16. Yes We Cannabis with Jose

I met Jose in the kitchen of a hostel in Mendoza, Argentina. I was telling someone my story of what I was doing there…on a journey of self-discovery, wanting to design my life around the passions I found… Jose smacked his hand on the table, leapt up and shouted “YES!” and we’ve been friends ever since.

We went on to have many discussions about leaving the corporate world behind to pursue unconventional lives. Although born and raised in Colombia, he had since headed to the USA to pursue “The American Dream” only to feel that when he achieved that, it didn’t feel so dreamy to him.

It turns out that Jose was on sabbatical. He was traveling around South America, contemplating what his return and subsequent exit from Corporate America would look like.

So we started scheming together…asking questions, telling our stories, brainstorming ideas and congratulating each other on having the courage to create something new.

Typical reactions to a Jose story are along the lines of “you did what?” or “of course that happened to you” as he has a habit of getting himself into interesting, unusual, serendipitous situations…mostly because he is so curious and just an all around life enthusiast.

Everyone should have at least one person they can reach out to for a dose of encouragement mixed with conviction and positivity. That is Jose.

Whether it is being invited into photography shoots, artists’ homes, local Argentinian weddings…or casually telling the story about being pulled off a train and thrown in a Russian jail by mistake…he is a magnet, or maybe a curator…of fascinating situations.

So perhaps I should not have been surprised when I get an email from him to tell me that he has a new career as a “cannabis consultant”.

Me: “You’re a what?”

Jose: “I’m a cannabis consultant, the entrepreneur and expert behind the regulation and development of the legal Cannabis Industry across Latin America. How’s your book coming?”

He had gone back to the USA, shocked his boss and people at the office with a question about what they would do if they could do anything they wanted and then quit. He sold his things, moved to Buenos Aires and dove head first into pursuing this passion of his and trying to do some good in the world.

Jose has been hugely supportive in my journey and I gave him a paper crane to thank him for his encouragement and so many inspiring conversations. You can check out what he’s up to at josegastaldi.com.

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15. Karma Karma Karma Karma Carmen Canadian – La Artista

If ‘what goes around, comes around’ then my dear friend Carmen should have a whole lot of good coming her way and the world is better for it. She is a perfect example of the reason that I started this project. I truly wanted to thank people who I connected with and who inspired me and more than that, I wanted to share their stories to spread the inspiration and community. And what an inspiration she is, wow. You must hear her story.

I met Carmen in Mendoza, Argentina through a mutual friend who said we should meet because the three of us were each living our own experience of ‘following our passions in Argentina’ and how lovely it is to have connections around that.

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Essentially, Carmen had the gift and curse of time as she waited for the application process of an exclusive art program and like any good creative, she could not sit idle in her familiar surroundings in Canada. She had little money and a whim of a plan, but all of the hope, talent and positivity in the world that she could head to Argentina to pursue art and make it work. And the lesson here, world, is that it did. It more than worked.

Carmen is an extremely creative and talented artist and photographer. Her energy, spirit, vulnerability and ingenuity quickly won over the hearts of those at Punto Urbano hostel who were renovating the place. She was able to find a way to stay in Argentina painting murals, learning Spanish and spreading positivity and inspiration to everyone around her for 5 months on a budget that would make most of us gasp in fear.

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But these are the things that make Carmen such a rich and wonderful human being. She wasn’t seeing things through the handcuffs of money that are so easy to get stuck in. She was following her passion and sharing it and what manifested was beautiful…her art, friendships, intercultural experiences, life lessons…

On top of this, she was always so generous. Right now I am wearing a bracelet that she bought for me…a wonderful gift and a tremendous reminder to be generous and follow my passions. Carmen would often pull out a quote printed on a little strip of paper to give to someone she met and connected with or she would do a quick drawing for them and hand it over as a little gift. She is one of the sweetest people I have met and an old soul in a young, beautiful woman who is doing great things in this world. And she laughs at my jokes. I mean, come on, she’s amazing.

She came up with this idea for a collaborative photography project that we did with our Argentinian and Colombian friends. Not only was it fun, but it made me realize that there is so much power in having a community that you can create with, inspiring and supporting each other along the way. I am seeking more of this in my life.

I have learned so much from Carmen…about creativity, generosity, passions, serendipity, friendship and what happens when you follow your heart.

I want to live in a world that supports those who are creating beautiful things and sharing themselves and enriching our lives in the process. Carmen is the perfect example of someone pursuing their passions and infinite potential and I hope her story inspires you as much as it does me. Please check out her work and support her as an artist: http://www.carmenbelanger.com

14. Argentina Loquita!

I figured “Project Paper Crane” would have surprises for me along the way and this was one of the first. I gave a paper crane to a country. There was no way that I could do otherwise. I came to Argentina to search for my passions, as cliche, ‘Hollywood Movie’, or vague as that may sound. When I decided that I was going to quit my job and sell my house, car and things to do this, I knew that Argentina was where I would go almost as if there was no decision point, only a discovery of an idea that had been cuddled up in me all along, waiting to be uncovered.

I came to Argentina in particular because I had this innate idea that it is a country that embraces passion to the extreme, not really having a particular reason to believe this. I knew the sexy tango originated here and that Buenos Aires is considered the Paris of South America. I knew the fútbol fans took passion to an other-wordly level. I am passionate about wine and madly in love with nature and Argentina offered the tranquilo Mendocino wine country at the base of the Andes mountains and the wild and spectacular Patagonia.

And all of these things exceeded expectations, blew my mind and lassoed my heart as I wandered through Argentina experiencing it all. This is where the real love affair happened on a much deeper, more personal level.

I have to start with the people, they are truly a special breed. A ‘welcome’ only and always happens with a kiss and this goes for everyone. You are received so warmly and immediately feel invited into being here. There are friends that I have known a short while in Argentina who I feel I could call with the most tiny or massive, insignificant or life-or-death favor and they would be there in a heart beat and this is true across the board.

I don’t know if there is anything like an Argentinian friend. They are so loyal and so flaky in a way that makes complete sense…eventually. They are the warmest and the most chill and the most crazy, also in a way that makes complete sense…eventually. They are some of the most characteristically present people who I have ever encountered. I do not believe they even have a word or phrase describing “to be excited for something”, or rather, “to look forward to something” or even “to wonder about something” because they are much to occupied with accepting what is and enjoying it.

Maybe this is why they can make the moment last longer and longer as if they have extra hours in the day that the rest of the world doesn’t have. “You can sleep when you’re under the ground,” I was told once. There is always time to stay a bit longer or make an unexpected stop along the way to somewhere, responding to the moment as it presents itself. Sure this means that on the receiving end of things, you could be waiting hours for your Argentinian friend to show up, but they will…or they won’t…and you’ll understand. And when they do show up, it will not be empty handed and they’ll give you a big kiss and maybe even say, “La noche está en pañales!” (The night is in diapers!)

Sometimes the ‘embrace of the moment’ presents itself in the art of the asado, the Argentinian bbq, an event that lasts for hours and hours and it is about so much more than the food. There is an extraordinary amount of meat and all different kinds, such that it can be put on the grill over an open fire and caressed with smoke for hours as it slowly ripens to juicy goodness and can then be served in waves and waves of meat. It’s all about patience and intimacy, gently coaxing out the flavor and passing the time together. It’s about taking something as simple as meat and fire and making something extraordinary out of it.

And there is the maté tradition, the loose leaf tea that is poured into a gourd (traditionally) and drunk through a metal straw, community-style. There is great tradition around this simple ritual, as each person takes their turn drinking the maté as it is offered to them, a shared experience. It’s an art. My good friend said, “I love maté because it is doing something without doing anything” and this is so true. It’s the shared, interactive experience, an excuse to hang out and talk; it creates a space. You go to a friend’s house, meet in the park or plaza, or arrive to the mountain hut…and you share maté.

They are emotional and expressive with their beautiful, melodic Spanish and have been so open and patient with teaching me. They are so passionate that calling someone “honey” in an American movie translates to “mi vida!” (my life!) in the Spanish subtitles. They are often creative and artistic to the point that it is noticeable as a cultural trait. They are all about family and relationships and romance and affection and you can see that in any park or plaza where people are gathered, playing guitar (there’s always a guitar), drinking maté or deep in embrace and kisses anywhere, anytime. You hear it too as you walk down the street and there is a chorus of “Que hermosa”, “Que linda rubia”, “Sin palabras”, “Mama mía, mira”, “Mi vida”…basically, your beauty is such that it transcends language.

Those I have met and shared experiences with in Argentina strike me as exceptionally grateful people, accepting things as they are and having deep appreciation for what they have. The economy in Argentina has had a rough go to say the least and I can’t help but acknowledge the integrity with which the people I have encountered have chosen to embrace this and to just love life, whatever the conditions may be. On top of that, they are so generous and they still find ways to travel and be resourceful with what they have.

And then there is the land. It is a massive country, topping out as the eighth largest. The nature here is simply spectacular. Patagonia is easily as stunning as your wildest dreams and more expansive than you can fathom. The Andes mountains flirt with different personalities as they march from the striking south with its gusty wind and dramatic glaciers, through the deep blue lakes and up into the dusty, color-streaked and mineral-rich desert. The nature is such that I have been brought to tears and lost my breath from being overwhelmed by the views in front of me. I could explore here forever.

I do not want to generalize and of course it is not perfect or all roses, my words here just represent my personal experience, which has been a powerful one. I have tried to write this post many times and have found it is simply something that really has to be experienced to get it. And it just so happens that I have discovered my passions and begun falling fully into them while wandering this amazing country. This has not gone unnoticed and I am forever grateful, which is why when I had decided to move on to Colombia for some time, I took a day to go into the mountains and give thanks to Argentina, this place that has captured and taken up space in my heart forever.

I did a simple ceremony and buried a paper crane in the earth and made a pact to always return to my second home.

*I was told at one point that the Argentinian Flag is symbolic of the sky (blue), glaciers (white) and lakes (blue)…so hopefully the picture of Perito Moreno glacier captures that.

9. Lucas the Mindful Gaucho

Lucas is a character out of the pages of a dreamy novel that takes place mostly on horse back, in the mountains and always with adventures that are grand in their spontaneity and simplicity. I was born with a dimple when I smile and he was born with a twinkle in his eye; it’s always there. I met this dapper gaucho on an afternoon in the Andes mountains outside of Mendoza, Argentina and had the loveliest of afternoons. Read all about it and check out the photos here. We stayed in touch after that day, meeting for long lunches and lingering glasses of wine, talking about the virtues of a simple and true life. Lucas will say things like, “you can sleep when you’re beneath the ground, be alive now.” He is the most present person I have ever met, so present that I believe he often surprises himself with thoughts and whims that seem to jump into his existence for him to respond to, moment to moment. And he does, bringing you along for the ride if you’re willing. And when I was, he brought me along on the most delightful adventure I’ve ever had while being abroad…involving horse whisperers, sunrise cattle drives, meals cooked over fire, sleeping under stars and buying goat skins in the desert. Story and photos here.

I cannot say enough about Lucas. He is larger than life. He’s nowhere and everywhere. He has nothing and he has everything, and while he is lifting the crinkled metal hood back onto his dilapidated car after tinkering around, he does so with a knitted, white buret on his head and a silk scarf around his neck. He is incredibly generous and a gentleman. He doesn’t like to work and works harder than many people ever will, but he loves what he does so is that really work? He’s an artist. As a teenager, his curiosity took him to the desert to live with the Huarpes people and learn their unique leather craft. He’s a gaucho. He looks like he was born on a horse and has that cowboy swagger that makes girls swoon, but he doesn’t even realize it. He smokes a helluva lot of cigarettes and will probably live to be 200 years old just based on his life views. I’m so grateful to have met Lucas and when he gave me a tiny metal medallion with a Mapuche symbol on it as a gift, I gave him a paper crane to thank him for our time together and who he is.

4., 5., 6. – The Ever Present and Playful Argentinos

Out of all the amazing people in the world, I always wonder why I don’t seem to end up next to them on flights, on chairlifts, or on the bus…places where I have spent a lot of time. Or perhaps I just haven’t asked the right questions or I’ve put my headphones in too fast. When you’re on a bus ride from Buenos Aires to Bariloche in Argentina, you have plenty of time to take an 8 hour nap and still talk to your compañero for several hours, over dinner, and share side by side bus seats that double as your beds for the night.

This is how I met Lucho. I saw that he was reading a book that I love (The Four Agreements o Cuatro Acuerdos) and several mates later, I had a new Spanish teacher and a new friend.By the time we got to Bariloche we were making plans to meet up throughout the week. Each day he and his friends would pick me up from my hostel to take me along for their adventures.

Sebastian and Luciana, quite possible the cutest couple alive were just as welcoming and friendly to me like I had been part of the plan the entire time. On one particularly special day, we went to a rocky beach of a spectacularly blue lake and spent the day playing and creating and following the rays of the sun. We made games out of rocks and sunken logs, we snorkeled, played card games, picnicked. When the shade took over, we picked up and found a new sun soaked beach and they kept me entertained with headstands and juggling. Read about our day and check out pictures here!

I was bursting with gratitude for meeting such friendly, generous, genuine people. What I have experienced and learned from them is this intense sense of living in the present moment perfectly balanced with playfulness and creativity. When I am with them, I think I know what is going on, only to find out that none of us do because it is all about being spontaneous and going with the natural flow. I feel so relaxed and not worried with them. It is the antithesis of living in a manner where busyness is glorified. They also seem to see art everywhere and their imaginations manifest into real life to be shared and enjoyed. This has taught me to let my imagination out to exercise too, and to share the joys that show up when I do.