Annual Performance Review

Employee: Scout

Strengths: Securing the premises against canine and other feline infiltration

Areas to Improve: Serving as a curtain tie back (please let in more sunlight)

Conclusion: Renew contract for another year and then re-evaluate

Annual Goals for 2012-2013: Learning to fold laundry and empty the dishwasher

Above the Clouds

We disembarked our small plane in Mendoza, Argentina, picked up our luggage from baggage claim, and passed all of our items through a security scanner. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and gloriously sunny. As I waited for Brian on the other side of security, I began to run through the schedule for the rest of our day.

We’ll take a taxi to our bed and breakfast, quickly freshen up, and then connect with our driver who will take us on the half-day winery tour. Where do we grab a taxi or shuttle? We should take whatever is faster, we want to make sure we have plenty of time at the wineries.

I scanned the open lobby.

Look at the chauffeurs holding signs with names. Wouldn’t that be nice, both time efficient and a luxury.

Still scanning the lobby, my brain processed what my eyes saw three seconds earlier.

Wait, was that my name?

I looked back. There it was — my name spelled incorrectly and scribbled very non-luxuriously on one of those handheld signs. When the owners of the B & B had scheduled the private wine tour for us, I had given them our flight information via email. I thought this was so they had an estimate of when we’d be arriving at the B & B. Maybe I had misunderstood the intent of the request for flight information. I guess the B & B owners had arranged for our driver to pick us up from the airport.

We greeted the driver and without question loaded our luggage and ourselves into the car. Conversation was minimal. He didn’t speak English (which was odd because the owners had told us that we’d have a bilingual driver), but more than that, I was still perplexed that we were picked up at the airport and not the B & B. Ah well, I’m just grateful and relieved that I happened to read my name since my standard protocol is to ignore those signs completely.

As we drove and drove, I began to worry that I had once again miscalculated the situation. All I said to the driver was hello. Why didn’t I clarify who he was there to pick up and where we were going? How dumb will I look if, after fifteen minutes of driving, I ask him if he has the correct passengers?… Why is it even harder to ask this after twenty minutes? Why did it seem like we drove through the whole city, and now we’re on the city’s outskirts? Why isn’t anyone in the car talking?!

Eventually I interrupted the silence that I was sure was awkward, “Are we near our B & B?” (I spoke in Spanish, of course).

Our driver responded (in Spanish, of course), “Oh no, that’s way back there.”

“Oh.”

Brian and I quietly discussed what this could mean. We aren’t going to the B & B first? The email didn’t have any of these details. Oh well, it’s probably fine. Or maybe we should throw out some pointed questions to ensure we aren’t being kidnapped? Yeah, that’s what we should do. It might feel uncomfortable asking such untimely questions, but better safe than sorry.

I clear my throat. “Incredible mountains.” Whoops. Not a pointed question at all.

“Yes, they are.” And on he goes telling us about the mountains and the region. “This road we are on is the road to Chile.”

Here was a prime opportunity to get answers and finally I capitalized on it, “But we’re not going to Chile today, right?”

On a more exciting blog, this is where the story would escalate to the adventures of the couple who was unwillfully held captive and forced to shovel llama manure for some wealthy Chilean. On this blog, however, the story ends happily and somewhat anti-climatically. The driver laughed. We laughed. And a very easy conversation followed about the afternoon plans.

There are over a thousand wineries in the Mendoza region, our driver took us to two of them that day. Both experiences were lovely in their own way. The masthead from this month was taken from the first winery, Ruca Malen.

Here we sampled wines over a five-course lunch. I’m an amateur at wines; I drink in moderation on infrequent occasion. Yes, the meal was truly exquisite, but the experience was so greatly enhanced by the view. The Andes. In fact, I could hardly take my eyes off the mountains from the moment we started driving on the road to Chile. This was our vista during lunch…

I have stood at the summit of Pike’s Peak in the Colorado Rockies and I have ridden a train through the Swiss Alps. I have seen these mountain ranges stretch to over 14,000 and 15,000 feet tall, which is nothing to sneeze at. But oh, the Andes. I was so wooed by the Andes — not the relatively puny peaks but the ones that were over 20,000 feet and reached beyond the clouds. How can a mountain range overshadow the clouds like that? How can those peaks really be real? (On our second day in Mendoza we took a day trip into the Andes to hike. Those peaks are quite real).

That afternoon in Mendoza is set apart as one of the best afternoons I have had in a long time. It wasn’t because of what we were doing, it was because I somehow let go of the everyday stresses and worries and annoyances and over-planning and goal-setting and general overwhelmedness that I so often throw into a bag and carry on my shoulders. I was lighter, freer, and more present than even the vacation version of myself. I was peaceful and giddy (which was not from too much wine). I can’t help but think the Andes provided some of the inspiration in reaching this release, this freedom. Perhaps the stunningly high peaks stood as a reminder that life’s hindrances are small and rather dull when contrasted with such majesty.

I frequently stare at this last picture of the mountains high above the clouds. It reminds me to take some time to leave life’s baggage full of distractions at the foothills so that I can relish, peacefully and joyously, in all the great things that surround me.