How a horse trip through the Andes broke my social media addiction
When you look death straight in the face, forget about posting it on Instagram.
On the right, the hissing sound of the river hundreds of meters below us reaches my ears. The narrowing small trail in front of me pulls all of my attention towards its ascending rocky pulse. At my left, I smell fresh green moss growing in the moist shades of the red stone wall rising above us like a massive cathedral. Trees and branches hide the immediate steep descent towards the valley and the river. I focus at the soft towing sounds coming from the hoofs of my horse Nasir, just centimetres from the abyss. This soothing rhythm will become my compass of faith and surrender for the coming 5 days as we ascent the North Argentinian Andes. Leaving our loved ones, our homes and constant Wifi connection behind. We are about to meet the Indian spirit high up in the mountains. I am looking forward to this digital detox, but can't grasp at that moment that this trip is going to change my life forever.
Nasir stands proud waving his head and sweeping his tail while the saddle swings on his back. At the background, hardly visible, the bare stripped 4500 meters high red, brown, yellow, purple Andes peaks in the province of Jujuy, Northern Argentina. Our target for the next five days. Six men on six horses, five mules, three guides and four helpers. Already on day two, the trail narrows to about the length of a walking stick, just about enough for my noble horse to place his hoofs. Often, I literally hang over the edge since the body of the horse covers on its turn his legs. The only reassurance is the big beating heart of the animal I just handed over my life to. The warm sweating strong body between my squeezing legs gives strength and hope. We are making this trip together, we will fail or succeed together, we are bonding every step of the journey.
The first night we sleep in a small Indian house of friends of our guide. This small stone barrack has been build in the most remote area of the world. I wonder how people can live here. The daughter has to walk 2,5 hours to her school, and back. It's a magical place and the potent mountain sun suddenly is captured by a silent dense mist creeping in from the valley. A Lord of the Rings scenery evolves around us. It feels like Saruman sending a cold spell to darken the Andes Sun God.
The eyes of our Indian hosts shine like raw diamonds, they must have survived a lot. A serene purity spreads over the evening as the condors settle for their nests and the creepy mist dissolves. We, the white Cowboys, sit apart drinking and eating while our guides gather around a small fire cracking jokes. Probably about us, the Andes initiates. The horses produce satisfied noises in the distance, enjoying their change of scenery and a well-deserved rest.
The next evening we speak with our next Indian host. He doesn’t have a phone. Never had. But he has goats, dogs, and a dwelling in another forgotten corner of Gods paradise. The heavenly views from his top of the world are almost too beautiful to bare. A sea of white fluffy clouds filling a gigantic cup in between mountain ranges that rise proudly at our left and right. The rocks in the middle at the horizon look like ships setting sail for a prolonged eternity in the fading sunset. Later that evening after another massive steak, we sit for hours talking close to the modest fire, removing slowly the cultural barrier with jokes and more wine.
On day 3 we stay above the clouds. And the higher we get, the more I experience emptiness, surrender and the utter joy of being alive. I start to talk to Nasir on day 4. From the inside, giving the term Horsewhisperer my own interpretation. I need to because sometimes Nasir gets over-enthusiastic. At some point in time, after suddenly jumping over a small river, he gallops in 2,3 seconds along another Kamikaze mountain path, my inevitable death staring at me from the left side. This momentum rises soo fast, that I don't have time to even blink my eye over it. But this moment teaches me to fully take leadership over Nasir from that moment on.
I feel he likes and even more important needs that. Else his horsepower can run wild at another random moment with a rattlesnake hissing from behind a stone, or a sudden whirl storm blowing grass in this eyes. It is not that far fetched that he can slip or lose sense and control. On the other hand, I continue to love this muscle power beneath me. But now I am in control of that power. Sudden galloping won't happen again on this trip. Wonderfull, this connection. It's real, humbling and bringing things back to the core. A man, a horse, a path, another day, another meal, the sun, mountains, sleep, dogs barking, a sip of wine, sunrise in the Andes.
The last night, on 3500 meters, I sleep under the milky way.
And we make it, together with my 5 friends, we arrive safely in Tilcara, an Indian Village on 2400 meters in Jujuy. I kick the leather boots that I bought on Defensa in Buenos Aires in the corner, leaving a fine trail of desert dust settling in seconds later on the clean fresh white hotel room floor. At first, I feel uncomfortable in the world I left behind 6 days ago. In fact, I feel a strong resistance to come back there. I realize that I just walked out of Paradise. A dry dusty paradise with horseshit and no women, but still: Paradise.
I stare at the phone loading on the table alongside the virgin white hotel double bed. I am not ready yet to leave the purity, silence, omnipresence of the mountains, silent witnesses of people, cultures and ages passing by. While my friends attend to their laptops and telephones, using the hotel's Wifi, I decide to pick up my phone. I need to check one important thing. When I open the front, I stare for minutes at the Facebook Icon on my iPhone. It looks strange, alien and unreal. And I don’t press it.
In that very moment, when you could slow motion the thoughts in my head, you would feel the fear to go back to my former life where many hours in the day were wasted by social media. That world now feels like a tiny place on the other side of the mountains, the Andes we just crossed. When I focus closer at the blue Facebook Icon, it slowly turns into a very small rectangle door. I closed that tiny door the moment I stepped on my horse and we left Wifi behind like a familiar harbour disappearing at the horizon. I can feel what’s behind that door, I can feel the pull of it as if it has the power to send a mini shot of dopamine into my finger when I press it.
When the Argentinian Aeurolines Boeing cuts through the clouds and we rise above the white sea for the second time this week, I see the Andes in the distance. Maybe even the peak where I sat meditating just a few days before, my head empty, my heart full of joy and excitement, my soul ready for more adventure. Somewhere on those distant mountains rising proudly above the clouds again, our Indian hosts without their phones are feeding their goats, unaware of the world out there. Suddenly at that moment, looking out of the small plane window, It grasps me fully. The days in the Andes without a phone, without wifi, without ‘connection’, have so incredibly much more intrinsic value than most of my days in Ibiza with scrolling Facebook feeds, screaming ads in between stylish Instagram photos, intimate stories of strangers hoping for a like to ease their growing loneliness.
I still haven’t opened that blue door. I am back in the world for 3 weeks now. I feel great, and I certainly haven’t missed out on anything. I have no need to start roaming the streets of feeds again, to get lost in the too good to be true photos and stories, to return to the addiction. Everything around me is true, the same as before, but something changed. Bytes can never make up for the real thing, And the real thing is around us all the time. If you walk out of your house right now and look up, you see either stars or clouds or sun or rain. It's real, it's present, you can feel, small and sometimes touch it.
I suddenly know it. I am going to offer more and more retreats with no wifi, with connection to horses, nature, the elements. I never expected this digital detox to have such an impact. It shows me equally how addicted I was, or better, the sneaky subtle invading power it had to eat up my precious time and attention. Most of my friends spent an equal amount of time on social platforms, it is the norm, and thus socially accepted and ‘normal’. But it is not. Not anymore. For me at least.
Count the days you spent without wifi, per year! 5, 10, 15 more, less? These days have now proven to me to have the value of the future. The value of real human-animal-nature-life connection. This is truly unbeatable. It will become harder and harder for people to access this sacred space since the fight for our attention will become smarter, meaner and more clever in ways that we can't comprehend yet. Remind yourself by watching the Black Mirror new season 5 on Netflix (Especially episode 2)
But there is always a road to freedom. It is the next train or flight to your next real-life adventure. For me, it was the small Indian trail in the North Argentinian Andes, the warm body of Nasir, his beating heart when we took a break, the bed of clouds under our feet, the true spirit connection with everything around us. The door to sucking away my attention, the Facebook icon on my phone will remain closed for some more time. Despite the message on my laptop: 322 people who like Lucien Lecarme are waiting for your attention. They can wait till they meet me in real life.
Lucien Lecarme, June 2019