For those who have experienced it, living in New York is a magical affair. As one of the greatest cities in the world, Manhattan is understandably seductive – teeming with culture, fascinating people, and infinite discoveries just waiting to be found. Unfortunately, as with any truly epic love affair, those admirable aspects are simultaneously accompanied by their own set of trials and tribulations.
New York has rightfully earned its reputation as the “city that never sleeps.” Impossibly long work hours combined with a crippling cost of living and an incessant on-the-move mentality make the concrete jungle one of the most challenging places to lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle. In my personal experience, too many people become all consumed with the obsession of not only surviving, but also thriving in these unsustainable conditions. The cost often times means losing sight of what truly matters.
After three years of living and working in Manhattan, that is exactly where I found myself. I felt suffocated by stress and completely out of touch with who I was and, more importantly, who I wanted to be. I was not quite sure what I was missing or what I was looking for, but it felt like the right time to begin searching for more. With that, I gave my two weeks notice, moved out of my Brooklyn apartment, and booked a one-way flight to Argentina.
Mother Nature, of course, had other plans for me. The first blizzard of 2017 pummeled Manhattan with a foot of snow on the morning of my flight, leaving me stranded in the city for another twenty-four hours. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a sign. However, at that point, all I could do was try my best to convince myself that everything would work out.
Two days later, I finally made it to Buenos Aires and settled into my rented apartment just after midnight. Nestled in the center of a charming, tree-lined neighborhood called Recoleta, I anxiously attempted to feel at ease by drawing comparisons to the familiar. “Traffic was pretty congested for this time of night,” I thought to myself. The apartment buildings reminded me a bit of Fort Greene, the kiosko downstairs felt reminiscent of my local bodega, and even the quaint cafés seemed as if they had been plucked from the streets of Williamsburg. But still, I wondered what exactly I was doing there, and worse, if I had just made a colossal mistake.
To distract myself, I decided to join my friend Michaela for a week-long stay in Mendoza, Argentina’s illustrious wine region, celebrated for its world-renowned Malbecs. Michaela is a travel writer who had already planned the visit, including a stay in an absolutely spectacular private villa. Positioned at the foot of the Andes Mountains and embraced by expansive vineyards of emerald green reaching in every direction, I finally felt like I was easing out of the “New York state of mind.”
Mendoza is one of those destinations that has the power to immediately cast a spell upon unsuspecting visitors the moment they arrive. There is a palpable sense of complete serenity in the air. Time – one of the most precious commodities in New York – is somehow devalued in Mendoza. In its place is a delicious aura of nonchalance and a carefree disposition. Not a thing feels rushed, nobody is in a hurry, and there is nothing more important than simply enjoying the present moment. Hard to describe, it felt strangely unfamiliar, yet nostalgic at the same time. After settling into our rooms, we spent the remaining hours of sunlight on the back terrace soaking up every moment of solace before getting an early night’s rest.
Our itinerary for the following morning commenced with a 4:15 a.m. meeting in the resort lobby. The first scheduled activity was a gaucho-led horseback journey through the Uco Valley to witness one of the region’s renowned sunrises. An English family, also staying at the villa, accompanied us for the early morning ride. Our guide arrived roughly thirty minutes later, which prompted an internal chuckle as I reflected back to the significance of time in Argentina compared to New York – one of many welcomed cultural differences I would soon encounter.
The charismatic guide, Nino, informed us that heavy rains the day before prompted some flooding in the surrounding areas, but he assured us that it would not interfere with our forthcoming adventure. From what we were told, Nino is somewhat of a local celebrity in Mendoza. Dressed in a wide-brimmed hat, leather bomber, faded denim jeans, and knee-high riding boots, we knew we were in good hands.
The group drowsily exited the lobby with ponchos in hand and emerged into the crisp air of pre-dawn darkness. We filed into his van to begin our twenty-minute trek to the base of the Andes where his horses waited patiently for us. Due to the potential flood-induced delay, Nino explained that we needed to make good time if we wanted to reach the summit before morning’s first rays pierced the horizon.
As we sped through the gravel backroads of the winding vineyards, we came to an abrupt halt. We exchanged concerned glances as the driver relentlessly continued to hit the gas, but we only heard the sounds of rubber tires sloshing in place. Apparently the flooding decided to interfere after all.
Nino, the Englishman, and I hastily climbed out of the van, we rolled up our sleeves, and began digging each tire out of the water-logged road of rocks. Birds were beginning to sing their morning songs, and we knew that time was of the essence. After a few minutes of panicked determination, we successfully freed the vehicle and were back on track.
With the morning off to an eventful start, we eagerly anticipated the adventure ahead even more than before. The grape vines disappeared from sight and we began snaking through the mountainous terrain, ominously defined by the dim glow of the van’s headlights. Not long after, we arrived at our destination in Tunuyán, where we saw Nino’s team of horses and handlers huddled in the morning darkness. After explaining a few ground rules, we each mounted our designated horses and started our steep uphill trek.
Nino attempted to impart a casual vibe for the group, but we all sensed the pressure looming in the air. The pace felt hurried as we began our collective race against the clock, ascending the well-seasoned dirt path traveled by so many visitors before us. Nonetheless, the question of whether or not we would reach the peak in time lingered in the back of everyone’s minds. I suddenly felt the slightest pang of anxiety, it reminded of Manhattan’s round-the-clock propensities. To break the tension, Nino demonstrated his talents on the harmonica about halfway up the mountain and reassured us that we would make in time to see the sunrise.
By the time we finally saw the apex, the sky was just starting to turn the palest shade of cornfield blue. We quickened the pace, trotting higher and higher, until Nino identified the marker he was searching for – a large metal cross overlooking the edge of the mountain and the sleeping city below. We had made it to the top with just minutes to spare.
After dismounting our horses, we each wandered through the grassy mountaintop, breathing in the sweet morning air. I felt a refreshing wave of tranquility, peering out at the horizon as it became more illuminated with every second. We all stood in silence, savoring the sight and feeling grateful to be in that very moment.
The sun continued to paint its morning masterpiece. The landscape became layered with a palette of pastels that emblazoned the entire sky. Affected by the healing beauty of nature, we were at peace. And for the first time in a long time, a sigh of relief escaped me as I confidently reassured myself that everything was in fact going to be just fine.
Photography by Author
A native New Yorker, Ian is an award-winning social media strategist, published photographer, and travel writer. Some of his favorite travels have taken him sailing through the Mediterranean, backpacking across Asia and exploring Europe. He currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he is pursuing his latest adventure.