"Women are the guardians of continuity. If the hearth moves, they move with it. Remember, it is the gypsy women who keep their men on the road."

~"Boomerang Love," Jimmy Buffett

The Andes: So Much More than a Chocolatey Mint Thin

It´s a popular urban legend that Eskimos have a ridiculous number of words for snow. I am pretty sure that this myth was debunked in my Intro to Linguistics class, but the general idea is that cultures craft their language around what is important to them. Living in Texas, I never had a pressing need to develop a nuanced snow vocabulary. I have, however, attached certain connotations and feelings with it. For example, I have always been infatuated with kitschy snowmen and penguins during the wintertime - the campier and higher the likelihood that it makes it onto an ugly sweater the better. These guys remind me of Christmas, which is my favorite time of the year.
Another image that appears in my mind´s eye is that of a picturesque alpine lodge nestled in the mountains. I see a European style villa where you can curl up by the fireplace on a cozy bear rug sipping a mug of hot chocolate after a day of skiing. Resort towns like Aspen, Switzerland, and even Bariloche elicit an element of luxury and bourgeois privilege.

Finally, less often, I visualize a scene of kids riding a makeshift sled or skating on a frozen pond. Usually these pictures of childhood innocence are faded and grainy, in the style of a Norman Rockwell painting or Charlie Brown.

These are my sort of happy place idyllic connections with snow. I turn to them because they are comforting and pleasant. The reality, though, is that there is an entirely different side which I recently experienced firsthand in Patagonia. It started on a busride from Bariloche to the little hidden town of El Bolson, where we wanted to spend a few hours before taking an overnight bus to our next destination. To maximize our time in El Bolson, we left Bariloche on an early bus.

We were ready. The bags were packed and the clothes laid out the night before. After whipping up a quick breakfast and downing a morning tea, we were loaded onto the bus before 8AM. The sky was pitch black, and we were hoping to catch an Argentine sunrise. As we rolled out of the station, there were just three people on the bus, and I wondered whether the company was losing money on the trip. As it turns out, there were a number of smaller stops throughout the city, and we picked up some more commuters along the way. Once we were up to 12 or so, the bus driver turned off the lights and invariably, like obedient little Pavlovian dogs, we fell immediately asleep. As I place it, it was probably around 8:30 at that point. I remember merging onto a highway before drifting off. I woke up at approximately 9:20. Wow. What a difference and hour can make. White. To my complete shock, we were now rumbling through what appeared to be a blizzard in the arctic tundra. We were surrounded by trees and mountains to both sides. Everything was covered in a blanket of stark white, including the sky which had taken upon a nondescript milky, canvas color. No sun, no clouds. It was as if this sheet of white never ended.

Folks, this was not a winter wonderland. This was Mother Nature on steroids, and she was flexing. The forest was rendered unrecognizable underneath a coat of thick snow. Branches protruding from long dead trees were crystallized in ice, forming bizarre glassy sculptures. For miles and miles, there was no trace of life or civilization - no vehicles coming or going, no birds circling, not even the occasional flora to provide a little color. We were staring complete desolation in the face. The monochromatic scene was not quite beautiful, but nevertheless awe-inspiring in a hypnotic, terrifying way.

The snow that was falling outside the windows was not soft and powdery. It did not want you to make paper cutouts of its unique star-shaped snowflakes. It was not here to provide a playground for your winter sports entertainment. This was pellet-shaped, no-nonsense, "I will wreck your shit" snow. Think "Fellowship of the Ring" and the Misty Mountains. If the bus broke down, we would have been as helpless as Merry and Pippin (I´ll let you guys guess which one of us was which). This snow meant business.

For this reason, I sat with baited breath as the driver masterfully wove us through the switchbacks of the Andes. I watched in silence, transfixed, for about 20 minutes or so when all of a sudden, the entire scene just stopped as abruptly as it started. All of a sudden, there was color again: evergreens living up to their name, there were even occasional clumps of bright red berries popping against the shrubbery. It was like a scene from "Pleasantville." The snow was still falling, but not strongly enough to stick. As we exited the mountain pass, the first signs of civilization were these quaint little wooden cabins worthy of a St. Jude Christmas card. Between the smoking chimney, the cake icing-like snow frosting their roofs, and the clothes drying out in the backyard, the scene was downright cute. It would have been easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, but I wasn´t going to be fooled so quickly. After witnessing its capabilities, I knew the snow would turn on us at any given minute.

Sure enough, I started writing this post from the cafe of Esquel bus station, where we got stuck spending the night, hobo style, on the floor. The reason? Snow blocking the roads to Trelew.

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