Life is like the weather in Patagonia.

If you’ve ever been to Patagonia, you know what I’m talking about. Even if you haven’t, you’ve gone through life, and I’m sure it’s felt like this at some point.

This time is such a time. Stay safe!

You’ve checked the weather forecast and are expecting a fine day.

You open your eyes, being greeted by warm, balmy sunlight. You optimistically start into your day hike. The path is easy, some rocks are scattered, but you are feeling full of energy, ready to tackle any obstacles. Suddenly – a strong breeze hits you by surprise. You’ve heard other people talk about these tempestuous winds that seem to occur from nowhere. They’re infamous in Patagonia and can knock you off your feet. You stumble around a little, but keep going. The wind is strong, but you are stronger.

After all you listened and brought a windbreaker. And a down jacket. The cold is hitting your face, but you keep walking. It’s getting warmer again. Time to let go of some of your protective layers. 

You eventually turn into a valley that looks very hazy. This is the path to your destination. The good weather starts to fade and is slowly being replaced by fog and rain. You brace yourself for the weather. One layer after the other. Knowing that it’s never enough. As you’re walking further and further with the weather getting worse and worse you find yourself torn. Should you continue in this miserable weather? Will it be worth the struggle? Or should you simply turn back into the luring safety of the sunlight? You decide to continue because you want to reach your destination, the end of the trail. After all this is what you came here for. 

The rain stops for a bit. Then comes back. Time seems to stretch endlessly. An hour’s walk feels like a never-ending period of time. You really wonder why you’re here, but you simply keep going. The bad weather conditions are at their peak. You suddenly find yourself in a snowstorm just as you hit the end of the trail. And the final view is blurry and hazy. No trace of what you wanted to see. The walk seems pointless now. 

Except suddenly you remember that it is not only about the goal but also your way towards it.

So you put on a smile, walk back through the ice and snow that eventually turns into rain. You can see a bit of sunshine trying its best to break through the clouds. It succeeds for a minute, sending you a feeling of ease and warmth even though the rain continues lightly. It never really goes away, it’s always there, even when you thought it had just left. 

And then you head back, and suddenly you are overlooking a beautiful view. A view you had not appreciated before when you were fixated on your goal and only your goal. But now you’re taking it in fully. It looks mesmerizing.

Your heart lifts as did the clouds. You already forgot about the bad weather. Gratitude and joy are overwhelming you. Only your soaked shoes trace back to where you came from. You’re peeling off your protective layers, ready to enjoy and face the sunlight. Only to realize that rain & wind might come again. That’s what the weather in Patagonia is famous for after all. But you feel stronger now. You are not that scared of the weather anymore. Maybe next time there will be sunshine at the end of the trail. In Patagonia, anything is possible.

Life is like the weather in Patagonia.

My litte refuge in Jardín, part 2.

Note: This is part 2 of my story in Jardín, Colombia. If you haven’t read the first part, you can find it here.

I’m back in Jardín. After a week away, I was overjoyed to be back at my little house. It really felt like coming home, a feeling I haven’t had in a long time.

I’m back into my routine here. Yoga, meditation, language study, writing, translating, reading…

Every three to four days I head into town to do my grocery shopping. As I live a 30-min walk away, I don’t feel the need to go every day, especially as there are enough things I want to get done at ‘home’. Walking into town, however, is beautiful. Colorful houses with flowers lining the way. An ocean of banana palm trees. Everything is very lush, thanks to the torrential rain that one encounters almost every day. Luckily, it usually only lasts for a short time and the sun will make its way through the clouds as if it had always been there. People here don’t seem to mind the rain; they must be used to it. Many walk around, despite the rain falling down. Others calmly wait under an awning for it to stop. The houses in Jardín mostly have protruding roofs so that one can still walk around a block without having to step into the rain. I don’t mind it much either, as the sound of the rain keeps me very concentrated when I’m sitting on my balcony. 

Back in town, I’m dragging my huge shopping bag with me. As I’m only going shopping around every 4 days and eat in 99% of the time, I always do a lot of shopping. I love being able to buy a lot of local produce here. Avocados, mandarin oranges, and bananas are very ‘económico’ (affordable).

There’s an elderly man standing on a street corner with a wheelbarrow full of fruit and vegetables. I’ve purchased of him several times and it’s always a nice encounter. No matter how much I buy, he’ll point out every single item, asking me whether I don’t need any avocados, bananas, tree tomatoes… It’s like a game and I mostly refuse, buying only what I came for. He’s very good as his selling game though and always gets me to buy more of a quantity than I had intended because ‘if you buy 8, I’ll give them to you for 2000 pesos, if you buy 2, they cost 800’. How can I say ‘no’ to such a sweet offer? I remember one conversation we had, where I told him the price of avocados in the western world. His jaw dropped (his price is about a quarter of what you’d pay in many other countries) and he couldn’t believe it. I smiled and said ‘That’s why foreigners here go crazy and buy so many avocados. I just hope you no won’t raise the price for them!’ as he grinned at me with his toothless smile.

After all the shopping, it is time for some ice cream and/or coffee. The ice cream at the local ‘heladeria’ (gelateria) cost 2000 Pesos (about 60 Cents) for 2 scoops. The owner must know me by now because every time I’m in town I’ll pay a visit.

My next favorite place is cafés. Jardín is situated in the coffee district of Colombia and thus has great coffee at a dirt-cheap rate. You pay 1000 pesos for a cup, which equals 30 Cents and is nothing compared to the ‘tinto’, or what is called black coffee here, elsewhere in Colombia. It tastes excellent and I end up buying my favorite cafe’s ground coffee to make back at the house.

People in Jardín seem to love their coffee culture. You can see mostly men in their cowboy hats sitting around the ‘plaza’ sipping on their coffee, observing the scene and chatting with each other. The main square is always busy and the men in their cowboy hats seem to belong here just like the colorful chairs that are scattered around the center of the square. Sometimes you see a horse ride by or a little ‘tuc-tucs’ called ‘moto-taxi’ here.

It’s noon. Some stores close for their 2-hour lunch break. I decide to head back home to eat there. Cooking in South-America always means making everything from scratch. There are hardly any frozen or premade meals. This had bothered me in the beginning, but I now embrace the time to prepare my meals from scratch, soaking beans overnight, making my own peanut butter and even chocolate! Those are really mindful times for me, off my phone and electronics, creating something.

Niña! Someone is calling from outside of my house. It is the property manager, the neighbor who lives close by and who is in charge while the owner is away.

Niña! It’s taken me a while until I notice that that is me. I don’t think she knows my real name even though I’ve been here for weeks…

Laundry powder in her hand she mumbles something. I only understand 10%, grabbing the laundry powder saying good-bye. I guess I’ll find out eventually what she meant. As nice as she seems, communication is always a struggle and leaves me frustrated and highly doubting my Spanish skills.

I guess in class you never practice listening to elderly people who slur and mumble their speech plus have an accent….

Anyway, I’m finally able to do laundry. Having a washing machine is pure luxury. The number of times I had to wash all of my clothes by hand are uncountable. Yes, there are also laundromats in South-America but only when you’re in a city. So, I’m super stoked by this ‘luxurious household item’ that I don’t have to pay for using. I’m looking at my clothes, the things that have survived one year of constant wear-and-tear. When packing, I thought about all the items I’d miss, wondering how I could live without them. If you asked me now what those items were, I wouldn’t be able to tell. (And I still think I overpacked for my trip).

I’m hanging up my clothes outside watching the sky closely. It’s sunny right now, but from experience, I know the sky could turn grey within minutes and create a downpour.

That’s why it’s so beautifully green here and plants flourish. I pick up some mandarin oranges from the tree as well as some tree tomatoes and feijoa (pineapple guava). Colombia is a paradise for fruit lovers !

Freshly picked from the garden: mandarin orange, guava, tree tomato

I left the door open and suddenly a hummingbird bashes through the opening. Its buzzing fills the whole room. As quickly as it appeared it already left. I often wish I could capture these moments on camera. They have to stay ingrained in my memory instead.

Back on the balcony, back to writing. Every time I type I can’t believe that I am doing this for fun. Right now, it’s the best activity I can think of. I had planned on traveling the coast, hitting the beaches. Yet right now, nothing feels better than staying in my little ‘home’, wondering where the next one will be….

Experiencing culture the unglamorous way – customer service stories

‘Tiene otro pasaporte?’ (Do you have another passport?)

I am standing at the Claro phone provider customer service booth staring at the customer service agent with a puzzled face. I’m here to purchase a new sim card in order to register it. What does that have to do with it?

Enough that it will take two hours and several ‘I’m sorry but I cannot register your phone’. Turns out the fact that my passport ‘number’ has letters in it makes the system refuse it. My suggestion 20 min into the talk to put zeros instead of the letters is not reacted upon. 2h later and several talks with the ‘boss’ where my agent would run back to every 5 minutes, that would then turn out to be the solution. At that time all I can do is sigh, my back starting to ache as I’m carrying all my luggage with me on my way out of town. 

This had been my third visit to customer service in offices all across Medellin. 

Purchasing a sim card can be so easy and yet such a hassle at the same time. Basically, I wasn’t able to register my phone with the sim card I had bought at a small store. What happens then is that eventually your phone gets blocked for the usage of local SIM cards in the country, an experience I had encountered before and didn’t want to repeat.

Anyway, nobody seemed to know the correct solution until the moment when I was about to leave the city and I was told I should return to the headquarters immediately as my phone was in danger of being blocked any day from now. This is how I ended up with my two backpacks standing at the service desk for two hours, delaying my trip for three….

‘Voy a venir manana’. (I will come tomorrow)

On the phone with the technician of the internet provider in Jardin telling me that he would show up the day after to finally fix my internet that’s been broken for days. Getting an appointment in the first place seemed to be like going on a treasure hunt, including wrong phone numbers, two hour lunch-breaks at the phone provider’s office right when I wanted to talk to them and eventually finding a person to make a phone call and to beat the customer service jungle (and your various ‘for X press 1, for Y press 2….) for me as I couldn’t deal with all the technical Spanish and questions about certain ‘numbers/information’ that was linked with 

The irony of the story is of course that after 2 promised appointments and me waiting in the house for 2 full days the technician shows up when I’m in town for a couple of hours….. so after another final ‘Voy a volver mañana’ (I’m coming back tomorrow) he’s finally standing at my doorsteps with a new router in his hands.

‘Ahorita’ (Now/Soon)

I’m sitting in a metal chair in a small windowless office. Across from me, a tech-guy working on many computers. Among those, mine. I bought it here, in the tech-mall in Medellin after my tablet pretty much called it a day. I had spent 2 days, visiting 12 shops to find a store that had something somewhat affordable for my meager backpacker’s budget. I just needed a gadget bigger than my phone to write on. Easier said than done, When I asked my tour guide in Medellin where to go to buy a laptop computer he asked me ‘Aren’t you going to any other country where you could buy one?’ I knew what he meant: Electronics are expensive in Colombia. Sadly I had no choice as I urgently needed a new gadget. So, electronics shopping in Spanish. I realized very quickly that this was going to be pushing me to my limits of the Spanish language. Stating my requirements in a store, I’d be rattled down a list of computer specifications in one breath, leaving me completely confused and overwhelmed. This hunt would give me a headache. After way too many long-winded conversations, I finally purchased the oldest and heaviest gadget I could find – which was just somewhat affordable. 

I had to return to the mall though, wanting to get the language changed as navigating everything in Spanish turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I had expected.

I was told to head to the technician’s office, the tiny cubicle on top of the shop. He gestured me to wait and started looking at the matter. He said he’d take care of it ‘ahorita’ – that should have been activating my alarm bells. Despite ‘ahora’ meaning now, I’d see its meaning as very flexible. It could mean anything between 5 min to several hours. So here I was, standing at the corner of the room for a good 20min as another customer occupied the only proper chair. People were squeezing past me. Not much was spoken. After asking for an update and just hearing it’s going to be finished ‘ahorita’, I gave up and kept quiet. Eventually, the other customer got his computer back and I was gestured to take a seat. 20 min turned into an hour. No update, nothing said. Finally, I stood up, saying I’d go for a coffee and wait elsewhere. That was welcomed (nothing mentioned about when I could expect this installation to be finished). Coming back about an hour later I was told the installation was ‘almost’ done. It already seemed a very long installation to me but what was I going to say? 10 min later, the employee then told me that it wasn’t successful and I’d have to pay to get a completely new language pack installed. Another hour to wait.

By that time, all I could do was give in. I had been at the shop for 2.5h. I left, walking around aimlessly, ending up in a supermarket with a coworking space where I killed time.

Finally 1.5h later I was able to pick up my computer. Sucess!! Or so I thought. I’m typing this post currently from my phone that I hooked up on an external keyboard as my computer refuses to do anything.  Another visit to the tech mall coming up……

It’s always a headache sorting these things out when you’re in your own country where you know the procedures a little and speak the language. Being abroad though adds a whole new layer to this.

I remember during high-school years how a friend of mine whose family had recently moved to Germany always had to take care of this kind of matters for her parents (she was 13 at the time). I didn’t understand why until now, realizing that she had to translate for her parents as she was the one with the best German at the time….

This is one of the not-so-fun points about being abroad but it leaves you motivated to learn the language better and you get a crash course in cultural understanding 😉