I am in the front seat of the cargo van. Cedric is in the back with the dogs and their crates. We set off with 13 suitcases, now 5 remain. There are no seats in the back of the van, except for two mounds in the rear that mark the outside wheels. Cedric makes a seat on one of those mounds. Roberto, the driver hands me a cherry menthol. He hands it to the back to Cedric. He apologizes; he normally carries cargo, not people. Hopefully, it was clear on the phone when the arrangements were made. Roberto, has curly brown hair and a round buddha belly. Next to the hand break, there is a mate gourd stuffed like a fat cigar – the dry leaves fill the edges of the gourd. As customary, its companion, the thermos in fire engine red sits beside it.
It hasn’t really hit me that we are going home. It feels like any day, when the mystery of the road beckoned – and we, its pilgrims were guided by the compass of our intuition and the wisdom of our hearts. I don’t want to feel the finality of it, but it seems like something is permanently ending.
Rather than linger in this discomfort, my mind wanders in the world of worry making. I worry about the dogs and their long flight ahead. I worry about Cedric sitting in the back – should he have taken the front seat? I worry if Roberto makes conversation with me - what will I say?
There is an unopened 6-pack of paper towels wedged between my seat and Roberto’s. When the van stops at the red light, a white dog stands over the white paper towels and licks my hand. Roberto, seeing her, strokes her head. Biela says relax.
Roberto's eyes meet mine. He asks about our trip. Insecure, I open my mouth and Cedric’s voice emerges from it. The conversation begins and meanders. The topic is now about the black glaciers of Argentina. And the discussion carries on without me.
I watch the Portenos on the streets. The motion of their bodies – swinging hands and legs, orchestrated like a sidewalk dance. The last look of Buenos Aires. Hazy, busy, congested. 2 1/12 weeks ago, I was in Puerto Madryn walking barefoot on the pebble sand, walking next to whales.
I try and breathe deeply to stay present. But the breath comes in shallow and the out breath even shallower. I’ve been avoiding this feeling since we arrived in Buenos Aires. Loss ruminating on the edges of consciousness.
It started with the hat. I don’t know if it was in Puerto Madryn or somewhere on the road – as we took the course on the Atlantic side of Argentina from Ushuaia. Somewhere in a parking lot, a gas station, a field pit stop, somewhere - I lost my Peruvian hat. It was the only thing I bought as a souvenir of the journey. Stitched with hand spun yarn from the Andes. Shapes of vicunas, triangles, tribes. The color of pink freesias, mountain lakes and plains – the colors of the flowering landscape: earth, fire, water.
I wore it in Lake Titicaca, through the long coast of Chile, Bariloche, El Calafate, Ushuaia….it kept my head and spirit warm.
Then a corrupted hardware drive whipped all the photographs I’d taken on the journey. I have a selection of photos on the blog and there are photos on Cedric’s laptop, but these are his selections. Mine are gone – lost in binary ether.
And then the car we named Boris. Who carried us and protected us inside him. I never thought I’d love an SUV, but I do now. I love that car – every single part of him. Solid, loyal, sound. We drove through sand storms, jungles, streams, fog, desert, ice and the highest point along the Andes. We would have never gone as far as el Fin del Mundo, Ushuaia without that wonderful car.
It’s hard to see beyond the loss when you’re in it. Dead leaves over delicate grass. No drink or sleep can cure it. Only complete and total acceptance.
How to end a chapter and begin anew?
Back in San Francisco, only 2 days after we land, at a gathering, a friend asks me about the trips’ highlights. I take a sip of red wine then start recounting the places, midway – there is a long pause, then complete silence. I don’t know what to say…
Words sink into sand. I’m already forgetting the names of the places. I am forgetting, the details of the trip...the hat, photos, the car and now the memory slipping into a hidden place where I can no longer access.
Where did they go? All those wonderful experiences when facts are forgotten? Like the sound of the morning bells in San Miguel de Allende – not like a rounded cathedral bell, but with a clank, that lovely clank of a ball inside a can. Or the canons that boomed with certainty, marking a celebration, a special day named after the saints. Or the color of the sunrise on the pampas en route to El Calafate, as the sun streamed upon the gloss of a golden fleece on the horizon. The circling of a solitary condor while trekking on the glacier of Perito Moreno. The sauna heat of midday cooled by the ocean breeze on your calves walking along Playa Hermosa, the beaches of Santa Teresa. Or the time when you are so lonely, you cry out to the Spirit above, and a green lizard emerges next to you in a tree. Crossing the path of a turtle on New Year’s day, on her way to lay her eggs. Waking up to the sight of a volcano or writing morning pages under the gaze of La Virgin del Panecillo.
Some things are encoded in experience, not revealed in words alone.
We are back at the pink cottage – our refuge before we left on the journey a year ago. It is part of our reentry. For the next 2 weeks, we stay here until we find a home again. We have made a full circle like the ouroboro, the ancient symbol of a snake or dragon eating its own tail representing the cycle of change. The eternal return.
Even though, I am back, something has transformed from within. Something is lost, but I am forever rich in this mystery of change. I am back, but nothing is the same. A new perspective emerges. I begin to see what has always been in front of me - all along.
I do some grocery shopping at the Castro. The cashier has on black eyeliner and smiles, in that flamboyant Castro way. “Your hair, I love it!” While, carding me for the sparkling wine. “Good work!” He says when he sees the birth year. Something I used to loathe, the whole IDing ordeal now I actually don’t mind. In fact, I like the little exchange. “Work it!!” He says as he bags my items. “Have a good night, sweetie.” I wish him a good night too and step out into the open streets, the smell of bay water mixed with marshmallow clouds.
I would have overlooked this exchange in my old life. Such delight and energy. Mystery. Vibrancy. There is a couple walking in front of me. The man hands the woman a purple dildo. For some reason, this is hilarious to me and I start laughing hysterically. In religious Latin America, you would never, ever see such an open exchange in broad day light. And the old me would have surely judged this act, condemned it even. But now, now it’s wonderful. Unexpected, outrageous, perfect. It’s perfect. Everything is the way it should be. And so I begin to realize, how grateful I am for the rainbow flag, the Castro that is audacious enough to exist. I see its magic and I am grateful - to see beyond the purple dildo!
We are walking up Kite Hill. The tree that fell over a year ago is no longer there. Biela looks like May West, her white fur blows against the wind. Manly plants his wet brown nose amidst bushes. A gossamer of fog surrounds the city momentarily. Then a strong wind blows it away and reveals her lovely face. There she is – my City by the Bay. I love you, I shout to the Zephyrs. I love you San Francisco. Thank you for loving me back!
|view of the city from kite hill|