NATE MENNINGER: With the sun beating down on my back and a mountain of untouched powder before me, I pulled on my gloves, tightened my bindings and launched over the snowy cornice.
I’ve been living a powdery dream ever since.
I spent the first few days in my new, penthouse apartment relaxing, writing and applying to as many freelance jobs as possible. Hopscotching around Chile and sleeping in a van for a week really took its toll on my body. Even today, my left eye won’t stop twitching but I’ve just chalked that up to the latino lifestyle.
The first thing that dragged me out of my 21st floor delirium was my broken computer. Turns out that the cold winter air had snuck into our van and fried its mother board….On the bright side, I was forced to explore this amazing city of Santiago and uncover the beauty of Chilean culture, lifestyle and customs.
Here are just a few of the things that I learned:
1) Chile is a capitalist country through and through.
I hiked both San Cristobal and Santa Lucia: two hills located near the city center with amazing views and religious shrines atop their peaks. At each base, I found vendors, guides and even a man with a pet lama selling pictures.
Chile is a capitalist country and like the United States, encourages everyone to implore get rich quick schemes. In some cases, Chile even trumps our capitalist attitude. For instance at night, unemployed street walkers place cones in empty parking spots across the city. If you park in one of their spaces, which are really the only spaces available, you must pay the owner of said cone.
Glad that’s not in the States.
2) Chile is not that liberal.
I went to a friend’s rooftop birthday party where I drank and partied with 40 year old men and women I never met before. Here, I learned how Latino culture often supresses the freedom to express one’s sexuality. Two of the men at the party were partners – actually the only two I knew – but I had no idea until I saw them kissing. My new friends explained to me how homosexuality still remains taboo in most Latin American countries, so therefore most people often hide their true sentiments.
I confirmed this theory later after several conversations with the transvestite prostitutes at the base of my apartment building. No, I did not have sexual relations with them.
3) Chileans love to party.
At 5 p.m. last Wednesday, a friend and I stumbled upon a strangely popular bar. Immediately, we ordered a Spanish 40 each – 36 oz. of beer. Judge us if you want, but the massive, one room area was jam packed with people drinking, smoking and yelling. We had no other choice but to fit in.
Just before we left, we followed the bellowing music down a back hallway where we found a discoteca filled with drunken teens and adults.
How can the demand for such a day-time club exist? Historically, Chile has had an extremely wealthy 1% and an extremely poor 99%. Much like in any country, the 99% drinks more, parties more and speaks with more colloquialisms than the 1%. This is probably why most Americans stereotype Chile as dirty and dangerous….I know I did.
However, over the past 25 years Chile has experienced great economic growth. The country is now considered the powerhouse of South America, and a much larger percentage of its population has access to wealth. Nice cars roam the streets, stores have credit card technology and public transportation is highly effective.
Despite this influx in wealth, most Chileans still hold true to their former customs of debauchery – hence the demand for the 5 o’clock club.
4) WOW. Chile is sweet.
Chile is an amazing country. Yes it’s smoggy as shit but it’s cleaner than Buenos Aires! Plus it’s neither poor nor dangerous. In fact, Chile has everything and more I could ever ask for. Amazing clubs, phenomenal street food and benevolent people. I recommend adding it to your bucket list ASAP.
On Friday night Cristian, the man who offered me his apartment, asked if I wanted to go skiing again. Of course I agreed and the next morning I left for the mountains with Cristian and Tori, an american girl who posted in the Chilean Facebook Ski group asking for a ride.
After two hours of battling up the winding road and another spent outfitting our car with snow chains – mainly my fault due to my over-confident ways – we finally arrived at Valle Nevado.
With only 5 hours to ski, I opted out of lunch and attacked the mountain. When I got to the top of the most challenging lift, I noticed a massive snow face to my right. Without hesitation, I unstrapped my board, unzipped my jacket and began the hike for my first back-country experience.
2 hours later, I reached the summit of la Parva where three chileans fed me and photographed me. One other spaniard by the name of Kurtis stood atop the summit. I asked if he wanted to board down with me and he happily agreed.
A few minutes later, Kurtis and I stood atop a cornice nervously preparing for the unmarked chute before us.
“Ready?“ I screamed as he mounted his go pro.
“Ready.“ He yelled through the wind.
I threw my body over the cornice and emerged into a steep wall of 4 foot deep power. I screamed with elation as my board floated back and forth across the smoky snow, searing a track into its powder. This is what I’ve been looking for, I thought.
Since then, I’ve enjoyed two full days of snowboarding and over 3 more feet of fresh snow.
For my most recent excursion, I posted in the same Chilean Facebook Ski group Tori from earlier posted in. I asked for a ride up to the mountains and sure enough two snowboarders my age responded and offered me a seat in their car. Even more remarkably, when we got to the mountain they scored me a 50% discount on my ticket price.
Needless to say, with a bluebird day, three feet of fresh power and some stellar terrain, I had the time of my life.
Unfortunately, my stay here expires at the end of the month when Cristian returns the apartment to its owner. I’ve secretly been freaking out about what to do next. I have a computer in the shop, my saxophone in Argentina and a rapidly decreasing bank account.
But now, I have everything!
Just yesterday, two freelance writing companies offered me work, a hostel at the base of the ski area offered me a job and Gerardo in Argentina offered to mail me my saxophone!
Somehow, everything is coming together yet again. Gotta love traveling.
I’ll update you soon from my new home in the mountains. Until then…
Live without Limits,