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

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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.

12. Explore. Learn. Share. with Elizabeth Gilbert

This is the first paper crane that I’ve given out to someone who I haven’t been able to personally meet and yet I hope to someday. I’m a writer. I’m in the process of writing my first book right now and I am hoping to find a mentor to court.

This summer, I ended up in my hometown of Chicago unexpectedly for some months. While sitting by the campfire with my sweet brother, he casually mentioned that he wrote into the ‘My Brother, My Brother and Me’ podcast with a question about me for Elizabeth Gilbert, the guest that week.

In his question, he had shared with her the quick version of my story…that I had left the corporate world and sold my things to go on a journey of pursuing my passions and writing a book in South America. He was writing to her as someone who rather infamously went on her own journey that she told the story of in Eat, Pray, Love…to ask her how to support me even when he couldn’t necessarily relate to what I was doing.

Her answer was perfect and tender. She said something along the lines of…when someone does something like that…gives up everything familiar to them to go out and wander and face fears and discover…you have to understand that to not do so would be akin to agony and death. They absolutely have to go on that journey and the best thing you can do is to acknowledge and support that, even if you do not understand it at all.

I was so star struck. I have read her books and it is obvious she is a very talented writer. I really relate to her book “Pilgrims” which she describes as something like an applied/experiential masters program in life as she wandered around and wrote down stories of those she encountered. So there’s that. The girl can write.

And then she takes it to a different level. She has become an icon of self-discovery and personal transformation for those who read her journey and were inspired and she interacts with these people every day. She posts lessons and guidance and practices and stories on facebook and makes people believe in themselves. She could’ve just reveled in all of her best-selling glory, but I really see her taking responsibility with this role that she didn’t necessarily ask for and using it to do good.

That is admirable. That is the type of mentor I would like to court.

She was on Oprah’s ‘Super Soul Sunday’ recently and she started talking about the hero’s journey just as I was writing down the words “hero’s journey” in a scholarship proposal I was working on. Among other synchronicities that showed up with her recently, I decided I needed to “break my rules” and send a paper crane to thank her for impacting my life in these little ways that she doesn’t even know about because we’ve never met.

I think good people are kind even when no one is watching. Thanks Liz!

10. The Magnetic Maggie May

It might be safe to say that Maga was my first friend in Mendoza. She worked at the first hostel I stayed at and was such a delight, I think people would stay there just to be in her presence. She clearly loves what she does…meeting, entertaining, and charming people from all over the world, alway practicing her many languages. When she found out I wanted to learn Spanish, she refused to talk to me in English…until I had at least tried in Spanish first. Unless we were talking about love, haha, then it was all sorts of passionate gushing conversations in whatever words came first.

When I first met her, she was saving to go travel in Europe. She’s Argentinian in blood and Irish in heart and it was a dream for her to go there. When I came back to Mendoza 6 months later to live, she met me with open arms and her addicting smile and laugh….yeah, my first Mendocina friend. I was there a few months later when she made a dream come true and took off for Ireland. This is especially noteworthy because of how difficult it can be for Argentinians to travel due to ongoing issues with their peso and such. So as not to turn this into a political post, let’s just admire that she wanted to do this so badly and worked so hard for it and she did it.

This hostel was my home while I looked for a home and Maga was a delight to have around as a friend. When you see someone with such a glowing personality, it makes you wonder how people experience you. I realize that it is almost impossible to not smile at someone who is smiling at you…with their mouth and their eyes. She is a happy, wild soul and I had to give her a paper crane to thank her for…well, being her. Now go visit her at Punto Urbano hostel in Mendoza, or invite her to visit you! (especially if you live in Europe)

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.

7. and 8. Aussie Andrew and Mariela from Argentina

Oh Andrew, my hostel buddy. Andrew moved into the hostel where I was living while I looked for an apartment in Mendoza. He was not another traveler passing through; he had come from Australia to look for a job and live in Argentina. He had been doing this for his early 20s in other countries too, becoming fluent in Spanish and an old soul in the process. Andrew is just lovely to be around, and I don’t mean to imply a crush on him…54 year old Adriana who was also living in the hostel took care of that. He just has that magnetic smile and personality and being in the unusual situation of living in a hostel surrounded by transient travelers, it was refreshing to have a friend around. We’d often get into meaningful chats together about living in other countries, learning Spanish, World Cup plans, our respective loves and even the stars. I still owe him a birth chart reading. He seems so comfortable with who he is and this I admire.

And I got to witness the relationship unfold between him and the lovely Mariela, another beautiful soul. Mariela is always smiling, and not in a “faking happiness” way, but rather in a very genuine way that makes you want to just hug her and try harder to understand her Spanish. It was in talking with Mariela about life purpose, passions, meditation and such that I realized my Spanish had moved beyond ordering at restaurants and asking for directions. Mariela introduced us to her other friends, which invited us into a local experience of Mendoza. There is simply an ease and happiness you feel from each of them and even more so from the the two of them together as an adorable couple. I spent the last of my days living in Mendoza in their company, visiting our friends’ organic farm and then cooking dinner from the fresh produce we gathered while we are there. I was assured that I now have friends for life and am so grateful for that.

3. Igor and Melting into his Passions

I had just returned to the town of Bariloche from a 4 day trek in the nearby mountains, when I met Igor. He had just returned from days of rock climbing in the same range. We were both in love with the nature surrounding us and in love with the fact that we had narrowly missed the crazy winds and rain of Patagonia that graced us for the next week. So over long, lingering breakfasts drinking mate and looking out over the lake we talked about authors, spirituality, cultural differences; we traded stories of our current adventures and dreams for the next steps.

Many things were inspiring to me about about this equal parts French and Swiss adventurer, but two things struck me the most, perhaps because these things are on my mind with my current adventure.

  1. He is in love with rock climbing and surfing. He lives in Switzerland now and every chance he gets, you’ll find him hiking the mountains for some back country skiing, finding a wall to scale, or getting after a break up the coast. Many people go around the world to travel and I respect that for a passion in itself…it certainly is for me. And on this adventure, Igor was combining his passion for travel with his passions for climbing and surfing. The experiences he is having and the connections with people he is making are extraordinary, and for me, a reflection of what happens when you get completely lost in what makes you feel the most alive.
  2. I also noticed him soaking in all of the nuances of the Argentine culture, adopting them as naturally as if it had always been his way of being. …Taking mate in the mornings and afternoons, passing it around to share with anyone interested and sparking conversations in the mean time. …Relaxing into the night with the late setting sun to simmer for a while before thinking about a late dinner, 10pm at the earliest. Something about the way he did this seemed so natural, like he wasn’t just immersed in a different culture, but like he had actually melted into it, taking it as his own while he is here in a way I had not noticed the masses doing.

A talented photographer to boot, it was easy for me to get carried away in his experiences too. To me he is having a unique, very deep, very personal trip, journey, adventure. I really wanted to give him a crane to thank him for his company, for making me think about some things, and for the inspiration. What are the passions that I get lost in home or away? What do I seek out when I go to explore a new place? How do I melt into a culture?