You think you know someone. Forty plus years of being friends, starting in college. Years of jaunts to the ski slopes, museums, countless parks and restaurants and you’re pretty sure you’ve got the goods on your pal. We’ve known each other prior to each of our marriages, have been there for births, deaths, illness, the full gamut of what life offers to friends.
Then one day my pally calls up and puts it out there: “I’ve really wanted to go to Patagonia (news to me) 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.” (Says the consummate planner).
I feel this kind of trip deserves some serious consideration. We’re talking 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) while we visit glaciers and the stark Patagonian steppe and mountains.
I’m so in, helpless to resist an opportunity to move my body and immerse myself in the outdoors. We know we will be able to give each other space when necessary. Our biggest concern is that I like to sleep in a cool room (read less than sixty degrees), while Susan is cold once the temperature dips below seventy-five.
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 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 takes 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) and 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 at the absurdity of this preemptive optimism, and there proves to be sufficient excursions and hikes to crush our claustrophobic tendencies.
I become completely absorbed in the vast steppe of the Patagonian landscape, its openness and predictable sighting of guanaco, rhea (ostrich), the occasional fox or condor and the elusive puma. I could not get enough of the jagged, glacier topped mountains which 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 cord that binds us to each other, and to the beauty of our world. It was there all along, but it took us to the southern most 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 periodic cross currents, sun, and downpours. I am deeply grateful to experience both.