I’ve been living in the mountains for almost 3 months. I live in a town with 1 main road and no grocery store where I hitchhike almost daily to get to the ski resort. I see the sunrise and the sunset over the Andes every day. I’ve become familiar with heat generated from a real wood fireplace. Real wood that I chop and light myself. I see clear bright stars at night and during the day I see the blanket of pollution that covers the city waaaaay down that winding mountain road. But I live up here and get to breathe in crisp mountain air. I’ve prayed for snow to no avail.
It’s winter here, but in practice it was more like an endless spring. It’s bittersweet to have endless spring in a mountain town. It wasn’t what I thought I was going to find. By now you’d think I would have learned not to have expectation. But like everything it was better…and worse, and no, I wouldn’t have changed it. Why? Because this is exactly what I needed to see, this is exactly what I needed to learn, and this is one more chance to practice just being grateful for exactly what I’ve been given.
I’ve managed not to write about it because for a good portion of that time, one full month, I had a friend here visiting me…and when I have company I forget to write. When she left I took that time to catch up on the stories from before and loading and sorting pictures. Soon after Kristin left, I was blessed to be visited by two more long time friends. But now I have that time and looking back I’ve realized just how much has really happened.
It hasn’t all been puppies and rainbows. That would have been spectacular, but not the stuff of stories. After Kristin left, we did eventually get a few good dumps of that light, fluffy powdery stuff people have wet-dreams about. I did manage to make and spend time with wonderful people and friends. I did cook more delicious meals and have a mostly predictable success rate with baked goods. I did hike off piste to slide down virgin faces and leave my own beautiful fresh s-shaped tracks. But the truth is that I didn’t just come here to play, I came here to work. Well, more or less, to work.
I came down here because I wanted to have a ski season in the Andes. I had to make a choice, spend more time in Colombia and work my way up through Central America skirting along the coast, OR come back to Chile and be a ski bum. Obviously I couldn’t just live in a ski town for the whole season without some sort of compensation. It’s a lot more expensive than the coast, this isn’t a poor-mans hobby. So I sent out some feelers and if I found work I would come back. So it wasn’t that I “wanted” to work, but saw it as a necessary evil, a means to the end.
Deep down I was hoping to come back. After Justin’s visit and my time on the Galapagos, I came to the realization that beaches kind of make me sad when I’m alone. They are full of happy lovey-dovey couples and families with cute small children…and to be there without the person you love, to be completely frank, kind of sucks. I can do alone on a mountain. For some reason, I don’t mind that at all. Granted even that is better with friends or loved ones, but at least if I can’t have that, it doesn’t make me want to slip into a mild depression. Plus, lucky for me, my friends like the snow, and I didn’t, don’t, and won’t have to spend that much time alone anyway.
So I got this gig working at a hostel in a ski town. I thought I knew what I was signing up for. But wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t have a clue. There goes Claudia, racing off into the great unknown with that stupid smile on her face expecting only good, expecting puppies and rainbows. One would think that after that debacle in the Galapagos I would be a bit more cautious, a bit more apprehensive, a bit more realistic. But no, absolutely not. Why would I do that?
So what did I agree to? On the surface it sounds like a pretty decent deal. I get to live in a ski town, have food and accommodation provided and get paid a tiny little bit for the days that I have to work. I work 2 full days from breakfast until midnight and then get 2 full days off to do whatever I want. Obviously I was planning on spending those days snowboarding, granted that was tough with the lack of snow at the beginning of the season. There are two of us that work here, Jackson and I. We complement each other and to be honest make a pretty rock-star team. He is super sociable and great with the guests and knows pretty much everything there is to know about the mountains here. I am organized and make sure that the things that need to get taken care of, get taken care of.
What constitutes a work day is where things get a bit interesting. I was told on my Skype interview with Max (the guys that owns the hostel) that on working days you would have to set up breakfast (which is self-service), be hospitable with the guests, answer phones, square up the guest bills, chop wood, make fires and shovel snow off the walk, make a few beds and make sure the place is tidy. No real heavy cleaning, they will call the maid in for that. So pretty much, just hang out, be available and friendly and make sure things don’t get out of hand or that anyone leaves without paying.
What my day actually looks like is being a mom to a bunch of full-grown, spoiled, poorly behaved, dirty and lazy men. Most of the guests are Brazilian men, not that I have anything against Brazilians, a lot of them have been very nice. But these are people that come from money, in a culture where people who have money have maids…or wives to pick up after them. I am not a maid, and I am definitely NOT your wife. But for some reason, this seems like a difficult concept for them to grasp. So I clean, A LOT.
That infamous maid that I was promised would come by and do all the heavy cleaning, well, um, I’ve only seen her once. I’ve changed more beds than I care to count. Every day I vacuum. I mop. I take out bathroom garbage full of tp with skid marks all over it. I do dishes, and do more dishes, and then find more dishes and wash those too. I scrub toilets and sweep floors, and make more beds. I am a maid…but I am also supposed to be friendly, and get your beers. So I am a maid and a bartender to 21 grown men who all think they are Casanova. And my day starts at 7:30am and finishes when the last drunk man decides to go to sleep. Then I get to arrange your transport, confirm your hostel booking, and explain to you every single line item of your bill and attempt to keep a neutral face when you try to haggle with me. You can’t haggle with me. The bill is what the bill is. No we don’t have a credit card machine. No you can’t pay in reales. No I can’t give you a discount because of the crappy snow situation. No you can’t switch rooms. No you can’t leave early without paying. No, no, no, no. Sure I can get you a beer.
And then just when I think all my patience has been used up, I get that day off, those two days off. I wake up late, walk up to the main road, stick my thumb out and climb into the back of the first truck that stops to pick me up…and ride. I get to forget about all those people, all that mess, just strap in and carve down face after face of these spectacular mountains. It makes it all worth-while, just a couple hours outside, alone or with friends, and I remember why I agree to answer the same question and pick up that dirty toilet paper. It’s that sweet sound, the swish, swish, swish, and the view of mountains that seem to go on forever and no lift lines. I don’t do lift lines, I don’t have to ride with crowds, I get to be practically alone in this playground, and the city, and the noise, the dirt and the people waiting to bombard me with beer requests, they seem so, so, so, so far away.
My time here in this ski town hostel, it’s almost like those Patagonia hikes. Except this time it isn’t a test of how much physical discomfort, how much pain or how much cold I can take, it’s a test in something else entirely, it’s a daily test in patience. It’s a chance to see if I can keep a smile on my face when people are inconsiderate or rude. It’s a chance to see if I can see that good in you, and even in my frustration be the person I would want to answer my stupid questions, because, yeah, I ask stupid questions too…and yeah, I can be inconsiderate too.
So my role as maid, bartender and house-mom is teaching me something too. Even this close to the end of my trip, life-school keeps handing me lessons. It keeps handing me important lessons about being that example of patience, of love, of generosity…of patience. But I even in my moments of failure, when that ugly look crosses my face and my tone isn’t honey-sweet, I have the amazing advantage of learning this lesson HERE. Where a look out the window can make even the bitterest soul soften enough…make a tired housekeeper turn up the corners of her mouth and make that thing called a smile.
Why? Because this is my life right now. I am a part-time ski bum in the Andes, and that, even under a pile of dirty dishes, is pretty damn sweet.