Sat on the deck balcony, wrapped in the scent of grilled meat from the asado, we watch the storm roll in. Embers dance as another gust whips the flames into action, hissing again with the last drops of grease. The table is strewn with dishes and half empty wine glasses, the remnants of our small ongoing feast. Grilled cheese oozing onto bread, a salad with tomatoes that actually have flavour, simple delicacies made all the better by good company.
Though our bellies are full our mouths water watching the beef turn golden, the kind of meal that starts with nibbles and just keeps on going. Meanwhile the wind and the sea continue to build their symphony with only our voices and a low hum of music to break the sounds of nature around us. The glass door slides open and shut as someone goes in to get a sweater, the summer evening turning by the second into something much wilder.
I pull my bare knees up to my chest, shielding them from the chill with the edges of my kimono in ways my beach shorts can’t, and take another sip of the Uruguayan red from my glass. My gaze meets the stars that dip in and out of sight, playing hide and seek with the clouds. The waves crash ashore, louder in the quiet evening, travelling up the dark beach to our pool of light and laughter.
We can see it coming, the storm, but for now there is nothing outside this moment.
Lightning illuminates the night like faulty stadium lights, never staying on for more than an instant. After every flash we count the seconds and wonder how soon we’ll hear the thunder. We survey the sky like the beam from the distant lighthouse surveys the stretch of sand between the beach house and the sea. It won’t be long now.
When the rain hits moments after clearing up and going inside, it doesn’t take much imagination to see where the name of this place might come from, Punta del Diablo, or Devil’s Point. It would be hellish to step out in this but from inside we enjoy nature’s fireworks.
A lot about this year has felt like that evening, holding off a storm just long enough to enjoy a perfect moment, finding beauty in the lightning even when it does strike.
Four generations at the skittles alley
We walk in carrying trays of food from the parking lot, place them on the pool table and set out a spread worthy of royalty. You would have never guessed this was plan B from looking at it. The back room at the pub became a banquet hall in minutes and as family gathered, plates in hand, we had every reason to be thankful.
Despite feeling we had put Covid behind us it had almost stopped us again, the cooks testing positive just a few days in advance, a missed email delaying action, but we’re a resourceful bunch. A few phone calls, some teamwork and a couple of visits to the supermarket soon sorted it out. Now we are together, celebrating.
We have travelled from several different countries to be here. Cousins chat and fill in on what’s new. Adult siblings laugh and tease as if they were kids again. Great grandkids run around the room, squealing with delight, enjoying fun and games they make up as they go.
Everyone helps themselves to food and takes a place at the table. For a while the chatter is substituted by munching until everyone reaches their fill. We shuffle around, changing seats and sharing life updates with each other.
As lunch leads on to tea and coffee, the tournament starts. We line up by the skittles alley at the back of the room and split into teams, including everyone from the toddlers to grandma. If you can roll the ball, you’re up for a turn, and once it’s spinning things start to get competitive.
Some of the best action shots take place over the next hour or so. Some near misses and a couple of close shaves, no one is hurt or injured and that in itself is a victory. Points are added to the board as every pin is knocked down. We watch, eyes fixed on the ball as it hurtles its way along and cheer as the skittles crash to the floor once more. Knocked down and placed back up again. Over and over and over.
After the game we head outside for photos in the sunny pub garden. The great grandkids, the grandkids, the siblings and spouses, one with everyone… We stand in hight order and tease each other a little. No one is sure which camera they should be looking at, so we try our best to smile at them all.
At some point during the afternoon we bring out the cake. 90 candles would be too many, so we add sparklers that still can’t outshine the joy of the day in her eyes. Family gathered is a rare treat, one we treasure greatly, and one with which we also honour a most notable absence.
90 years hold a lot of wisdom, but you’re never old if you’re young at heart. And after a perfect throw at skittles, followed by a celebratory dance, grandma proves she is still as young as any of us.
Scenes from the climbing gym
I’m running late. Well, not late, just not early. I got kidnaped by the heater that couldn’t bear to see me go and now I regret those extra five minutes. I’m rushing to get to the gym when someone calls my name. It takes me a moment to respond, focused as I am on getting to class, but I turn and smile at a familiar face.
We attempt smalltalk about the weather and I desperately want to focus on the conversation but my brain has a white rabbit bouncing up and down in it screaming “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. No time to say hello, goodbye, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late”, and for a moment I’m as confused as Alice in Wonderland. Nothing is making sense, I know I’m not.
Everyone is harnessed and ready while I’m still tugging at my shoes. Hurrying makes it worse. I miss the first instructions, but I take a deep breath and try to relax. This is supposed to be something I do for fun. Most days it is. Just as soon as I manage to blot out the background noise and everything else going on in the busy gym.
Now I’m in the zone. The euphoria at completing a climb, figuring out a boulder, achieving a complicated move and surprising myself at what I can do when I trust my body. I climb and my mind goes quiet, all attention on the next move. I focus on not falling, on making sure I can break my partner’s fall. Some days this bubble is the only thing keeping me from running out the door.
It’s a Friday afternoon and the gym is strangely quiet. A bunch of kids are monkeying around, swinging from one hold to another with an ease I envy. I’m not sure if their ability is encouraging or quite the opposite. I have most of the room to myself and a choice of problems to solve, I mostly stick to my project and eventually send it after a word of advice from a fellow climber. I enjoy the silence, I miss the shared joy at other’s achievements.
I cannot count the hours I have spent among these colourful holds this year. I do know that despite the challenges, I have quietly cherished so many moments spent with the small group of people who also showed up every week. Sometimes I wish I had the capacity to join in more but sometimes just being there and listening to the post-workout chat with a drink in hand is enough.
Whether it shows or not, I’m hanging on to every word, trying not to lose my grip.
In more ways than one
I stare at the black and white photo as if looking in a mirror. I know it’s not me but I could have sworn I’d time travelled and forgotten about it from the likeness staring back. The genes are strong and I’m more similar to my mother’s mother than I’d previously realised.
I first saw those photos in April and then again after the funeral in August. Among her other belongings, a binder of poems full of moments from her life. “We shared this, too”, I think as I flick through her typewritten words. Her love of nature shows up on the page, moments of faith and her clear attention to detail. I see myself in her poems, I see her making sense of the world in writing, as I myself am prone to do.
Across the road from the church where we hold the service there is a supermarket. While the others are buying last minute ingredients for the tea we’ll hold in her memory, I head to the sweets aisle in search of Cadbury Crunchie bars, another shared trait, one more way to remember her by.
Where are all the female runners?
As I cross the finish line I hear the commentator celebrate that 30% of this year’s runners are women. I look around me and feel the maths does not add up. Even if it does, by my calculations there’s still another 20% missing.
I attend a different race as a spectator. The bus driver on the way there alludes to the men’s race as the main event, the last of the day, the one with international standing. Yet the women’s race is scheduled just before it and is no less international in nature. Who will show up to watch them run?
I find a place along the course and witness an avalanche of amateurs crowd the start of the popular male race while just a trickle of females are completing their own. As I ponder why this difference in number I hear the male commentator *cheering* them across the line:
“Smile, we’re here to have fun, not just to suffer.”
Mr. have you tried smiling after running 5K at full speed? And why do you not repeat the same *encouragement* to the men moments later? Oh, I see, women can run but we still have to look pretty while doing it. Well, guess what? We do not run for you. Never have, never will.
With comments like these in 2022 it’s not surprising more women don’t run, it’s a miracle any of us do.
Making the most of it
The weather didn’t look promising as we bundled into the car with a boot full of gear, but it’s hard to curb the enthusiasm of those determined to climb. Espiel had welcomed us with damp air and clusters of puddles, the promise of wet rocks looming over us as large as the mountain itself.
An evening gathered around the fire with beer and home-made pizza led to a late start the following day, redying ourselves slowly, unsure whether to pack snacks or lunch. Half the group decided hiking was the better option, the rest of us set out towards the rock face fully expecting to turn back soon after.
Yet as we walked the clouds cleared. A patch of blue appeared above. We reached the sector we were interested in climbing and it looked promising, the breeze having dried most of the rain from the previous days and driven the remaining storm clouds away.
Sceptical, we had packed for every scenario yet by the afternoon found ourselves climbing in t-shirts. Had it not been for the bouncing bundle of excitement embodied by one particular climber we may have never set out in the first place. Now, here we were, making the most of it and enjoying a full day of climbing, despite earlier reservations.
Sometimes all it takes is one person full of hope to show others what is possible if they join in and come along for the ride.
A year of finding balance
January in Uruguay brought some much needed peace and slowing down. Wide open space, room to think and breathe, a realisation that I need quiet and time in nature to thrive. Even when it felt like someone had taken the weather and thrown it in a blender, mixing sunny days with summer downpours, the concoction somehow worked. There was a balance of sorts.
The same can be said for 2022. There have been some truly perfect moments this year and a fair share of storms that have left me feeling windswept. I have learnt more about myself this year than ever before, I have spent a lot of quality time in Andalusian nature with some pretty cool people. I have read and written less than I might have liked but the moments that did make it to the page in one way or another felt important enough to jot down. There is always more to be said, but I’ll end with this.
Thanks for joining me on this rollercoaster journey.