Still salty, Still lucky

I’m writing this update from a borrowed Macbook Air, likely from the early 2010’s, in my van parked next to the sea outside of a WorkAway ecolodge. For the time being, I’m working as a horseback riding guide for tourists visiting the Mari Mari Ecolodge outside of the small town of Los Muermos, Chile. The day that I crossed into Chile from Argentina, about a week or so ago, I parked Savannah in a guarded parking lot of a supermarket to stock up on supplies before coming to this lodge, which is about 2 hours on both paved and dirt roads from Puerto Montt. In the 20 minutes, more or less, that I was shopping in the grocery store, someone broke into my van, tore through my things, and stole my laptop and external hard drive. When I returned to my van with my groceries, and opened the back doors, I was stunned and felt completely violated. I ran to the security guard, who I had seen when I parked Sav, and explained that I had just been robbed. He said that it happens here, in Puerto Montt, all the time. I filed a useless police report, now understanding that the police are likely in on the robberies and have just a small sliver of hope that it will ever be found. The laptop is not such a big deal, but that hard drive had my backup of my laptop as well as photos from my adventures and some projects/writings I was working on, and I unfortunately never backed those up to the cloud or google drive. I’m trying all angles… from offering the police a reward to find it, saying I’ll buy my stuff back, and contacting Macbook repair shops offering to buy it off them if it comes their way. My little faith in humanity took another blow, but I’m also thankful I guess that only my electronics were taken and not my sleeping bag, jackets, or outdoor gear that I also rely on. It was a very targeted crime. I’m still salty about it, but maybe that’s also from the sea breeze tossing my curls lately.

Despite the rough first day back in Chile, this past month has been quite good overall. I ended up leaving the Workaway in San Martin after deciding I was over being a Cinderella with all of the cooking and cleaning. I had been there for about a month and a half now, and after only promising a week, my departure was long overdue. I was craving my freedom and life on the road, and I met a local farrier in town to hang out with. A farrier is someone who works on the hooves of horses whether it be trimming them (like a fingernail), putting on horseshoes, or treating problems like abscesses/cracks or laminitis (growth from a fever that exits the hooves). We hit it off quite quickly talking about horses, solely in Spanish, and began to find ways to spend each day together – whether it be sharing a mate tea (South American tea) at the lake, hiking to nearby waterfalls, cooking meals, or taking drives around town. Needless to say my Spanish improved rapidly.

I learned how to cook soup in a pumpkin (zapalla) in an oven, though he said it was better cooked in a fire outside. Basically, you cut the top of the pumpkin and scoop out all of the seeds and pumpkin guts (the seeds you save for soup or to roast in the oven), then inside the now hollow pumpkin you layer cheese, ham, chopped vegetables like green onions/carrots/red onion, maybe some chicken if you want, and butter. You put the top back on the pumpkin, then wrap it in tin foil, and stick it into the oven (or fire) for about an hour and half. Once cooked, all of the ingredients form a soup and the inside of the pumpkin is soft enough to scoop with a spoon and enjoy with the soup! Highly recommend!

After leaving the Workaway, him and I camped out by Lake Lolog for a couple of days. Then I traveled with him in his truck about 5 hours North to Nuequen to accompany him with his work. I left Sav with a friend of his, a retired park ranger, who I felt was a good candidate to watch over her. Perhaps it was lost in my translation, but what I had thought was only a 2 day trip turned into 4 days. After the second day I bought some soap, not knowing exactly how long we would be on the road while he traveled to treat horses. I’d help when I could, whether it be holding the horses for him, making mate tea for us on the drive, or taking photos for his portfolio for work. We were lucky to find a cabana (cabin) in town that was dog friendly, since his hard working companion, Rusty, joined us. It was really interesting to watch him work and treat horses with hoof issues. I learned that a lot of his clients competed professionally, whether it be barrel racing, show jumping, or horsemanship and it was really cool to meet the horse community in Argentina. When we visited the farm that specialized in horsemanship and reining, I watched him work with a horse who had never had her hooves touched before. She was now 4 years old, and with an abscess in one of her front hooves. It took nearly an hour and a half to slowly get her used to his tools and the sounds and feelings of them on her hooves. After, we all shared some beers, crackers with cheese and salami, and stories, then the couple gave me a tour of their ancient, super decked out bus. The bus towed a trailer with a generator to charge the air conditioning units, fridge, big TV, and oven. As all four of us walked through it, it made me realize how small Savannah is for a traveling home (though the perfect size for me!).

We had planned to drive back to San Martin after this last visit but after a lazy lunch at a nearby river and the night encroaching, we blew into another cabana with a dust storm hot on our tails around 10 PM. We lucked out with an empty bunkroom for a cheap price and the next day toured a dinosaur museum and Embalse Ezequiel Ramos Mexia, a massive reservoir with a dam that provides electricity to a huge part of southern Argentina. Apparently some new species of dinos were found in this area of Argentina not too long ago and this town is now known for its prehistoric history. We headed back to San Martin after and I took over the music to introduce him to some of my road trip tunes, heavily featuring The Black Keys. He was a fan. I was a passenger for a bit, something I’m not used to and don’t crave, but can experience once in a blue moon and go along for a ride through someone else’s life.

I had planned to leave San Martin when we returned, but mother nature had other plans for us. A fierce primavera (spring) storm blew through San Martin with high winds and snow. The park ranger liked me enough to let me stay in the cabin with them, I think it was because he was German and asked if I was too since I look German, apparently. I confirmed that I had some German blood on my Mom’s side and from then on we were pals. We all shared some deer burgers (he’s also an avid hunter) and wine before he left for Buenos Aires. Soon the old habits from home on Grand Island, like collecting firewood to bring into the house and tending to a fire, were put to use as there always seemed a task at hand for us to complete. The winds raged sometimes bringing in snow, but mostly sideways rain, for the next few days. Soon though, the sun came back, the winds died down, and my feet started to itch.

We decided to travel together in Sav until I made it to the border, then he would hitch a ride back. We left San Martin with about 17 bananas, some honey, and a full bag of mate tea – I’ve learned that this is the snack to be had here. From San Martin to Mari Mari Ecolodge (in Chile) was only about 5 hours… I delayed my crossing into Chile as long as I could, knowing it would be solo. We found the best campsites along the way to enjoy, usually lakeside with a mountain view. We traveled the seven lakes route, which was stunning. Once we’d find a campsite, we’d start a fire and soon be cooking dinners and boiling water for coffee and teas. We took some hikes along rivers, bushwhacked up the sides of mountains, and marveled at the stars in the dark sky away from the city. He joined me right up until the last kilometer to the border, and it was a tough “see you soon,” but hopefully a see you soon, nonetheless.

Savannah had one little temper tantrum before I dropped him off in Villa La Angostura, but she got her act together after and purred up to the border. I left Argentina, crossed over the Andes without snow on the road, and into Chile again. At the Chilean border I had a minor issue that my departure from Chile back in July was never registered, so I almost was not allowed back into Chile since they thought I overstayed my 3-month permit for my vehicle. Luckily the exit stamp in my passport and a bit of charm made the problem go away. I crossed into Chile just as some threatening weather moved in and likely dumped snow on the pass as I dropped down the other side of the Andes into rain. My next chapter was about to begin.

I picked up Savannah’s parts sent down from the states in Puerto Montt (thanks Will!). Then the unfortunate event at the grocery store parking lot happened. But then I drove here, to Mari Mari and was greeted with a warm welcome from the friends I made here back in June. I drove down to the Workaway host’s house and parked Savannah, safely tucked in a little bay. She will stay here while I travel for work to Peru and Costa Rica. I feel so lucky to have a good friend, the Workaway host, and a safe place to keep her while I’m traveling.

Here at Mari Mari, the routine is similar to when I was here in June but now that there are guests staying in the villas, I guide horseback riding tours as well. We’ve had a guest from NYC who was a travel agent checking out the place, and a Chilean couple who ended up getting engaged here – apparently it’s quite common to see engagements happen at this ecolodge. There’s another volunteer here from Holland and her and I have become fast friends. We feed the horses in the morning and usually do an organized ride with guests, then clean the stables, have (free) lunch at the lodge, go for a hike in the afternoon, give the horses evening hay, then dinner (free, but the same food as lunch). We’re similar in age and both travel so we have lots to talk about. Outdoor work and hiking are a bit new for her so I’m happy to take her on some adventures while I’m here, and these adventures are filled with laughter. I think we will be longtime friends, and if I take the job in Germany I’ll already have a friend in a neighboring country!

One evening at dinner, her and I and another new friend here from Colombia were talking about our reasons for travel and how we feel now that we are in our 30’s. I’m the youngest of the three of us, and these two women have traveled much more extensively than I have. The Colombian felt a shift in her priorities, after chasing opportunities for a life of travel all over the world as a masseuse for hotels and lodges, to now leaving her partner in Colombia to work here for 6 months since the salary and conversion rate is better here in Chile than to work in Colombia. She felt like travel had changed for her and she no longer craved it. The Hollander is a psychologist and feels like when she’s home in Holland, she puts everyone else before herself as her work likely demands, so her only time that’s solely for herself is when she’s traveling. She’s been traveling since she graduated high school and tries to spend 2 months of the year abroad to experience new places, usually solo since she feels like she can do what she wants to do without pleasing others. When they asked me, I stumbled through my explanation of why I’m doing what I’m doing. Perhaps because I don’t have a strong reason besides that it just feels like the right path for me. Though the farther I travel away from what I know, and the longer I’m on the road, the less attached I am to people/places/things. At times it can feel like I’m sort of spiraling out of control and pushing boundaries and diving headfirst into chaos, even if it scares me, just to see what my limits are and what I’m capable of. Once I find that limit, I’m not really sure what I’ll do after. It’s been over a year now since I’ve left the states and have been on the road, it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions throughout my journey. It’s hard sometimes, but so incredibly beautiful.

Though my time is almost up here, it was much needed time and laughter is truly the best medicine so I am so lucky to have found it here with these new and old friends. Horses are therapy as well and it felt so good to hop up into the saddle again. Tomorrow we will do one more ride and one more hike and then I take a bus up to Santiago to pack up the lab and move it to Lima, Peru. I’ll spend a week in Lima setting up the lab and training some people on the blood protocol (with my own blood!), then I travel to a field station, studying capuchin monkeys, in Costa Rica for a second follow up interview for the potential job in Germany. I will return to Mari Mari on my birthdate, the 12th of November, for a few days before flying to Navarino Island to start my environmental DNA Project to detect invasive wildife in the Capehorn Biosphere, finally! Then I think I’ll pay a visit back to Argentina in December 😉 It’s going to be a rich and full next couple of months!

Since writing this while I was at Mari Mari, I took a bus up to Santiago overnight and bought a cheap-ish laptop to get me through the rest of my time down here. I packed up the lab in Santiago and will move it to Lima on Sunday. I’m visiting friends here and feeling lucky to have my little families along my travels. The guys running the hostel I’m staying at now remembered me from before and gave me the family discount. I went out for drinks last night with another woman from the Santiago lab who had kept tabs on me when I traveled through Argentina, always making sure I was safe, and is truly a lovely friend. This afternoon I’m going to visit the hostel owners of where I parked my van for some months to share some wine and stories. And I know my van is safe with my Mari Mari family. There are a lot of good people in this world; I’m trying to focus on that.

On repeat lately – Oh My, James Quick

Sleep spots, here!

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