I step onto the pebbled beach of Lake Nahuel Huapí in Patagonia. My feet are in the crystal clear water, my breathing quickens in anticipation of my morning swim. Everything is immediate. The edge of the waves separating the water from the shore. My still sleepy body, ready for the water world that awaits me. Icy and immaculate, the towering Andes are reflected in the lake's surface, dark green-bluish slopes woven from the tops of araucaria, pine, coihuas and myrtle. Further away, as if floating on the water, lies Isla Victoria.
It is still early in the small bay of Villa La Angostura, the January sun is just coming alive. The boats, painted blue and white, lie at anchor, still slumbering, motionless. Nothing moves. As soon as I dive into the clear water, I get goose bumps. This year's hot South American summer is almost over, but the lake is freezing cold; it feeds on the soft snow that forms the Mapuche mountains in rivers. My body, just now wrapped in sheets and inert, now plunges quickly into Nahuel Huapí, suspended between two worlds. On the small beach of grey and golden pebbles, a white-necked ibis suddenly lands in search of food, while far above, two young eagles soar overhead. The sky is blue, cloudless.
My Argentinian family is still sleeping in the rented wooden hut. A few days ago, my friend and I arrived from England, winter seemed to have attached itself to the soles of our shoes. Miraculously, here in the still lake, my breathing becomes calmer. I swim slowly, in precise rhythm, flowing like the arms and legs I now stretch from me like fins. Remind me of the poem I wrote, “Undercurrents”: ‘I swim/to him/and move/away/afloat/we hide/inside/it's dark/and yet/the light/we breathe/to see/the night/I'm here/outside/no sea/the rite/a code/we’re here/submerge/we dive/to grasp/your hands/instead/to be/this near/inside/I touch/you fear/the sea/I’m here.’
I feel the water flowing between my fingers, a tender touch of ice, like pinpricks, opening pores. Everything is direct sensory stimulation. Every vein, every muscle is awake. The blood flows fast as my body drifts, swimming in no particular direction. The smell of the lake envelops me like an icy, wonderful and perfect blanket. I am this whole body drifting while I listen to my simple breaths on the surface of the lake and further away the Patagonian thrushes chirp on the branches of the trees. Slowly my chest expands, I take a deep breath, change swimming style: from breaststroke to crawl. Now the head dives under, the cold runs down the neck, cheeks, eyes, forehead. Everything is tickling and arousing. My body comes alive. I swim faster, am part of the lake in the light of the gradually rising sun. Staccato arm strokes, water melody of this Friday in summer. The bay looks different, brighter. I breathe in the deep, icy water that surrounds me.
I am still the same, and yet something has already changed, as if I have been reborn in the lake.