Thursday, July 5, 2007

Snowboarding in the Andes

Me on day 1.

Snowboarding was one thing we'd definitely not counted on doing on this trip- what honest backpacker can afford to go the snow without resorting to ..urgh... working..., or living in a shoebox on top of 16 other 2 minute noodle eating snownuts? Well, apparently in Argentina, you can enjoy the slopes without resorting to a London student existence.

Sunrise at Penitentes.

Setting a new and horrible record, we got up at 5am to catch the 6 o'clock bus up to the resort. Arriving at the station we were greeted with the seriously unfunny news that the bus was full and we'd have to wait until 10 o'clock to make out way to snow-bearing altitudes. Not impressed, we taxied back to the hostel for more sleep and breakfast, and then got on a bus to Penitentes.

Dogs are everywhere.

After four hours of riding through a breathtaking landscape (dishearteningly, composed mostly of semi-arid desert without a blotch of white to be seen), we arrived slopeside. Here we found clear blue skies, pearly empty slopes and a hostel covered in snow. Without stopping to eat, we hired some gear and got out there. Luckily, our new friend Raphael, who had joined us on this mission from Mendoza, came equipped with 15 years of snowboarding experience, and was on hand to take over teaching Angie how to ride a board when my 'lessons' were clearly not working.

It was small and the hot water was broken, but the location was outstanding.

In line with the bottom of Angie´s collar, you can see the yellow roof of Hostel Penitentes.

The next two days we slid down various parts of the mountain, acquiring snow-legs and having loads of fun. The beginning and end of each day was highlighted by the incredible soreness that makes you wonder if its all worth it. On the second day, a storm sat within in view further down the valley, constantly threatening to cut everyone´s enjoyment short. By the end of the day seeing was becoming increasingly difficult, but we managed to make the most of it and stayed snowboarding until closing time.

That night the storm crept up the valley and by morning we were completely encased in white. Snow had been falling all night, and continued to float down on this, our last day in Penitentes and the day on which we were supposed to be heading back to something more closely resembling reality. As the morning progressed, the snow stopped floating down and started to cut through the air sideways, with increasing intensity. Rumours wafted that the last bus out of Penitentes until the following day would be leaving at 12 noon. Not wanting to miss our chance, we turned up at the stop a full twenty minutes early. At this time it was incredibly cold, and the bus stop was not an enclosed place, it was simply an area on the side of the road where you stood like a snowman squinting into the bleached distance praying that a bus would materialise from the fog at any moment. But by the time 1 o'clock rolled around we realised that the bird had probably flown without us.

Snowstorm from the bar.

Back to the bar to wait for a possible 5 o'clock bus. We waited for a full hour in the excruciating conditions, me on bus lookout and Angie taking refuge inside a phone booth. At 6 all feeling in our toes had gone, it was getting dark and the snow was lashing any exposed skin with icy ferocity. Back to the bar we went, along with our fellow stranded- Marc and Megan- to dry out, warm up, drink a beer and decide what to do next. We ended up in staying in a different hostel (one with running hot water) and once clean and dry, enjoying the feeling of being completely cut off from the rest of the world down below us.

Waiting for a bus that never came.

The next day the wind had stopped, but the snow hadn't. Conditions on the hill were less than ideal, but the promise of fresh powder waiting for me right below the chairlift compelled me to part with another AUD$70 (the cost of a lift ticket and gear hire) and spend another day punishing my body. Half a metre of delicious powder covered the slopes, and I spent the day with Marc and Megan attempting ridiculous jumps and enjoying the soft cushion of new snow every time I caught an edge.

Sodden and shivering (I was, Angie had spent the day inside next to a heater), we escaped Penitentes that afternoon thanks to a scheduled bus that actually turned up on time. The drive out was one of the most spectacular I have ever seen, lots of huge mountains covered in snow and a massive gorge that the bus skirted the edges of (and thankfully, never actually went over). A spectacular ending to an awesome few days.

No comments: