navigating in a car is clearly not my strong suit and I was rapidly approaching the end of my rope. A military man clad in the tans and soft fawn colors of Mexican military popped into view on the street in front of me and I sped my truck towards him, hastily rolling down my window, and popped my head out when I was within polite shouting distance. He looked startled at my apparition but kindly enough pointed me towards the boarder, which was approximately fifteen feet away. More than a little embarrassed I pulled up and through the gate. A guard asked me a few cursory questions and looked at me closely, eyes squinting below delicate black brows. I assume he was surmising the likelihood of me smuggling fruits and vegetables into the States or other foreign objects and then sent me on my way with a wave of his hand. My passport lay untouched on my dashboard. I picked up my phone and checked for cell service. I had a few bars and placed a call to my mom.


“Hey mom. I think I just crossed into the States but I really don’t know.”


I trailed off as a sign reading Welcome to California flashed green in my headlights. My brows knit together in puzzlement. Had I really just crossed the boarder back into the States nearly as easily as I had crossed into Mexico a few weeks ago?


“Jess? Are you there?” Her voice faded in the phone until it was just a whisper and then the phone beeped dead in my hands a call dropped message flashed on the screen reporting the obvious.


Welcome back to the land of the free I thought.


I pulled onto the interstate and pointed my wheels towards home. To Colorado to Chile. To my family. To my mountains. I felt weary. Heavy of limb and of mind from the driving but I was happy.


I was on my way home.




Illegal Alien

Rewind one month…

It was getting on dark. I checked the glowing dashboard clock for the hundredth time that minute and was unreasonably disappointed to see it steadily ticking on towards true night. The lights of Mexicali loomed on the horizon and I pushed the gas pedal a little closer to the floor. US boarder patrol stalked around the iron fence, blue uniforms foreboding in the dusky light, gun barrels glinting. We inched forward in the line of cars and I ran a mental check list of where my passport was, my papers for the dog, car registration, and insurance. I have had enough trouble at other  –and reportedly easier crossings, like Canada – to feel wary.

A red flashing light warned me to stop and I started a little as a bright flash momentarily blinded me as it captured a photo of my license plate. We inched forward again and suddenly found ourselves speeding up and merging onto Ruta 5. I glanced over at my passenger. Our passports were still cradled in his hands. He shrugged and tucked them into the glove box. I shrugged back and within moments we disappeared into the depths of Mexicali’s bustling night life and into the heart of Mexico.

I tried to not act twitchy as we came to the first military check point. Images of dank prisons flooded my mind in my anticipation of the inevitable punishment for our missing visas. My palms sweated and I stuttered over my Spanish answering basic questions. We were waved through however after a few moments, apparently being chalked up as nothing more than your average American adventurer, the soldiers never suspecting that what they actually had on their hands were two illegal aliens. I decided to not point out this fact to them though and opted instead to drive quietly down the coast line grateful for small moments of grace.

I woke in the morning. Groggy, eyes full of sand, and stretched. Languidly. I wriggled fingers and toes and reveled in this new found freedom. I was an enigma. Even better I was an unknown, unregistered, enigma. I had snuck into Mexico – unintentionally of course but snuck in nonetheless. Turns out with all eyes focused on people wandering the other way across the boarder that you can just drive from one country to the other and no one will even bat an eye at your presence. I rolled over and scratched Gus (the dog) behind the ears. His gold eyes glowed in the red morning light of Baja and we rose to meet the dawn and our new life as illegal aliens in Mexico.




Just Keep Swimming…

I bumped into something hard with my nose and came spluttering to the surface of the roiling water. I furiously wiped salt water from my eyes wincing as I scraped the already chaffed and sensitive skin. I glanced up just in time to duck down into the water yet again and let the next big wave wash over me. Again I surged to the surface seeking sweet air and a moment of reprieve. I took a breath and looked oceanward and realized I could see my partner floating a mere 20 yards away tranquil as could be beyond the breaking surf. A small swell of triumph fluttered in my stomach and I struck out swimming with the little reserve of strength I had left determined to make it beyond the break.

I reached my partner a few moments later and did a quick mental review of how to rescue an active victim in the water: don’t get to close, wrap the rescue tube around their waist, secure it, talk reassuringly, start swimming like mad towards the shore, don’t get tumbled by the waves. Ready. Go. Repeat.

I woke up this morning sunburned, still covered in salt and sand, and sore. We spent 12 hours in the ocean yesterday practicing rescue techniques, and let me tell you, swimming out beyond the break time and time again (12 times to be exact) takes a toll. I think I burned a weeks worth of calories yesterday. I was so exhausted by the time I got home that I fell on my bed fully clothed and promptly fell asleep.

Barely able to stand this morning I forced myself though the most basic of yoga routines and whimpered as I tried to touch my toes. I watched old Mexican men in sweat stained cowboy hats wander by outside my house as I coaxed my sore muscles into a state of semi relaxation. The air swelled with the smell of frying meat and tortillas just as the sun broke over the palms on my patio and instantly the day turned hot forcing me to retreat into the cooler recesses of thick stone walls and glass windows.

I’m off to La Paz today to house hunt. La Paz is no Todos Santos, with its quaint brick streets, and tranquil artist community, but it may be home here shortly. More on that later. For now I need to reapply my layers of bug spray and sunscreen and hustle Gus into the car for the day’s adventure.




The Adventure Continues

Hello readers, whomever you may be. I realize that I have been a little bit distant as of late from the blogging realm. Take heart though I am back! I have recently been traipsing about the world (anyone surprised?) and just this week landed myself in Baja, Mexico for the foreseeable future. Fish tacos, sunshine, and surfing are rapidly becoming the new tempo of my life and I am finding little to complain about. Yes, I am going to miss the mountains and rivers but when one is eating fresh food from the sea, snuggling with your dog at night on the beach, and searching for colorful squishy things under rocks in tide pools it’s really quite challenging to whinge about la vida.

If all works out according to a, very lose and ever changing plan, I will be calling this place home for a good stretch. Two years perhaps. Right now I am posted up in a small town and artist colony named Todos Santos but will potentially be moving to the eastern side of the peninsula later this month. However, if you haven’t been to Todos Sontos you should. In fact it really aught to be on the top of your “To Travel To” list. It is magical. I’ve spent the morning drinking coffee and meditating on the lives of whales as I watch them thrust themselves out of the Pacific Ocean in a display of unparalleled strength and beauty. A cool breeze smelling of sweet palms and ocean tang blows from the north banishing the last of the seasons biting bugs and I can just hear the waves as they crash onto the sand far below. Like I said, not a lot to complain about.

My doggie, who made the journey with me, is scratching my leg and peering at me with the look. I think it’s time to go for a walk. Perhaps we will find some frigate birds to chase along the cliff tops. I’ll let you all know in the next post.

In the mean time I’ll tempt you all to keep coming back to the blog for more with this lovely photo of a horseman on the beach at dawn today. What I would give to have been this guy. IMG_9799

Dreams of Tomorrow

*This was a journal entry from September 13. My apologies for what I imagine is an interminable number of errors. The keyboard I am using is abismal. The keys hardly function and naturally, since I am in South America, the computer thinks that every word I have typed is incorrect (it would like me to be writting in Spanish) and as such I am forced to forego my ever trusty spell check. Just think of the mistakes as part of the experience! I also just discovered that if I want to edit anything I cannot. For example I am aware that in the first paragraph I am missing a “y” at the end of ever. Yet if I try and edit anything I cannot simply incert the missing letter because instead of creating new space when I type it merely replaces the other letters and words. That being said… my sincerest apologies for this blog. Enjoy it to the best of your ability.

All sound was lost in the soft wet leaves as we walked deeper into the jungle. My eyes strained to make out the path, skin itching with the anticipation of encounterng giant snakes in the night. The steady patter of rain on our roof of leaves was soothing to my straining nerves but not enough to keep me from twitching at ever unidentified crack in the underbrush. Mist danced on our skin, exploring new territory as it floated along the trees. Fireflies flickered ahead in the velvet dark. Stars fallen to earth, their light captured my imagination. All was silent, cool and crisp in the rainy night, all was harmony of the sweetest kind. I was not apart from this great dance and song of the wild but neither was I an intrinsic participant of the elaborate and ever evolving pattern of life I was bearing witness to in the high jungle of Peru.

Cabin feaver pushed us from the house late afternoon rain be damned. We dawned raincoats, stuffed cookies, camera, and headlamps into a pack and waded through the puddles towards the awaiting jungle. We had been making the short trekk to the wildlife preserve every day with the hopes of laying eyes on animals with four legs rather than six or two. We had been comping up short thus far but were by no means dissapointed by the jungles symphony of birds, armies of industrious ants, and display of color in the minute details of the forest flora. Nonetheless, we left the house with the same hope that today would yeild something larger, something harrier, and something that captivates the eye and pauses the breath. Personally I was holding out for a jaguar.

We wove our way down the road towards the reserve, lost in conversation, machette casually swinging from Jorge´s hand, reveling in the freedom of movement and the freshness of rain after the sweltering heat the catagorized most days. Suddenly a deer stepped from the trees. Jorge stopped cold. I could see that he was holding his breath. He clasped my arm and squeezed. Hard. A fawn followed a moment later stepping timidly into the clearing. It was timid and still spotted. Delicately it nuzzled its mother. the pair stood for a moment, framed by vibrant green leaves, and then slipped back into the undergrowth. They came and went as fleetingly as shadows. Jorge let out his breath.

“I´ve never seen one of those.” He smiled. My jaw dropped. Never seen a deer? An animal I take for granted coming from Colorado, an animal I see dozens of times every day.I chose not to say anything and we continued on.

Seconds later a pig the size of my foot scampered across our path. My turn to smile with the happy expression of a two year old. We had not walked more than fifty yards before Jorge clasped my arm again and drug me under a tree hissing in barely audible spanish, “Did you see it?” Gesturing at the trees with his machette. My blood ran cold for a moment, fearing that we had indeed encountered the famed Boa of 20m and that <i was drawing my last breath before being squeezed to death, when a mnkey swung into view. <my muscles relaxed and I gulped for air. The trees began to humm, vibrating as the trapiese artists swung playfully into view among the quivering branhes. I experienced a real moment of jealousy and awe at their freedom. Black faces nestled into a body of blonde soft hair, tails curled and whipping back and forth for balance acted as a fifth arm. I remained crouched in the wet grass, hoping the moment would never end but they came and went in a wave of motion – the vibration of the trees the only proof of their existence.

I began to appreciate the fortune of being in the right place at the right time, the animals of the jungle did not tend to linger.

We decended rickety steps down a steep slope into the preserve itself. Quiet in our reflections of the fleet footed animals that had graced our path. We wandered into the watchmans hut in a slight daze but were yanked out of it by Piston. For the third time that morning my arm was grasped and I was drug towards the lagoon. Piston was speaking at spit fire speed, his barely distinguashable spanish and quecha mix washed over me, and I caught the essence of what he was saying. Capibara. The biggest rodent in the world was snuggled down into the grass some fifty yards away. It didn´t take me long to find the large square head and bright marble eyes. We were pushed uncerimonioulsy towards one of the log rafts and I stumbled ungraefully across the slippery boards. My sense of depth is rather skewed when looking through a camera lense. I perched myself on a wet slimey log while Jorge began to pole us towards the slumbering animals. Out little log raft left a gentle sleep stream in the dark morning water.

The poor Capibara looked disagreable and somewhat miserable as it hunkered below a palm. I suppose being a bottom dweller has its drawbacks in fifteen hours of rain. It blinked at us as we floated by and turned its head ever so slightly at the click of the camera but otherwise didnot bother to recognize our presence.

The water shimmered below my feet. Fish the length of my arm darted like torpedos in the shallow water, leaving a wake disturbed mud to mark their trajectory. The melancholy songs of the birds seem to hang in the air. Suspended in the falling water. Their songs splashed at my feet and ran in rivulets down my face.

Two more Capibaras peered at us from among the reeds. We floated in a little too close, our wooden raft plowing through the water plants, and the Capibaras waddled off, leaving faint trails through the grass. Their three toed feet deftly manuvaring the uneven terrain. Disembarking from our boat we once again slipped into the jungle. As quiet as the shadows that slumbered below the trees. What a gift to not be an intruder but merely a part of the way of life. We walked hand in hand into the night, following the fireflies into the dream of tomorrow.


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.

W Stands for “Wind”

The grey green waves of the pacific ocean roll into the bay of Puerto Natales, they appear wind whipped and weary as they slosh up on shore, and I cannot help but commiserate with their pain. Snow falls on the mountains across the water and no matter how many cups of coffee I drink or how many layers I dawn I cannot seem to rid my bones of the damp cold. If this is mid summer I cannot imagine what it is like to survive winter at the end of the world. Dark clouds race to the east, darting across the uniform bank of white clouds high above. It is stormy and hauntingly beautiful. Something stirs in my soul that I cannot name. A desire to flee from the vastness of the wild and its stark and overwhelming beauty that feels so intangible and yet it is its very intangibility that draws me to it and calls me to search for the source of its power and its wild beauty.

After a week in El Chalten we have moved farther south and are gearing up to hike around the famed Torres del Paine National Park, the treasure and pride of Chilean Patagonia. It was hard to pull away from the enchanting mountains that ring El Chalten but they say that if you eat the bitter Calafate berries that grow proliferiously in that region that you are destined to return. Not a day went by that my lips and fingers weren’t stained purple from grazing as we trekked along the steep mountain trails in search of vistas that rid us of what little breath we had left.

However those mountains vistas are far behind us and we are now facing the wall of wind and rain that seems to characterize Puerto Natales. I just tried to go for a small run along the water front but after getting knocked flat on my face twice and getting blown backwards against a building I conceded that the wind was indeed stronger than me and half staggered half crawled back to the sanctuary of a cafe. Brooke and I head out tomorrow to hike the W trail, which wanders along the southern edge of the Torres del Paine massif. To be sure I am excited to walk through the mountains here but the knowledge that we will be two among perhaps two hundred people each camp sight is a little disenchanting.

I wish I could write more on the beauty that so captivated me in El Chalten but I find that my thoughts will not stay corralled long enough to give it the thoughtful artistry it deserves. I am looking forward to time out on the trail where, hopefully, I can settle into a rhythm of thought, of prayer, and of honest seeking. These last weeks have felt at times tense, and my soul is in a state of confusion.

Route 40

I kept driving for a second after the bumper came off the car unwilling or perhaps incapable of reacting. I considered for a moment leaving it there but eventually I slowly eased the car down into first gear and game to a grumbling stop alongside Route 40. The dust from the road settled on my arms and I peered into my review mirror to confirm what I had seen. Yup, there was the bumper about 100 yards back flopping like a dying beast in the weeds next to the road.

Well that’s not ideal.

Perhaps undertaking the three day drive from Pucón all the way down to Torres Del Paine, alone, was a bit ambitious and maybe a little foolish but I was 2,000 miles into the journey and not about to cry wolf and stop.

A heard of vicuñas scattered as I opened the door, their perpetually suspicious expressions changing only slightly to one of annoyance and perhaps some form of camalistic distain as I stepped from the car. It was 11:30 in the morning and I had been driving for three days down the spine of Patagonia on, what I am pretty sure, are the worst roads I have ever been on. Baseball sized rocks run in lines down the road, the mounds so tall that the regular clanging of granite on metal left my face frozen in a pained grimace. It was one such rock or perhaps the torrent of rocks being thrown up under the car that had eventually been the demise of the bumper.

As I dragged it from the weeds I was only mildly surprised that it had decided to jump ship and didn’t blame it in the slightest. In fact it seemed like no small miracle that the whole engine block hadn’t decided by this point to simply abandon the project of driving south. I was fairly convinced that at any moment it was going to fall out and leave me with nothing more than the shell of car and a dream of mountains being swept away by the wind. Fortunately this had not yet happened though and so I stuffed the bumper into the back of Kevin, shoving aside boxes of granola and climbing gear, and kept on driving. The next road sign I saw informed me I had 673 kilometers until El Calafate. The dirt road stretched for as far as the eye could see and my heart sank. I was driving twenty kilometers and hour and hadn’t seen a town for near on twelve hours at this point. It was going to be a long day… if I made it.

The sun was low in the sky, full orbed and red as I pulled into El Calafate. The engine was smoking, the back tire low on air, and my gas gage reading empty, and everything was covered in a heavy layer of dust, including me, but I had finally made it to true Patagonia. It had seemed for a little while like I was never going to get the paperwork sorted out and never be allowed to cross the boarder into Argentina. Yet after one final trip to Lautaro I had everything in order and as my last signature was drying on the paper I realized I was finally free to go. Suddenly, a fire began burning in my veins and the need to adventure, to travel and explore, was all consuming. I returned to Pucón that day, kissed Jorge goodbye, maybe forever, and left in search of the mountains that form the landscape of my dreams.

Those mountains now sit across the murky blue waters of Lago Argentino. They are huge and jagged and intimidating even from a distance. The wind whipping of their peaks rushes throughout the streets of El Calafate carrying the scent of granite and snow and of places untouched and wild to the core. As soon as I post this blog I am headed for those mountains.

The wild is calling, calling, let us go.