Saturday, June 29, 2013

Invierno en Argentina

It feels a lot like Christmas and every single day I wish it were Thanksgiving, but alas: ‘tis the season of zonda, paros, and snow shutting near everything down in the mountains.

My skiing fellows: Rachael's first fall and Manon rocking it
 The past two weeks solid have been filled with my ever-changing plans to live la vida de doble-hemisferio and go snowboarding in the Andes before I leave. Despite most ski areas being closed and the bus companies either being shut down for paros (protests), snow in the pass to Chile, or the superstitious,“El Niño”-type wind called la zonda, trial number six was finally successful. Manon, Rachael, and I gave up on our extensive plans and just opted for spontaneity, deciding late last night to go to Penitentes, a ski area about 3 hours by bus into the mountains from Mendoza. Waking up at 5:45am ended up being completely worth it: the Andes were unlike any other snowboarding experience I’ve had. The main thing is that there are zero trees. The Andes near Mendoza are essentially a New Mexican landscape with a red-rock Himalayan mountain range popping up out of the ground to lofty (and steep) heights. This made for an incredibly windy day on the slopes with gorgeous views and virtually no limitations as to where one could drop one’s self over the edge and down the mountain.

I probably wouldn’t return to this specific snow park, in all honesty, but I still definitely recommend the Andes for snow sports (all the more reason to come back and shred with Tom Baldwin, yes?). Still, since the entire park was not groomed, it got us out into the powder whether we knew what we were doing or not, and it turned out to be awesome (as long as you didn’t faceplant, which I did twice, with great finesse). Snowboarding in a foreign country was a strange experience in general, since I had no idea that things could be so different. Most notably, the place was absolutely empty. On a Saturday, and a day after they got tons of new snow. This was truly baffling. Furthermore, my bindings completely fell apart and
When the afternoon clouds rolled in and visibility of the powder was shot.
I managed to find the parts in the snow and throw the board back together by hand; and I never expected to get piropo’ed from a chairlift, but evidently that’s a thing. (Piropo is either getting hit on or receiving extensive cat calls, all of which is inescapable for women, particularly obvious gringas like redheads. One of the things I will least miss about Latin America). It was so great to be back to snowboarding only six months after my last time out, and we’re actually considering cutting out of Mendoza sometime between finals in the coming week to go again.

Snowboarding was my last goodbye to the Andes, but I did manage to find my way back to the mountains last weekend, as well—on a horse. A few friends and I decided to pull a major tourist card and go on a “gaucho day” to drive out to Potrerillos, a pueblo south of Mendoza in the Andes, share maté with a handful of porteños, a French guy, and a Swedish woman moving to Mexico, then ride some horses up into the snowy precordillera for lunch with milanesa and vino tinto. It was a wonderful day with great company and it turns out riding horses is way easier than hiking the Andes, who would have guessed? I took it as a reward after Katie and I were the only people on the Salkantay trail in Peru to hike the entire thing, 4,650-meter pass and all, without a guide and carrying all of our own gear.

Stop for lunch in the precordillera
My favorite part was absolutely near the end when the guide decided that if we were feeling gutsy, we could try trotting our horses. I haven’t been on a horse since I can remember, but I was definitely feeling gutsy, so my friend Erin and I decided to give things a shot. Erin actually does know how to ride a horse, so she whipped right past the trotting stage and went straight to canter. I was moving pretty quickly, but my horse decided that I was ready for more when he saw Erin’s horse disappear off on the pampas, and he took off. I wouldn’t have known before, but it turns out cantering is wicked fast and I clung to my horse for dear life but trusted that he knew what he was doing. It was splendid. And addictive, honestly, so Erin and I just ended up racing back to the estancia and had a super grand time of it.

Siesta chillin' in Plaza Independencia
Otherwise, my last few days have been filled with soaking up life here in Mendoza: it has been a beautiful, calm winter and my days are spent slowly with much maté and wine in parks and plazas with great friends. (Note to self: 10 peso (US$1.50) wine is not good, but still impressive that it exists). There is so incredibly much I am going to miss here in Mendoza, plus life in South America, but it all boils down to the little things. I will miss the gamble of a micro system and the fact that they regularly break down or take forever to show up. I will miss being able to switch freely between Castellano and English, mid-sentence without skipping a beat when talking to my fellow IFSA students. I do not want to leave the simple ways of making plans beforehand and sticking to them, as my Argentine cell phone was only live roughly between late March and early May, and I have not missed it one bit.
Strange hours of the morning/night chillin' in Parque Central
I will miss life being slower, in most respects. I will miss being completely unfazed by a horse-drawn produce cart trotting down Avenida Jorge A. Calle, the main street in my neighborhood of la Sexta sección, amongst all the speeding cars. I will miss the particularly absurd pronunciations of "Baldwin" I've gotten during my time here, as it usually ends up being a train wreck. I will miss crunching leaves on my long walks home from class along the forever-mismatched tile sidewalks of the acequia- and tree-lined streets. I will miss those moments mid-sentence when I realize that a bunch of words have been coming out of my mouth without my even thinking about them, with none of them being in English. Most of all, I will miss the people I have met: in Chile and Mendoza, my fantastic fellow IFSA students, and my loving madre mendocina. Mendoza was not what I expected in a lot of ways (my climbing shoes have regrettably laid dormant since bouldering in Patagonia in February), but it has been exactly what it was meant to be, thanks to the wonderful people I have shared this semester with. I consider a handful of places my home and Mendoza is not one of them so much as my tent was in Patagonia, but I will be very sad to leave what I have grown so happy with here. I truly have never felt so calm and confident in how my life is at present and is headed in future.

The Gaucho Day group: Nancy, yours truly, Rachael, Erin, and Manon

Manon on the Gaucho Day in the Andes
Nevertheless, there are many reminders that it is time to return home. You know you’ve been in Argentina too long when things like this actually make sense (and are hilarious). Another more unfortunate realization happened last night: one of my closest friends here, Emily Seitz, got robbed at gunpoint by a woman at the trole stop down from mine, at the same time that I was getting home by trole a few blocks away, foolishly thinking that midnight was early enough to be safe not taking a taxi. I both do not and do miss quite a bit from the United States, but dependably feeling safe in my own neighborhood is definitely something I am looking forward to having again, fortunately. There are a lot of things to be taken for granted in our lives, and just feeling at home and safe is absolutely one of them for me until I moved to a neighborhood in Mendoza that I love but simply is not secure. Otherwise, I am looking forward to being reunited with so much: my parents, my family and friends who I am so lucky to have actively in my life even when I am on a different continent, food I love to cook and eat, being able to feel safe and not obviously out of place while running again, musical instruments being back in my life, my beloved Outdoors Haus at Wheaton, math and science and musings, and my major department at Wheaton, among so many countless other things.

Erin and the precordillera of the Andes
This has been an amazing semester, and I have most of all realized my ability to be incandescently happy in so many places, regardless of the circumstances and it often being difficult. Many of my fellow IFSA students and I have been discussing our thoughts on the matter of returning to the United States over the last few weeks, and we each have fairly different views. I see going to a changed home as a changed person less as a strange and possibly fearful transition, but more as a simple continuation. I’ve spent this entire semester feeling, above all, a little out of place and as though these six months have just been a pause on normal life. That is completely wrong, as this present is normal life, even if different, which is exactly what makes life worth living. I both have no desire to return at the same time as all I want in life being to be home, wherever that is, but I certainly have not yet realized that I will so soon be gone from Mendoza and these people. Regardless, there is a plane at the crack of dawn a week from Wednesday, and I will be on it.

All sorts of love from the Southern hemisphere,

Panorama from just below the top of the highest chairlift at Penitentes


  1. Emily, thanks so much for sharing your adventures this past 6 months. I've had a grand time living them vicariously through your blog. Look forward to catching up with you f2f when you're back in ABQ.

    -- Karl

    1. Thank you so much for reading!! We will certainly have to get lunch when I'm home, I would love to see you, Debbie, or anyone else from the office (especially since Palm Desert is so sparsely attended this year)

    2. Debbie is off fishing the San Juan River this weekend and sometime later in July she's off to scuba dive with whale sharks, so we'll have to coordinate schedules closely as soon as you are back in this half of the hemisphere. Everyone except your dad will be in town because he's the only one "lucky" enough to be sent to a conference where temperatures are equivalent to the surface of the sun.

      "But it's a dry heat..."