Winter wonderland without pictures part 2, or “Overcoming my winter sport phobia”

And for my mental record, here is the verbal account of further snowy adventures in Ushuaia.

We got back from dog sledding and snow shoeing. High from the cold, beauty and exercise, we popped happily into our favorite café in town where I foolishly downed a Bailey’s-laced coffee. This pushed my sensibilities over the edge of a mountain, so when Roman suggested we forget the insane cost and just jump at the chance of skiing/snow boarding at the end of the world (for goodness’ sake!!), I was just silly enough to enthusiastically gush: yes, absolutely! I am up for it! How could we not??

We ventured forth to make arrangements and rent equipment for the next day – our last in Ushuaia.

We staggered forth from the rental shop to our hotel. I felt increasingly sober AND klutzy with each step in the cold winter air and my mind began to wander towards all the things I had wanted to do while still in town plus my last two experiences on the pistes.

The first was as a child, where I spent an endless miserable afternoon trudging duck like up a slope with what felt like lead skis attached to my feet while developing a raging fever. Strike one against winter sport.

The second encounter was more recent. Roman is a snow boarder and had convinced me to overcome my childhood misgivings and give his favorite winter sport a go. This was after I’d already lived in Switzerland for many years without ever visiting the mountains at winter – a feat I had found very sensible and was quite proud of. I gave in to his coaxing and even started boasting around the office about how we were taking a week off at a ski resort and I was going to learn how to snow board, just watch me!

So children, let this be a lesson about hubris, because I didn’t even make it through the first day.

My instructor was a sweet lady and we were taking it slowly, learning how to stand and slide on the board on a flat bit of snow, not even on the bunny slope yet. I made one stupid move and down I went – crack! – right onto my sacrum. The wind was knocked out of me and my eyes teared up as I lay there, stunned, staring at the sky. I got up and tried to get on with the lesson but by the time Roman and I had left the slopes for the après ski beer, it was clear that something was wrong – I couldn’t stand to sit down, even for a reviving beer.

I spent the rest of my ski-vacation-week moving around our rented flat like an arthritic 100-year-old woman, lying on my stomach reading magazines and books and trying to nurse my bruised ego. The worst was showing up at work the next week, having to tell everyone the story AND stand at my desk, because it was another week or so before I could sit properly again. 😛

So, all these fond memories were swirling through my head as I tried not to drop my ski poles (still too soon for snow boarding!) or impale Roman or myself on my skis. By the time we made it to our hotel room, I was having a full-blown freak out. I did my best to contain it, but it was still there when I woke up in the morning as we boarded the bus to take us to the slopes. Boy was I a miserable cow! I buried my head in Roman’s shoulder and tried to sleep until we arrived, hoping for oblivion and that this whole thing was just a bad dream I could still wake up from.

But then we were there, having a coffee, buying our lift tickets and signing me up for an afternoon class. Roman offered to stay with and comfort me until the instructor showed up but I thought there was no point as I was inconsolable and I wanted at least one of us to have a good time. I sent him on his way and proceeded to wait till it was time for class, experiencing the definition of a bad head space:

Suddenly all the people around me looked 20 times more glamorous, sophisticated, at ease and graceful. I, by contrast, felt like I was stomping around like an elephant in a tea shop. I felt ugly and awkward and out of place, lurching around in my massive ski boots. I already had lost complete feeling in my feet and was getting colder and more miserable by the minute. I was convinced I was going to injure myself again and started fantasizing about skipping class, going back down the mountain to where my comfy Ugg boots were waiting, and drinking beer all afternoon while Roman boarded. I decided my teacher was going to be some arrogant guy who only spoke Spanish, and I started working on phrases in my head with my rudimentary vocab about how I was scared, not feeling well, currently hating my boyfriend for “convincing” me to go through with this, etc.

I’d worked myself up to a point where tears were actually welling in my eyes when this little sprite of a girl in oversized ski gear, a wild pony tale on the top of her head, a button nose and apple red cheeks came up and kissed my cheek (as Argentinians do with friends), introduced herself as Dana, my ski instructor, and immediately, effectively washed away all my fears with the strength of her warmth, ease and down-to-earth presence.

I don’t even know how she did it but clearly she is a charmed ski instructor because before I knew it, I was swishing my way down gentle hills, taking turns, laughing out loud at the rush and yes, even ENJOYING myself. Miracle worker.

She is ten years my junior, has been competing in ski competitions around the world for well more than half her young life, is from Ushuaia and LOVES the place, loves the sport, loves what she is doing. And that love and passion was so strong that I couldn’t help but focus on that instead of all those cobwebby fears I’d spun in my head.

We chatted about all sorts of things and I even got to practice some of my Spanish, and in between that, she taught me the basics of skiing. She also reminded me to stop, to breath and look around at all the beauty – the light coming through the criss-crossing patterns of black, back lit tree branches. The stunning, wide view over the mountains and valleys. The color the sky turned as the sun began to get low. This is the power of a true, passionate teacher.

So, thank you Dana, for not only helping me to overcome a fear, but transforming it into something really joyful – a beautiful memory from our last day in Argentina!

Obviously left the camera at the hotel for this day too, but here are some pics Roman took with his phone

Elated not only about having survived but about having actually skied AND enjoyed myself!

Days without pictures: Ushuaia

We had a super winter adventure yesterday in the Torres del Paine national park. It was overcast but the weather held out and we got to see some beautiful things. (Post about that to come at a later date… 😉

We timed things right. Today it’s nasty out which is just perfect for us. Full license to have a lazy/admin type Sunday in our wonderfully cozy temporary home here in Puerto Natales. The snow and slush are coming down outside. The wood stove is clicking and creaking gently as the fire burns inside. There are plans afoot to cook a curry for dinner at home with the owners of the B&B. I’m a happy girl.

Some snaps from right now, here in Chile…

 

And in the mean time, there’s a chance to finally catch up on some blogging…

So leaving Chile for now to return to our last stop in Argentina, Ushuaia… We had a total of four days there. The first day was a recovery day. Although I thought I had factored in plenty of time to do everything we needed and wanted to fit in prior to our departure from Buenos Aires, inevitably there was too much to do and too little time – how does this ALWAYS happen?? – and our last days there were busy, busy, busy and of course we got the minimal amount of sleep on our last night. So Saturday, our first day in Ushuaia, was all about recovery – relaxing, getting organized and gathering energy for the next four days.

We’ve been traveling for ages now and I’ve learned that it’s good for me to take a break from photography from time to time. I’ve got more pictures than my laptop has space for anyhow, and it DOES change your experience of a place when your more focused on just being there, rather than being behind the lens.

So there are days that I leave the camera behind, and I am always happy when I do. But Ushuaia was different.

We only had four days there, I was head over heels in love with the place, and God was it beautiful. I wanted to photograph EVERYTHING. And in my defense, we have seen and done so much on this trip. Capturing images are a great way to jog your memory later on, to help bring you back to a place and an experience. And Ushuaia is definitely a place I want to remember clearly.

But I also wanted my camera to survive the visit, which means that it got left behind, much to my chagrin, during our winter sport outings.

So, here are some verbal snap shots from my days without pictures (supplemented with some of Roman’s pics – his camera is pocket-sized and therefore much more portable! :-))

Ushuaia winter wonderland number 1: dog sledding

We are picked up by our tour operator and drive out of the city. Any buildings disappear pretty quickly as soon as we reach the city limits, and the views outside the fogged windows are replaced by nature. Snowy woods, pristine mountains. I wrote earlier that Tierra del Fuego looks like a landscape out of a fantasy movie, and today I narrow things down: it feels like I am entering the eternal winter of Narnia.

We come to the lodge where the dogs and sleds are. Inside is piping hot, with wood fires blazing in every room. Next to one a grey cat is stretched on a couch, napping. We are out all day and I swear it hasn’t moved an inch when we come back later in the afternoon.

The crew is organizing the sled and us tourists; Roman and I get to meet the dogs. Siberian and Alaskan huskies. It was awesome to learn about them and they were soooo cuddly and sweet. Apparently they don’t get along so well with each other, and the sled teams have to be carefully arranged – pairs are made up of a male and female dog for example, and order is determined by personality – to ensure fights don’t break out.  But they are tremendously sweet and affectionate with humans, and we got down to petting them every chance we got. The team of the second sled was younger dogs – teen agers – and they acted the part, barking and howling, a lot of talking with not much to say – while our team sat around with quiet dignity in the snow, waiting to get going.

 

Thank you Roman for sharing your pics with me. 😉 The dogs had the most amazing eyes. A lot of them had two different colored eyes. Gorgeous!

The sledding was fun – except for when a dog stopped for a bathroom break. If you ever find yourself traveling by dog sled and you see a dog stop to drop a load, make sure you hold your breath when the sled starts moving again. Husky poo is potent and you don’t want to breath in a cloud of it, trust me on this.

What a sweet face!

We sled along into the woods until my feet and cheeks are just about frozen with the cold, and then it’s time for…

Ushuaia winter wonderland number 2: snow shoeing

I’ve snow shoed before once, with Roman’s mom and step-dad back in the Swiss mountains. That was an awesome experience, so I’m so excited to have the chance to try it again.

There’s a lot of standing around, trying to stamp feeling back in to my feet, as everyone in the group gets kitted up with shoes. Finally we are off, and at first I am underwhelmed as we move slowly through flat forest. Eventually, our quiet but kind guide turns off the flat path and we start to head up hill. It feels good to use my body. The blood starts to pump and I find a rhythm to my pace. My footsteps in the crisp snow are like a yeti systematically making his way through a lifetime supply of Captain Crunch cereal. Up, up, up we go through the hilly woods. I start to forget my frozen toes and notice little details.

The delicate tendrils of sage green moss on the trees. Naked, knobbly, symmetric branches forming vivid patterns above the snow. Small but hardy leaves on bushes, spikey and defiant. The color of the snow. It is thick, pristine and white, but where crevices form – fine cracks that run inches deep along the side of the path – there is a subtle glow of the most pure aquamarine, as if snow and cold were the birthplace of blue.

We come to a clearing and that magic moment happens, when the work of my body has warmed my blood and the heat zooms down to my toes all at once. I love this feeling and savor it as we take in the view that stretches for miles before us. The valley down below, the ranges of mountains reaching out in either direction behind it. Stunning views. This place really is magic.

Then it’s time to head back down. We return to the woods in the valley where a small wooden hut has a fire, hot cocoa and cake waiting for us. Cheeky birds, like sparrows but with vivid yellow breasts, sneak in through the cracks and jauntily land on the table, the cake, claiming it as their own. We laugh and watch them flit about, and take another round communing with the huskies outside before heading back to the lodge and returning to town. An awesome day!

I loved this collection of colorful lanterns back at the lodge. Roman kindly let me steal is camera… 🙂

Arriving at the end of the world (plus a shoe review)

So, here we are now, in Ushuaia. (Concerned and confused about how to pronounce it? Click here for some sound bytes by native speakers 🙂 ).

We haven’t been here long, and Roman is a bit under the weather, so we’ve seen next to nothing of it, but still, I am soooooo excited to be here!

Stole this off the web somewhere but now I can’t find the link. Please forgive me oh internet karma!

Here, in Ushuaia, the southern-most city on the planet. Here at Fin del Mundo, the end of the world. The city is home to around 60,000 people. It’s made up of a clutch of cheerfully colorful buildings nestled between the Beagle Channel (the friggin’ Beagle Channel of Charles Darwin fame!!) and the Martial mountains.

The cold air smells of metal and snow. The white-capped mountains look close enough to touch. They are craggy and fantastical and imposing, like something straight out of fantasy novel or movie. Our hotel room is wonderfully warm and cozy. There’s a perfect balance of exhilarating adventure and homey comfort coexisting in my day today.

Arriving by plane yesterday already felt like a mini-adventure. The views were just unbelievable.

Not the best picture but is that an amazing mountain peak or what?

After flying over clouds and then blank ocean, we finally crossed over to land. Flat earthy-colored expanses gave way first to hills and then dramatic rocky peaks thrusting towards the sky, interlaced with fingers of chilly looking waterways. All illuminated in long, afternoon sunlight. The jagged edges of fierce mountains, topped in snow that glowed blindingly in the sun, sent deep periwinkle shadows running across the valleys. We descended lower and lower, coming closer to the mountains and channel. Wraiths of clouds stuck on rocky peaks were backlit in the sun, luminous halos of water and light. The channel was an expanse of gun-metal grey, pricked by points of white – choppy surf and low-flying sea birds gliding above the water’s surface.

There was nothing outside our plane window in any direction but this rugged, magnificent nature. No sign of humanity’s existence what so ever. The water came closer and closer and then suddenly we hit the tarmac. Ushuaia’s airport is right at the edge of the Channel and I think it is the most beautiful airport I’ve ever seen. It’s like landing at a ski lodge; all vaulting ceilings and light wood. And you step out the main doors and there are all those amazing mountains and the Channel right before your eyes. Such a stunning arrival!

Have you ever seen a prettier airport?

View from the airport

A bad picture taken from the back of our cab but a first glimpse of Ushuaia….

Today is a chilling/planning day. We’ve got a bit of time here and a big wish list of things to do, so we’ve got to get organized for that as well as for our onward travel to Chile. I may also try my luck finding long underwear here since there was none to be had in Buenos Aires. We haven’t picked up much specific snow gear since space is always an issue and we’re mostly hoping that layering will do the trick to keep us warm and toasty.

I did buy some boots while we were back in BA though, and I’m already really glad I have them. They’re knock-off Uggs, a type of boot I would typically never be into. The tread isn’t great and they’re as attractive as Uggs and knock-off Uggs can get (that is, not attractive at all), but they ARE warm and that is totally what I was going for.

I’ve been meaning to do an update about shoes, since I switched out my footgear during our pit-stop in the United States.

Gear check in – sneaker reviews!

For the first half of our trip, I was either wearing sandals or my Merrell Moab Ventilator sneakers. These sneakers were great and I was really happy with their performance. They are pretty versatile in terms of having decent breathability versus some water resistance, they are comfortable, they were totally fine for all the activities we did throughout India/Asia and they put up well with me wearing the crap out of them!

What they were not though, was small or light weight. For sure, they’re not huge, bulky hiking shoes, but when you’re traveling the way we are, cutting down on space and weight where ever you can is always a good thing. So I decided to switch sneakers.

This time I went for New Balance’s Trail Minimus. New Balance partners with Vibram, who provides the outsole in this shoe. From Amazon, “New Balance takes their Minimus line off-roading with the WT20 trail runner. Exceptionally lightweight and breathable, yet ruggedly capable where it counts, your every stride is as sure-footed as it is cool and ventilated.”

After my Merrells, the New Balances feel like I’m wearing nothing, they weigh so little. They’re also tremendously comfortable. No break in time required for these; it’s been like wearing slippers while walking around town since day one. They definitely have a lot less support than I was used to – that’s kind of the point of them since they’re designed to make your foot do more of the work. The woman at the shop I bought them from warned about this and said you should ease into wearing them since it takes a while for the body to adjust to less support. Of course I didn’t and all I noticed was that my calves were perhaps a bit more tired than usual at the beginning. Am doing fine now though.

In defence of her advice, I do have pretty good body awareness from yoga and all that and try to be conscious about my form when I walk and run so I tend not to slam my heels down on the ground – something that a thicker sole will cushion somewhat and an action that is not particularly kind to the skeleton – knees especially.

Anyway, I absolutely love these shoes and am already toying with buying a second pair since they’ve already come out with newer line that is narrower, and my happy yoga toes like to have more space.

My cute NBs in the Australian sunshine! 😀

The New Balance have been fine for everything we’ve done so far in Australia and Argentina. NB – we haven’t encountered much rain and although I’ve not tested them I know they will not keep my feet dry like the Merrels.

They also don’t provide as much warmth as the Merrels. Thus the Ugg knock-offs. Please forgive my fashion faux pas but I’d rather be weirdly dressed than lose a toe to frost bite (or just have cold feet which would be the more likely scenario. ;-)).

Ugg….