The last night in Torres del Paine

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Day 2 : the hike from camp Grey to camp Italiano.

Nature had won.

It was time to turn back.

We were at the bottom of the world, at the tip of South America. After five days of backpacking in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, we were just minutes away from the final camp of the “W Treck.”

But the weather had turned.

Snow fell. The farther we walked into the mountain valley, the bigger the cold feeling in the pit of my stomach grew. I knew that even if we reached the camp, the path would be covered in black ice tomorrow morning, when it was time to descend.

Suddenly, my traveling companion and I stopped at the top of a hill. The path descended into a tunnel of trees.

“I don’t want to go down there,” is all we said.

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The last day of the hike. The weather turned as we hiked into this .

 

To this day, I don’t know what made us stop at that moment. We were so close! Why stop now? There were even a few people ahead of us. Of course, it would be fine. Why go back now?

But the heart overruled the head.

As we began the hike back down, the sickening feeling in my stomach dissolved away. A calmness and deep relief settled over me.

 

Approaching Campamento Chileno.

Approaching Campamento Chileno.

 

We made it back to “Campamento Chileno” at dusk.  Staff welcomed us in, we joined a table by the fire, and uncorked a bottle of Carmenere wine. It was a Canadian man, Anti’s, birthday, and we all raised a glass.

Suddenly, I realized that those famous granite towers at the end of the hike did not matter at all. We turned back when we were so close to the most iconic sight in the park! But it did not matter. I was grateful to simply be sheltered inside, with others, enjoying a warm meal and wine together next to a fire.

To this day, I am glad my friend and I listened to our gut feeling. I am glad we respected Mother Nature’s power, the snow, and did not let our pride of finishing the hike cloud our judgement.

At the end of the day, it’s not always grand achievements or “completing” something that matter most. Sometimes it’s just sharing in a community with others. That last day in Patagonia, in those cold, wild mountains, I understood what that meant.

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In awe of the French Valley. The ice falls and it sounds like thunder through the night.

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A Home In Paris

After the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, I came upon this article, about how the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore sheltered people during that terrible night.

George Whitman, the legendary owner and resident of this magical place, passed away in 2011. The news affected me more than I had expected. Across the ocean, I mourned with Paris and all of the community who had set foot through his doors.

A few steps away from Notre Dame, this tiny yellow bookstore is one of the few places in the world where I feel completely at home. And I am not the only one.

I remember my first time here. A mix of nostalgia, comfort, and peace soothed me as I climbed the wooden staircase to the second floor.

You can’t miss the bold, black letters painted above the doorway: “BE NOT INHOSPITABLE TO STRANGERS LEST THEY BE ANGELS IN DISGUISE”.

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PH: Sylvie D. Huhn

Photo: Sylvie D. Huhn

On the second floor, books are not for sale, but you are welcome to browse the tattered covers and read for as long as you like on one of the many beds.

And why are there so many beds? Because George Whitman created a haven for writers. In exchange for working in the store, writers can stay here while they write.

Every time I return to Paris, I return to this bookstore.  I love to bring people here.

Below is a journal entry from when I studied abroad in Paris in 2008, when George Whitman was still alive. One Sunday, I was invited to tea with the staff and others in the bookstore, which was a custom, I learned, every Sunday.

PH: Sylvie D. Huhn

Tea upstairs with staff and other patrons. Photo: Sylvie D. Huhn

~March 2, 2008~
All of a sudden, the most ancient human being I’ve ever seen appeared in the doorway.
He was a tiny, scrawny man, with shoulder-length white hair, the skin on his face wrinkled like one of the books on the shelf.
And he was in pajamas.
This was George Whitman. The one and only.
 And we were in his living room having tea, I suddenly realized.
He said something that I couldn’t quiet understand and waved to everyone in a single sweep of his arm, before disappearing back through the door to his room.
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Photo of George Whitman outside the shop.

I can’t believe a place like this still exists. I look out the window and see the souvenir shops, the congested Avenue St. Michel, the honking cars and the double-decker tourist buses.  Modern day Paris bustles by outside the window, but right now all I care about is this group of strangers I’m sharing tea with, in this tiny room from the past.

Here is a great article about the history of the original bookstore founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919.

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The stairway up to the room to have tea.