CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Steve: volunteer from Louisiana
Tina: volunteer from Pennsylvania
Corie: volunteer from...I forget
Camilla: old Squaw Kids ski instructor (06-07, 07-08) from Brazil
Lucy: old rentals worker in Squaw Valley, from Brazil
Esteban: new Argentinian friend in Las Lenas
Cesar, Manuel T. and Alejo: old Squaw Kids ski instructors (09-10) from Buenos Aires
Sara: volunteer from Montana
Frankie: volunteer from New York
First of all, the flight from Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina was incredible. I had to fly from Puerto Montt to Santiago first and it was only then I realized just how narrow this country is. The ocean was on my left and those incredible Andes were on my right and there wasn't much land in between. Crossing over the Andes to Argentina was well worth the extra expense of a flight vs. a bus, and after I heard horror stories of my friends having to push their bus out of the snow, spend 4 hours at customs and then pay $300 for a taxi ride to get to Mendoza, I was extra glad I took a plane.
Mendoza is the equivalent to Napa Valley; it's famous for its vineyards and wine. I met up with 4 other volunteers in Mendoza and miraculously, thanks to Facebook, we all found each other at a little hostel without the use of cell phones (it's still possible!)
Corie had some friends in Mendoza and one worked at a fine wine shop located in the governor's old mansion. We marveled at how much someone would pay for a bottle of the good stuff.
We took advantage of the nightclub scene and all the parks and plazas. It's really popular to take siestas in Argentina, so most stuff is closed from 1-4 or 5. And there are lots of ditches lining the streets to water the trees. Our friend Steve found that out the hard way after a few beers! He was busy watching 2 people get arrested by police armed with rifles when he fell into one.
Tina and I bought a bus ticket to leave for Las Lenas, a small ski town 8 hours away, at 6:00AM. I woke up at 5:15 and saw that she was still out at the bars. I packed my stuff, hopped in a cab and just had enough time to buy a coffee before boarding the bus. It was 5:59AM and I assumed Tina would meet me later, but low and behold I hear a "KIM! OH MY GOD" behind me and there's Tina looking like a mess, but on time for the bus.
So Tina and I met with 2 old friends from Squaw Valley,
Camilla and Lucy. They are both from Brazil and set up a vacation in Las Lenas for Tina and I to join. Steve met up with us the next day, so we had a right size party group. Plus we made good friends with Esteban, the hotel's front desk man. I definitely felt right at home in that mountain town: I made friends quickly, took advantage of the incredible skiing, enjoyed some good beers and felt like myself there wrapped around tall peaks, running streams, white snow and low valleys. It was strange; it was like suddenly I was aligned within.
So Camilla and I ripped up the slopes after we gave Steve, Tina and Lucy a few lessons to work on for the day. We discovered canyons, gullies, chutes and stunning beauty. One gully we discovered shot us out far away from the chair lift, so we had to traverse back, but I didn't mind because it was a gorgeous day.
Although I didn't have my normal ski gear and had to rent some basic skis (due to my budget) I realized that you don't need much to enjoy your day, just friends and good snow! I also discovered the ALFAJORE in Argentina, which added to my happiness. It's a chocolate covered cookie filled with dulce de leche, a yummy caramel cream.
So I had a flight to return to Puerto Montt, but with a week left of vacation and an addiction to Argentina's culture, I said "screw it" and bought a bus ticket to Buenos Aires. 12 hours later I was at the bus terminal and my Argentinian friend, Cesar, was there to pick me up.
At this point I must say THANK YOU to a job that provides an opportunity to work with people from all over the world. After 4 years at Squaw Kids, I've met and worked with my fair share of foreigners, and now I was Facebooking them all for places to stay and tours of their city. I'm a lucky girl and I laughed to see people on those sight seeing tour buses...I had my own personal guides!
Cesar's family all spoke English, thank God! And they live in a really nice apartment downtown. I was spoiled with Frosted Flakes for breakfast and cafe con leche and alfajores...JOY. Cesar, Alejo and Manuel had an ASADO (BBQ) for me and whoa, Argentinians take their meat seriously. I mean, I think from now on I will only go to the butcher for meat. But they also sold cow lengua (tongue) and intestines in the supermarcado...gross. I took a nice tour of Buenos Aires and enjoyed some Milanesa, a delicious cut of meat breaded and fried just right with sauce and cheese...TAKE ME BACK!
Argentina has seen its share of political turmoil, and like Chile, the military has taken over from a sour dictatorship, but instead of passing the power, they kept it and mysteriously neighbors and everyday people went missing. Yes, Americans can gripe about their govt., but to be honest, at least we all feel safe and protected by our rights in our country. There were posters of the revered Evita everywhere too, as it was close to the anniversary of her death.
Cesar, Manuel and I also checked out the Royal Expo, which was kinda like a State Fair, but bigger. There were cows, sheep and llamas all being shown in competition. They had fresh meats and cheeses from the country side and a huge variety of tractors. I guess Argentina has a pretty big farming community. But it reminded me of home because my cousins live on a farm and thrive off that kind of thing. I ran into some cowboys drinking MATE, a strong herbal tea that tastes really earthy. You usually pass the drink around with friends and there were hot water dispensers everywhere to refill your thermos for Mate. Anyway, I stopped them for a photo, but they didn't seem that interested.
So after enjoying the city life, Manuel and Cesar took me back to the bus terminal and waved farewell as my bus pulled away. I have to say that boys have much better manners in Argentina. I always had to walk through the door first, never carried my bag and was always refused when I offered to pay for something. All in all, I felt like a princess!
22 hours later on a bus I ended up in the resort town of Bariloche, where I met 2 other volunteers, Sara and Frankie. I can't believe I really didn't have to be alone at all during this whole tour...it all worked out perfectly.
Bariloche...WHOA. Similar to Tahoe, but I'd have to say more incredible, Bariloche is a town situated on a beautiful lake with a few ski resorts near by. Now this town has a huge influence from the Swiss and Germans, and so the chocolate and beer were amazing. I mean, we went on a chocolate tasting tour and I felt like I was in heaven! Every ice cream was better than the one before and we even treated ourselves to some cheese fondue. Everything is pretty cheap in Argentina.
I wasn't going to ski again due to my financial situation, but then I said "screw it" and rented some skis and bought a day pass and I'm so glad I did. Frankie, Sara and I all skied well together and so we really challenged each other on the slopes. We skied down chutes and enjoyed the incredible views of the absolutely HUGE mountains and beautiful lake below. We sang and woohooed all the way down the mountain. We even had to ford a creek to get to the base, but I didn't mind walking at all...a new experience! Also a new experience for me: looking like a gaper (a person who is obviously an out of towner on the ski slopes). I didn't have goggles or proper gloves, but who cares??!!
When it was all said and done, I skied 5 days total, met up with many friends, shared some great memories, ate a lot of incredible food and saw some spectacular vistas. Then I contracted Montezuma's revenge, but at least it didn't hit until I got home to Puerto Montt and I've had this whole week off getting better. Everything works out alright in the end, eh?