The first few hurdles and adjustments are behind me now. I am, in fact posting from Chile today. I'm here for a two week training and orientation period before returning to the States for the Veronica Mars premiere event. Stepping out into the glorious hot sunshine after landing in Santiago was the earliest highlight of my experience so far.
I've been working hard everyday and it feels good to have some new challenges to mix things up, even though I'm definitely feeling the brain drain. But even if I were allowed to divulge details of the day job in my public blog, I highly doubt any of my readers would find it in any way interesting.
So. To tide you over until I have better trip material, I have pulled up from the deep, dark recesses of my old emails, the following account from my personal journal the last time I came to Chile to live. The year was 2008, the girl was me, the 27-year-old version, the old lady in a bunch of 18-20 somethings who comprised the rest of the study abroad group.
The tale? Is one of "very tragical mirth" (as Peter Quince might say)...
Okay. I have come to the conclusion that skiing may not really be my thing.
I woke up early yesterday, 5:30 am to be precise, in order to meet up with the group by 6:30. From there it was a three hour bus ride up through Santiago and the Andes mountains to a ski resort called Valle Nevado. I can’t complain about the landscape, that’s for certain. This won’t be my last flirtation with the Andes, though I have to say, I hope next time they’ll treat me more kindly.
There is only so much advice and preparation that one can employ for a new experience before inevitably diving in and just giving it a go. Here, in a somewhat particular order, are the things I learned about skiing for which my multitude of queries to my friends did not truly prepare me:
Ski boots are tremendously uncomfortable and difficult to get around in. Let me just say that I’ve never really appreciated until now the glorious gift of God to mankind called the ankle. Besides being heavy and stiff, the boots force you to stand bent every so slightly, meaning your shins are being pressed into all day long.
The sun is hot. Yeah, that was a somewhat obtuse thing to say, I know, but I was amazed at how much so it was on the mountaintop. Having dressed myself in three layers, I was ill-prepared for the roasting power of the sun glowing off the snow. I didn’t even need the hat I’d been concerned about not having before we started our beginner’s lesson.
Ah, my skiing lesson...How was I to know (as a group of ten of us lined up innocently at eleven-o-clock to make our hopeful introduction to one of the world’s oldest thrill sports) that the lesson itself would indirectly be the cause of all my forthcoming woe?
Here’s my advice to all those who have never skied but might be interested to learn: pay the extra money and get private lessons. Unless you have someone to teach you that’s friend or family, but either way get some one-on-one time. The trouble with my beginner’s ski lesson was two-fold. First, because there were so many people, there was quite a lot of standing around waiting for your turning the cycle of whatever the instructor was teaching at the moment. I have already described the discomfort of standing in ski boots. Add to this the precarious nature of being on the skis themselves, and you soon come to realize that standing around for three hours waiting on your turn is not relaxing. It’s very taxing work, and dull. I think I spent the prime of my energy doing just that, an unfortunate situation compounded by the sapping hot sunshine (as I have already described) and the fact that I foolishly did not drink anything after the early morning . In my defense, I really hadn't expected the lesson to last quite as long as it did, but not being properly hydrated, especially at such an unaccustomed altitude, was, at the end of the day, an exceptionally stupid lack of common sense on my part.
The second problem with the lesson was that it was a bit incomplete. Our instructor taught us how to stand on skis, how to navigate a bit, and how to stop ourselves if we were going slowly. He did not teach us how to turn and he did not teach us how to weave or otherwise slow down a terrifying descent at breakneck speeds. At the end of those three dull, hot, taxing hours he left us at the bunny hill to fend for ourselves. I reiterate my advice: get someone to teach you privately, someone who can take the trouble to make sure your foundation in the sport is enough that you can actually reach the part where it starts getting fun.
When I finally did get up and get my poles back, I made my way to the carousel lift, which is a sort of junior lift where in you sit on this pole thing that pulls you back up on your skis to the top of the hill. I quickly dubbed it the butt lift. The butt lift didn’t like me. By this time I hadn't eaten or drunk anything in several hours and I was so tired that I was on the verge of tears. I kept falling off the butt lift. I know it’s not actually that difficult to use and I think here my experience with water-skiing would have finally come in handy, but once again I had no strength in my muscles to speak of. After collapsing twice, I finally decided to give the undoubtedly exasperated park people a break from helping me up, took off my skis, and climbed the hill on foot. I kept going, and carried all my gear all the way back to the bus for much-needed rest and sustenance. I did NOT realize then that there exists an honor system in these ski places that apparently means you can leave your gear places that no one will bother them, so I carried those blasted heavy skis and cumbersome poles all the way back in my highly uncomfortable boots. It was the longest walk of my life.
When I finally made it to the bus and took off my jacket I was in for yet another surprise. I was soaking wet, and not from snow. My outer-most layer was waterproof and at that point I hadn't actually spent all that much time in the snow. No, I was soaked with my own sweat. It’s no wonder I was so dehydrated, really. I bet I sweat out a fifth of my body weight. Thinking distastefully of the laundry load, I divested myself of my middle layer, a sweatshirt (haha! Pun!!) and tore into my lunch. At this point I was more than ready to never look at a ski again, except for returning mine to the rental counter, but after some of the other beginners and I had rested almost an hour, we plucked up the bravado to head out again. I’m glad I did. Even if the day couldn't be described as a resounding success, at least I could feel like I’d tried to get my money’s worth.
We tested our underdeveloped skills at continuing down the bunny trail beyond the butt lift. This was probably a mistake (we still weren't ready) but it did end up giving me a glimpse at why people seem to like this so much. For a few, brief moments I found myself in a rare state of equilibrium, flying down the hill in a thrill of smooth excitement, only to quickly be replaced by terror because I had no idea how to stop except by wiping out. This charming dance repeated itself two ore three more times before I finally decided I’d had enough of hauling myself to my ski-bound feet in the middle of high-traffic ski slopes and called it a day.
Three of us from the ‘crappy skiers club’ (as we decided to call ourselves) went to the overpriced café to further re-hydrate and we were much entertained by exchanging anecdotes of our various exploits. Oddly, this was perhaps my favorite part of the day. Our trials had brought us closer together in bonds of common suffering, and I feel a lot less like an outsider in the group.
On the bus ride home I got some beautiful pictures of the Andes snow-capped in sunset and after we got through Santiago we watched a really awful movie, Meet the Spartans. I advise my Christian friends (or any friends of taste, for that matter) never to waste an hour and a half of your life watching it. The only thing I can say in its favor was that it distracted me from thoughts of how sore and sick I was feeling, even if the distraction was in the form of general disgust (though I have to say, I did laugh at the gag poking fun of Sanjaya from American Idol).
So I finally arrived back home in Viña, late in the evening, bruised, battered, and after a quick shower to make me feel not like a rank pillar of cold, sweaty clothes, I went to bed almost immediately. Even then it took a long time to fall asleep. Every inch of my body hurt, especially my back, which I’d wrenched pretty badly, and my head, which had been pounding severely since we’d begun descending the mountain on the bus. Sleep finally found me, though, and I woke up headache-free and very grateful for it.
It may seem, from the highly complaining level of these musings that I regret my dalliance with the sport of skiing, so no one would be more surprised than me to learn that this is not the case. Even at the end of all my misadventures I was already able, on a very deep level, to begin regarding them with an amused eye. It seems to me a story that be highly entertaining in the retelling, even if it wasn’t so much fun in the living. Will I ever go again? That’s an excellent question. In hindsight, I think I see now that skiing for the very first time in the Andes mountains, for all the bragging rights, was not perhaps the wisest course of action. I think now armed with experience that I could perhaps have another go … someday.* With a less intimidating locale, a better quality of instruction, and a whole fresh start of strength it might be fun. Maybe. But I’m not sure how the opportunities for such will present themselves. I guess we shall find out. In the meantime this was definitely a day to remember in the annals of the life of Faith King. I'm so glad I made sure to get all that down while it was fresh in my memory.