Aaah, Argentina

Please, don't cry for her.

Please, don’t cry for her.

We have finally pulled ourselves out of Patagonia, although it wasn’t easy.  On Thursday we flew to Buenos Aires and ran into a series of annoying travel issues, like Aerolineas Argentinas deciding to fly us to a different airport than originally promised without notice.  We didn’t actually know where we were when we landed until we walked out and things didn’t look right.  For example, our rental car was at the other airport.  Aaah, Argentina.  I blame it on Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.  Look her up.

After the hassle (including some cathartic insults cast in the direction of various unapologetic porteños), we had a relaxed evening in the Puerto Madero neighborhood and rested for the next day.  Upon waking, I hit the street to find a map of Argentina so we could figure out where to go and how to get there, when I ran into a cloud of chemicals so caustic my eyes started to water instantly.  Apparently, someone had stored something improperly in a container in the port.  This led to an explosion that sent poisonous pesticides throughout the city.  The people on the news freaked out and told everyone to stay inside.  Aaah, Argentina. Once again, I blame it on Cristina.

Then we drove about 11 hours west to San Luis, mostly because we just couldn’t go any farther.  We found a spot to stay the night and the next day swung by Sierra de las Quijadas National Park.  It was another beautiful place, and a distinct change.  In just a couple days we had left this:

DSCN4799For this:

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DSCN5269We hung out in the park for a few hours before heading to Mendoza.  This is another great Argentinian town, with the added benefit that Mendoza is a surprisingly well-planned city with great public spaces, tree-lined streets, and access to some amazing wineries.  So what do you do in wine country?

We first headed to a winery called Ruca Malen, which means “the house of Malen” in the Mapuche language.  There we had a five-course meal with wine pairings.  I was pretty surprised that for a very reasonable price, we got: 1) a detailed written description explaining how the characteristics of each wine paired with the ingredients in each dish, 2) a sample from each of their categories of wine, including their top-line stuff, and 3) a fantastic meal.

Yes, they literally point out the ingredients

Yes, they literally point out the ingredients

Pairs well with both a Cabernet and a Malbec....

Pairs well with both a Cabernet and a Malbec….

Ruca Malen winery

Ruca Malen winery

Nice view on a clear day.

Nice view on a clear day.

Out in the vineyard at Ruca Malbec

Out in the vineyard at Ruca Malbec

The following day we took a tasting class at the Familia Zuccardi winery.  Again, amazing value.  Our teacher, Pedro, was passionate about getting us to really smell and taste the subtleties in each one.  He liked to compose the wine out of its different aromas by putting different fruits, nuts, etc, next to each other and shoving his nose into the middle of it all.  It was very cool how he could reverse engineer the aroma of each wine.  We had so much fun, we signed up for their cooking class, which we’re doing tomorrow.  I guess you really can’t go wrong in wine country.  Aaah, Argentina.

The lineup of odors to look for in the wine

The lineup of odors to look for in the wine

Pedro our sommelier/teacher at Zuccardi

Pedro our sommelier/teacher at Zuccardi

Those three ingredients (chocolate, coffee, strawberry) combine to smell like that wine.  Cool.

Those three ingredients (chocolate, coffee, strawberry) combine to smell like that wine. Cool.

She's in her element

She’s in her element

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Tossing Rocks in a Pond in El Chalten, Argentina

DSCN4859The other day, at the top of a long hike to see yet another stunning Andean panorama, Cris and I sat down at Laguna de Los Torres and took in the view.  While we sat there, staring across at the Los Torres peaks, the glacier at their base, and the blue lake below that, Cris challenged me to hit one of the nearby miniature icebergs with a rock. Before long, we were both throwing and skipping rocks at various targets and giggling at our mostly futile efforts.  What followed, however, was intriguing.  We were not alone at the lake.  There were perhaps fifteen other people from around the world sitting at different places on the lake, and about ten of them had taken to tossing little stones into the water, watching them in flight, and listening to the mysteriously satisfying plunk of a rock splashing into a pond.

If you want to know what it’s like to spend a week in El Chalten, wandering around the Argentinian side of Patagonia, that’s pretty much the sensation: mysteriously satisfying.  This is a town of little cafes, restaurants, cabins, and hostels.  There isn’t much history to speak of, but there is a general air of tranquil hospitality, adventure, and remoteness.  There’s also some really good food, wine, and locally brewed beer, making it pretty much perfect.

And what else do you do in El Chalten?  While we were on our way back from Los Torres, an American girl stopped us to ask how much farther she had to the top.  Within a few minutes, she had invited us to join her the next day for a rock-climbing session with a local guide.  We accepted and subsequently enjoyed it thoroughly.  Tomorrow we’ll rent and ride bikes down the stretch of highway that provides a complete view of the local mountain range.  If that’s not enough for you, glacier tours and horseback rides are also available.  Of course, the real pleasure of El Chalten is the ease with which you’ll find yourself enjoying the simple stuff.

Check out the pictures below, including hikes to Los Torres and Mount Fitz Roy, our day of rock-climing, and some time in the back room of a pub with a self-made brewing operation.

Cooling heels in Laguna Los Torres

Cooling my heels in Laguna Los Torres

Cris chilling by the lake

Cris chilling by the lake

View of Los Torres from the trail.

View of Los Torres from the trail.

My life in her hands.

My life in her hands.

Nice moves

Nice moves

Even better moves

Even better moves

Heading to see Fitzy

Heading to see Fitzy

At Laguna Los Tres below Mount Fitz Roy

At Laguna Los Tres below Mount Fitz Roy

Checking out the local brewry

Checking out the local brewery

A Brazilian's birthright

A Brazilian’s birthright

Is it Pointless to Cultivate Ancient Skills?

[Note: The following was written prior to July 15, but I have saved some of my thoughts for postings while I am out of reach of the internet.  Thanks to Cris for helping me out.]
 
The short answer to this question is no, because I subscribe to Captain Jack Sparrow’s philosphy that it is okay – even necessary – to want some things just because you want them, and I want to do this.  
 
As usual, however, I also have a longer answer to the general question of “What’s the point?”  As tempted as I am to point out that the robots are going to take over one day, and we therefore all need to know how to communicate by smoke signals, that is not the true answer.
 
The longer answer, for me, goes like this: 
 
+Getting as far away from cities as possible helps me strip away the layers of culture and modernity – I call it “noise” – to help me reconnect with my self, my values, and my spirituality.  
 
+My “self”, my values, and my spirituality do not only exist in “nature” in the sense that they do not only exist where there are more trees than people.  Nature is all around us all the time, whether we want to admit it or not, and we are always a part of nature, as we are natural beings.  For me, however, there is just something about being in the mountatins, deserts, and oceans, that makes it easier for me to connect with the simple truths that make me feel whole.
 
+Therefore, to the extent I can spend time in “nature” with less gear, less prep time, and less fear, the more I can be in that place and the more I can appreciate being there.  The more I can do that, the more I can feel aligned with who I am and what I value.   The more I feel aligned with my self and my values, the more I can appreciate the nature and the spirituality that is all around me at all times, despite the noise of culture and modernity.  Finally, the more I can connect with those simple truths, the more I can feel whole.  Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping.
 

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Things I Fear: Part 2 – Physical Inability

[Note: The following was written prior to July 15, but I have saved some of my thoughts for postings while I am out of reach of the internet.  Thanks to Cris for helping me out.]
 
I am not 23 any more.  While I feel as young and maybe more adventuresome in spirit, my body is obviously not the same.  This is particularly true of my achilles tendons, which have been very stiff ever since walking about 800 kilometers during the Camino de Santiago in April and May.  Meanwhile, I’m training to get my 1.5 mile time low enough so that the survival school will let me participate.  
 
I’m sure that with the adrenaline of needing to pass the test, I will be fine.  Nonetheless, it has been harder than ever to get in shape this time, and it occurs to me that climbing around the Rocky Mountains for 28 days will not be as effortless as in the past.  Considering that I will have to keep up with the mainly 20’s crowd that will be with me out there, it’s something that occupies my mind.  
 
Frankly, I’m very afraid that I will not physically be able to do this thing.  That is, I’m afraid of failing.  We will be expected to hike 30 miles some days.  I have done that recently and seen the toll it exacts on my body.  And the fear is particularly present, I think, because I want so badly to do this and to enjoy every bit of it.  Nonetheless, in the spirit of the Sabwavique, we proceed.  I’ll let you know how it goes when I get back.
 
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Things I Fear: Part 1 – Hunger

[Note: The following was written prior to July 15, but I have saved some of my thoughts for postings while I am out of reach of the internet.  Thanks to Cris for helping me out.]
 
As I mentioned in a previous post, I began the 28-Day Field Course at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School on July 15.  I am extremely excited about this because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.  
 
Nonetheless, there are certain things that I fear.  I am a person who loves a lot of things.  However, if I were to make a list of all the things I love in this world and then remove all of the people from that list, the remainder would be about 96% food, drink, and coffee.  (Yes, coffee gets its own category.) 
 
If you know me at all or if you’ve paid any attention to this blog, you’ve probably noticed that my decisions in life are often dictated by food, drink, and coffee.  I even have a category on this blog entitled Deliciousness.  When you think about it though, an obsession about the deliciousness of food assumes the ready availability of food.  This will not be the case for the next month.  According to the course website, during the first phase after orientation there is “no food except what you find.”  Hmm. 
 
I have never been truly hungry in my life.  I get grumpy when I’m 15 minutes past my usual meal times.  I have vivid memories of the two times I actually missed a meal.  
 
With this in mind, I recently came across the following passage from The Hunger Games:
 
What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the push of a button?  How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by?
 
During the following month, I will have to live in a world with no produce section, no meat and dairy section, no beer imported from Belgium, and above all, no coffee house.  
 
One of my goals for this year was to consciously practice boldness in order to enhance my ability to savor the deliciousness of life, in all its forms.  This means acknowledging fears and proceeding in spite of those fears.  Over 28 days in the recesses of the Rocky Mountains, I will face my fear of hunger in order to access the deliciousness of finding my own sustenance.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

We Made it to Santiago. Now What???

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As one of you has already reminded me, part of the Sabwavique was the walkabout – an aimless wandering. Part of the reason for starting this journey with the Camino de Santiago was that it seemed like an introduction to the concept. It was a walkabout-light, or the walkabout minor leagues. That is, while it required a heck of a lot of wandering, it is not aimless. The destination is not only clear, but your every step is marked by an endless array of yellow arrows that keep you on the “true” path to Santiago de Compostela.

Well, having finished the Camino and with time to spare, Cris and I find ourselves (1) addicted to wandering, and (2) searching for those yellow arrows. This, I guess, is where we get our first look at major league pitching.

I have already taken an unplanned side trip to Germany to reunite with some friends I made along the Camino. While I was there, Cris got some advice from a fellow pilgrim to hike around the southwest coast of Crete. So that’s where we’re headed tonight.

Crete has a few advantages. It allows us to continue hiking, which we have come to enjoy more than I think we expected. It allows us plenty of time to do the post-mortem on our different experiences with the Camino – and they were quite different. It allows us to wander, somewhat aimlessly. It has numerous beaches and will hopefully have more sun and less rain. Finally, there are no yellow arrows.

I have intentionally left our itinerary off this blog for the very purpose of embracing the concept of walkabout. That said, plane tickets vary wildly in price and predetermine a certain amount of our travels. So, as we take this journey to the next level, I hope you will join us as we head to various spots in Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and all the unexpected side trips that have yet to make themselves known.

Buen Camino!

Some pictures from the last few days in Santiago de Compostela, Vigo, Porto, Lisbon (where we are today to catch our flight to Athens).

Cris at the Santiago cathedral.

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In front of the San Francisco Monastery (now hotel) in Santiago.

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A stop over in Vigo, Spain.

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Overlooking the Rio Douro in Porto, Portugal.

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Arriving in Lisbon.

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Dusk in Lisbon.

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Oh yeah, and I got a beard trim and haircut. Here’s the before/after:

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Before…

It’s finally the night before we fly out on the sabwavique.  The bags are packed – and most of them are staying here.  All we’re taking are a couple backpacks.

 

This is the before picture.  I can’t wait to compare to the after.  My current weight: 185 lbs (a personal high).  My backpack: 20 lbs.

Here’s the itinerary for the first couple months: (1) Fly to Paris, stay for a day; (2) Fly to Biarritz, stay for a day; (3) Train to St. Jean Pied de Port; (4) Walk 480 miles to Santiago de Compostela.  After that, we head to Portugal – means of transport TBD.

It’s hard to believe that this moment is finally upon us.  Strangely, it’s been more work to whittle our lives down to a couple packs than it ever was to accumulate all the stuff we have sitting in an enormous storage unit right now (and a good portion of my parents’ garage – God bless them).   But here we are.  It feels like an accomplishment just to have arrived at this point.  Now it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.  Right?