The Third Good Thing
We skied at Arpa again Sunday, and learned when we were leaving that if the promised storm rolled in overnight they would be closed on Monday. The Arpa people would notify our hotel if that decision was made during the night, and if we didn’t hear we should call them first. They explained that they didn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate skiers during storms, and no employees stayed on the mountain when bad weather was imminent. They suggested we make an alternate plan to ski at Portillo if Arpa didn’t operate.
We talked about it in the truck on the way downhill. I was reminded by Dana and Tom about the reasons Portillo wasn’t even in our plans. It was far from Santiago, kind of insular like an all-inclusive resort, although you paid separately for everything you did there. It wasn’t very big, had mostly poma lifts, and little in the way of lift-serviced advanced and expert terrain.
Things change when your primary destination might not open. So what if Portillo didn’t specialize in challenging terrain if a major snow dump was expected? It was reachable by paved and maintained roads, and we were already close by. There was some backcountry terrain, and we could probably find a guide or instructor to show us the good spots. It would be open because people would be there for ski-weeks, and it would be uncrowded since anyone planning a day trip from Santiago would avoid the storm and ski somewhere closer.
A vote wasn’t necessary. If Arpa was closed we’d go to Portillo instead. It was sealed when we stopped at our hacienda. The driver said, “You skied with Enrico for two days. He grew up here skiing at Portillo, and I think if you offer to pay his entrance and afternoon meal, he might be very happy to be your guide there. I can give you the number to call.”
Hector spoke to him in Spanish, and with the engine running and the doors open I couldn’t follow them. I did see the driver hand a piece of paper to Hector. We stood outside the truck and the driver handed our bags, skis and poles out haphazardly, knowing we’d know who owned what.
When he went to get back in the truck, Hector stopped him and handed him some money. They shook hands, and Hector came back and picked up his things. We headed toward the entrance.
“Did you give him a good tip?” I asked.
Hector said, “I gave him a very good tip. I wouldn’t have driven us up and down that mountain for any amount of money, much less two times.
“So, what’s a very good tip?”
Hector sighed, “It’s your money, or at least it was yours: fifty thousand pesos.”
“Cool. Wait, that’s what you gave us to take you skiing for two weeks!”
“I think you’re right, amigo. Tom and Dana, hold up! These aren’t my skis and this isn’t my bag. Put everything down here and take what’s yours.”
Our skis were all crusted over with ice and snow, and I didn’t think the owners would appreciate the snowmelt inside. I asked, “Where should we keep our skis?”
Hector said, “Good question. I’ll ask at the desk. You boys stay put for one minute.”
He was back in less than a minute looking along the dimly lit entranceway. He found a door and opened it, feeling inside for a light. “In here,” he said when it was lit.
We brought our skis in and found a wooden trough that went around three walls to a drain in the floor, with pairs of pegs about five feet over the floor. It was like an outside ski rack indoors, and I took a picture so we could get one made for the house in Stockton. I was sure the simple design would appeal to both Dad and Heinrich, and even more to Karen because she wouldn’t be forever mopping up the melted snow from our equipment.
We took our bags to the room and took turns in the shower, got dressed, and spread out. I went back into the lobby and sat in a chair by the fire. I never got my phone out because I was looking at a face I never expected to see again. I jumped to my feet and cried, “Lucero! When did you get here? Why did you come?”
He smiled and said, “Sit,” and when I did he took the chair beside me. I have a small gift from Santiago for you.”
“A gift?” I asked in surprise.
He smiled, “Yes. Our staff thought you would like to see this, so I drove here myself to deliver it.” He reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a news clipping and held it out to me.
It was a clipping and I didn’t know from what paper, but it was in Spanish and not likely from the front page.
I won’t repeat the whole thing here, but the headline was ‘Detective arrested’. Nice and simple. The text said that Detective Eduardo Philippe Silva had been arrested on Saturday night for releasing a known sex offender without authority, for improper use of department equipment to spy on an American ‘child’, for causing damage at a local hotel, and for suspicion of soliciting a bribe. It also said that more charges may follow.
It went on with a lot more, but it was background on Silva, and his spotty record up until his arrest.
I stared at the paper after I read it twice, looked at Lucero and said, “Thank you.”
Lucero smiled, “The police may have more questions for you, but they will be about Silva. I doubt even that. They know you’re an American with an important father, and you are suspected of nothing. If anything, they will ask if what Silva wrote as your statement is what you actually said.”
“I never made a statement.”
“Tell them that, then. They have enough physical evidence on Silva to convict ten people.”
I asked, “What about Ramirez?”
Lucero grimaced and said, “Right now he’s the most wanted man in Chile. It’s reasonable to believe that you aren’t his primary worry right now, but never think he will forget about you. You have another week here and he has to hide for many months at least, but he will never let you out of his memory. My only concern is an accidental encounter, which is highly unlikely, but it’s part of the reason I’m here with you.”
“You’re not on the clock?” I asked.
He smiled, “I’m always on the clock if you wonder if I get paid. I also have an ulterior motive, which I probably should have mentioned the first time I heard about Dana’s skiing skills.”
I grinned, “You want to learn to race?”
Lucero made a face, “No such thing. It is … ah, my older boy skis. He wants to race. I was hoping you would let him ski with Dana one day while you’re here.”
I said, “I’m not Dana’s boss, I’m his brother. What’s your kid’s name?”
“Okay. If Daniel wants to ski with us, he’s welcome. Um, how old is he?”
Lucero said, “He’s fourteen, almost thirty,” and chuckled.
I said, “He can go with us whenever he wants. We’ll be at Arpa or Portillo tomorrow depending on the weather. I’m not positive where we’ll go next, but we all like La Parva.”
Lucero said, “Any time, any place. Would you like to meet my Daniel?”
I looked at Lucero in surprise and asked, “He’s here with you?”
Lucero’s eyebrows lifted a tiny bit and he said, “I told you I came here for two purposes. I’ll find him now if you’ll be here. He’s probably watching a race on television.”
“Ski races?” I asked.
Lucero smiled sadly and said, “NASCAR, I’m afraid. If ski racing doesn’t work out for him, maybe he’ll give his papa’s trade a try.”
I asked in surprise, “You raced in NASCAR?”
“Don’t be silly. I raced Formula-1 for three seasons. I won some points, but not enough to keep it up. Let me find Daniel and I’ll be back right away.”
I decided to call Lisa later, and when a waiter came by with a tray of wine and glasses I pointed hopefully at the little table beside me. He lowered the tray and put the bottle on the table. “How many glasses will you need, sir?”
I wasn’t sure so I said, “Four for now. If you see more people here, bring another bottle and enough glasses, okay?”
When the waiter left, I looked at the bottle to see what I had. It was a Cabernet, which was one type I’d had and liked. I took a glass and poured a little in, and it was good.
Lucero showed up with his son, so I stood up to be introduced. Daniel seemed to be more than nervous; he was almost petrified. I said, “Sentarse,” and pointed him to the closest chair. “Don’t be nervous.”
I sat down in my chair and said, “I don’t bite. Do you speak English at all?”
He shot a sly little grin my way and said, “Better than you speak Spanish, I think.”
I grumbled, “Why am I not surprised?” but didn’t really put voice to it. Instead I said, “Your dad says you want to race. Is skiing your second choice?”
Daniel looked down and mumbled, “I would like to race on skis; I’m a good skier. It’s not a one, two, three thing for me. I love to run. I run in the two-hundred and four-hundred meter races and I almost always win or place. I like to watch automobile and motorcycle racing, and I think I’d like to try that when I’m old enough.”
I heard Dana cry, “Lucero!” and he came running over and started asking Lucero questions.
When I could get a word in, I handed Dana the article and said, “Look at this!”
Dana unfolded it eagerly, looked at it, turned it over and looked again, and eyed me. “What’s this? Is it in Spanish?”
Oops. I stood up and said, “Let me introduce you to Daniel. He is Lucero’s son.”
Daniel stood and I introduced them, saying that Daniel wanted to ski with us for a day, and that he was interested in racing. I said, “If you promise to show him some racing techniques, he might be kind enough to read this article to you.”
Dana grinned at Daniel and said, “Don’t worry. You don’t have to bribe me. Sit down and let’s talk about skiing.”
They moved to a sofa nearby, and I gave a little thumbs-up to Lucero. Are you staying here tonight?”
“Yes. I am your driver once again.”
I said, “Oh, good. Then Daniel can ski with us tomorrow. Um, what happened to Marco?”
“He is back in Santiago. He went back with another agent in the vehicle I drove here. Daniel brought his ski things in case this came up. I can pay for him to ski at Portillo, but I can’t afford a day at Arpa. That is for rich Americans.”
I said, “Yeah sure, and for rich Canadians, rich Australians, and rich Frenchmen and that was just our group. Don’t worry; if we go to Arpa he can go with us and I’ll pay. He can ski with us the rest of the week, for that matter.”
“That is a very kind offer, Paul, but …”
I shook my head and said, “You be kind in return then, and accept it. I was a good skier when I met Dana, yet I learned more from him the first time we skied together than I learned in any one year before that. I still learn something every time we go out. Tom does too, and all our friends back home. Just being with him on skis makes you better. Ask Hector.”
Lucero smiled, “I have heard Hector’s stories, and they do agree with what you’re saying. Okay. I will accept your very generous offer, and I am certain Daniel will be thrilled. Why don’t you tell him?”
I said, “We have an empty seat at our table. He can sit with us when we eat and we’ll tell him.”
Lucero said softly, “Hector told me something else about the three of you.”
“Yes. He said you may be rich Americans, but you are also very nice and decent young men, who are respectful of others.” He patted the back of my hand and added, “I see that as well, and can only hope that we do as good a job with our boys.”
I smiled, but thought to myself, Good grief – my loss of reputation has now gone international. Where the Hell is Tommy when I need him?
As if I’d conjured him up, Tom and Hector came in, and when Tom saw Lucero he came straight over. He smiled and said, “Hector said you were back! It’s good to see you.”
Lucero stood and shook Tom’s hand, and I stopped paying attention when Hector said he had to talk to me.
I followed Hector over by the fireplace, and he said, “I just spoke with Attorney Menendez. They have Silva dead to rights, and he’s talking. He took five million pesos from Ramirez to point the blame away from him, and he thought it would be easy to name you as the instigator. Before you ask, he doesn’t know where Ramirez might be. Nobody thinks he’s in Santiago now, but Chile is a long, long country with a lot of places for a person to hide, or even disappear.”
“It’s over, then?”
“Almost. The police will want a sworn statement from you, just the facts of what took place in that restaurant. They understand from Menendez that what Silva submitted as a sworn statement was in fact just a rehash of your personal information along with a supposed statement from you which totally incriminates you. Silva has admitted that he faked it, and that he paid a stranger money to sign your name to it.”
I looked at Hector and asked, “How much is five million pesos in dollars?”
“That’s almost eleven thousand.”
I shook my head, “Why would he throw his life away for eleven grand? It doesn’t make sense.”
Hector grimaced and heaved his shoulders. “Who knows? Have you ever heard of the Peter principle?”
I shook my head, thinking that was a very strange term.
“That principle suggests that people will build competence over time, and rise to their level of competence. They will be promoted one step beyond to where they are again incompetent. That sounds like Silva. From what I’ve heard he was a good cop, a very good cop, but when he made detective he was beyond his skill level, his ability to learn and adapt, and began to stumble. My guess is that he knew his job was shaky, and if he could solicit a year’s pay from Ramirez it would give him time to find a new living.”
I said, “That’s sad if it’s true.”
Hector said, “That’s only a guess. It’s just as likely that he was living beyond his means and owed a lot of debts, or that he had a mistress or a secret drinking problem, maybe gambling debts. I wouldn’t start feeling sorry for him. He was ready to throw you to the wolves to let a creature like Ramirez go.”
I closed my eyes for a moment and thought about that. Chile was part of the Spanish Colonial Empire, and the largest religion by far is Catholicism. It seemed more than likely that both Silva and Ramirez were practicing Catholics. Yet Ramirez was clearly an evil man who made a living prostituting women and forcing children into humiliating and demeaning sexual acts. He had a reputation for killing people who crossed him, and I guess I fit there, and now Silva did for sure.
Silva, most likely another good Catholic, sounded more like a decent or once-decent guy who got into trouble one way or another, and committed a criminal act in desperation.
I opened my eyes and looked at Hector, “Don’t let me think about this too much, okay?”
Hector looked exasperated for a second before he smiled. “Paul?”
“Don’t think about this anymore at all. You give the police a true statement, sign it, and go right back to skiing and having fun. This isn’t your problem; it’s just a situation you got trapped in. It’s over.”
I asked, “Hector, did you go to college?”
He nodded, “Two years at community college in Miami for an Associate’s Degree, and my bachelor’s in Political Science at USF in Tampa. I spent six months after that in New Haven working in a store during the day and taking a criminology course at night.”
I smiled, “No wonder you’re so smart.”
Hector said, “Nope. You’re born with all the smarts you’ll ever have. It’s up to you to use your abilities to educate yourself, or to create things, to be productive. Don’t think for one second that Ramirez isn’t smart; he has decided to misdirect his intelligence. He probably makes a lot of money, but he’ll always be a bottom feeder.”
“Why does that happen?”
Hector said, “I don’t know about Ramirez himself, but most criminals learn early that they can use their wits to stay out of trouble, and that they can get money without actually earning it. Crooks come from every environment, too. We once had to find a runaway, the third of four boys from a good family. The other three boys were fine: bright, engaged in family life, social life, school, all that good stuff, but this one was just born sour.”
“Did you find him?”
“Oh, yeah. He was just twelve then. He didn’t get far, but he broke into several homes on his way. He stole money and vandalized the places for no reason. When we found him, we could see his good upbringing, you know. He was clean and neat, very polite, well spoken for his age, and an imaginative liar. He didn’t deny his little crime rampage, but everything else that came out of his mouth was total bullshit, and he’d smile like you were his favorite person while telling you nonsense.”
“What did you do?”
“We brought him home and felt sorry for his parents.”
I said, “Jesus. Is there more?”
Hector said, “Not that I was involved with, but he hit the papers a few years later when he stabbed his father and stole his car. He was way out in Wyoming when he got busted for holding up a store, and his family managed to get him off by paying restitution and claiming he was disturbed. Anyhow, it went on and on, and now he’s back in Wyoming serving life for murdering a man to get some cash.”
“Is he crazy?”
Hector said, “Like a fox. I know the psychiatrists say it’s not possible, but I also know that some people are born to be bad. Look at the one I just told you about. He’s been in prison for years now, and his family has put him out of their minds completely. His brothers have their own families and are successful in their own careers. He was what they call a bad seed. He wanted to take the easy road, but didn’t have the background for it. Ramirez did. Ramirez was born poor and grew up in a tough favela. It was a survival existence, where the strongest and smartest learned that if you wanted something you had to take it.
“What’s a favela?” I asked.
“Sorry, it’s a slum, a shantytown. You see them on the hills around most South and Central American cities. Chile has done more than most to eliminate them but they still exist.”
“Are they dangerous?”
“Come on, Paul. Some are, some aren’t when it comes to crime, but some are dangerous for lack of sanitation and clean water, the risk of landslides or mudslides. Usually the electricity is pirated and the wiring has been patched together by amateurs. Life goes on, though, and most of the people living in the favelas are happy with what they have because it’s more than they used to have.”
I said, “Sorry, no more questions. It’s fascinating, though. When I go home I’ll try to find some books on slums.”
“Why do they interest you?”
“I … I don’t know. I’ve been a lot of places and, well, look at Stockton. Except for the developments like ours above town, it’s a poor village. A lot of people have two and three jobs and they still do more things on the side to get by. Brattleboro has poor neighborhoods, too. Some of the houses still look like mansions, but they’re all apartments inside. I’ve been to other countries and it’s the same everywhere. A lot of people just don’t have much, and I know there are truly poor countries too.”
Hector smiled, “Are you going to fix that?”
“I’ll help where I can with what I have.”
Hector just looked at me, and Ovidio walked up, “It’s time for dinner. I’ll see you in the saloon.”
I stood up, and everyone was getting to their feet. Then I noticed the lonely wine bottle and said, “Tommy, bring that wine with you, okay?”
I’d only taken the one sip and forgot about it, but I knew from both my parents that it was a criminal act to leave a bottle of decent wine unfinished, and in a wine producing country like Chile the penalties were probably severe.
I thought of something and said, “I’ll meet you in the saloon,” and ran to our room. There was a pad of paper on the desk and a pen beside it. I wrote what I wanted and put it in my shirt pocket, and hurried to the saloon to find only Tom and Dana at our table. I saw Daniel looking around and went over to him. “Come on and sit with us. We’re right over here.”
“My father …”
“Your father knows. Get over here.”
He came, smiling shyly. I said, “You have to read that article to Dana. Do you drink wine?”
“Yes I do. Where is that paper?”
Dana’s hands were going though his pockets and he finally produced it. I poured wine for all of us while Daniel read the news story about Detective Silva.
Dana slumped in his chair smiling, “It’s all over? No more problem?”
Tom said, “That’s great. Think they’ll nail him?”
I said, “He confessed. It’s really all over. Silva did it for money, five million pesos.”
Dana’s eyes opened wide. “Five million? Oh … pesos. That’s what? About a million dollars?”
I said, “It’s about eleven thousand, Dana.”
I said, “Never mind that. Daniel, can I ask you to read something else? It’s very short.”
He smiled, “I don’t mind.”
I pulled the paper out of my pocket and let him unfold it.
“This says …” and he looked at me, “Really?”
“You have to read it out loud.”
He looked at the paper and began, “Daniel,” he looked up and said, “That’s me. We want to ask you to ski amid us for the times we are here. Do not worry about money, it’s our donate.”
He looked up and smirked at me, “I told you my English is better than your Spanish.”
I think I blushed, “Just read it.”
He nodded, “Your father was very kind to us, and this is how he are repaid. Dana would be satisfied to teach you some racing … oh I see, you used the English word. Dana would be satisfied to teach you some racing tricks.”
I grabbed the paper from him and said, “Look. I didn’t say would, I said will!”
Daniel took the paper back to see what I was talking about and mumbled, “Dana would be satisfied … You said would. You know I speak English, so why did you write this in Spanish?”
I stood and went behind him. “Show me.”
“It’s right here. You wrote would, not will.”
I looked and thought about it. “Shit! You’re right. Never mind, just finish it, okay?”
“I think you meant this. Dana will be happy to teach you some racing moves, so will you please join us? It is signed, T, D, P.”
Tom glared at me while the waiter brought bread and soup. “You didn’t!”
I said, “Lighten up. It’s just a little humor.”
Tom said, “It’s not that funny when you exclude yourself.” He looked at Dana and asked, “Do you know what TDP means to Paul?”
Dana tried, “Um, To Death … no, The …the what? I give up.”
Tom said, “Okay, I’m the T and you’re the D. Do you think the P might be Paul? It isn’t. It’s Paul’s own sick way of calling us The Dufus Pair.”
Dana laughed, “That’s funny.”
Tom rolled his eyes and said, “I give up. What’s for dinner here? Why is this soup so brown?”
I said, “Behave yourself. We’re trying to convince Daniel to go skiing with us, and he won’t go if you’re all cranky.”
Tom growled, “I’m not cranky.”
I looked at Daniel. “You don’t get cranky like this, do you?”
He shook his head and said, “Not when someone is taking me skiing; never!” He worked his face into a small smile, “Other times, maybe a little.”
I put my hand on Tommy’s shoulder and rubbed it. “I guess we all do sometimes.”
I tore off a hunk of the good bread and dunked it in the soup. The soup was ugly but delicious. It was mostly broth with small bits of vegetables in it, and a bit of a sweet and sour taste. I picked up my spoon and started in on it, and thought to ask Daniel, “What kind of soup is this?”
He shrugged, “This is good soup. I never had it before.”
I asked, “Do you mean it’s called good soup?”
Tom elbowed me and chuckled, “It is now.”
That was good enough for me, and the waiter was bringing meals to another table so I downed the soup and mopped up what I couldn’t get in my spoon with bread.
The main meal was a full grilled rack of lamb for each of us, looking pretty under a glaze, and the glaze carried over to what we learned were Andean potatoes. This was the first time we’d seen or heard of the potatoes, and they were a visual treat. They were tiny little things, and came in green, red, orange, black, and a few even looked like regular potatoes. I thought I was getting a weird hot salad at first because the green ones looked like green olives, the black ones like black olives, the red ones like cherry tomatoes, and the oranges could have been little persimmons. The glaze had a fruity flavor that was just right, and it was another delicious Chilean meal.
Six lamb ribs and about fifty little potatoes later we were all stuffed. Tom had just said, “I won’t have to eat for a week”, when the waiter came with coffee, and was back in a minute with four-inch tall slices of something that looked too good to say no to.
I looked at Daniel, whose eyes were wide with delight. He caught my glance and said, “This is pie de limon. You will love it. If you don’t, I’ll help you out.”
He took a fat forkful of his and got it to his mouth intact. He closed his eyes in apparent bliss, and swallowed after a several seconds. He hadn’t chewed it at all, so I did the same thing. My mouth felt full for about two seconds, and that stuff vanished into pure flavor. It was a little lemony, a little custard-like, and not overly sweet. After about thirty seconds, all I had in my mouth was a little custard and some crumbs, which I swallowed. That pie was all air!
I took a sip of coffee, a sip of wine, and went back at the dessert until it was gone. By then I was really and truly stuffed, and sipped at my coffee hoping it would ease the swelling in my tummy. I leaned back as far as I dared, put my hands on my belly and said, “I think I know what it feels like to be pregnant.”
Tom did the same thing and said, “I’m pretty sure I have twins coming on.”
Dana started laughing and looked at Daniel, “It’s like this all day, every day. Get used to it.”
I really was uncomfortable, and got up. “I have to walk around. I’ll see you in the room.”
Dana asked, “Are you going outside?”
On my nod he said, “I’ll walk with you. I’m stuffed, too.”
Tommy said, “Wait for me,” and looked at Daniel, “Are you coming?”
He was, and I went to tell Hector we were going. He was having a good old time with Ovidio, Lucero, and a man I’d seen but not been introduced to. I waited till I could get Hector’s attention without being rude, and said, “We’re going outside to walk off that meal. We won’t leave the property.”
He said, “That’s fine. Ask at the desk and they’ll turn some lights on for you.”
Lucero looked at Daniel and asked, “You’re going with them?”
Daniel said hopefully, “If I can.”
Lucero reached up and patted Daniel’s cheek, “Of course you can. Your mama’s not here to ask twenty questions and I know who you’re with, so go ahead.”
We met at the front door a few minutes later, properly bundled up. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the amount of snow outside. We didn’t even know the snow had started, but it was coming down and had accumulated three or four inches already. The air was cold and dry, so the snow was pure fluff. Our own footsteps cleared the way for us, and the scene around the casa was pretty, what we could see of it. There was a tall hedge inside the walls and we followed that around. The ground wasn’t anywhere close to flat and before long we found ourselves outside of the lights and the casa itself. We could see better, actually, because we didn’t have the lights illuminating the falling snow.
As we walked, the intensity of the snow increased, and I said, “Arpa will probably be closed,” almost to myself, but Dana heard me.
“That sucks,” he muttered. “I never heard of an area closing because of too much snow.”
Tom said cheerfully, “It’s not the mountain, it’s getting there.”
After about ten seconds Dana said, “So what do we do tomorrow, go back to Santiago?”
I said, “Portillo is closer, and they’ll be open.”
Daniel finally said something. “Portillo is good. The front trails are mostly boring, but there are a lot of open places you can get to by lift. I can show you.”
I asked, “How good are you, Daniel?”
He said, as casually as Dana would have, “I’m good. I have respect for the mountains, but I’m not afraid of them. I can ski down anything I can envision and have fun.”
I asked, “How about when you find something you can’t envision, and it’s the only way down?”
He shrugged, “I do what you do. I point my skis down and they take me there.” He said, “Um, I guess if it’s a big cliff I walk back up and find another way down, but that hasn’t happened.”
I looked at Tom and asked, “Good answer?”
“Yeah, good answer.”
I said, “I think so, too. Whose turn is it to give a noogie to the new kid?”
Daniel looked pleased and hopeful. “A noogie? I get a noogie for skiing with you? I’m sorry, what is a noogie?”
I gestured magnanimously and said, “Show him, Dana.”
Dana got a gleam in his eye, smiled at Daniel and dove on him. He followed Daniel to the ground and landed on him. He proceeded to give a proper noogie to the side of Daniel’s head while Daniel kicked and laughed trying to squirm away. He finally managed to push Dana off and turned the tables. He straddled Dana’s back and gave him a return noogie, laughing all the time. “You like noogies?”
Dana was flat on his face, and couldn’t shake Daniel off, but he finally did a big pushup and turned sideways to dump him.
They both got to their knees grinning at each other, and Dana put his mouth to Daniel’s ear. Tom and I had been standing there laughing at them when they both sprang on us, pulling our ankles until we tumbled over backward to get our own noogies, and I screeched when Daniel did it too hard.
In a second we heard Hector at the door yelling, “What was that? What happened?”
I called back, “Nothing happened. We’re just … making snow angels.”
“Why did you scream like that?”
Tom said, “Everything’s okay. Paul got snow down his neck.”
Hector waited before he spoke. “Well, okay. Maybe you can do something less dangerous. There’s a nice box of dominos in here.”
I had to cover my nose and mouth so Hector wouldn’t hear me snorting out a laugh. Dana said loudly, “Oh, dominos! I love that game. You guys know how to play?”
We heard the door shut behind Hector and giggled like girls while we brushed snow off ourselves and each other. Then Daniel asked, “What is a snow angel?” so we went to where the snow was undisturbed and showed him.
Dana made the first one to show Daniel how it was done, and he’d seen them before, but the term ‘snow angel’ seemed to charm him. He got in the snow and made one after another, inspecting each when he finished. Tom and I made a row of them, and alternated between his and mine, and it was comical to see the big angel, the small angel, and the big one again.
Dana and Daniel were pretty much the same size, and they made a long row of angels on a little slope.
I would have stayed, but I remembered that I hadn’t called home that day, and I hadn’t called Lisa. I stood up and said, “I’m going in. I have to call home before it’s too late.”
Tom said, “Oh hell, me too.”
I looked at Dana, who had started a second row of angels just uphill from the first, and he said, “Tell everybody hi from me,” and went right back to making angels.
Tommy and I went back inside. We chose odds or evens, to see who got the room, and Tom won. I didn’t mind because I got to sit by the fire. I took my coat, hat and gloves off, and used two chairs from a dinner table to hang them facing the fire to dry off. I sat down in an armchair and opened my phone. I winced when I saw it was already ten, but decided to try Lisa anyhow. I’d never been yelled at from seven thousand miles away.
That didn’t happen. Lisa picked up quickly. “Hello?”
“It’s me. I didn’t know it was so late. I meant to call right after dinner, but … you know …”
“I was worried. How was your day?”
I said, “The day on the mountain was great. We went to a different part of the hill that was steep enough to scare Dana, but we did it. I’m the only one who fell, and I did it when I lost my balance trying to open my binding at lunch time. There were more people than yesterday, but they keep the groups small and apart. It’s great skiing. Any news from there?”
“It was a drizzly day, so nice and cool. We made a lot of tiles, but not enough. I don’t know if we’ll ever make enough. Dad’s still out there boxing them up.”
I said, “I don’t think killing yourself with work is a good way to start a business. Can’t he hire some people for things like packing boxes?”
Lisa giggled, “He said he’ll put an ad in the paper tomorrow. That means he’ll have to take a day or more to get a license to employ people, learn all the labor laws and those things. He should have done it earlier and he knows that, but he’s been so wired up since he figured out his process … his head has really been in the clouds.”
I wheezed out a laugh and said, “I know all about it. When I was younger and Dad was doing all these deals, he was like me with a video game: all concentration and no room in his head for anything else.”
Lisa laughed and suddenly sounded more serious. “Have you learned anything new? Are you going to end up in prison for kicking a pervert?”
How the hell did I forget to tell her that? “No. Absolutely not. The detective who tried to set me up probably will, but not me.”
I spent the next ten minutes telling Lisa what I had heard, and promised to bring the newspaper clipping so she could see it, even if she couldn’t read it. Then I thought to mention that Lucero was back with us, and his son would be skiing with us for the rest of the trip.”
She was happy and said she loved me. I said the same to her, and called my father after we hung up.
“Hi Paul, I was hoping you’d call. Everything is cleared up down there?”
I said, “Looks like it is. That Ramirez still troubles Hector but I don’t see any way he could get to me.”
Dad said quietly, “Just don’t get over confident, Paul. I never even thought anyone would have a reason to harm me, but I learned different the hard way.”
I said, “Sorry. I didn’t want to remind you.”
“Don’t worry. Hector told me you did all the right things when that guy tried to hold you. He said you’ve learned very well how to be observant, and he’s proud he could teach you that in a single lesson.”
God, even at the other end of the phone from Dad in Vermont, I blushed. I said, “Hector is a … um, kind of a forceful teacher.”
Dad laughed at that and said, “You sound tired. I’m tired too, so go to bed and get some sleep.”
I said, “Dad? This trip has been kind of crazy, all up and down, but the ups have been way the hell up, and the downs not that low so … I want to say, I mean, thanks. Thank you.”
Dad was quiet for a moment before he said, “You’re welcome, Paul. I hope the rest of it is all on the up side.”
After I hung up I mumbled, “What could possibly go wrong now?”
I pushed the dining chairs back where they came from and picked up my clothes. They weren’t dry, but they were hot from the fire and would be fine in the morning.
Ovidio and Lucero were sitting with other guys at a table, and I stopped to say goodnight. Ovidio looked up and I asked, “Did Hector go to bed?”
“Yes. Do you need something?”
I said, “No, I just wondered. Goodnight, everyone.”
Most of them looked at their watches and mumbled their goodnights, but Lucero stood and said, “I’ll walk with you. My room is just down the hall from yours.” He turned and nodded to the others, who said goodnight to him.
As soon as we left the room he said, “Daniel said you have been very kind and welcoming to him, and I mean all of you. He is usually very shy meeting new people, and takes his time building trust. Tonight, he is comfortable already, so thank you.”
I was at the door to our room and said, “We all like him, too, so you don’t have to thank us. He’s going to show us around Portillo tomorrow, and with Dana there he’ll earn his ticket.”
Lucero smiled and patted my shoulder. “Goodnight then. Sleep well.”
The room was pitch-black when I went in, and Tom mumbled, “You can turn the light on if you want.”
I opened my phone instead, and it threw enough light to get me to bed. I was beat, and left my clothes in a heap on the floor where I was standing.
The next morning at breakfast we learned that Arpa was indeed closed due to the overnight storm, but we’d already resigned ourselves to that. When Hector came to join us he said, “It’s gonna be a good day. There are ten inches of new powder at Portillo base. They didn’t have a report from the top, but you know it will be plenty.”
I asked, “How far is it?”
Hector said, “Better ask Lucero when he comes in.”
He went to sit down and very shortly Lucero and Daniel walked in. We all said hi, and I asked Lucero, “How far is it to Portillo?”
“It’s about seventy kilometers, almost into Argentina. I’m afraid it might take a few hours this morning, and I have to put chains on the tires.”
Daniel said, “Don’t worry. They won’t open until later. We won’t miss much.”
While he was speaking, he was eyeing the empty seat, so I asked, “Aren’t you going to sit?”
He smiled and said, “Oh, thank you,” and scooted right into that chair.
I said, “A few hours is a few hours more sleep, and I was up too late anyhow.”
Daniel said, “I always think that, but ruta sesenta can wake a dead man.” He smiled cheerfully, “You’ll see.”
After breakfast we got our things together and went outside. We had to pack everything because we’d be driving back to Santiago when our day on the mountain was done.
We put our bags in the back while Hector and Ovidio put our skis in the rack and Lucero was fussing with a chain that didn’t want to latch. Dana and Daniel climbed back to the third row. I sat on the passenger side in the second row, and Tom took the left side. The car was already warm, so I bunched up my parka and leaned against it saying, “Wake me up when we’re there.”
Tom was doing the same thing I’d done, using his parka as a combination mattress and pillow. He said, “You better tell Hector. I can’t face waking you up twice in the same morning.”
I said, “Cut it out. I wake up as cheerful as a Japanese beetle on a grapevine.”
Tom grumbled, “Yeah, and just as destructive.”
I said, “Ooh, sour grapes?”
Tommy’s grunt was his reply, and I rested my side against the parka and closed my eyes. I could hear Hector and Ovidio talking, but not their words.
Suddenly, the left front end of the car went up in the air, stayed there for a few seconds, and crunched back down just as suddenly.
Hector got into the seat in front of me and closed the door. Without opening my eyes I asked, “What just happened?”
“Nothing, amigo. Lucero had to straighten part of the chain that didn’t lay flat under the tire. I lifted the car a little, and Ovidio and Lucero pulled the chain straight. As soon as Lucero washes his hands we’ll be on our way.”
I didn’t say anything until Lucero got in and was fixing his seatbelt. “Lucero, did Hector lift a quarter of this car by himself?”
Lucero put the car in reverse and said, “Sure,” while he was turning around, then he pulled out to the road, and I sensed a right turn toward Los Andes. I don’t know what it is sometimes, but I swear I was asleep before the turn was completed.
I came to when Lucero was having the gas tank filled in Los Andes, and again when he stopped at a little tienda. Hector went in with him, and Lucero stirred me awake again when he put a sack between me and Tom. “Snacks for the road.”
I mumbled, “Gracias,” and finally fell asleep for the long haul to Portillo.
I slept pretty well, too, considering I was in a car on a mountain road. I was bumped into consciousness a couple of times, but nothing to keep me awake.
I didn’t know how far away from Los Andes or how close to Portillo we were, but the change in gravity that came with the car sliding woke me in a hurry, and Hector’s worried voice saying, “Jesus, watch out!” got my eyes open in a hurry.
When I looked out, I drew in a sharp breath myself, thinking we’d driven off the road into a chasm with no visible bottom, but the sound of the road and tires cancelled that. Still, we were on the edge of an enormously steep cliff, and the road zigged and zagged along the precipice like someone intended it to be that way. When I chanced a glance to the left, I could see that it had to be that way. It was straight up over there and straight downhill on my side, and we were driving on a little shelf in the middle.
I was just about to undo my belt to peek over the seat to see how fast we were going when the car shifted again and I double-checked to see that I was still belted in. Then I asked, trying to sound casual, “What’s our speed, Lucero?”
Hector answered gruffly, “Too fast.”
Lucero chuckled and said, “Nonsense. I’m going only forty on the straights, twenty … even fifteen on the turns. Don’t worry.”
I didn’t go back to sleep, but looked at the spectacular scenery around us. Until we got somewhere, it was just mountains going off in all directions, and the one we were in the middle of seemed singularly steep, more like a long cliff than a mountainside.
We were definitely climbing, and the road was like a snake. We went up to the left, around a sharp turn, and up more to the right where there was another sharp turn. Lucero and our car seemed to be taking it well, and, for no particular reason I liked the sound of the tire chains beneath us.
We were out of the twisties in a few minutes, and shortly afterwards turned into the access road to Portillo. That was just a short road and we were there. When we first got out of the car we all looked around, and I said, “Jeez, their ads suck. This is beautiful.”
Dana, who had first put the nix on Portillo said, “Holy – you’re right. They don’t give you a clue, but we’re really in the mountains now. Let’s get going.”
We did. We got our skis off the roof, our gear out of the back, and went to the lodge to get ready. When we were getting our boots on I told Daniel, “We like to warm up a little on an easy hill.”
“Me too. We can do that. Most of the front face here is easy.”
I said, “I’m not talking about baby easy, just not too much strain on the knees.”
“I understand. If you’re ready, let’s go.”
It was nice having Daniel with us because we only looked at the trail map when he showed us where we were going. There was a short lift up to an area of about half-a-dozen intermediate trails. The trails were groomed, easy cruisers, and after two runs we moved to a different lift and a trail that was marked intermediate even though it was dizzyingly steep. Daniel said that sometimes they set up timed gates, but there were none that day. Dana was in his element there. This trail was in full view of, and crossed beneath the chair we rode up on. He was gone before the rest of us had pulled our goggles down, and we could hear him whooping far below us.
I grinned at Daniel, “See how much help Dana is? Now he’ll tease us from the lift on his way back up.”
Daniel just smiled and started down, with me right behind him. There were no flies on Daniel. I was pacing him but not trying to go faster. I was going as fast as I cared to on a new trail, and he was just cruising. Just after I passed under the lift I heard a voice from above yelling, “Hey, Dunn!”
I slammed to a stop and looked up. Dana yelled, “Where were you, knitting or something? I hope you made me new mittens.”
I grinned and yelled back, “Hi Dana. We’ll see you again someday.”
Daniel was eying me, and said, “That sounded mean.”
“Really?” I looked uphill and smiled, then took off ahead of everyone. I meant to push it for awhile, but the trail joined the same one we’d started the day on, so I just let my skis take me down, and was surprised to find us all together just before we stopped at the lift line. It was actually a place where a lift line would line up if there was anyone ahead of us. It was just us, and we went up in two chairs. I was mildly surprised to find Dana waiting for us at the top with a cup of coffee in his hand.
I said, “Don’t you say anything. Knitting. I’ll give you knitting and knit your hat to your ears.”
Dana took a sip of his coffee and smiled sweetly. “You have to catch me first. Boy, this coffee is good, but I guess you want to ski more, right?”
I glowered at him, and Daniel asked, “Did you notice the va et vient up there?” he asked, pointing uphill at some seriously steep terrain.
Dana asked, “The who?” and looked around and up. “Wow! We can get there?”
Daniel said, “Sure. Want to try it?”
Dana asked, “What was that word? What was it … vayavent or something … what does it mean?”
Daniel said, “It is a lift. I think they only have them here. The common name is slingshot lift. If you want to go up, let’s go there and I’ll explain the lift when you can see it. It is like skiing uphill.”
I laughed, “Double your pleasure, double your fun …”
We took our skis off and walked a bit to get there, and this thing came down the hill. Daniel explained, “It’s a little like a poma, but most don’t use the buttons. Just use the bar, and you tall guys get it low enough so the others can reach. We can go up in one ride.”
Hector looked doubtful. “Five of us?”
“Five is not a problem. Just remember that you are skiing uphill, so don’t lean forward on your skis. At the top, wait until you stop completely on the little flat area or you will be back here before you know it.”
I had my doubts when I saw people heading uphill. “How fast is that thing going?”
“Fast,” Daniel said. “I think twenty-seven kilometers an hour. Just be ready, it’s not hard.”
We said a collective, “Wow.”
Dana asked, “Are we waiting for a reason?”
We weren’t, and there was nobody ahead of us so we got in place. When the lift came around it passed over our heads, and Daniel grabbed a rope to pull the bar down. We got our hands on the bar and off we went, heading uphill faster than some people liked to ski down. When we got close to the flat area, Daniel said, “Wait for the lift to stop and get off quickly.”
We did that on our first try, and we looked down on deep snow on a very steep slope. It was tracked up already, but there was room for more tracks. I decided to pull a Dana and took off first.
Hoo boy! I misjudged at first, and had to remember to shift my weight back. Once I did that, I could check my speed and the rest of the ride was wonderful. The snow was like baby powder, and even being on what amounted to a cliff I was comfortable enough to enjoy the vista before me and remember why I took this sport up to begin with. It was beautiful and really effortless in snow like we had that day. I stopped at the bottom, and waited while Daniel, Tom and Hector came down a few seconds behind me and each other.
I asked, “Where’s Dana? Did he go past me?”
Hector laughed, “No way, amigo. He just wanted us out of his way. Here he comes now.”
Leave it to Dana. He looked like he was on a snowboard, not skis. He had his butt out to one side, and managed to ski down with most of his body perpendicular to his skis. He was moving, too, and in just a few more seconds he was on us, and managed a tip-roll that didn’t seem to involve his skis at all.
He whooped it up when he landed, “Did you see that? Huh? It was a pole roll, my first one ever.” He slid down to Daniel and said, “You’re good. Maybe after lunch you can show me some of your moves and I’ll show you mine. Sound good?”
Daniel stammered, “Um, yes. You will not learn anything from me, but I see that I have a lot to learn.”
Hector asked, “Does this mean you’re getting hungry?”
I’d been too excited to notice, but I was hungry for sure, and everyone said they were ready to eat. Hector asked Daniel, “Where’s the closest place to eat?”
Daniel pointed at a building a few hundred feet from us. “There is Tio Bob’s right there. If you want a fancy restaurant we have to go to the hotel. The view from Tio Bob’s is beautiful.”
There was barely any discussion, and in a few minutes we were sitting on the outside deck of Tio Bob’s, at a table right by the railing, its legs right in last night’s snow. I snickered and said, “Low maintenance, huh?”
Everyone but Daniel chuckled. I said, “Low maintenance. They didn’t shovel the snow off the deck.”
“Why would they?”
I said, “I don’t know,” and opened my menu. “What’s good, Daniel?”
He asked, “Do you like fish?”
“I love fish.”
He said, “I like the lake trout barbacoa. It’s from right here.”
I looked around and asked, “Here? Where here?”
Poor Daniel must have thought me stupid. He pointed over the deck and down, “Right there. Laguna del Inca.” He thought better of it when he looked, and said, “Oh, I see. Down there, that flat area is a lake covered with ice and snow. The trout come from there, and the cook here soaks them in milk, and spices them before he puts them in the fire. I like it. If you like fish, you will like it.”
It sounded good to me, but a little trout wasn’t going to be enough so I turned back to the menu and saw they had a number of salads. I decided again on the whole tomato, sliced onion and garlic, and wondered once again about the mayonnaise dressing. Everything seemed to come with mayo, even French fries.
I asked, Daniel, “Is mayonnaise the national food or something?”
He looked at me and said, “Oh, yes. Mayonnaise will come with your fish so you can put some on.”
Tom saw my frustration with that answer and became interested in the sky. I said, “Daniel, they bring a bowl of mayonnaise at breakfast, one at lunch, and another at dinner. By now we’ve eaten in a lot of places, and that mayo is always there. Do you, and by you I mean all Chileans, use it on everything.”
My question surprised Daniel. He hesitated and said, “Certainly not on everything. At breakfast it’s just for eggs and tomatoes, and toast of course.”
“Of course,” I said. “I’m sorry, it was a rude question.”
He said, “Never mind. Oh look! They have poratos granados for sopa today.”
I closed my menu and said, “You should order for us. You can tell us what we’re getting while we wait.”
Daniel looked around at us in surprise, “You don’t mind?”
He was his father’s son for sure, and I found it amusing. Lucero had led us to places he probably thought we’d hate, but he knew his food and we loved every place he brought us to. I wasn’t about to turn down any of Daniel’s recommendations because he was so eager to please. I might not try mayonnaise soup if that ever came up, but every place we’d been, except maybe the hotel, made their own mayonnaise, and they were all different from one another.
Daniel ordered, and the food was there quickly. The poratos granados was soup in name only. It was more like baked beans, but not baked. It was beans cooked with pumpkin, corn, onion, and tomatoes. The stuff was take-your-skin-off hot when it was served, but on the outside deck the top cooled off quickly. We used our spoons to skim thin layers from the top, and it was drop-dead delicious.
We were still eating it when the fish came out, and it was served oddly, at least to my thinking. The trout was headless and tailless, and splayed out with the insides facing up. I guess that was so we could see where the bones were.
Daniel used a tine on his fork to pull the spine up where the head would have been, and lifted the whole skeleton out in one piece as deftly as a good clerk might have pulled a file from a cabinet.
Good grief. The reason I rarely ordered trout was the stupid bones and I demanded, “Show me how you did that!”
He talked me through it while everyone watched, and we all surprised ourselves by pulling the bones out easily, and we dug right in.
The trout had been grilled with milk and spices. It was fresh and wonderful just the way it was, but I saw Daniel had put a glob of mayonnaise on his plate and he dipped most pieces in it. I got a good size hunk on my fork and reached over to dip it in his mayonnaise. I still didn’t see the attraction, so I went back and finished my fish and the rice and vegetables that came with it. Then I went back to the beans, which were no longer very hot, and finished them.
While Hector was paying for lunch, Daniel asked, “Would you like to use the Condor lift again? After, we can go over to Roca Jack and the other side. You’ll like it there.”
We were ready, and headed out to use the bathroom. We waited outside a few minutes for Hector, picked up our skis and walked back up to the slingshot. When we reached it Daniel said, “You will have to follow me. That first steep trail we went on is called Garganta. We can go right from here to there and down but you will miss the intersection if you don’t know it.”
We got into our skis and got in place to catch the lift. This time I fell off when it jerked us uphill. I’m not sure why, but I did, and I slid back down on my butt to be the first one in line for the next whatever-it-is. Nobody else was there and I wasn’t sure if I could do it by myself, but I grabbed the bar and whooshed up the hill. The guys were waiting for me. It had only been a few minutes and they were still fussing with their gear, so nobody was impatient.
When we were all ready Daniel said, “Follow me. I will ski fast. If you want to pass me, wait until we are on Garganta. There is only the one way down from there. Don’t go far from the base of the lift because we have to ski down to the lake to get the lift to Roca Jack.”
He looked at us for acknowledgement and then said, “Let’s go”
He skied straight down for a bit to gain speed, and went off to the right. Daniel wasn’t kidding when he said he’d go fast, and this part of the hill was some the most continuously steep I’d ever skied on. We skied off onto a side trail that I thought I hadn’t been on, but I recognized it when we reached the place we’d entered it earlier. It wasn’t the same, though, because I was already skiing really fast when we went between some rocks. I only had about half the speed the first time, and that path seemed plenty wide. Now it looked like some underworld beast had a giant pliers squeezing that path shut so I could barely get through it, and Lord help the people behind me.
Miraculously, that gap opened just before I reached it. I sailed right through, and on down to the bottom of the lift. The end of the run was on an intermediate trail, and I managed to start breathing again when I reached it. I looked back uphill; most of what I’d just come down was obscured by the terrain, but what a ride!
Daniel was already down and waiting, but Dana, Hector and Tom were taking their time unless they’d gone the wrong way. When they finally showed up, Dana was having difficulty skiing and I thought he’d hurt himself. When I was close enough I asked, “Are you okay? What happened?”
He took his right ski off and set it on end with the base of it facing me. “This is what happened. I went right over a rock and now I can’t steer.”
He wasn’t kidding. The ski had a deep, ragged gouge that stretched nearly the entire length of it, and it started near the left tip and trailed across the ski to a few inches before the right tail. It was no wonder that even Dana’s skills wouldn’t let him steer that ski.
I said, “You can rent another pair. Do you think they can fix this?”
Dana looked disgusted, and from his mood it was directed inward. He said, “Oh, they can fix it, but it’s a big gouge. It’ll take a long time. I didn’t get the edge too bad, so it’s just the bottom.”
“How long will it take?’ I asked.
“I’d take a day at least. A shop with the right equipment can probably do it in half a day.”
I said, “You can use my skis to ski on and I’ll walk down to get another pair.”
Hector said, “Wait a minute, amigo. I can talk the chair operator into giving us a ride down. It can’t take long to rent a pair of skis at this time of day, and we need to be at the base to get across the valley.”
I was going to argue that at least some of us could still ski down, but I finally shrugged and said, “Let’s go.”
We went over to the lift and Hector spoke briefly to the operator at the top, who phoned the base to say he had to load five people for the ride down. He had us line up. It was a quad chair, and Dana and I went down in the first one, Dana facing the uphill chairs with his damaged ski prominently displayed so people wouldn’t think us afraid of the hill.
Tom, Daniel and I stayed outside when Hector and Dana went to the rental shop. We waited for Lucero so he could take Dana’s skis to the car while Hector and Dana were inside. Lucero showed up right away, and stayed with us until Hector and Dana came out in a surprisingly short amount of time. Dana was grinning and carrying a pair of red and white skis.
“What did you get?” I asked, and Dana turned them to me.
“Atomics! Super Gs! These are a little long for fatties, still shorter than my Stratos. The guy said these are what I want for the other side, so let’s go find out.”
We got into our skis once again and skied the short distance to the La Laguna chair, another quad. Dana rode up with Daniel so he could ask questions, and I followed with Hector and Tom in the seat behind them. It was a short and easy downhill run to the slingshot lift at Roca Jack, which looked to be twice as long and steep as the Condor lift.
Daniel said merrily, “We should ski here about three times before going to the difficult run.”
I smiled in bemusement as I watched skier after skier get off the lift too soon and slide almost to where we stood. I was really glad that Daniel was with us, because otherwise we might still be trying to figure out the va et vient back at El Condor.
I was kind of disappointed by the skiers on the hill, too. A few were clearly great skiers, but most seemed afraid and hesitant. That was good in a way because the snow was only beat down toward the middle of the wide slope while the sides, though skied on, had plenty of untrammeled powder.
Dana was fussing with his skis, trying things he could do in place to get the feel of them, and to assure himself that the safety release mechanisms were set properly. His face was set and dead serious while he did that, and he suddenly smiled, “Let’s go.”
This lift was another drag lift, and Daniel suggested we use the buttons because it went straight up the mountain almost a thousand feet. The so called buttons are flat disks attached to poles that go between your legs, and you let it help pull you uphill by the butt. Woe comes to people who try to sit down on them, and I guessed that the term ‘slingshot’ came from the sensation the people who sat felt when the combined springs of the bar and the button caught up with them.
We had no trouble, but I learned why so many people got off at the wrong place and literally fell off the mountain. There was a place near the top where the ascent diminished so quickly that it felt flat. I think most of us were ready to get off the lift when Daniel cried, “Not yet! I’ll tell you when.” We rode up another hundred feet at least, and should have known before. The lift didn’t actually stop, but it could have because the springs gave up their duty for a few seconds, and the riders had time to get out of the way. We skied away and stopped to look for a good way down.
It probably didn’t matter a lot, but we were still into learning powder, and when Daniel pointed off to the right we all nodded and pulled our goggles down. We made three runs down and it was simply exhilarating. The hill was extremely steep, but there were no obstacles and the snow was perfect. Without even a mogul in sight, we ran right down the fall line to find Dana spraying breath mint into his mouth. He seemed surprised to see us and said, “I thought you decided to take the bus.”
He was immediately confronted with three raised fingers, and a fourth went up when I looked at Daniel.
Dana protested, “Hey, you could get the same skis. It’s not my fault you like to walk.”
“Dana,” Hector said dangerously, “I don’t think I’d get in the sauna with these guys if I were you.”
I said, “Screw this; let’s go again!”
That got the votes, and the second time we watched Dana. He really was fearless, and comical too. When he was about halfway down he had to be going over seventy miles and hour, maybe way over, and he managed to get one of his little butt-wiggles in when he headed straight down after a turn.
We all laughed, and we’d been emboldened ourselves. I know I’d never skied faster anywhere, but I was in control no matter what I tried. The big thing is that I wasn’t thinking that hard about it. My concentration was on the bottom, and I wasn’t doing more than making myself aware of where it was. If I missed it I’d die on the rocks, but the slope down was open, free, and white. The hill invited speed, begged for it, and I did my best. When I stopped uphill from Dana, and kicked the maximum snow on him that I could, I was breathing hard and feeling as free as I ever had since we had the house on Cape Cod.
We ran Roca Jack one last time, and went down the left side for variety. It wasn’t much different from the right side except a spot where a lot of people had turned and hollowed out the snow a little. That created a jump if you were speeding down, which we were. We didn’t get much air, under a foot of it, but we stayed up for a long time; and landing it was another thrill.
We rode that contraption of a lift up one last time and Daniel led us across the mountain, hiking up ridges and skiing down the other sides. There were only a few in between, and Daniel announced, “Kilometro Lanzado! This is where records are set … the first place in the world someone went over two hundred kilometers an hour on skis.”
I was impressed, but not ready to try for a new record. The hill was beautiful though, kind of a wide crown between two ravines, and there were acres of un-skied powder from the night before. We waited while Daniel explained that everything from here down was ungroomed, and if we stayed near other tracks we’d find the lift back up.
I liked that. He didn’t tell us where to ski or how to ski. He just told us where we had to end up.
I started out first, skiing differently. I went fast enough to feel my speed, yet slow enough to enjoy it. I have a problem that I share with most people I ski with. If I can go fast, I do, and that comes at the expense of a lot of the other pleasures that Alpine skiing offers. The word Alpine suggests gorgeous scenery. That’s true even in Vermont where just a couple of peaks pop up above the tree line, but in the Andes we hadn’t seen many trees above San Esteban. The Andes are more spectacular by a mile, but the Green Mountains are arguably prettier, and far more supportive of life.
I enjoyed my ride down. I was in new powder that was kicking up over my knees, and feeling like some new understanding would come out of it all. Instead, Dana came out of it. I heard him say, “Screw this,” from somewhere far uphill behind me, and a few seconds later he shot past me like a demon honing in on Hell, with a determination to get there before it froze over. He was at the bottom of the hill in seconds, looking like an ant speck, and that speck turned right, headed to the lift at the bottom.
Tom and Daniel passed me. They weren’t speeding to the bottom, but didn’t find the pleasure I did in a slow ride down a very steep hill. Hector was with me, and I supposed that was his job, but he said, “This is nice. What are you thinking, amigo?”
I thought and said, “Probably the same thing you are. These mountains are ancient. They don’t need us racing down them when we can just experience them.”
Hector asked, “Are you getting mystical on me?”
I said, “Not really. It’s the mountains. They get mystical on me.”
I looked at Hector and he grinned, “Wanna race?”