"Argentina 2002-03" story # 5

Cerro Catedral, Rio Negro           December 26, 2002

Hello, my friends. Merry Christmas! I hope everyone had a great Christmas! Especially my family; sorry I wasnīt there guys!

If I have to spend a sad, first-ever Christmas away from Michigan and home, at least itīs being passed in summer.
     Only, Barilocheīs is the invitation summer declined. "Summer" officially started last Saturday, but low temperatures and strong breeze have kept lots of people in coats or huddling tight in sweaters or jackets. It was nice the first few weeks of December, so a lot of people I know have been sick or badly sick.
     The cold is tough on me ... specifically because, in my mad-scientist-like strive to always build the better "me" (a smile for display purposes), Iīve concocted a latest revolutionary theory: the theory to take only cold-water showers. I would tell you the reasons for this, but then I would have to kill you. Just kidding. REASON # 2 - Boosted will-power. REASON # 4 - Shiny hair. REASON # 5 - It wakes you up; makes you feel good and alive. REASON # 1 - Smooth skin. REASON # 3 - Increased cold-water tolerance - which will prove crucial that fateful day I go swimming with penguins.
     December 22ndīs, I recall, was an especially tough shower. I went under, turned the "Frio" (Cold) nozzle, and wanted to jump through the roof or scream when it hit me. I ignored the chill and thought positive thoughts, like REASON # 8 - Squintier eyes. The most-popular method for withstanding it is to lift each foot alternatingly, turn around in circles, and mouth "Whoo!" alot quickly. As I rinsed my hair of its shampoo, my head began to ache deeply from the cold. Think positive, Justin, think! REASON # 7 - Sudden distinguishing ability and understanding of whale calls. I could barely stay in to finish washing my body; but, then again: REASON # 10 - Fuller chest hair.
     By 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Bariloche had become warmer, and if you wouldīve been standing in the sun here, you couldīve worn short sleeves. For the first time, the fact that I would be spending Christmas in this far-away place hit me, and I felt weird. I felt quite empty.
     At 8:30, I called Michigan. I could talk to my dadīs sister and my cousin and grandparents and parents. It was two hours earlier there; I bragged that where I was still had sun.
     My brother, Brandon, got on the phone last. He excitedly reminded me of his present to our nice grandpa, who loves pigs. Itīs a nice, big, framed picture of a country lake with a dock. Oddly, on the end of the dock is placed a happy pig diving in for a swim with an obvious running jump. "Iīm going to try to take a picture at the exact moment he realizes thereīs a pig in it." He and my grandpa had also gone out and bought two tacky sweaters for our clothes-snobby cousins as gag gifts. One of the sweaters, he said, "is dark green, with red trim on the bottom, purple around the neck, a yellow trim on the right sleeve, and the whole left sleeve is alternating black and white checkers. Iīm gonna take a picture of their disgust when they open them, and then, when we finally convince them to try them on, Iīm gonna take another one!"
     Man, I was missing out.
     Christmas Eve night, my friend, Erica, was working at a hotel, and she invited me behind the front desk for a late dinner. She brought out cheese and olives and candy, and the door-man and sixty-two-year-olds maid and laundry lady joined us. At midnight, we "cheers!"ed with champagne. The maintenance ladies were a lot of fun, especially the laundry lady after she had four or five glasses of champagne in her.
     On Christmas day, the sky was thick white and there was a light rain. But, it wasnīt as cold as it had been, so I took off for the mountains. If I could find snow, then I would have a piece of my Michigan White Christmas.
     Five miles outside town on the local bus, I could barely through the high white air make out a fair amount of snow on a close mountain. COLD-WATER SHOWER REASON # 14 - Better snow vision.
     The mountain didnīt look so far off. I walked in its direction down an important road, lined with goldenrod flowers as colorful as the sky was not. My black sneakers, wool socks, lined windpants, and hooded fleece began collecting and fending off the falling moisture.
     An hour or so later, the road passed beneath the foot of the mountain. Seeing a mountain, thinking it pretty, finding out about it information-wise nothing, and without further ado climbing it? Free-path mountain-blazing, I think Iīll call this. Or, for short, the simple syllable, "Fpmb." In preparation, I took off a long-sleeved shirt that was soaked from the elbows down, and put on another, in-between my fleece and a t-shirt. My clothing supply now exhausted. I stuffed two cookies in my mouth and hoisted myself up a dirt bank. Pulling myself through yellow-green bush, I was off. Fpmbing my way to snow. Fpmbing my way to Christmas!
     The ascent began through moderately-thin vegetation. In places, house-sized rocks stuck out through the ground. In other places, black, eight-foot tree corpses gathered in cemetaries materializing beautifully from out of the cloud mist that kept visibility to only seventy feet. Pushing bushes made my thighs wet, and again my long-sleeved shirt became moist from elbows down.
     I sniffled a little. After forty minutes, the bushes and hugging fog disappeared. The ascent was now on grass amid white daisies and tiny purple flowers, beneath a chair lift used during ski season. The moutainīs steepness punished my calfs. My heart beat like a running childīs, and cold, inhaled air filled every part of my body, then left almost as quickly. Fpmbing is living.
     The rain kept falling. Despite trusty clothes, every part of me was by now at least a little wet. I didnīt feel this discomfort, though. My unwaning focus was only on reaching my snowy Christmas.
     Ditching the grassy peak after forty minutes, I hitched onto a sharp-stoned dirt road that clung to and circled the Christmas-less frontal mountain I was now on.
     Turning around it, I reached the frontal mountainīs backside. A sharp drop to my left lewd to a deep, forested mountain dip. Across it and before me, a mammoth dark ridge stood like high priests looking down on everybody. Decorating this ridge were large and small slides of shining snow - snow shining as bright as the hair of a person who only takes cold-water showers!
     "MEEEEERRRRRY CHRISTMAS!!! FELIZ NAVIDAD!" The rain actually stopped for ten seconds.
     It restarted. The skin on my left hand was light pink around the nails, and losing color quick. The wet air created a circle of moisture around my mouth like a sloppy dog. The wind - such a nuisance in low Bariloche - had been absent all trip, but it now could be heard whipping through the ski lodges and over the mountains.
     Walking and "pressing on!" and climbing, I reached a point where the rock only ten feet above my head had nothing more above it. Wow. The tippy-top. I pulled myself up too quickly; when I saw the other side of the mountain, I was struck by such beauty, that I almost threw up.
     Mountains, shooting up from the ground like razor-blades, dark, created a powerful, gorgeous ring of which my mountain was a part. Painted snow-cicles seeped down the tops, interrupted by bare spots, an dthey travelled all around the ring like doily bib napkins. Beneath these, the mountains shot down to the most-protected, yummy-pea-green forested floor. A wide, forking river of white sped through.
     To the right, clouds parted, to reveal the distant Lake Nahuel Huapi of Bariloche, so vast and cold it seemed to be a glacier on the next mountain over.
     I took a seat behind a rock. Demonic wind of thirty or forty miles per hour pummeled me and tormented the leafy moss whose home was that mountain-top rock. I hid my left hand inside my backpack and stuffed cookies in my mouth with my right. The wind picked up force, and I got myself lower to the ground and more behind the rock. Good thing for REASON # 22 - Heavier, anchor-like feet.
     I finished the cookies, looked at a picture of my brother, my mom, my dad, and me from last Christmas, and snapped a ton of pictures. Taking one with myself in it with my left hand, the numb ends of my fingers could barely press the button.
     "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" I headed down.
     Racing along the mountainīs side, I battled wind that pushed me from the biggest snowslide like a bouncer kicking someone out of a nightclub. By trying to lean my face into the ground, I was able to walk slowly and reach a two-hundred-foot-dropping snow-slide and slide down on my butt. Weeeeeeeee!
     Stopping. My hand was now red from big knuckles to finger-tips, and losing feeling fast. I put it in my fleece pouch and opened and closed it as rapidly as possible. I began to seriously worry for my health.
     I began to run. My foot sunk in the snow and I crashed into some exposed rock. I got up and ran. My foot sunk in again and I crashed in the snow.
     I reached end of the snow an didnīt stop running or jogging downhill - at times, slipping and sliding in the mud - for twenty-five minutes. When I was paused, I was overcome, especially in my cheeks and chest, by shivering.
     OK. Further down the mountain, it became warmer. It didnīt actually do summer, but it did spring. And my hand recovered just fine. I reached the mountainīs bottom and awaited a bus in the ski town of Cerro Catedral.
     A young couple - whoīd just descended the mountains from a popular lodge where theyīd spent Christmas Eve - waited coldly with me. They used my bottle of water to make some heated milk and honey, which they offered me. "Gracias," I said, "es mi mejor regalo." (Thanks, itīs my best gift yet.)
     It was a beautiful day. I hope next year Iīm in Michigan.

Merry Christmas! - Justin Breen

(P.S. - You can BET the shower I took wasnīt cold when I got home that night! Smooth skin, shmooth shmin! Try saying that five times fast.) Later!

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