Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Patagonia: Los Gringos Turistos



I pulled hard against the sharp, juggy undercling, right arm extended and tense, left hip turned into the wall against the steep overhanging limestone.  I pressed outward with my toes, my core tight as my left hand groped for a hold, missing the good one and finding purchase on three fingertip dimples in the white rock.

Karsten Delap getting into position to take photos.
I instantly knew I had missed the correct hold but was rapidly fatiguing against the steeply angled rock and the lack of forearm fitness, a result of two preceding weeks characterized by much walking but little vertical movement.  Nevertheless, I committed to the poor handhold and released my right hand aiming for what I knew to be a good handhold above.  With a furious scream and a powerful burst of energy, I sprang upward, missed, oozed down a rough patch of rock, and fell off.

Downtown Bariloche.
  “Nice work, man,” said Kevin, from behind his camera, suspended in the air on a rope just a few feet away.  With an injured foot and hip, he was playing the role of photographer.

I flexed my hands, attempting to force blood back into my cold, numb fingers.  Despite the cold, it was good to be out climbing, moving.  It was good to get pumped, get tired, strive, scream, flail, push, fall.

We were making good use of our last two days in Bariloche, taking advantage of the opportunity to catch up on not only our sport climbing but also cultural experiences we had neglected.  We spent the days cragging and the evenings acting like tourists.  We sampled the many things Argentina in general, and Bariloche in particular, do well--ice cream, wine, chocolate, beer, and beef.  In contrast to the preceding two weeks, we kept a much more relaxed schedule, resting, catching up on sleep, and catching up with Kevin’s friends.

At Berlina brewery.
On our last evening, we shared the kitchen at the campground with a group from Buenos Aires.  A gaggle of high school students had just graduated and were spending a week in Bariloche to celebrate.  A couple of their mothers serving as chaperones were in the kitchen preparing milanesa, similar to chicken fried flank steak.  I watched with interest as they prepared the meal while I absent-mindedly kept an eye on our remaining tortellini, the last of our field food.  Slowly, the students trickled in and out one-by-one, seeing what was for dinner and offering a greeting.

As they came, the students started to linger, asking questions when they discovered I knew a little Spanish.  Soon, there were a half-dozen teenagers crowding the small kitchen, intently querying me about my life, my age, my work, my wife--everything they could think of.  In short order, the two women ejected us all from the kitchen so they could finish making dinner in peace.

The students invited us to sit with them and their parents and teachers for dinner.  Soon, we were conversing about our recent climbing attempts, our stay in Bariloche, our return to the states, their activities for the upcoming week, and their aspirations to become school teachers, coaches, engineers, and entrepreneurs.  We became facebook friends, gave out business cards, took photographs, and shared customary hugs and kisses on the cheek before finding our way back to our caba├▒as.

The next morning, we packed for a bittersweet departure.  The youths and their chaperones were gathering for breakfast.  Amidst a clamor of, “¡Ciao!” and, “¡Buen viaje!” we left the campground.  I anticipated the long road home and recalled the enthusiasm of the amazingly friendly students.  There was nothing to do but smile.

Grabbing one last choripan on the road (courtesy of Kevin Shon).

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