Cooking, cleaning, sitting, eating, drinking, walking around in snow, taking in the beautiful scenery. Teryll described perfectly: “I felt like someone dropped me right in the middle of a postcard.” That about sums up my time here. One night, we all stood outside under the stars. Looking up at the sky is like looking up at the ceiling in an observatory or planetarium where infinite specks of light cover the surface of the midnight background… except that this background was the sky. Impresionante.

Refugio Frey
Refugio Frey

We do a lot of nothing but living. There is no wifi or cell phone reception, and my batteries are dying on both my cell and my laptop and I don’t have either charger (too much weight to carry up the mountain); I resort to simply existing. I find myself waiting for the next event which is usually a meal. It is vaguely reminiscent of those long flights to India when, if sleep escaped me, I would just wait for the cabin lights to go on signaling service of the next meal and marking that some significant portion of time has passed. Meals are routines.

Emilio! el gatito del refugio
Emilio! el gatito del refugio

In the Frey, existence is simple for me. We easily spend 45 minutes cooking and 45 minutes eating and cleaning. There is time to chop vegetables and cook everything fresh from scratch. There is time to clean each dish. Emilio, the rescue cat, entertains us. Emi understands Spanish and obeys in a way that puts trained dogs to shame. He only speaks when he needs to be let out or when he is hungry. Otherwise Emi is a pleasant creature that cuddles, purrs, and likes to be pet. One of the staff members found Emi alone on the mountain, injured and emaciated. He is now the refuge mascot and is healthy and opinionated.

It is so peaceful and quiet. I begin to wonder what I would do up here if I were alone for a week. My mind drifts to thoughts of… What if there is a mega natural disaster? What if one day I find myself in a situation where I am a refugee and drifting on a boat like Pi but instead of Richard Parker I have Wilson the volleyball for company? I need to learn to make a fire because that is how I will eat and stay warm. What if I really had to deal with weather and seasons – snowy winters, icy floors, breaking ice with an ax and shoveling the walkway so people don’t slip and fall? Ice axes are heavy. I can’t do this alone. I can’t live out in the cold too long. Would I be able to find my way down the mountain by myself? What if a pack of snow animals maul me while I’m on my midnight trip to the bathroom?

I’ll stop here but there is more…

It’s fun when it’s not your everyday but it could very well be my everyday if I so choose. At the refuge, during the summer, swimming in the pond is your shower. What if that’s all I could do ever and I will never feel clean again like I once knew? What if I were alone to face the cries of wind swirling around the cabin in the dark quiet space of the mountains at night with only stars and books for company? What if while in the bathroom a huge snow storm hits and I am trapped in the bathroom with no heat, no running water, and no food? What if while walking around, a snow storm hits and I fall in a creek and can’t see shit and I’m all wet and confronting the possibility of death by hypothermia and there is nothing I can do?

Oh wait, that actually happened to Camilo. He was hiking up to the refuge alone one day and he found himself in a snow storm where any direction he looked, up, down, left, right — it was all the same. White and wind. Windy white coldness. This is how he fell into a (frozen) creek where the snow piled on him up to his chest and he saved his own life by refraining from panic. There in the valley, he took one step at a time. When he realized it must have been around 4p and he had not eaten anything, he pulled out and ate the raw ground beef he was bringing up for the refuge. After 40 minutes that felt like an eternity, he found himself looking up at the doorstep of El Frey. Refuge. Safe and sound.

He recounts this story with nonchalance and resists my statements declaring my shock of his near death experience “naaaa, I didn’t almost die… I just found myself in a dangerous position you know…”

I should never ever complain again.

Being in peace and in the peace brought forth by the majesty of the scenery, it was hard to imagine that this very spot was where Camilo braved the loud, chaotic, consuming snowstorm. It was no wonder that he said nature healed him. When fighting for your life, all other worries pale in importance. You focus on the present, on surviving, and have control over what is right in front of you. Distancing ourselves from participating in meeting our own survival needs leaves plentiful mind-time and space to pander abstruse intangibles. I get it now. Being in nature brings us back to the basics.

I am filled with gratitude.

Candombe at the Frey– just for fun.