I thought I knew my buddy. We had been friends since college, forty-plus years. After years of jaunts to ski slopes, museums, parks and restaurants, I was sure I had the goods on my dear friend. We’d known each other before our marriages, had been there for births, deaths, illnesses, the full gamut of what life offers. Then one day my pal calls me and asks: “I’ve really wanted to go to Patagonia and George is just not interested; he travels so much for work. Do you want to go? I’ve been working with a travel agent to organize it.”
I felt like this kind of trip deserved some serious consideration: two full weeks and considerable expense. I’ve never traveled more than a weekend without family, so I take a full seventeen seconds before shouting: “Of course I want to go!” There are a couple of details she runs by me before finalizing the itinerary. All I know is that we will be doing lots of hiking (something we have never done together) and visiting glaciers in the stark Patagonian steppe and mountains.
I was so in, helpless to resist an opportunity to move my body and immerse myself in the outdoors. We knew we would be able to give each other space when necessary. Our biggest concern was that I like to sleep in a cool room (less than sixty degrees), while Susan is cold once the temperature dips below seventy-five.
I could not get enough of the jagged, glacier-topped mountains that jut up from almost wherever we walk, ride, or sit. Their enduring presence promotes a deep abiding sense of peace and fullness of spirit.
I learned that Susan’s determination to have something “just right” means that she will walk beyond her hunger danger zone to find just the right place to eat. I learned that when she says “I’m just going to have my coffee and relax” in the morning that I should open the door and then wait fifteen minutes before joining her. I have long known that despite her diminutive stature (five foot one and a size two or zero) she is wiry and strong, but hiking fourteen miles together without flagging demonstrates it in an altogether more graphic way.
We both expressed some concern about the cruise portion of our trip. A small boat designed to navigate the fiords for three days took us down “glacier alley” and around Cape Horn. We worried about our ability to remain friendly and civil in close quarters with other people (let alone each other). An hour and half into the cruise, Susan turns to me at dinner and utters, “I don’t think I’ll ever do another cruise again.” We both burst out laughing, but there prove to be sufficient excursions and hikes to crush our claustrophobic tendencies.
This sense of connection to our planet is an underlying, unspoken, and all encompassing theme.
I became completely absorbed in the vastness of the Patagonian landscape, its openness and the sightings of guanaco, rhea (ostrich), the occasional fox or condor and the elusive puma. I could not get enough of the jagged, glacier-topped mountains that jut up from almost wherever we walk, ride, or sit. Their enduring presence promotes a deep abiding sense of peace and fullness of spirit.
Although we never talk about it, I realize that this is true for Susan, too. We discuss everything from our children to our own childhoods, but this sense of connection to our planet is an underlying, unspoken, and all encompassing theme. It is the chord that binds us to each other, and to the beauty of our world. It was there all along, but it took us to the southernmost point of South America for this to emerge in my consciousness.
One does not stumble upon Patagonia. It takes a determined and committed effort to get there. So, too, does enduring friendship require us to navigate cross-currents, sun, and downpours. I am deeply grateful to have experienced both.