Week Six: Smoking Socks

Hot coals burned in the bottom of an old steel wheelbarrow. On the brim, my socks sat smoking, and the warmth felt good.

The sky finished turning black by the time I arrived at the bus terminal. Buses, like racehorses in their chutes, waited in rows, ready to carry their travelers to different destinations in Chile. Duffle bag thrown over my shoulder, I passed bus after bus and crowd after crowd of people waiting, searching for my platform. There, a fellow extranjero from my program had already boarded our bus, and was waiting patiently.

Joey, an adventurer from little islands of Hawaii, holds a passionate love for anything dealing with adrenaline. Whether extreme sports, backpacking, or rock-climbing—if it is risky, he is into it. In fact, probably the most intense person I’ve had the pleasure to meet, Joey can turn a casual game of Ping-Pong into a life-or-death match of the decade.

The evening before our trip, Joey and I had been studying late in the campus library together. Bored, and with nothing to do, Joey convinced me to accompany him down south for a Snowkite festival. I was reluctant, but he said learning to fly a kite would be cake, and he had already taught people the skill at least a thousand times before. He said we would figure out where to stay when we got down there. Down where? He couldn’t pronounce the name, but it was ten hours south of Santiago. Sweet, sounds good.

As a result, the sky was now black at the terminal, and the crowds of people were waiting. My adrenaline junky friend and I mounted our racehorse, he snorted, and we held on as our steed took off into the night headed for God knows where.

The kite festival was insane. After a night of periodical sleep, the bus driver announced the arrival to our destination, Malalcahuello. He kicked us out on the side of the road. Just a couple abandoned pups, the pueblo seemed ghostlike to us. In the small hours of the morning, the sky was turning grey, and the winter air was cool. The clouds hung low in the sky.

Joey and I found the director of the kite festival who seemed only a few years older than ourselves. Though we had a late start and those low hanging clouds promised rain, he drove us up the mountain to join the other snowboarders.

*

Joey shouted, “Alright, you want to do less! Small movements. That’s it!”

I held on to the kite handle, barely flexing the muscles in my fingers to change direction. We were hunkered down on an open slope. The weather pelted us; rain drenching our gear, and wind deafening our ears. Fifty yards of string into the air flew an enormous black kite responding to my every movement.

“A little lower now! Practice doing the figure eights again!”

I had lost feeling in my toes sometime earlier (with the late start, I had decided to skip renting snowboard boots and instead had Joey’s tennis shoes on—sopping wet). In spite, I continued to learn what it took to snowboard with a kite. A few more minutes and I needed to head inside to warm up.

“I’m staying out here!” Joey yelled over the wind, “Gunna see what I can do!”

Joey is an animal.

Inside the small shelter, my feet were propped up on the brim of an old steel wheelbarrow. In its base lay a pile of burning coals and ash. My soaked socks were smoking, and the warmth felt good. Surrounding me were some of the coolest—I mean the dopest of the dope—South Americans I have met, shouting and laughing, tossing champagne bottles to one another, barbequing sausages, all swapping stories of different feats they’d accomplished, and all there for the love of snowboarding. I wrung out my gear and warmed up by the makeshift heater (the wheelbarrow), learning their stories and waiting for Joey to come back. He finally did, and we made our way down the mountain back to our little cabana. After a few cat naps for a couple of worn out pups, we changed and headed to the asado (bbq) for all the participants of the festival. We celebrated snowboarding with more champagne and burgers.

The next morning brought a change of luck. The weather had cleared and fresh powder laid on the mountain from the night before. The downside to the great weather was no wind, and as a result, no kiting. Not letting that get to us, we spent the day shredding the mountain without kites (downhill using chairlifts). Amazing. We had so much fun, run after run, and seeing some amazing views. The director of the kite festival let us know that it was a volcano we were on. We were snowboarding a volcano!

The sky finished turning black and we sat at the bus stop. Resting our heads on our duffle bags, we were exhausted. We looked up the road in the darkness, watching the passing headlights for signs of our trusty horse who’d take us back north. After two days of adventure, it was time to head back home to Santiago. Boarding the bus, we left behind the small ghostlike town. We left behind soaked pants and smoking socks, but with us, we carried memories. Memories I probably wouldn’t have had if my adrenaline junky friend hadn’t approached me one night while studying in the library.

The Views:

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