9 May 2019

Hello from the wilderness!

It’s only my fourth day on this middle of nowhere land with no electricity and no phone signal (not that I have data anyway), and I’ve already been left to my own means. No one else is here. I’m sat on a mat dragged out to a pathway even though there are many other more picturesque spots – right by the lake for example; just that the cold rocks make my bum go numb – but there’s so much greenery around that I constantly seem to find myself being undesirably protected from the sun. (It’s finally not raining!) I don’t know what the temperature is, but whichever part of my skin that isn’t facing the sun has goosebumps.

I could put on a sweater, but I took it off for the very reason of feeling the solar rays on my arms and feet and in between my clammy toes. I can’t remember the last time I took off my socks and shoes outdoors. Wish there weren’t so many wasps buzzing around me though.

I’ve completed all the tasks for the day, which isn’t much, thankfully. Might I add that I stupidly and painfully strained my neck yesterday. All I had to do was move the sprinklers in the morning to another part of the forest. One sprinkler was stuck so I wanted to turn the main pipe off. The tap was so tight and I tried twisting and turning as hard as I could. It wouldn’t budge. I gave up and stood up, immediately realising all I twisted was a muscle in between my neck and shoulders.

First day on the job 

It got progressively worse throughout the day. I couldn’t find a comfortable angle to rest my head. Even when I wasn’t moving, the muscle would spasm and cramp up, causing my head to twitch involuntarily. I winced with every movement. I feared every movement. In total, I took six painkillers throughout the day. Too many, I know, and yet, minimal relieving effect.

Today I can turn my head, feeling ever so grateful for my abled body. Because what else is the point of an injury, other than to remind oneself of how good it feels to not be in pain.

I feel extra silly for having this shortcoming because, on the evening of my arrival, I wasn’t my best either. It started off with a minor headache on the bus. I figured it might have been from dehydration so I ate an apple. I know apple is not water, but I tend to not drink a lot while on the road to avoid having to pee often.

Anyway, I felt alright after getting off the bus and walking to this property. Possibly because I was constantly getting distracted by how everywhere I turned looked like a glorious watercolour painting of a fairy tale land, showing off every shade of green, blue, and brown.

A mini ice field and the end of a rainbow

Eventually, I got to the place and met two other Workawayers, then climbed into bed. I felt bad for not helping while they prepared dinner (polenta with mushrooms and tomatoes), but my head was pounding until I felt sick to my stomach. I took one tiny bite of the polenta and instantly felt nauseated. I tried eating a few more spoons, not wanting to be rude, but puking it up would be worse, so I gave them my portion.

Then I wondered, am I nauseated because of the headache or because I ate that apple that was from the fruit bowl where the cat peed in? If it’s the latter, then it’s totally my fault. Although we did wash the fruits with bleach, then soap and water. So it should be fine, right? Anyway, doesn’t matter. I was back to normal the next day. Getting back to this neck thing, I felt like the weak one of the pack. Or the lazy one, frequently giving excuses of why I can’t work.

We usually head out to chop up and gather firewood, but I’m not going to do that today and risk delaying recovery. Even if I was A-OK, the worst of my imagination leads to a scenario where I’m chopping wood with an axe, miss, hit my own leg, and there’s no one to hear my screams. So, I’ll play it safe, thanks. The only other minor tasks are checking up on the greenhouse, watering the plants, and feeding Misha the cat and Pochola the Collie.

Misha has the softest, longest fur, your fingers get lost in there. She loves every human just as much if only for your body heat, acting as a furry warm pillow back in return. Pochola, on the other hand, while having also grown a bushy coat to prepare for the winter, has tangled herself up with a great number of pines and thorns. I cleaned her up once, only to have her fur return to the same state the very next day. The rest of the time, seemingly more than half of the day, is spent preparing food, starting up the fire, and cooking our meals.

Pumpkin for lunch with Misha

Since there’s only one mouth to feed – mine – I probably won’t cook today. Had oats for breakfast; got a leftover pumpkin from last night which will be my lunch; and for dinner, maybe more pumpkin. There’s loads of it. Oh, and I’m on my own because the owner is in Buenos Aires, one dude left yesterday after being here for three weeks, and the remaining Workawayer is spending his off days in Bariloche, the nearest town, an hour away by car. It’s all good though. I’m always as happy as a kid who gets to stay up late for the first time when I’m told I’ll be left alone.

I tried yelling ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ towards the skies earlier. Not for any reason than to yell. But instead of feeling a release, I felt really small and stupid, like my voice was merely a tiny insignificant yelp in the magnificence of Mother Nature. Silence suited me better.

Alrighty, I remember seeing an apple tree with a few fruits left while we were out for wood yesterday. I shall go look for it again and pluck some for dessert. Hopefully, I can find it.


Want to take it from the top? Read Petrina’s first letter in this series from Valizas, Uruguay:
Letters From Latin America: Valizas, Uruguay 


I can’t see a thing when I step outside. Barely even my own hands in front of my face. The amazing thing about when it’s this dark is the stars. Holy moly, they’re splattered all over the place, barely centimetres apart, twinkling oh-so-brightly. The Milky Way is an obvious sight too, looking like the one sole cloud in the clear night sky.

A lot of the ground, especially around trees, reveal signs of being dug. New holes, more earth uncovered every morning. Believed to be by wild boars. But no one has ever seen them. They scoot off too quickly at the very hint of humans so I have nothing to worry about, really. I feel safe here. More than anything, I feel grateful that I get genuinely delighted to be left alone, and that I gave up watching horror flicks a long time ago. A cabin in the middle of the woods in the dead of night is the perfect setting to freak out if I allow my imagination to scatter in that direction.

Sitting here, tending to the furnace every 20 minutes or so, I can’t deny my fascination. It all starts with the selection of firewood. Crack. First good sign. That sharp sound when a branch breaks easily against your knee or snaps under your foot. Once there’s a sufficient assortment of twigs and branches of all sizes, the excitement burns up in me already. Carefully, thoughtfully, I’d have to arrange the sticks one by one. Making sure it’s close enough to catch onto each other, yet spacious enough for it to breathe as a whole. Giving light to the itsy-bitsy pile of tinder. The flames will rise and fall, teasing that you didn’t do enough to turn it on. But then you watch it grow tenderly as you blow, listening that your breath hits the right spot to give it life with just the right amount of air. Until the bigger pieces can’t stay silent anymore and join in to crack and sparkle and pop, then you know you got it good.

And there I’ll sit. Hypnotised by the flames, dancing in whichever direction it pleases, never in the same spot. I almost feel addicted as the main train of thought going on in my head would be, “Does it need more wood? Can I give it more wood? Not yet? Maybe just a small one. What about now? Maybe now is a good time. Yes, let’s give it more wood. Mmm, there you go. Burn, baby, burn.” You can trust me to build a fire, but not necessarily to ration the stash.

Warming ourselves up on a cold morning

Another reason why I’m thrilled to not have company because the remaining guy mansplains a lot. Or maybe I’m reading it wrongly. I know he’s a good guy and has every intention to help, but if I’m being hovered around and told how to do things “correctly,” I start getting snappy, or annoyingly passive-aggressive. Annoying to myself, that is. I hate it when I get like that because I’m well aware I need to improve my communication skills and there are better ways to deal with this. But I also know I probably won’t confront him nicely to explain how his mannerisms are getting on my nerves because of how uncomfortable that would make me.

Highly likely it goes two ways though. For people who conduct themselves in a more orderly fashion, my messy, all-over-the-place, system-less ways can be painfully infuriating or downright disgusting. Too bad for them; I think it’s funny.

On top of being particular, he was also a slight germophobe. And you know me, I’m germ-friendly. When I fed the dog leftovers from our human bowl, he expressed his horror, while I laughed. I didn’t see anything wrong with it because we were going to wash the dishes anyway. So, okay, I can see how I’m not the easiest person to live with either. I’ll try to be more thoughtful and cooperative and not get worked up over our differing ways. Plus, when we’re not clashing, we get along fine and dandy.

I’m not always very bright either. I started reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Original Scroll, which is his first draft and an unedited version, written as one super duper long paragraph. I got sucked into it thinking it was a memoir but found out it was fiction and instantly lost interest. Shouldn’t the cover state it’s a novel? How did I miss that? I just speed read while trying to tell myself it doesn’t matter all this didn’t really happen. You’re reading for his writing style, not research. But my brain just wouldn’t view it the same way anymore. I wish I didn’t find out until I’d finished the book.

Reading with a solar lamp under my chin

I foresee not taking a shower the entire time I’m here. Sometimes I think I might brave the fresh delicious water that comes directly from the beautiful green lake, but then I wash my hands and they turn to ice and I change my mind. There’s a solar shower system some 50 metres away in a shed, but apparently, it doesn’t work too well now that the weather is often cloudy. We also have small solar lamps that we use at night. Thankfully, those work. In the meantime, I’ve concluded that hygiene is a privilege for the warm. I barely sweat here so I’m not too bothered. My feet stink so badly though. I feel embarrassed whenever I remove my socks before bedtime. I always quickly crawl into my sleeping bag, hoping to not spread the stank.

I guess that’s enough from me for now. I don’t know how long I’ll be here. I said three weeks, but if it gets much colder, I might decide to leave sooner. The mornings are the worst. It’s such a challenge to remove myself from the only place that’s warm. The cabin I’m in has pretty much zero heat retention. Once the fire dies, so does all the heat in the room. By sunrise, it’s probably the same temperature inside and out, so I’m almost always cocooned up until over my head in my Pickle Rick sleeping bag. Alrighty, then. Nos vemos! Ciao!

PS. Outdoor cleaning tips:

1. Use ashes. If you don’t have detergent to clean your pots and pans, scrub them all over with ashes from your previous bonfire. It cleans up the oil really well.
2. Also good for covering up your poop if you’ve pooped in a hole. The ashes will keep the flies away.
3. Another close-to-perfect disinfectant cleaning method would be to scrub any surface with lemon skin and salt. It’s also the time you’ll discover all the cuts and wounds on your hands.

Con amor,

*All images courtesy of the author.

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