Happy Earth Day, all! To celebrate, I am throwing it back to my South American journey this time last April, and the most breath-taking natural experience I’ve ever had. Almost one year ago to date, I spent a week camping and trekking through Torres del Paine, a national park in Chile’s region of Patagonia. It was the most rejuvenating and testing (both physically and mentally) 7 days I had ever experienced, and each day brought even more beauty than the previous.
My travel teammate and I traded in our late-nights for early mornings, our cell phone screens for glaciers, the weight and distraction of social media for our 85-liter backpacks and our own thoughts and, perhaps begrudgingly, our showers in order to bathe in nature’s silence and acceptance. The magnificent ability of our natural planet to heal mind, spirit and overall wellbeing journeys far beyond words. Alas, here is my attempt at capturing the majesty of this park, and our astonishing planet Earth, in a visual post. Enjoy!
Day 1: April 5, 2016
Entering the Torres del Paine National Park at the tail of the ‘Q’ route. On this path we saw guanacos (relative of the alpaca) and wild horses, though I searched for mountain lions all week.
Day 2: April 6, 2016
The most vibrant and saturated blues and golds I’ve ever seen; this shot is of Lago Pehoé. This part of the trek offered unbelievably strong winds as we marched north into the park.
Day 3: April 7, 2016
Despite our sore knees, we hiked a little extra one afternoon to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Glacier Grey. By the time a gentle snow flurry began, I was in awe and in tears.
Day 4: April 8, 2016
In beautiful irony, the soundtrack to this pale and delicate sunset were the thunderous sounds of avalanches tumbling down mountainsides above our camp.
Day 5: April 9, 2016
One of my favorite days of the week was this one spent in the French Valley. It was also the most strenuous– think trekking 25 kilometers in one day with 85-liter packs on. Bless hiking poles!
Day 6: April 10, 2016
April meant autumn in the southern hemisphere, and we caught just the start of changing foliage in the park, despite celebrating Easter in the coming week.
Day 7: April 11, 2016
Watching the sun rise on the Torres del Paine is the ultimate reward and grand finale for the strenuous and breathtaking weeklong experience in the park. Kicking off day 7 at 6 a.m., we hike-raced uphill in darkness to watch Patagonia’s famous glowing sensation.
I will never forget my experience in Chilean Patagonia. My week fully immersed in nature reminded me of our planet’s magnificent healing properties, among returning me to my true self. This Earth Day, let us marvel in all that our planet offers us and remain mindful that it deserves the same healing and protection in return, today and every day. This year, I vow to create some healthier and more eco-conscious habits. What sustainable changes can you make today?
My Earth Day 2017 vows for healthier & sustainable habits:
- To purchase my produce at local farmer’s markets
- To invest in a clothesline for natural clothesdrying
- To unplug electronics from outlets when not in use
Part 2: How I’m Embracing, and Remaining My Inner “Yes Woman”
The waves were small and the water was chilly. The air was 50 degrees when my alarm went off at 7:20 a.m. I wanted so badly to snooze a little more until waking up to spend my day typing cover letters. But my surf partner and I went out into the ocean anyway.
And the universe rewarded us. Also playing in the small, friendly waves were none other than a pod of dolphins. After a solid five minutes of me slapping the water in disbelief, cupping my jaw-dropped face, paddling out closer to them, inquiring if their presence indicated that sharks were also around, whispering, “oh my god,” incessantly, and wondering why these so-called-waves had to be in my viewing way, I decided to do like my finned-friends and try and catch one, only to paddle back out and repeat the process.
I continued on this way for another 10 minutes. My poor surfing partner was probably experiencing his own disbelief in that someone could have such a reaction to a wild animal, but he tolerated it all the same.
There were few others in the water to witness my enamor and accept the sea’s smaller feat, but after the dolphins left, one nearby surfer caught my eye. He was seasoned, with a white beard, turquoise eyes and tan, weathered skin. He paddled on his long board only on his knees and pursued each small but promising curl in the same manner he would have as if it was the biggest wave he’d ever seen. He reminded me of my father.
After a few catches and misses, I called over to him.
“That’s quite the paddle, I’m not sure I’m there just yet.”
The man laughed and told me it took years of practice. “You should turn next time,” he told me, in regards to my last attempted ride.
I learned that while a self-proclaimed surf-bum now, he was also an avid skier and climber in his years, and had worked as a guide in Switzerland, set rock-problems all around the U.S. while living out of a van for two years, has his Masters in Chemistry, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and now has it under control and spends his time living in San Diego funded by his work as a researcher and online course professor at Vanderbilt University.
Darrel looked back at me and though beginning with, “I’m not sure I’m good for dishing out advice…,” he continued, letting the gentle ocean-waves wash over his surfboard and nostalgia-waves wash over his memories.
“Don’t get into debt,” he said after a moment. “Don’t fall for the illusion of things. Don’t spend your money on a big, fancy car… You don’t need stuff. I had a fancy home and things all back in Nashville. I even have a closet of fancy things here that I never look in. I don’t miss it.”
A wave rolls by.
“Do it while you’re young. Be good to your body. Don’t drink hard alcohol, it takes a toll. If you want to have a beer every once in a while, all right. If you want to get high, smoke weed. But don’t smoke it, bake it. Bad carcinogens.”
We float over another set of baby ocean-movements.
“Get a lot of skin.”
“As in tough skin?” I interjected, in due parts because I’m soft as a flower petal and because I wasn’t sure that’s really what he meant.
“No. You know,” patting his wetsuitted-arms, “affection, touch, love. That’s science…
And if you don’t like something, don’t do it.
“And this.” He looked at the water around him and ahead of him. “Do more of this.”
And whether he had more to share or felt he was done, I’ll never know. Because my transfixed state broke when Darrell spun around faster than I might ever be able to to catch the wave that was upon us. I made it over and looked back to see if he had caught it. He must’ve, I thought, going after it with the same energy of a pro at Maverick’s.
But he hadn’t. And it didn’t make a difference to him, because he was already on his knees paddling back out to catch another.
He didn’t need to put that last lesson into words after all: go after life like you want it badly. Go after it with full force. Pursue it and lean into it wildly. And if you miss? Get up and try again.
So living my new life in San Diego, I will go outside. I will walk around alone. I’ll look up. Smile at people. Make eye contact. Engage in conversation. Say “hi” to strangers. Accept invitations. Invite people.
I will say yes. Say yes to life. Because when you start saying yes to life, life starts saying yes to you.
And just like that: magic had happened.
Be sure to check out the prequel to this piece– Part 1: How I Found My Inner Yes Woman.