It's something that I haven't seen much of in my life, so when I have the opportunity I get really excited. I vaguely remember my brothers one day arriving at my school an hour into the day when I was about eight years old and whisking me away after telling my teachers a white lie about a persistent cold. Snow had fallen the night before which was completely unheard of in the Northern Cape (South Africa) all those years ago.
Fast forward twenty seven years and I still think it’s one of the most beautiful things there are to witness in life. Recently, I’d spent a few months traversing the Amazon when I had an opportunity for a quick catch-up in nearby Chile with my brother whom I didn’t see very often. We lived on different continents, he in Australia and I in South Africa. Our time would be limited as always, and so we agreed on the things we’d most like to spend doing: walk the city streets of Santiago, road trip to Valparaiso and a snow day in the Andes to get closer to the snow.
Neither of us having had time to plan before our arrival nor in the mood to be over analytical (life’s too short) we went online and with five minutes of necessary diligence decided on booking an Andes day tour with Turistik whom we’d done a hop-on hop-off tour with the previous day. Lucky for us our hotel was on the tour company’s collection point list and so we set off at eight am the following day. We decided against the extra expense of snow gear when the bus stopped at a rental store on the way and as our fellow travellers filed back into the bus with their temporarily acquired snow boots I knew I’d be sorry later.
As we ascended the mountain on the way to the Valle Nevado resort winding passes revealed lush green valleys, the hillsides dotted with scattered residences. There is something menacing about slow approaches like these (travelling by bus), you have enough time to scan your surroundings and inevitably talk about the steepness of the incline and what would happen if you plummeted down the side of it makes its way into consciousness. Although we were creeping at snails pace, we were in fact climbing to 2490 meters in altitude. This quote from Powderhounds says it best: “The road up to Valle Nevado is initially just a little windy and it lulls you into a false sense of security. Then the real curves start (about 20 of them). They call them “curves” but they are more aptly called tight switchbacks.”
I was thoroughly impressed by the balancing act of some of the live stock we encountered along the way, who didn’t at all seem perturbed by being so horizontally challenged. Just another day in the Andes of them. We stopped for a hot chocolate and a photo op for mom in a village called Farellones. I thought that if I ever returned here that I would rent one of the fairy tale like log cabins for a few weeks and spend my time drinking red wine in front of roaring fires with only the stunning display of nature as entertainment day in and day out. Or maybe that kind of thinking is exactly what happens to everyone who passes through here freezing their backsides off.
An hour and a half after leaving the city we reached our destination. Valle Nevado is one of five resorts near Santiago, if you have the bucks to spend you could overnight here and ski to your heart’s content (self: must learn how to ski). If you’re on the clock and on a budget and perfectly happy just being surrounded by the white stuff for a few hours like we were you could buy a ‘lunch ‘n lift’ ticket at the Pro Shop and mosey on up the mountain marveling at the majestic powdery slopes at your own pace.
The thinning of the air was noticeable well before we started out cable car ride but it was factually confirmed when a young girl queuing for food at the restaurant cabin collapsed into my arms. It was an odd sort of experience, the split level room was filled to the brim by famished patrons during the lunch rush and no one batted an eye lid as she slumped into my arms in slow mo. My brother and I looked at each other quizzically for two seconds when her dad – who had been queuing in front of her – calmly turned around and almost robotically (this has to have happened before) cleared a small area on the ground on which to lay her down whilst the paramedics were called. It was in all probability a familiar occurrence for everyone except the newbies.
My brother and I feeling somewhat obliged to remain anchored to the spot before moving on waited until she came to (post Coke), collected our food and braved the icy air outside to find a seat. We spent the rest of our day exploring and after a last hot chocolate and a chat – I knew it would be at least another year until I would see him again – we headed down the mountain to the slumbering city below. You would be forgiven to think that the peacefully nestled Chilean capital is perpetually shrouded in mist – it is unfortunately however a layer of pollution that hangs over the city like a thick fog. It is a sad sight which is easily disregarded by the beauty of the snow-capped mountains which surrounds it.
Our little rendezvous was coming to an end. Tomorrow we would travel back to where we came from, Ettienne on a sixteen hour flight to Australia and me back to the jungles of Peru. With a few hours left in the day we headed to the Costanera Center to take in the panoramic city views at sunset. This beautifully designed masterpiece is the tallest building in South America at 300 meters high, and the second largest in the Southern Hemisphere. It has a glass walled observation deck with wrap-around views stretching across the city of Santiago to the surrounding Andes mountain range in the horizon. The aerial view is perfect for orienting yourself if you are new to the city and at night the spectacular open air dome is awash with ever changing neon lighting. The 62nd floor views are also perfect if you’ve been wanting to address that fear of heights issue…
Like all those years ago I got to play in the snow again. We were knackered but pleased. I fell asleep that night thinking of all the times in my life I had rejected impromptu experiences because of fear, insecurity or whatever financial justification not to I could image at the time, and I felt content that we had both seized this random opportunity to spend time together in a country foreign to us both. For now, sleep. Tomorrow, Valparaiso. Then goodbye, and up, up and away…