19 Agosto 2011 – In hindsight, a map would have been nice. Basic control of the situation notwithstanding, the wonderful intricacies of our Andean flail fest would not have been nearly as entertaining or as note-worthy if we had command of our basic surroundings. But, as Chevalier assured me, this is how it was meant to be. And that was good enough.
We flailed our way, sin mapa, north of Santiago, where the white monsters beckon. “Somehow, it would take away from the trip if we actually didn’t flail around Santiago,” I am assured. Directions are easy enough- keep the big mountains on your right. Claro.
Before long Chevalier proves a genius, and we find ruta cinco a la norte. Los Andes is approached with caution, as miles of Argentine semis are parked alongside the highway. Not just parked, but camping out. A parking lot scene for Argentine 18 wheelers. Fatty veggie burritos and Fanta por todos. After a Chilean version of poutine at a local favorite playing host to the country’s happiest three-legged dog, we poach our way up the long valley towards Portillo. Through the bursting metropolis of “El Sauce” and on up the road to Mendoza we troll. Marley is stuck in our heads. We free the people with music. With music, sweet music. So we’ve got that going for us.
Before long, it is evident that none shall pass. I used to think that I had fair mastery of the Spanish language. Years of study- junior high through my senior year of college, with hours of field-tested Spanglish with the Colorado hispanic crew. In Chile, however, there is a new level of sophistication that I am not set up for. The most notable difference is the Chileans’ fondness for the word “Claro.” Literally translated, it means “clearly.” “Of course.” But it is ubiquitous. A simple “por supuesto” would suffice. Clearly.
With the road closed, we head back towards the Aconcogua valley town of Los Andes, home of the afore mentioned Chilean poutein and three legged dog. Claro. Now with a twist–Chevalier has found a hotel that sits astride a thermal hot springs outside of San Felipe. Claro. We phone the hotel with great results- plenty of room! the hot springs are incluyendo con el precio! Perfecto! The first clue should have come when I asked “so… what’s the name of the road that you are on in San Felipe?” “There is no name to our road.” Claro. This is now my default contesta. When I don’t clearly understand what is being told to me, I reply “claro.” Counterintuitive, but it gives the opposing party the false confidence that I am not a total waste of human. claro. We find San Felipe. Claro.
Seems like a nice town–actually quite a bit nicer than Los Andes. Vineyards and views of the greater range. Super markets and great trees. The signage is clear and concise. Until the road runs out. We haul up a road that is clearly marked “cerrado,” across gravel and mud, before being stopped by a worker. “Es cerrado.” How do we find our way to the hotel? “SeveralfastSpanishwordsspokenunintelligibly.” Claro.
We flail our way back into town. Mean and Zip Loc recall a turn at Montenegro. Claro. We turn and follow our noses around some rural dirt roads, clearly in the wrong direction, toward a hand-written sign that tell us “Hay Pan.” What is a hay pan? The road workers are more than happy to give us directions around the Andean big dig towards our hotel. SeveralmoreunintelligiblyfastSpanishwordsspoken, this time with the aid of a similarly unintelligible mapa. Claro. Bien, gracias, y vamonos. We flip it and head back towards an unforeseen future.
Somehow we ring the hotel por telefono, and my previously stellar Spanglish is mangled in clear sight of my friends. Me to nice lady at hotel (translated): “We have reservations at your hotel, and the road was closed, and we went left at the church, then the worker told us to go right at the church, and we are on Santa Maria something, and I was wondering if you could help us out with directions.” Lady to me (translated): “(Giggling)- okay, well where are you now and what can you see?” Me to lady: “I see the Andes. And a church.” Lady (more giggling) to me: “SeveralmoreunintelligibleSpanishdirectionsspokenfast.” Me to lady: “Claro.”
In the history of translation goofs, there may have never been a cover-up so eloquently blissful in its simplicity. I could be a goof, I could be a genius. But that simple palabra was saving face until my crew could work out the rest.
By some small miracle, the road worker’s unintelligible map led us up a hill, past a church, through a plaza, by another church, and into the waiting embrace of our hotel. It is a nice hotel, much nicer than we would have anticipated. Or than we had anticipated affording. And now we are rolling with it, because the smell of Eucalypts detracts from the biting pain of a verbal blunder that landed us in this high-brow spa.
For us, the all-inclusive pampering ends tomorrow as we attack the road to Portillo again, without map, in an attempt to suck the marrow out of Chilean life. For now, the adventure wouldn’t have been complete without the epic meandering that took us through the greater valleys of central Chile, and we laugh about the absurdity over local wines and the carefree nonchalance that comes with being on vacation. Will we ski Portillo tomorrow? Hopefully. Because a closed road means that snow still lingers. What is to come of us Ex-pat bums if the road remains closed? Will we face defeat like men? Will we flail our way southward to more temperate skiing climates? The road of travel rolls on, and the high peaks lurk beneath our first view of the Southern Cross on this trip.
Nothing else matters, because we are on the road, and that seems to be the defining trait of a vacation well spent, in the hideous shadow of Aconcagua and among friends. Will we find our snow? Will we find more Chilean chips with random meat product? Will we take cerveza or vino or Fanta? Claro.