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Meaning Of Life?

Philosophical Advise On Tasting And Life

The other day, I was having dinner with Sanjay and he casually asked me "So what's the meaning of life?"

Since he had left for India, we have both done a share of reading and further reflecting on this question that arises now and then, as a shadow beacon that reminds us to check directions.

The common answer arrived to by all the philosophical masters that I have been learning from invariably is "UNDERSTANDING."
Necessarily starting with yourself, it's the self-examination to understand what truly guides you, what actually makes you react a certain way, what is behind the emotions the arise, the deeper motivation that propels one to certain actions, desires, fears.

If you truly understand and are honest with yourself about why you are reacting a certain way, then by "knowing thyself" and knowing your true motivations, you will be less at the mercy of reacting to that which is put before you by the outside world, that on a daily basis causes us to swing in a pendulum of emotions that take over our mood and our day.

Taking these basic notions to practice, it's easy to see that I, like probably so many of us, base the vision of my life on a series of assumptions -- a series of events that I assume and want to will to happen. I see a number of experiences that I am attached to having, like sharing a mutual love with a partner and experiencing motherhood, just to name a few.

Of course it's easy to see what the masters point out, that by wanting these experiences, and wanting these experiences a certain way/on your envisioned terms (after all, I don't chose to simply get knocked up today), it creates a conflict. The desire for these core experiences, which perhaps we take comfort by viewing them as instinctual, that it's a source of the emotional pendulum because having these experiences necessarily means depending on someone else -- over whom/which we have no control. It creates a conflict, a contradiction that prevents one from being able to experience the "Now", to not be controlled by the rage of emotions which end up instantaneously narrowing the width of our view of the world.

But, if I am honest with myself, it is what I want. I am not willing not to want these experiences.

Of course, this could not be the answer that the masters meant by Understanding.

Last weekend, I went to Takh Nah Hant's lecture at a buddhist monastery. We were surrounded by monks who did choose to give up these basic life experiences and devote themselves to self-examination in pursuit of understanding the reality. But their life did not appeal to me, and therefore, chosing their way of self-examination would be something that would actually be a sacrifice and hence cannot be the "Reality" that the masters describe would be for our highest good.

I think at this point in my understanding of what is "Understanding", I am reminded that I am trying to answer something that necessarily is three dimensional (at least, since it involves the essential, if I may use the loaded word: immortal part in ourselves) using a two-dimensional perception of my mind.

To reflect on "Understanding", I think I need to look at it in the same way the ancients used the concept of a "symbol."
A symbol was used to convey, in image form, that which would speak to our higher self -- call it by whatever word makes you comfortable: soul, spirit, nous, atma, manas... Because our kama manas, the human mind, functions in linear terms: the duality that necessarily creates the conflict and contradiction that so many of us recognize and whose gripping control we wish to escape.
The kama manas is the spell that takes over and makes me see the world/item/person/experience as good or bad, happy or sad, angry or patient.

The "Understanding" is the recognition of the essence of what you dream of, of what you desire: It's the taste of it, the whiff of a feeling of how you feel when you experience that what you want at the core.

To "Understand" is to recognize when you place on that ´whiff of a taste´ a framework of a form in which that taste should take place. When you add to that taste an idea of a package in which it should come -- that's when the conflict is created.

So, for this journey, I am to remind myself and watch myself that I am not placing a form on the taste of the experience that I want to have and just let the experience come.
To remain open to how the image of that which I can taste will manifest myself, without the attachment to when/how/who is my present answer to what is the Understanding that allows one to see the reality of what and how you are living that at least lessens the reactionary emotional pull of the conflict from the contradiction of not having control over the who/when/how of what you want.

So here I go, with intent to allow the "taste" of the dream manifest in whatever form it is to arrive.

Posted by Ritka2 14:42 Archived in USA Tagged travel life dream philosophy intention Comments (0)

Day 1: Hold On To Your Bags (Until TSA Lady Says Otherwise)

The Story Of A Gregory Backpack And A Little Travel Miracle


Turns out my dad was flying out at the same time as I was, and what he thought was also from Terminal A.
Being the ever well intending guy, he got annoyed with me when I wouldn't let him carry one of my bags after he parked the car to meet me at the security check.
Lesson 1: Hold On At All Times To Your Stuff.

I protested and armed with a backpack (containing my life) and a small suitcase (containing -25C degree gear), I was happily ushered into the empty business line by the friendly Delta usher.
All good, until the not so nice Delta person curtly informed me that my backpack (see above as to its important contents) was 2 inches too large to take as a carry one. Despite my unsuccessful smooching techniques, I handed to her the: 2 pants, 2 fleeces, 2 skirts, 5 socks, and various sample size toiletries I collected over the past 4 months).

No dad insight. After a winning smile borrowed a stranger's cell phone, turns out dad was flying from Terminal C.

So there I was, traveling through Atlanta and after another easy 9 hour flight, landed myself in Santiago.

With a smile and a relief, I found my suitcase and right next to it the Gregory backpack.
Strapped in and springing, I stepped into the sea of taxi offerers to wait for my friend who wanted to pick me up from the airport.

45 minutes later, and after realizing that somehow I didn't write down her number and they had no internet cafe, I had to decline the friendly offers of the taxi drivers to use their cell phone "to call my boyfriend."
I was not even surprised when a guy approached me with "RIta Kraner?"
Oh yes, turns out, the Gregory backpack sitting gingerly on my back was HIS backpack.
My Gregory backpack was sited by him sitting lonesome back in the delta carrousel.
I guess when one shops at the national hiker heaven REI, it is quite foreseeable that a number of us will be talked into by a friendly salesperson into buying the more expensive 50-litter pack (for your comfort and pleasure).

Well, it all got resolved, as my friend ran to hug me, we located MY Gregory backpack and here I am.

Lesson 2: Hold On To Your Stuff and Travel Providence Will Be With You.

Posted by Ritka2 08:03 Archived in Chile Tagged travel backpack humor Comments (5)

Tastings: Literally

The fresh markets of Santiago

semi-overcast 75 °F

After spending a day leisurely sitting on Tania's balcony, I ventured to take a tour of UN (of course not after emptying out the entire contents of my carefully packed backpack frantically looking for the hiding place I made for the atm and credit card yesterday). After meeting Tania's co-workers and seeing the oh so important conference rooms, we headed out the treasure island.
A stop at the Korean restaurant first (courtesy of Tania's Korean co-worker) we walked into taster's heaven: the fresh fruits and vegetable market.
WOW and mmm.
After much running around with my eyes called in all directions by the smells of perfectly ripe fruits (small natural strawberries, melons that feasts on you with their ripe juicy skins, I found the prize winner.
As I am writing this entry, I am biting into an apricot. No, not just any apricot, not those apricots you stick in a brown bag and are happy that they turn soft. No, these are the apricots that instantly took me back to Moldova. The truly complicated delicious bouquet of taste of an apricot that make you for a second forget everything else and turn your attention to the sweet sensations in your mouth.

Oh, and I am happy to report the ice cream is more than satisfactory.

Posted by Ritka2 14:54 Archived in Chile Tagged fruits travels tastes Comments (3)

Patagonia Day 1: Penguins, Australians & The Police Station

49 °F

It was Julian´s first full day in Chile and our first day in Patagonia.
After a totally surprising galore of a gastronomical experience, both in taste and presentation that would make even the most fuffi South End restaurants in owe (La Marmita restaurant in Punta Arenas), we got up at 6 am for a penguin excursion.
Julian deemed the trip a `penguin drive by´due to the schedule of 1.5 hour each way of a boat ride with a scheduled 30-45 min pènguin tour. Clearly the guy is yet to learn the meaning of Chilean minutes. Nearly 1.5 hours on the Maggellan island we got our fill of the funny wobbly creatures walking literraly within half a feet of us (as they needed to cross the `road´on which the gringas walk on the island).
Julian´s camera contains evidence.
Another 20 min ride and we were gazing at the sea lions, odd big creatures that make you not want to come near.

A slight adjustment to the schedule and in the afternoon we were off to Puerto Natales, the hub at the base of the park entry of Torres del Paine.
After mulling around and talking equipment to various people, at the Chilean dinner time of 10 pm we presented ourselves to the main dinner establishment: the pizzeria La Messita Grande -- a big long table at which all diners sit: clearly a perfect way to minggle. And there they were, the Australian girls. Yes, lucky Julian got to have the Australian girl companion experience his very second day in South America.
Needless to say, many beverages and stories exchanged later (with a sprinkler of the Dutch and Colombian/American/Moroccon couple) at 2 am of early hour we left the Australians to the Dutch and made our way to the Hostel.

Yeaaah, knocks, buzzes and Julian´s attempts to break back doors left us still stranded outside our surely warm beds.
What to do, what do do?

Proudly the experienced traveller in me reminsced that indeed, this is not the first time this happened to me. Franny will confirm a certain Costa Rican experience...
So, armed with experience I suggested: Let´s go to the police station. Poor Julian who is more used to travel in former USSR countries was rather skeptical.

WEll, just like in the super touristy Costa Rican town, the Chilean town whose tourist population typically exceeds its native population but at least 10 times '-- the police man did not speak a word of English.
But no worries, in our perfectly executed Spanish, sprinkled with probably less perfectly executed grammatical sentence formation, he told us the town didn´t have a book with all the phone numbers or anything else that would be helpful to us.
But, we were of course prepared, and having provided him with a number of the hotel, there we were, with owners awoken and wishing they never operated a hostel, Julian is still sleeping and I am beginning to dream of tomorrow´s excursion to the famous Torres Del Paine.

Posted by Ritka2 06:06 Archived in Chile Tagged punta puerto humor arenas natales Comments (3)

"It won´t happen to us" - went wrong: Patagonia´s Wilderness

The Truth About Torres Del Paine


Aaaah, the famous Torres Del Paine.
How do you write about a 7-day experience of the trek through the Park´s full circuit that was overshadowed or more so, dominated, by a 20-hour exerience.
Well, here we were, arrived in Puerto Natales, the little hub village from which you enter the Park.
Looking back, it´s funny that we spent about an hour with the equipment rental agency debating whether we should take the stove and the better 3.3 kilo tent since we were told the Park is so complete in accomodations and food.
The Park and the equipment agency clearly forgot to differentiate between the super touristy popular 3-5 day W hike that most people and their mothers do with the backtrail minimalist camping sites and open ledge 8-day trek of the full curcuit of the Park.
During 1.5 hour (mind you) private briefing on the Park´s options, the rental agency guy clearly forgot to mention the most import thing: The TRUTH.
Stressing that it´s the end of November and we will at most likely to encounter just super windy conditions, we debated over windbreaker and extra fleece and feeling smart and lightly packed, we were picked up at 7:30, driven to the Park´s entrance, and with no real instruction other than ¨no one will look for you if something happens¨ we were left at the foot of the Park.
So, the first day we joyfully treked through what really felt like a walk in the park -- perfectly flat meadows with noone in site - practically ever (since it´s not until day 4 that you enter the ´civil world of the W where most tourists happily skip from hut to hut (the Refugios as they are known here).
The only real obstacle on day 1 was crossing a tiny little stream, no more than 3 meters wide, but that posed a nearly an hour long problem as we certainly didn´t want to get our boots wet in the icy cold water and Julian´s attempt to log some dead trees to build a bridge didn´t really work.
So, squeeling like young pigs, we walked barefoot through the glacier stream, certainly providing nice coolness to our tired feet (I guess, you could call that we iced them), we got to the camp, set up the tent and met the other circa 20 campers who would become our friends and the only other poeple we would encounter for the next few days on the trail. The highlight of the evening was being invited up by a cook to their hut for a private coffesito and drying our stuff from the rain (I also scored some dulce de leche from the guy making me a very happy camper).
Oh yes, did I mention in Torres del Paine it always rains, not hard, it´s just there, you barely even notice it, it´s just like the sun, always shining, but you also barely notice it.
The second day, the trek was a mere 5ish hours and brought us to a beautiful campsite at the foot of a picturesque lake/mountain/glacier. Very pretty and watching the rain and the mountain peak was an instant smile setter.
So, here we are, at the third day.
With body fully adjusting to the pack, the trek and the blisters, I woke up feeling light on my feet and ready to hike for hours.
Unfortunately, the map said just a 4.5 hours of a trek. So when we got to the next campsite before 3:30 after leisurely hanging out in the morning, I was not even near the tired level and dreading the idea of sitting around in the oncoming cold for the next 6 hours.
I Pressed to go on.
And here is where it all went -- um, the unexpected way, a/k/a the wrong way.

The reason the map says to do only 4.5 hours is because the next 6 hours are considered the most difficult, taking you up to a path passing through 2 open peaks that at its best, guarantees impressive winds.
Well, it was´t at its best.
Hessitantly agreeing to move on and do the John Gardner Path (in Patagonia, the day light is at least until 10:30 pm), Julian and I put on some warmer clothes, packed some more trail mix and set off under the eyes of our 20 friends setting up camp for the night. The weather seemed perfect, it didn´t even rain and we wanted to take advantage of the calm.
Or so was my thinking.
About 30 minutes after treading up through muddy forest path, it started snowing, ever so lightly, ever so pretty.
What´s a little light snow for a couple of hardened hikers.

So we pressed on, another 30 minutes and it got ever so more windy.
Hesitating, Julian started cautiously marking for possible camping places under the trees.
But we pressed on.
As we left the tree line however, the wind got stronger.
Not really knowing what the infamous Path looks like, i naively thought that when we encounted what looked like a top of an open moutain side, that maybe that was the famous John Gardner Path.
Of course, here as every movie plot goes, is where we got lost; but only for 30 minutes -- unnecessarily pushing up an extremely difficult stone layout to nearly the top of the mountain. Once at the top with nowhere to go, I finally spotted the actual path waaaay below (it´s amazing how your eyes adjust in the face of fear) and we scrambled down back onto the path.
30 minutes more and we came to the John Gardner Path.
Nearly out of nowhere it hit us. Strong gusty winds with harsh falling snow straight into your eyes.

Realizing that visibility was nearly none (naively at the time so we thought), we decided to turn back to the tree line.
Oh yes, Julian managed to set up emergency winter camp for the 2 of us amidst blowing winds and falling snow.
Other than making a serious wish (out loud) asking the providence to help us wake up in the morning, and being even more ambitious and asking to wake up with all limbs intact, wearing everything we had, we actually managed to spend a fairly warm and calm night, dining on some deliciously slightly warm sandwiches smartly purchased at the campsite below.
The plan was to wait for the other hikers (lucky for us, the others included 2 groups with a guide) to make the John Gardner Path with them.

And then, we woke up -- oh I was oh so happy to wake up, with all 10 fingers intact and the tent and us still there.
And then, we heard the sweet words of ¨Hello, Are You There?¨, as our friends, a German couple who set early for the Path, stumbled on us.
They were happy to find us alive, and we were happy to find them.
But that is NOT the end of the story.
WE all waited for the group with a guide, and having quickly packed up the tent (amid about a foot of snow) about 12 of us set off for the John Gardner Path.
Oh boy, as soon as we left the tree lines, there it was.
A snow storm; and storm being the key to the phrase.
100 km winds, hard and fast falling snow and zero visibility.
In comparison, the conditions of yesterday on the Path were calm summer.
The guided group´s porter, who had crossed the Path 30 times, said he had never seen anything like it.
Boys and girls, the next 2 hours´ trek was Survival 501 Course -- The Advanced level.
The winds were so strong, that despite having a heavy pack on, we had to stop and periodically get on our knees, and even then, a number of times, Julian had to hold me with his foot for me not to fly off.
You couldn´t see a thing.
All you could look at is the shoe of the person in front of you.
And that guide, bless him, walked forward, knowing the Path like the back of his hand, he somehow carved half-foot steps into the walls of forming ice, that we scambled up on, firmly placing our 2 poles first for security.
Without a guide, there was no way we could have crossed. You couldn´t see any markers and the foot prints of the person before you were immediately blown over by the unyeilding snow gusts.
It seemed never ending, the gust, the wind, the freezing biting coldness. Later, all the women shared the same thought, each of us wondered truly whether all of our fingers will make it to the other side.
But the funny thing about Patagonia, as soon as we crossed over, less than 45 minutes later as we decended back into the protection of the forest line, it was calmness itself.
From just 45 min away, you wouldn´t have had a slightest idea about what we and our battered bodies went through.
So, we halled ourselves and our glued on packs for 22 km to the campsite with a hut, with a promise of a warm meal and a stove on which to dry off your soaked from the snow and ice shoes -- a thought that made us move at an impressive speed of nearly running.
We litterally celebrated life as we got to the campsite -- a lightness and joy that comes only after discovering the true strength and endurance of your body.
And the next 3 days, as we hiked through the calmness of the W, we felt almost sorry watching the tourists marvel at the sites of Torres del Paine, realizing that we were actually lucky to experience the true wrath of Patagonia.

Posted by Ritka2 12:39 Archived in Chile Tagged snow storm del circuit patagonia survival paine torres Comments (5)

Fin Del Mundo

The 3 Week Conclusion to Patagonia

semi-overcast 10 °F

Sitting at a computer now, I look at the date, December 4, Sunday.
What does that mean?
I have not been even travelling for 3 weeks, yet the perception of time and progression of days is quickly dissipating.
Looking at photos of things I did even yesterday feels in the past, something that happened weeks ago. Looking at the photos from the Torres Del Paine hike, even though I am still sporting a number of proud blissters and various blue spots from falling on the ice, but the hike is quickly disintegrating into a memory, a story I tell, rather than an intimate, personal and present experience that I just lived through.

The days have been fully filled, but still there is an overwhelming feeling of unhurriedness. Julian is still here. We get up at 7 am, eat dinner at 10:30 pm, but there is room for feeling that there is plenty of time. And there is. I still grin everytime I think that I have nowhere to be.

Today for example, was an awesome day (super bueno as ´we´say here). We took a boat to a glacier and walked with crampons on the glacier. For the Russian readers, you´ll appreciate that the glacier´s name is Viedma. The glaciers here are mind boggling, for example this one was 80 km long and 60 meters in depth. Walking on it was such a cool feeling, scenicly placed on top of a lake with a background of mountain cliffs and various colors, it was spectacular. Plus, the trip became even cooler when the guides used their icepeak axes to carve a mini bar, scraped some ice (plenty of that available :) and voila, produced 2 bottles of Baileys. Baileys could not ever dream of a promotion like that.

But I am ready to leave Patagonia.
There is a reason they call it ¨Fin del Mundo¨- the End of the World.
While the day light here is from 5:30 am till 10:30 pm, it is a harsh place.
It is cold and the fierce winds leave everything dried up and rugged.
Nothing grows here.
The only farming is sheep, and even that, people complain that it takes an enormous amount of land to feed one sheep, because there is very little addible vegetation. You touch any flower and it is hard, clearly evolved to withstand the gusts of strong winds constanly blowing through. The place though does have a lot of charm. Despite being tourist central and getting thousands and thousands of tourists, the life here is still simple. For example, right now, we are in El Chalten -- a necessary stop on most tourists´agenda, yet, the place only has 800 inhabitants, most of whom speak almost no English or other foreign languages. Everything is done old school here. There is not even a cellular tower. The many houses here are being built with individual bricks and manual mortar, the cement is being span by hand, and we saw a guy shoveling a moutain of some sort of sand through about a meter long siever to clean it -- wow. You also see guys on a corner chatting: one is on a bike, the other is on a horse -- warms one´s heart :)

But my body is craving some vegetables (other than canned corn and beet roots, probably also canned)
So I bought a bus ticket to El Bolson, and on December 6 will get on that 23-hour bus ride that will take me to a warm place with scenic views and lots of organic vegetable choices (or so I hear).

Posted by Ritka2 11:28 Archived in Argentina Tagged walking ice glacier del fin patagonia wind mundo viedma Comments (1)

Argentina Presents: ¨25-Hour Bus Ride¨

sunny 74 °F

If you were to take a Greyhound or Peter Pan, say from Boston to Miami, it´ll sure be a suicidal inclination and a sure prescription to your nearest psychologist to discuss your masochistic act outs.
But, in the advanced country of Argentina, it is a luxurious and a preferred manner of getting yourself out of windy Patagonia into the welcoming arms of 25 degree weather of El Bolson.
At midnight, after bidding goodbye both to my awesome companion for the past 3 weeks, as well as to our German friends, we all went our separate ways: they flew to their respective homes, jobs and friends, I got on a 23 hour bus ride.
It was midnight, and armed with a glass of excellent wine shared with the German couple over arugula gnocchi (seriously, where the hell this amazing vegetarian meal appeared amidst Patagonia´s barren lands will forever remain a mystery), I entered the bus.

The initial excitement of who will sit next to you, maybe some cute guy who will magically turn into your next travel companion, were crushed when a somber Argentinean girl set next to me and barely nodded in response to my uber-friendly ´Hi´.
Fine, I plugged in my headphones and with a little help of breath-rhythm-setting from the snorer behind me, I fell into a happy 7 hour sleep oblivion.
We woke up to a breakfast service on the bus, cutely wrapped cake of dulche de leche (hey, who am I to refuse traditional breakfasts) and some matte tea. Great, 8 hours, done.
I don´t know what the Argentineans do to their buses, but dare I say, they are actually comfortable. There is enough room for your ass to fully situate itself, and for both of your elbows to actually rest side by side, rather than in a semi'-folded praying position they find themselves on a Greyhound or god forbid the Fung Wua. The seat cushion is actually cushiony, and the seat reclines. Even though there was no option in El Chalten for a full reclining seat, the semi-cama was not bad at all.

As we drove, I looked out the window. It is amazing, despite having gone 8 hours, and in fact, for the next 10 hours, the land was entirely barren. Not a mountain peak, a tree or a bush to rest your eye. Just miles and miles of dry, sprawled out steppe.
I remember trying to play a game with myself that I won´t take a bite into a cookie they gave us until I spot at least 10 things in the land, and after 10 min drive and seeing only 1 lonely sheep, I quickly gave in to the tasty treat.

So we drove 4 more hours. And then we stopped. We stopped in a town called Perito Moreno. Yes, it´s named just like the incredible tourist-central glacier in El Calafate. I wonder how many tourists inadvertently find themselves mistakenly in this forgotten place.
But yes, we stopped in Perito Moreno, and turns out that the bus was going to stop here for 2 hours. Yes, entirely unplanned. Why, well, because the bus driver thought to drop off 2 passengers in a town an hour away into the other direction, so we had to wait for him to return. No, he never tried to make up the time. No, we weren´t stupid enough to expect a schedule.
So, on a lovely Wednesday afternoon, at about noon, I joined some Israeli guy and went to town in search of lunch.
Wednesday apparently though is the day when Perito Moreno is on break. Everything was closed and the entire population of (1000?) was on the street parading (reminded me of Russian mandatory demonstrations where they took your attendance).

We got back on the bus and what began was a daunting movie procession. I am completely impressed that the buses cater to their audiences, airing movies in English with Spanish subtitles. But, someone needs to advise these people on their movie choice. After the ride, I am ever more thankful to the American airlines´ strict preference for the PG-13 choices.

We were first shown the Whistleblower -- about a cop uncovering Ukrainian women´s sex trafficking into Bosnia, really sad and disturbing.
Then, Orphan came on, about a girl gone on a crazy killing spree, next followed Ironclad - a gory showing of tongue cutting and bloody flesh.
Honestly, when Justin Timberlake finally appeared next to Cameron Diaz in ´Bad Teacher´-- I almost squealed with delight.

Well, eventually, we arrived to El Bolson, with its warm weather and pretty happy looking fruits in the stores.
Of course, immediately next morning I jumped on quite a hard hike, a route that goes for about 2 hours from steep gravel path to even steeper and more finer gravel path (at least on the way down, the only way to do it was literally go on your ass as if you were on a sled, but I wasn´t, and my pants certainly now reflect it).
So, the next chapter has indeed begun, and so far so good.

Posted by Ritka2 14:59 Archived in Argentina Tagged bus el movie bolson argentinian horrible selection Comments (0)

Gastronomical Galore: Take II

The pleasures of El Bolson

semi-overcast 64 °F

El Bolson, I have indeed arrived to paradise.
Here, the people seem to live on homemade ice creams and dulce de leche.
The town (all 2.5 blocks of it) are filled with competing Artisan ice cream shops, all seeking to outdo each other in quality and creativity of their truly on-premises made ice cream. Creamy, yet fluffy rows of chocolate with orange, mora, banana, nuts with various liquors and of course, multiple varieties of dulce de leche.
Oh dulce de leche.
Cakes with dulce de leche, marmalades of dulce de leche, it´s dulce de leche central here.
And yes, that´s exactly how I like it.
Today, for example, it was a day of rest, after doing a scrambling hike and a 45 km bike ride.
After cooking lunch for my Argentinean dorm mate (we live next to a small place that grows and smokes river trout) I took a stroll of 8 km each way to the town (by now, it´s really equivalent to walking from Central Square to Harvard Square).
First stop, ice cream of course.
Despite the multitude of shops, there is a line, always, and you have to take a ticket and get called (I do mean it when I say these people live on ice cream, unfortunately their size also displays that).
I got in line. I got a ticket.
Now, the dilemma, after all, with nearly 50 home made flavors to choose from...
Luckily, a small means you get to have 2 flavors, each generally scooped into a miniature cone.
I asked to try yogurt with fruits -- yeah, quickly discarded that idea... and the winners of today was a scoop of banana and a scoop of some kind of nut ice cream with some kind of nutty heaven in it.
Did I mention yesterday I had ice cream of some kind of fruit dipped in cognac...

Well, that was after all, the first stop.
Now, cafe time. I haven´t had any coffee or coffeeshop time since having left Chalten (no idea how many days ago).
The awesome hostel owners recommended a hidden shop.
I presented myself.
I got a menu.
A double cortada -- easy choice (their version of espresso with just a little bit of warm milk).
Now the tortas. All home made, and real cakes, Russian style, not some white cake with frosting.
And well, here too I didn´t need to ponder.
It was Chocolate Waffles with nuts and dulce de leche.
Ummm, when I ordered a slice, turns out Argentian slices come in quarter of cakes (still only $3). Yes, a gigantic mountain of 3 layer cake was presented next to my quite small cortado.

So, life is good.
But enough of this and tomorrow, and tomorrow I hit the gorgeous peaks that surround the valley of El Bolson.

Posted by Ritka2 15:25 Archived in Argentina Tagged ice cream el de bolson dulce leche tortas Comments (2)

La Femme Horselfly Killer: Tales Of My 1st Solo 4-Day Hike

Exploring El Bolson´s Wilderness

sunny 92 °F

There I was. Armed with my sleeping back, mattress, and a backpack full of provisions, I was off on my first solo hike: 70 km in the mountains, all by myself.
Oh so I thought.
Like a true gringa.

It all started with a humm. A distant buzz.
Then, I actually did a double take to see if there was an airplane around. No joke.
And then, it was dawning on me.
The horseflies.
The little suckers, greeting me, encircling me, like a hunter aiming for his prey.
Speaking off size, these things are not so little.
Imagine a fly, on steroids, i.e. tripled in size and exponentially ever so more obnoxious.

So, the first day, the monsters spared me.
They let me grin in my pride of figuring out a bus schedule that takes you 2 km off the trail (in Spanish) and actually getting myself there, for less than $2.
They even let me dutifully get lost. Naturally, the first hour I walked up in a completely opposite direction, up a very steep hill. Funny thing, I walked up it twice. First time, by mistake. Second time, to ask the seniora at the farm at the very top of the hill for directions after I got back down to the river only to realize that I had no idea where to go. In the end, since I wasn´t going to walk up that hill for the third time, I trespassed some other farm, where clearly some kind of divinity took mercy on me and I found an American ex-pat who actually walked me to the trail.

So, I made it eventually to the first refugio, (the hut), El Retomal , where I found a German girl, Fiona, who runs it (of course she is German, which again begs the question ¨Who the hell is left in Germany¨) and the only other hikers were a French family with 2 young kids (Wow, how cool).
Since the Frenches were camping, Fiona and I bonded under the star filled sky, as we each cooked our dinners (I became quite fond of boiled sweet potatoes and also had some trout freshly smoked next door to my hostel that I didn´t eat for lunch, being quite preoccupied in finding my way to the refugio).

Next morning, after breakfasting on some tasty salami (who, who was a vegetarian for 10 years prior to stepping into Argentina), I set off higher, for refugio Los Laguitos -- as the name suggests, a spectacular place where the hut is set amidst 3 lakes and snow peak mountains.
The first hour was all great. The trail followed the river, winding up and down, lazily, without too much assent.
And then I entered the woods. At first, the woods didn´t reveal their magic. You see trees, big trees. Only when you realize that these trees grow 1 millimeter a year, and that they are actually 2,500 years old, does your head swerve up and you wow to their majesty. The Alerces trees. Incredible.

But with the woods came the tabanos -- the killer whale flies.
They swerved me in a blitz attack.
At first, there were just 4 suckers following me, step by step.
I killed them. PAH!
Then, there were 7. Mind you 1 v. 7 -- but those suckers went down as well. Pah Pah!
And then, and then, there were many. 30, 40, you name it.
We were moving in one swarming mess.
A walking menace of me and the Tabanos.
They tried, relentlessly, to eat their breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The suckers blocked my view so that I kept getting off trail trying to get rid of the damn things.
And then I thought to myself, Think, Rita, Think:
And I thought.
And I came up with a plan.
I plastered all over the exposed parts of my body white layer of sun block.
I found my music shuffle, headphones, and Yes, Woman v. Tabanos: Score!
Their buzz was blocked by my newly enhanced music collection and the sun block created a nice shield between my blood vessels and the suckers.
I got to Los Laguitos unharmed, albeit quite faster than predicted average speed.

There I found Valentin, a cute builder who was working the hut, and a German couple (of course) who later in the evening made a really big awesome fire.
As we sat watching the mountains reflect in the still lake -- it was exactly the scene that makes it worth the sweat, the hills and, well, I am not going to go as far as the ¨tabanos.¨
Next morning, Valentin baked for me fresh bread (which I dipped in the oil from my can of sardines (yeeeah, I know, who is this woman and what happened to her silly diet....), and then he shared with me a torta made by his mother that was sent earlier in the day by horse. Mmm, life was pretty good.

On my way back down to El Retamal refugio, I walked again 18 km without seeing a sole and the only human sounds where my swears, in Russian, English and just plain human grrrrs, at the damn swarm of tabanos in which I was either swimming or swarming.

I walked, I gazed, I filled my little bottle with water straight out of the streams (Did I mention that one of the sweetest rewards of hiking so far in Argentina is that everywhere the streams are from ice water from the mountains, pure, clean, delicious. I have a 500 ml bottle that I fill as needed, straight from the stream, never needing to carry or worry about water, so lovely).
But I also made sacrifice to the river: my wonderful sun glasses that miraculously lasted this long)

I got back to El Retamal, to find Fiona all by herself. Since it was hot and we were alone, I took off my drenched clothe and took a ¨shower¨ under a mountain-water cold sprinkler that was irrigating the garden.
Then Fiona and I sat on the grass, gazing at the mountains.
I saw her book on meditations, we exchanged some experiences about energy work.
Clearly a bottle appeared.
The two of us killed it.
Fiona´s assistant then came. Again, the divinity was with me, and somehow they thought to offer me dulce de leche.
Another bottle appeared.
The 3 of us finished it also, just sitting on the grass.
Then 2 hikers appeared, obviously a German couple.
They bought beer made right their in the refugio. Fiona brought another bottle of wine.
At the appointed time of 10:30 pm, we made pizzas (that is they fished the cheese out of the barrel they keep in the river, I cut some basil and chives from their garden). It was glorious.
And the next morning, as I walked back down the mountain, the tabanos.... well, they were nowhere in sight.
As if to make sure that I come back, the suckers somehow went away.
And the 70 km that I walked, by myself, well, that is just cool.

Posted by Ritka2 15:49 Archived in Argentina Tagged el de los bolson azul cajon retamal laguitos tabanos horseflies Comments (2)

Life Is Not A Competition

sunny 92 °F

Today at breakfast we were discussing the never-tiring subject of men and women.

For the last few days I have been the only single woman in the hostel of about 12 roaming guys, and we had stayed up till 4:30 a.m. playing poker-like game of dice (which I of course won), so there was much to the topic.

After the typical reflections on how men are expected to be sensitive and then are scorned for losing their traditional roles, an older male traveler (German of course) chimed in:
¨Life is not a competition.¨

Sounds like some pearl of wisdom you get in your daily email from some revered buddhist monk.

But, but yes, life is not a competition.
Retiring to one of the hammocks, I took some time to reflect on this.

All too often I find myself longing, not really sure of what exactly, but longing to feel and to be made feel like a woman.

Yet, the daily interaction that most of us have is some kind of a perverted version of an unspoken competition.
We strive to be ¨our best¨, and somehow, the ¨best¨ translates in being better than ____.

All too often, I hear women around me get frustrated with their partners because I can ¨cook better than you, do this or that faster, plan more comprehensively, for god sake, earn a decent wage....¨
The list goes on.
Women feel that all-too much is falling nowadays on their shoulders.

But certainly a big chunk of the societal present toil is our own misdirected responsibility.

In the name of efficiency and saving time we are loosing something that traditionally has been one of our most prized feminine qualities.

Being feminine is associated with being nurturing and gentle, which above all requires being patient.
If we want the stronger sex to remain the stronger and make us feel taken care of, then we have to make space for that.
Just like the women of our parents´generations would pause for the door to be opened for them, we have to pause to give our partners a chance to do whatever task we want them to do.
That, of course, means giving up the control of creating the perfect outcome for whatever situation you are facing.

And like an email from a buddhist monk, this requires daily reflection on our own, often ¨unfeminine actions¨that like our beloved iPhones in the name of efficiency have stolen away the essentials of a human interraction.

If you want to have a partnership where you are a woman, are you allowing the man to be The Man...

Posted by Ritka2 14:00 Archived in Argentina Tagged love men women competition relationships efficency Comments (3)

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