Her Juggling Feet

everybody's a nobody. and nobody's perfect.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Countdown Begins

I remember writing that title almost 8 months ago when I first began my countdown to leave for Brasil. Now the countdown is reversed, and it is one week until I fly back to the United States (via the airports of Peru, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and ultimately San Francisco).

I arrived this morning in El Bolsòn, in the Patagonia region of southern Argentina, after a 13-hour overnight bus ride. The trip to Patagonia started in Buenos Aires, with a group of Caravaneros: Heriberto from Puerto Rico, Romina from Chile, and Jenny from Italy. Our intention: let`s see the whales in Patagonia! And that was basically all that we had planned--no tour books, no bus tickets, nothing. We ended up on an overnight train to Bahia Blanca, which was probably the most uncomfortable hours of sleep that I have endured. Our seats were right next to the bathroom, which consisted of a hole in the floor and a place to put your feet and squat--within a few hours, this `system` overflowed and was no longer functional, and everytime someone opened the door, the four of us were treated to some indescribable perfumes.

The four of us ended up sleeping together like a jigsaw puzzle: one person supine on our hiking backpacks in between the two bench seats, and the remaining three curled in whatever position would fit, which usually included legs over legs, feet nestled in stomach, heads on shoulders. A human pretzel.

After arriving in Bahia Blanca, we hitchhiked. This was my first time hitchhiking in South America, and I felt pretty safe, especially travelling with 3 others. We asked around the truck stop, to the truck drivers of where they were headed, and from this we were able to get a sense of their character. So please don`t worry (Mom) and keep on breathing (Dad). We found a ride with an Italian eco-tour company and commenced another 10-hour journey to Puerto Madryn, a small port city, arriving at midnight.

The next morning, we set out to find the whales. We ended up walking about 12 kilometers (6 miles, more or less?) or the equivalent of 3 hours out of town with our packs on our backs. Someone finally picked us up, and we rode in the rear of a pick-up truck, in quiet, sweaty bliss for the final 5 kilometers.

I swear the effort was worth it because the beach that we arrived at was absolutely breathtaking. Not a soul on the shore, just stretches of sand and sea along tall craggs of rock lining each end. Our home for the next two days, of orange rations for breakfast, stir-fries of tofu for lunch, and wheat bulgur mixed with seaweed and garlic in my Nalgene bottle for dinner. We used Romina`s little gas burner stove to boil water for tea, and on our final day, we even made chapatis.

I digress.

We saw the whales. Our first morning, we look up from our orange peels and there they are--black glistening bodies, rising and submerging so slowly, so gracefully, it seems like a ballet, and they are spraying water and heaving their mammoth tails against the plane of water. The four of us begin to walk north along the shore, parallel to them (we counted three), and each time they emerged, they were more brave and revealing. My breath was caught in my chest the whole time, my heart in solemn, celebratory silence. They were so beautiful, these giant mothers of the sea.

They stayed with us the entire day--they are lovely company.

We returned to Puerto Madryn the following afternoon, and the four of us parted ways soon after: Romina and Jenny to the north, Heri to the east, and me, to the west, to El Bolson and the Andes. Though I ended up reading my bus ticket incorrectly (silly military time!) and missed my bus and had to wait another day. But all is well, I am here, flying solo again and really appreciating it.

And El Bolsòn is exactly what I have been wanting, ever since I read about it at the very beginning of my travel research in Minnesota. It is a pueblo of about 15,000 people, the first town in South America to declare itself a `nuclear-free´zone and has a strong presence of environmental protection and social justice. It is surrounded by mountains, and the park is filled with artisans selling hand-carved wooden spoons and woolen socks and organic quince jams, among other things.

Tomorrow I am going to stay at Proyecto CIESA, a biodynamic farm and teaching center a few kilometers outside of town. They offer courses and workshops throughout the year on sustainable agriculture, and if I happen to find myself in Patagonia again (I hope so!), I think I might like to participate.

So for now, blessings, and crisp mountain air, and hope all is well.


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