Monday, February 22, 2010

Club Andino Cholila goes to Lago Cholila

The day began early after a night of partying to bid farewell to another volunteer from Sweeden who was leaving the mountain. We met up with 7 kids from town and a few more adults. I was exhausted from very few hours of sleep but excited for the adventure that lay ahead. Some of the adults had arranged for a local shuttle to take us to the trail head. The shuttle dropped us off at the end of a long dirt road next to a fiercly rapid river. The kids were still a little groggy from the morning and being shy with each other. We all shared some cookies and Mate before setting out on the trail.

At the beginning there was a river, with a rickety old bridge, and a gate marked, no trespassing. Before any of us crossed over the side to the ¨private property´ one of the adults in the group explained to us that there are certain things that can´t be owned, and water is one of them. He explained that the lake was here on this earth for all of us, humans, animals, and other creatures, to enjoy and to live from. That when we cross past these signs into ´private property´ we must first consider the land and listen. The kids sat in silence and awe listening with bated breath as the heavy gate was opened. The first kid walked across the bridge nervously, the second a little more confidently, and progressively they gained confidence and cheered each other on as they crossed the bridge.

We walked down a road for quite a bit, all of us chatting and getting to know each other better, the wind blowing to loosen the spaces in between us. One little girl about 10 years old was a little bit pokey and so I hung back and was a little bit pokey with her. She asked me questions about San Francisco and I asked her questions about Cholila. As we walked, she pointed out the different plants to me and handed me a mushroom to eat. I must admit I was a little nervous at first, but then she began eating one, so decided to take my chances and I popped it in my mouth. It was so sweet and tender in the middle! We kept walking along eating and talking about the medicinal properties of the plants along the trail and by the time we got to the lake I was a heck of a lot more knowledgable about the plants here and damn near full!

We climbed over another fence and passed through a valley and finally arrived at the lake. A few of us quickly stripped down to our underware and jumped into the lake. I had been warned before I came that these alpine lakes were really cold but I thought with all my surfing in the pacific I had grown thick skin. But I was wrong! I, unlike the kids, only lasted a few mins in that cold cold water! But man, the kids, they were in the water for hours! Hours!

When it was almost lunchtime, we put everything we had in the middle. Dario told the kids that food tasted better when we shared it and that we had pleanty for everyone. And pleanty we did have! Argentinian Pizza, veggies, crackers, lunch meats, cheese, it was a feast!

I was sitting next to a terribly adorable 7 year old boy. All he had brought for lunch were crackers and a can of very cheap meat mush (in total the lunch probably cost about 60 cents). He started into the can slowly and cautiously put his crackers in the middle. He spread his crackers with the mush as he looked longingly at the food in the middle of the circle.

I saw the longing in his eyes and so I gently touched his shoulder and said, ´How rich we are when we share!¨ then I asked him if I could make him a little sandwhich. He nodded and quickly gobbled up the sandwhich. Next thing I knew he was digging into the center with the rest of us. There was so much food we had leftovers and all of us ate all day long. It was great--a real treat.

One thing that´s really struck me, my whole time here in Argentina, is the culture of sharing. Years ago not far into my friendship Karina, from La Cumbre, taught me an argentine saying ¨Donde come uno, comen dos¨, ´Where one eats, so can two.¨ It´s been quite a learning experience for me to live somewhere were everyone truly shares. From the strong culture of sharing when we drink mate to the nice grandma on the bus who insisted that I share the 4 candies she had with her on my first bus ride in Argentina, sharing is an integral part of argentine culture. I´ve been reflecting on the value of the individual in the United States and how sad it is that we have a dominant culture that is so void of the richness of sharing.

As the sun moved along in the sky, our waterbottles ran empty. A few of the kids ran to the lake and dunked their water bottles into the lake, tilted their heads back and took a long drink. Just like that--drank straight from the lake!

¨ Is that ok?¨ I asked one of the adults.
¨What--is what ok?

¨The water? You can just drink from the lake like that? Really¨


I sat in awe. Before my trip began, my dear friend Clara who is from Argentina and spent many years living in these mountains in Patagonia told me of the water here. The night before I left, she came over to my house, we were looking at my overstuffed and overweight backpack trying to firgure out what to remove. She kept insisting that I wouldn´t need my water filter here--
¨The water is the most sacred and special water you will ever taste. You don´t need to filter it.¨ She told me as she took my hnd and helped me set the water fiter down--to be packed away for another trip.

I couldn´t beleive it even though I saw the glimmer of hope in her eyes when she told me of the water.

But there I was at Lago Cholila, about to fill my water bottle up and drink straight from a lake--for the first time in my life. As I lifted the bottle to my lips, I said a quiet prayer of gratitude and drank deeply.

A cool blast of the water filled my tastebuds, It was like I could taste every bit of the waters freshness. The coolness of the water flowed down my throat and spread out through my stomach.

This is how my ancestors drank, right from the earth like this. This is how all our ancestors drank at one time.

I felt connected with ancient roots taking the water in like this, I felt my connection with the ancestors of the land here in Patagonia and South America. I looked out at the children splashing and laying in the lake. I saw shadows of their ancestors as children playing with them.

And I realized how important this day was.

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