In my wise age of 21 years, I am convinced that one of the peak human experiences is a polar plunge. It may be easier to swim if the body of water you’re entering is warm, but it’s much less rewarding. Every time I travel and have the chance to swim I take it because it makes me feel like I belong in some way. Not that I don’t belong otherwise, but it allows me to step away from my hectic daily life and routine. Sometimes it’s grounding to lift my head up and do something simple. A breath of fresh air, except the breath is me gasping because it’s so cold.
I am taking a class about the Patagonia region and the struggles, resistances, and importances of the different indigenous peoples that live there. Last weekend, we took a trip to Bariloche to speak with different Mapuche representatives and organizations. We had the opportunity to take a boat to an ecological reserve island called Isla Victoria, where we walked around and learned about the flora and fauna. It was a place so clear that when you breathed in, all you smelled was fresh tree and lake air, and all you heard was the sound of plants adjusting to the breeze. And the occasional bird. Footsteps.
Our guide, who we had picked up on the way to the boat dock in our van, seemed so at peace and in love with her environment. She taught us about plants and trees and how they interact with or against each other on the island. Listening to her talk really made me aware of the similarities humans have with nature. There’s a phenomenon called crown shyness, where the crowns (tops) of trees do not touch the crowns or branches of other trees. It’s like the trees said, “thank you, here’s some space for you, let me grow and you can too.” Doesn’t that sound like what we do every day?
In those moments, I like to imagine myself as a part of the environment rather than an outside observer. So, when our guide hiked us through the trees and down to a secluded beach, I knew I had to touch the water. I came equipped with a change of clothes just in case I got the urge. The water was so clear you could see all the smooth stones at the bottom, resting or gently swaying with the tide closer to the shore. It was beautiful and humbling and I felt very grateful to see such an untouched and untamed place. I didn’t want to mess it up. It reminded me of something my mom told me about when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed:
Imagine tossing a stone into a lake. The stone meets the water and creates large ripples, and as it sinks the ripples spread out over the lake, going far but getting smaller and smaller the further from the stone they are. The stone sinks to the bottom, adding to all the other stones that rest there already, but the ripples eventually dissipate, leaving the lake mostly the same but a little different inside. When you experience something hard, it can feel like things will never be the same again. Especially being somewhere new and unfamiliar, negative emotions feel so big and scary. But given time, they can slowly fade and simply be another experience, another stone at the bottom of your lake.
The water in this particular lake was cold and my toes quickly numbed, so I lost balance easily on the rocky bottom. Isabel, Caroline and I dove under the waves and it was so shocking I came up gasping and screaming and laughing, falling over as goosebumps rose on my arms and legs and shoulders. It was probably the most present I’ve felt in a long time, like I was pulled out of my head and placed firmly into this lake. Even though I was standing in frigid water, I felt like I could reflect on everything we’d learned on the trip, through our discussions and walks and readings and all the other experiences we’d shared. I was in a lake in Patagonia with my close friends and I couldn’t feel my toes. Maybe that part was to be expected. And that is why I recommend: the next time you find yourself near a swimmable body of water, jump, wade, dive, sit in. You may lose feeling in your toes, you may gasp from the cold and shiver for a while after, but it’s worth it to feel all the stones that have already sunk to the bottom and watch the waves dissipate on the shore.
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Hi! I'm Roxane! I'm a rising senior in college and I'm so excited about studying abroad in Argentina. I love travel (duh) and I can't wait to live in a new city. I love most outdoor activities, but my favorites are rock climbing and trail running. My best fun fact is that I hiked a 14,000 foot pass in Peru when I was 14. Or that I can solve a rubik's cube. Those seem pretty equal to me. I'm the youngest of four kids and my three older brothers would probably describe me as energetic and excited! Matcha tea with boba is my favorite drink, so you can definitely find me doodling in a cafe when I'm in Buenos Aires.