Update written part from Buenos Aires, part from Puerto Iguazu (Border of Argentina-Paraguay-Brasil)! I technically have been in Buenos Aires 2 weeks now, but 10 days of those I have spent taking a meditation course. I will tel you all about it, but let me start where I left off..
Being away from Peru for 1,5 month now, having spent in Chile and Argentina I am totally acclimatized again. The (supercomfortable) buses actually run on time, I can safely walk around the city, and compared to the places where I was able to do this in Peru, it is much more enjoyable here to do so.
The first week in Argentina I went to Bariloche, a nice city with Swiss ambiance. The area around Bariloche is amazing..what great mountains and views! I can understand why National Geographic rated the views as the 7th most beautiful view in the World! (see pics)
Having done my research, the plan was to stay there for a few days to go snowboarding in the great mountains, but snow didn`t come. I still did some nice sightseeing and had the best chocolate there. They have many ridiculously large shops just devoted to chocolate and anything chocolate related. This is the place where you´ll discover the kind of chocolate you didn`t even know existed!
I was quite determined to find snow so I went up north to Mendoza to go to a nearby smaller ski resort where I spent 3 days in Penitentes. After Mendoza I went to Cordoba where I met up with a friend I met in Arequipa, stayed and hung out there for a few days before I came to Buenos Aires.
Like everyone who has been here tells me, Buenos Aires is just another Madrid, Rome or Barcelona, just with Tango! There are lots of shops, bars, restaurants... and there is a subway! Buenos Aires is a very nice city, quite big but nice neighborhoods here and there, with each its own style. Lots of parks! In the middle of the city they have a few HUGE streets with 7 lanes or so, where you have to stop about 3 times to cross the street, because the light is only green (white it is here) for so long.
I spent 4 days here while getting myself ready for the big meditation adventure that I was about to face...
Vipassana Meditation course
Throughout my trip the past 8 months I have met 3 different people who told me about this course and the technique. Not knowing much about meditation I got quite interested and wanted to know more. All three people were very positive and enthousiastic and got me more interested.
However, when finding out more about this course, it seemed like 10 days of madness when I heard about the things you have to and can not do! No verbal nor nonverbal communication with anyone (fellow meditators) whatsoever, 10 hours a day meditating, 2,5 vegetarian meals a day, no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual activities..men and women are seperated for the timebeing, each with its own area. The day starts at 4 AM (!!) and ends at 9PM, in between there is only meditating, eating, walking around, showering and more meditating..
After the third time I heard about this crazy course I made up my mind and decided I could need a challenge and above all I was wondering what this meditation was all about.
The course teaches you Vipassana technique, an ancient Indian technique that was discovered by Gautama Buddha 2500 years ago. Today, the course is being taught all over the world, completely based on donations from other people who have at least once taken the course before.
What the technique us basically taught was to be aware of changes on our body and NOT react to it. The theory behind it is that everything constantly changes, and nothing is permanent. From the day we are born (and I think even before that, in the womb), every moment we live, we are one step closer to death. So everything constantly changes. On an intellectual level we are aware of this, but to actually experience this, we had to focus on our bodily sensations and be aware that all these sensations (heat, cold, itching, pressure, etc etc) are nothing but manifestations from (biochemical) changes that constantly take place. Step two is NOT to react to any of these sensations, but to just sit back and observe..observe objectively, don`t judge, don`t give it a label ¨pleasant¨ or ¨unpleasant¨...sinply know that, since everything changes, this sensation (whether positive or negative) will also pass.
As if step one wasn´t hard enough..I don`t feel sensations all over my body..I had a pretty tough time trying to feel anything on my right shoulder or left calf..but, as Mr. Goenka us on tape in his funny Indian accent explains, this is because our mind is not used to be so sensitive, so sharp, to actually feel these sensations on less sensitive areas and that`s why we need to train our mind. So that`s what we did...about 10 hours a day! It is not that strange, we work out our body all the time, do sports, go to the gym.. but we never train our mind..it sort of made sense in a way when I was sitting there..and indeed, with time, I started to feel more sensations on body parts that I didn`t feel before.
Then came step two...not reacting to these sensations! This was a bit harder...especially when I felt a subtle itchy feeling and just felt I needed to just scratch that away from my nose real quick...but no, I had to just observe, and keep telling myself that this will pass... there is no such thing as an eternal itching! Indeed, the sensation passed and other ones came..and went..with time this became easier. In the beginning it was the sitting in one position for a long time which was causing pain in my legs, neck, and back...but this also passed and after a few days I got a bit more used to it, which helped!
So what is the purpose of being aware of your sensations, being aware that everything changes and then...not reacting to it, just observing objectively?
Well, the theory behind this is (this is going to be hard to explain since I am still struggling to completely understand all of this).,..that all humans are unhappy at some time in their lives..because we have cravings (things we absolutely want) or aversions (things we absolutely NOT want). By NOT having any cravings or aversions we can become ¨liberated¨ just like mr Buddha himself! Liberated would mean that at any moment, in any situation we would be able to be happy and not let it affect us in any negative way.
Well, this takes a while of course, having tried to explain this in less than 10 sentences doesn`t do the theory justice. My struggling here is that if we observe everything in life objectively and may not place a label ¨pleasant¨ or ¨unpleasant¨ to anything,...than how are we able to enjoy things in life? When I asked this to the teacher she assured me that it was OK to enjoy things in life..just accept that you enjoy them...but be careful not to develop any craving for it. But then...where lays the line between ¨I really like it¨, ¨I really want it¨ and ¨I can´t live without it!!¨, the latter considered a craving and thus a no-no....? How can anyone apply this to things like food, love, friendship and...sex!!?
As I said, still wondering about this one...other than that the course had a positive affect on me. I felt pretty good, energetic and sharper after and during my meditations. I can recommend this to anyone..for me it was a great challenge to just surrender myself for 10 days to this madness and see what and if it had any affect on me. The challenge was not to quit and however horrible I would experience this, just stick with it for 10 days. I heard stories about people not being able to handle and leave, and although these weren´t the easiest 10 days of my life, luckily I didn´t have any urge to leave.
The 10th day, the day we were allowed to communicate again (even with the opposite sex!) was a blast for all of us. We exchanged all our thoughts and experiences that we had to keep to ourselves for so long. In the end, apart from what some people experienced during their meditations (out of body experiences, communicating with deseased family members and pseudo orgasms!) it seemed that most of us shared the same frustrations and difficulties in this course. It was quite funny to see everyone come to life after having spent 10 days together, but not knowing anything about each other and not being able to communicate with anyone.
For more information check their website: www.dhamma.org
So...after the course I spent a few more days in Buenos Aires, hanging out with my new made friends from the meditation course. After that I left to go to Puerto Iguazu, where one of the world`s most beautiful waterfalls can be spotted...(see pics)
If having come straight from Europe into this city, or into Santiago, I think I wouldn´t have enjoyed it as much, because it isn´t that much different here. To get the *real* feel of South America, I better get myself ready to go back to the basics on my last part of the trip, which I will spent with my friend Thabi and her boyfriend. We are going to meet in Brazil in two days (in fact they are on their way to Sao Paulo as I am writing this) and then heading into Bolivia to roam around there for a month. And then....THEN it all comes close, one more week Peru and one more week United States...and back home! I can`t believe it is almost coming to and end.
As I am securing my 8 (!!) GB of pics on dvds, I am heading out to focus on not losing any pics there..so saludos from argentina and ´till next time!