“I’m totally gonna cry when I see them.” I was only joking when I said this to my fellow travelers while we were driving our little Corsa up the steep serpentines somewhere in the Andes mountains, in the middle of nowhere. I certainly didn’t expect my words to have so much truth.
I love mountains. There is something magical about them that I cannot deny. I can’t tell you what it is exactly… the opulence of their beauty, the manifestation of natural forces, or maybe just their sheer size. It doesn’t matter if I am on top or just standing in front of them. They do something to me that goes deep.
Over the years I’ve had multiple encounters with mountains that left impressions on me. In Norway, in the Alps, and of course in the Andes. I remember one time in South Tyrol I had this vision of myself moving to an “Alm” (a farmhouse up in the mountains) just so that I would have this spectacular view of the valley underneath me every morning. Another time, on a bus ride through a colourful canyon, I felt inspired to create an entire fashion collection – I’m actually a programmer not planning on a career towards fashion design, but that’s how moved I felt. In all my encounters, my brain – or maybe more accurately: my consciousness – experienced some kind of higher sense of clarity and revelation. That’s something quite hard to come by in everyday life.
On my second visit to the Northern regions of Argentina, seeing the Hornocal was one of my top priorities. It’s a little off the main roads and you have to master quite a long, bumpy trail at very slow speed, up several steep serpentines. We arrived at the end of the road on a little hilltop across from the main formation. We were in the company of several other travelers, even though it was quite early, in the off-season, and we hadn’t seen any other cars on the road. At first I was a bit disappointed to see other people there because it ruined the illusion of being on a foreign planet. But in a way it gave me comfort because we were so far out that it could have been frightening to be alone.
While my fellow travelers (my sister and my husband) were enjoying the view from this point I set out on a small footpath to see the beautiful formation more closely. And there, while walking by myself, it hit me. I don’t know where it came from, and I was so stunned by this reaction that I just kept walking in hopes that it would pass, but it didn’t. Tears poured out of me like buckets and I was almost shaking. It wasn’t just a bit of weeping from being touched by the beauty. No, it was probably the most theatrical meltdown I’ve had since my cat ran away when I was 15. There were several moments where I was close to dropping to my knees, but I managed to continue walking until the path ended.
The view was beyond spectacular. I could make out that much through my cried-out eyes. I tried to calm myself down with controlled breathing. But my head was spinning wildly.
Our mind, our consciousness is a system that we establish over the course of our lives. It’s a system that makes sense of all the things that we see, learn, experience. How we understand certain things, how we react to certain situations, how we feel about what’s going on. We know when to feel happy, excited, scared or angry about something because our own system guides us to these feelings.
Now imagine someone sticking their finger into this neatly organized system and twirling it around. This is what it felt like up there. I was feeling all these things like happiness, awe, fear, sadness and excitement at the same time and so many memories came bubbling up that had no understandable connection with one another, stirring up even more overwhelming emotions. It’s incredibly hard to put this into the right words – this is as close as I can get.
I was standing there for a while, physically in one piece, but my mind shattered into countless bits spread all over that mountaintop, until my family arrived. My husband instantly hugged me when he saw my face and his embrace grounded me. I somehow managed to collect myself.
After almost blacking out from exhaustion and from the lack of oxygen up there, on my way back to the car I started to reassemble the pieces of my mind. You would probably expect that I had a million questions about the meaning of life, or answers even. But it wasn’t like that. I felt terribly confused, but at the same time I was impressed by what nature did to me there. No human-made creation ever came close to this.
I can fully understand now how the native people of the Americas are so connected and respectful to nature. It’s so much more meaningful and powerful than any bonkers story ever written down in some book. It’s a truly humbling experience.
I still have no explanation for what happened up there, but when I look at the photos of this place today I feel incredibly happy because they remind me that a part of me is still out there now, integrated into the cycles of nature. And I don’t mean the scattered pieces of my mind that I temporarily lost. I mean my tears that sunk into the soil.
All Images by Frank Schröder