Monday, October 14, 2013

On love and volcanoes

Supplemental Material

First, before spilling my guts in a sticky mess of vomited words, the GoPro video from splitboarding the sh*t out of Villarica.


Where my previous post was all about feeling my strength, this one is about the Achilles' heel that has brought me, over and over and over, to my knees. I wrote this post while sitting on a bus to Argentina with a heart that broke at the foot of Vólcan Villarica in Pucón.

Vólcan Villarica viewed from the adventure town of Pucón

Hello Villarica

My arrival in Pucón was innocent enough, having showed up with nothing but volcanoes on the mind, intent on climbing Villarica, the 2860 meter high volcano that visibly gargles a lake of lava, and that looms behind Pucón, as if to make sure the town stays pressed to the shore of Lago Villarica vs. making a midnight escape to the south.

Technically, you are only allowed to climb Villaríca under the escort of a certified Chilean guide unless you are a card-carrying member of a mountaineering society (I am not) and get special permission from CONAF (Chile's Forest Service). To get to the base of Villarica, I would have to hitchhike, something that is modus operandi in Chile but that I feel (illogically) nervous about. Although I had been assured I could both find an early ride up to the mountain (“A blonde girl like you? Two seconds, someone stops.”) and sneak around CONAF, I was made nervous by images in my head of:
(a) being kidnapped and stuffed in a trunk and cut up into little pieces while hitchhiking,
(b) being stopped and questioned by CONAF rangers who I wouldn’t be able to understand or communicate with, and
(c) getting caught in some sketchy mountain situation while all alone on a volcano made me think that maybe it would be best to follow the rules and find a guide.

I stopped by half a dozen guiding outfits around town, asking about randonee tours, and haggling for discounts. A combination of “I’m a student,” “I have my own equipment,” and “I’m a bright-eyed smiley girl who would love swap mountain stories with you” got me down to $60 at one shop, and I decided that was worth the ride, the company, and the not being stopped and questioned by CONAF rangers.

Climbers headed up the flanks of Villarica

Two days and a miserable bout of sudden-onset travelers diarrhea later, the weather cleared and it was time to go. I obediently showed up at 6:30 am to a dark, empty shop, not joined by the owner until 6:45 (Chilean time…I should have known), and didn't actually leave until 7:30 when we phagocytosed another group with their own set of guides when the rest of the group I was supposed to be with never showed up. There were only three of us with skis: me with my splitboard and two guides from the other group, one of whom had skins and the other hauled his all the way on his back. I quickly latched myself onto to the randonnee skier—Diego—and although he wasn't technically my guide and I not technically his client we quickly left the pack of walkers behind as we scooted our way up the mountain.

The climb

Diego and I bonded as we climbed, chatting, telling stories, and teasing each other.
Diego: “Are you okay?”
Me: “Yes, fine.”
“You are sure?”
“Yep, great.”
“You are not tired?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Una chica muy fuerte. Strong girl.”
Diego: “You need sunscreen, mi gringa.”
Me: “I just put on sunscreen, I’m fine.”
“Okay, but if you cry later I will be angry.”
“If I cry later, I’ll owe you a beer.”
“Two beers.”
Diego: “Why do you do this?”
Me: “Do what?”
“Climb volcanoes.”
“I dunno, I like it. Why do you?”
“I’m a man.”
“The hell is that supposed to mean?”
Diego: “You like this?”
Me: “Yes, wow, it’s beautiful.”
“The volcano. The views. It’s beautiful.”
“Yes Diego, you are beautiful.”
“Oh thank you, I am glad you think so.”

View of Llaima from the side of Villarica

I found out that Diego was 28 years old, grew up in Pucón, spent his childhood wanting to leave, left, and then came back to start a guiding business with a friend. That he was the middle child with an older sister and younger twin brothers. That he had climbed Villarica 700-some times, over 100 times a year as a guide, and still loves it. That he likes to ski, fish, and ice climb. That his favorite food is asado, or maybe salmon. That one time he camped on the summit with a group of terrified German geologists that he had guided to the top while the volcano was actively gargling lava (with a great photo of him leaning over the crater’s edge, bright red lava in the background). That he likes Pucón but it’s a little too crazy for him, and someday he hopes to buy and live on a farm outside of town like his sister. The man was living the dream.

And then we arrived at the summit, “Welcome to my office,” said Diego.

Summit Posing 1
Summit Posing 2

We had lunch, I walked around and took photos, and we sat and listened to the grumbling bowels of the mountain while waiting for the tour group to arrive. I had picked my line down, off the smooth, steep Eastern flank of the mountain, and I strapped on my board. Then Diego disappeared, having been called to duty to escort his “official” group back down the hill, and was replaced by Nico, the ski-carrier. I was happy to see Nico, impressed by his dedication to hauling his skis all the way up the mountain, but sad my buddy Diego had left before I could say goodbye. My plan was to haul ass down the mountain and hitch the first ride back to Pucón in order to try to catch a ride back to Malalcahuello; the weather forecast was good for climbing Lonquimay the next day and I was anxious to get back.  My friends Ursula and Janine said they might be around until the early afternoon and could maybe give me a ride.

The descent

All regret was erased the second I launched off the rim of the summit. The snow was excellent spring skiing, the whole side of the mountain virgin snow. Our two long, beautiful lines were still visible from town when we got back, at least if you squinted right. After reaching the bottom, Nico and I snuck onto the chairlift for a poached run and then sat and watched people throw flips and tricks off of a huge jump while waiting for the first of rest of the group so we could head back down to Pucón. I caught my stress level rising as the clock approached 4 pm with my bus leaving at 4:30. The first group of walkers arrived, and the truck careened down the mountain road to drop me off at my hostel an impressive 20 minutes later, but it still wasn’t enough time for me to re-pack my stuff and schlep everything to the bus stop. Missed.

Rock climbing outside Pucón

But I had good consolation: the guides were having an asado, and I was invited. I had barely had time to shower when I heard Nico stomping through the hostel yelling, “Kay! Kay!” (Carie being a name that non-English-speakers find impossible to pronounce) and I was whisked off to go with the guys to buy meat for the asado.

And there at the carniceria was Diego, cleaned up and, without the ridiculous turban he had been wearing during the climb, transformed from my goofy guide buddy into a strikingly tall, dark, and handsome man. I realized all this when I ran into the store to say hi and he swallowed me in a giant hug, kissed me on the forehead, and said, “Carie, I thought you had left me!” and I melted. Completely sucker-melted into a gooey mess of holyshitIhaveacrush. From the look on his face he must have felt the same, having seen his “chica muy fuerte” climbing buddy into a chica muy linda with brushed hair and street clothes that made me look significantly less androgynous.

And a few hours later at the asado when Diego handed me a beer, we Salud-ed and took a swig, and he pulled my face to his and kissed me deeply, I knew I was lost, that the fuse had been lit to a powder keg of hurt with a whole lot of potential for intense feeling and no foreseeable potential for anything but a sad ending.

Stray dogs playing on the shore of Lake Villarica. HDR.

The downfall

I have a hole in my heart a year and a half old that, while no longer hemorrhaging blood and life, is far from healed.  There were a lot of things about this trip that scared me. Traveling alone, hiking alone, snowboarding alone, being alone. Those fears, faced and proved unfounded in quick succession, are now gone, replaced by a confidence and regained sense of self that a decade of dating co-dependence had eroded. But falling in love is the one fear that I didn't want to face on this trip.

There are many types of heartbreak. There is the heartbreak felt when pain touches someone you care about, and the heartbreak that comes with the realization that you were a cause. There is the heartbreak of the loss of love, with degrees of severity directly proportional to both the intensity of the love and the insensitivity of the parting. There is self-inflicted heartbreak, empathetic heartbreak, heartbreak from loss of all kinds, heartbreak from rejection, heartbreak mixed with wonder and joy in the experience of something truly beautiful. The heartbreak that put a hole in my heart was the bitter kind: a cocktail of rejection, shock, a loss of dreams, a loss of faith, and betrayal by a person who I had given my whole heart and trust. If heartbreaks were earthquakes, the one that put the hole in my heart would have flattened mountains. It flattened me.

I don’t think it’s possible for anyone who has never had their heart badly, brutally shattered to understand just how real and traumatic that pain is: the sharp electric bursts that feel like being stabbed over and over in the heart, the constant appetite-extinguishing clenching of the gut, the crying headaches, the exhaustion from insomnia, the muscle pain from body-shaking sobbing, the nightmares, the package of a misery so fierce it takes a physical form. And long after the initial trauma, there's the suffocating ache that lasts for months, the constant feeling of a bruised heart, a symptom of chemical withdrawal from the hormones that loving relationships release as real as any drug withdrawal. Then there's the emotional trauma, the demons that lodge themselves in your head and play a repeating record of, "you are not lovable. you are not good enough. you are worthless. you deserved to be discarded."

Waterfall at Termas Geometricas, a line of natural thermal baths outside Pucón that I went to with Ursula and Janine. HDR.

The memory of that hurt so real that the only thing I wanted was to die in order to escape it is still fresh, and so love—and the heartbreak that seems an inevitable eventual consequence—terrifies me.

So I caught the first bus out of town the next day and cried the whole way to Malalcahuello. Compared to the other, it was a gentle heartbreak, but it still hurt: a mourning at the reminder of what I am not capable of, of what I can not have. I was deeply relieved to arrive back at the Suizandina with “family” and people and volcanoes to distract me. And distract me they did, and I was happy again.

The return

But I had two valid excuses pulling me back to Pucón: a legendarily beautiful passage to my next destination (a 3-week Spanish course I had finally booked in Bariloche, Argentina) that required an overnight stop in Pucón, and plans to attempt to climb Lanín with new friend Melitta.

The base of Villarica from the forest area outside Pucón. HDR.

I could have showed up quietly, avoided the powder keg, but there were also the messages: “Carie mi amor, come back, I want to see you,” and my sucker-melted still-broken heart sucker-melted again. When my bus arrived in Pucón, Diego was waiting, a little dressed up and even more handsome than the last time I saw him (in contrast to me: sick with a head cold, sore and blistered and limping from the hikes the previous days, wearing clothes ripped and ripe from climbing, on a heavy day of my period, and feeling generally disgusting and unfit for human contact).

Over the 30-some hours of fun, food, joy, mountain biking, rock climbing, and “stay here” conversations that followed, my heart melted further into the sort of sticky gooey mess that unhealthy still-broken hearts turn into when presented with someone nice, attractive, and charming who does all of the fun things you love with you, and then calls you “mi amor”. My hard-won feeling of strength and independence crumbled.

Snow. Climbing. Mountain biking. Asado. Breathtaking scenery. Helluva combination.

The only thing that kept me from saying, “I’ll stay, please love me” and sliding all the way back to where I was before this trip, helpless and broken and angry and dependent, was my Spanish course that I had booked in Bariloche, which was the piece of iron in the icy slope that the logical half of me was able to cling to as a reason to overrule my broken sucker-melted heart and say, “no, Carie, you are not staying here, you are going to keep moving forward until you heal and are whole again, and then you are going to live a while healed and whole. And then, maybe then, when you've stood a while at that summit of wholeness, can we talk about strapping on skis and launching into love again.”

Bus stop = crying stop at this beautiful river on the side of Vólcan Lanín. HDR.

The end

So I’m back on a bus, grateful for a row of seats to myself where I can sit and let the tears that need to fall run out without anyone looking at me funny.

Oh, heart! How do I fix you? The mountains have done so much for my body and soul, but the hole in my heart doesn't seem to be getting any smaller.

Helpful: breathtaking views on the road from Pucón to Bariloche