NATE MENNINGER: Most people might have feared the isolation, the utter darkness and the frigid waves that drenched our clothes, but for some reason Kat and I enjoyed every moment. With our backs against two kayaks that straddled the middle of a wavy lake, we focused on nothing but the milkyway overhead.
If only it didn’t take so long for life to get so good:
Following my return home from Mt. Piltrikitron, I spent an entire week looking for work. I trolled through internet servers applying to writing gigs, dropped off more resumes at the ski area and even sent emails out to a few other work-stays in the area – this time confirming that they served meat.
I shouldn’t forget that during this time I also paid a visit to the local dentist because I noticed that my upper molar had broken off from its root. The doctor feared infection and scheduled a $50 operation (that’s expensive here), but when the time finally came for him to extract the tooth’s root, he stopped, pulled back and reexamined the x-ray. Turns out in his 25 years of dentistry, I was the first patient he’d ever seen with the following case: my upper wisdom tooth had eaten away at my molar and was now taking its rightful place as a functional tooth.
The dentist took a picture of me for safe keeping and charged me only $15.
Guess I really am special, Mom!
Towards the end of my seven-day hibernation, one of the publications I applied to offered me a trial article. I cranked out the assignment and next thing I knew, they offered me the job: $600 a month for a couple of articles a week. I’m still poor but hell yea, I’ve got some income now.
On a side note, I guess now I really am a ‘freelance writer’ – definitely weird to say that, but I know my college friends would be proud…
The next Saturday night, I went to a nearby bar where I asked for the names of any guitarists in the area looking for someone to play with. The bartender handed me a number which I immediately texted when I got home. A guitarist by the name of Julian – a 23-year-old Argentine music teacher who recently moved to Bariloche like me – responded and graciously invited me over to his house to jam.
The next morning, I took the bus 18.5 kilometers away from the city center. There, in the middle of nowhere, I followed a long, dirt road down to Julian’s house where he greeted me and invited me inside. He poured me some tea, gave me some cake then plugged in his guitar and turned on his mic. His voice was amazing.
Julian and I quickly became great friends. He introduced me to his girlfriend, helped me look for a new apartment and even tried to set me up with his friend. We formed somewhat of a guitarist/saxophonist duo and compiled a set list of Argentina’s most recognizable songs. Today, we performed that set list for our very first time at Bariloche’s most popular street corner. Granted, it was cold as shit and we didn’t make much money but rest assured we will be back, and we will succeed.
In the meantime, I joined a young Mexican girl and an American friend of mine in an effort to hike to yet another Refugio. The mountain side trail we followed paralleled a beautiful lake; after which it ducked into a valley and weaved through a shadowy forest. Eventually, we emerged onto q rocky face and found the Refugio where two wooden cabins, a frozen lake and a panoramic view of jagged cliffs awaited us.
We ate a pizza and relaxed in the sun for a few hours then began our three hour descent back into town. By the time we arrived home it was 8:15 p.m. – 12 hours after we began our journey.
A few days later, two American men and a young, British woman settled in to the hostel. They invited me out for dinner and we found the most amazing steak house in the world. For $13, we bought two unbelievably tasty 20-ounce steaks. I now know why they say Argentina has the best meat in the world: it’s tender, succulent and cheap…Although I’ll always crave some good ole fashion southern barbecue, but hey, that’s just the American in me.
The next morning, I asked the young British woman Kat if she wanted to rent a kayak with me and paddle out onto the lake for sunset. Albeit, it was a corny line and maybe a bit forward, but Kat ignored my lack of charisma and said yes anyways – she was one cool chick; probably the coolest I’ve ever met while traveling, and she had no problem attacking life head on.
We bought some provisions and took the bus a few miles away from town where we met a mutual friend of mine who rented us his two kayaks. Together, we pushed off into the lake but no more than 100 yards from the shore we stopped paddling entirely. The scenery can only be described as hypnotic: the water was so incredibly still and the mountains so incredibly stunning that if we paddled, the moment would have disappeared forever.
When night fell upon us we snapped back into reality and began paddling again. Our initial goal was to make it across the massive lake, but considering our progress we were forced to recalculate. We instead found sanctuary on a nearby abandoned island.
With two bottles of wine, some vegan cookies and a bag of bacon flavored chips, we enjoyed a cold, but unforgettable night. The shore lights flickered to life and the stars above emerged from their hiding place to illuminate the sky. I would have never left the comfort of that rock if it weren’t for the unwelcomed arrival of high winds.
We finished our wine and the bacon chips (we couldn’t stomach the vegan cookies) then stumbled back out across the rocky shore towards our kayaks. Kat elegantly mounted hers and pushed off into the wavy lake. I, on the other hand, failed and instead flipped over the edge of my kayak and submerged into the wintry water below.
Dripping from head to toe, I led the charge home as fast as I could, but when I looked back over my shoulder to find Kat lying on her back, I stopped.
“What are you doing?” I yelled.
“Just taking it all in, mate. Look at the stars.” she said.
For the next thirty minutes we held each other’s kayaks close and admired the night sky above. Waves splashed across our bodies, but the wind had already numbed our skin and the alcohol our minds. Eventually, we realized how dangerous the situation was and decided to head for shore. Soon enough we were safe and sound enjoying some free pizza and listening to the men who lent us the kayaks rant about how they thought we were dead the whole time.
Kat and I said our goodbyes when she left for Buenos Aires on Wednesday, ironically the same day my friend Gerardo, the 38 year old Argentine doctor who I mentioned in my last post, offered me a place to stay. Gerardo recently rented a three-room house in the middle of the countryside and he was wondering if I wanted to stay in his extra room…for free.
So here I am! I’ve left the hostel and I’m now living with Gerardo in a small, country house down a long, dirt road. Ironic, huh. We cook together every night, watch movies and even hit the town’s bar once in a while. We don’t have Wifi at the moment but we just ordered it! The company said they’ll arrive anytime between 3 and 22 business days….gotta love the Latino lifestyle.
No worries though because next week I’m headed to Portillo, Chile: home to South America’s most relished ski area. The American who hiked to the refuge with me a few days ago told me he’s renting a campervan next week and wants some company. All I have to do is help him drive and buy my own ski tickets. The van’s on him.
The unpredictable benevolence of the people I meet continues to remind me of the reasons why I travel: this world is an amazing place and the people within it are full of surprises. Surprises that will make you wonder why you ever took that desk job or played it safe and stayed home.
…At this point, I think I’m full on addicted to travelling…
I’ll check back with you in a week or so after my adventure to Chile.
Live Without Limits,