Wednesday, September 16, 2009

South America Midwest Style By Luke Sprunger

Studying Argentina in July

The plane lands in Bariloche, in Argentina’s Patagonia. It’s dark and rainy by the time you get to the house. Most of the streets are dirt and there’s a mean dog behind every fence. You walk the long hill down to the school, and after classes you and three other students flag down a taxi to the mountain. The driver throws the boards on top of the taxi and wraps a bungee cord around them. At Catedral they make you buy a dumb-ass long leash for your board. You ride the first chairlift up above a green bamboo forest, nearly free of snow as it’s July-early season-and one of the worst Julys in years. Everyone is blaming global warming. The open runs and lifts start around the treeline at 6,000 feet, so you thread your way through the crowd to the next chair up (there are no lift lines in South America, only people endlessly jockeying for position).

Click, click at the top and you’re hopping over rocks and getting your base scratched while you stray from the trails to find fresh snow. 3,000 feet below and to your left, 20 mile long lake Nahuel Huapi reflects the afternoon rays. In front of you, to the right of a distant metallic cluster that is Bariloche, are jagged peaks, top halves dipped in powder. You go as much as you can afford to (lift tickets $45). You hunt for every tree run, rock drop, and powder stash.

You take a weekend trip to Chapelco, that place with the trees covered in moss. On the way, the police stop the bus and check everyone’s passports. The snow isn’t great at Chapelco either, but you make the most of the minishred in the magical woods where groups of green parrots flock from one tree to the next.

Catedral is more ice than not on your last day of riding, so you head to the park. You get yelled at by a coach from SASS, because, in this country without rules and on-hill etiquette, you dropped from where the last camper did instead of where everyone else is clustered three feet above the box. You hike the box all afternoon and love it because you’re from the Midwest. You shove into the crowded bus back to town with sore knees and a smile.

Plane to Buenos Aires. There are two homeless dudes sleeping right outside the hotel; across the sidewalk from the Lacoste store, a lady sits with a sign and a change bucket. The payphones are covered with sex fliers, and people at intersections try to talk you into paying for tango lessons. You hop into a creaky subway car, where a kid rattles off a well-rehearsed juggling routine for change from passengers. You skate from cemetery to art museum to art museum, and eat dinner at a sushi place run by the well-established Japanese community.

A 10-year old asks to ride your skateboard, then is bold enough to hit you up for money. You get denied entry to the Casa Rosada (the Pink House, their version of the White House), so you instead traverse crowded streets and gaze at narrow storefronts. You buy some roasted almonds from a sidewalk vendor for $.53 and avoid the dog shit that is all over the sidewalks.

After being away for a month, everything back in the states looks clean, unsketchy, and dull. You realize that you miss speaking Spanish every day. You tell yourself that you’ll find a way to go back. In August, when it’s supposed to really snow.

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