NATE MENNINGER: I apologize for my absence but the last few weeks have been a whirlwind and left me with little time to write. Now, however, I’ve got all the time in the world as I wait here in Mendoza preparing for my trip to Aconcagua.
I moved out of Cristian’s apartment on the 30th of June, and with three nights to kill before heading up to the mountains to start my new job, I instantaneously became homeless.
For that first night, I dragged my heavy backpack to a local bar where I reunited with Sam, an American woman who I met the night before. Sam generously offered me sanctuary and invited me back to her hotel where she and another woman (both aged roughly 40 years old) shared a single room.
Note, there was nothing sexual about this encounter. Even though I slept in the same bed as Sam and did so in boxers, I did not move a single muscle. I’m not even sure I slept at all as I didn’t want to over-impose my welcome by rolling onto her side.
The next morning, I boarded a bus for Valparaiso, Chile: A port city made famous through spectacular street art and savory wine. I arrived at dusk, found the cheapest hostel I could and grabbed some beers with a fellow suite mate.
The street art was truly amazing in Valpo, but there’s not much more I can attest to. I went out and got a little too rowdy one night which inhibited me from truly exploring the city. If you do have more than a few nights though, I definitely suggest seeing the artistic and festive city of Valparaiso.
Two days later, I re-boarded a bus back to Santiago where once again I found the cheapest hostel and grabbed a few beers with a suite mate.
The next morning, I took off for the mountains.
I found this job just as I had found the vegan hostel job from before: through the volunteering website Workaway.info. I assumed things could only improve, as I made sure to double check whether or not the hostel served meat; but I never could have anticipated what would follow.
I arrived euphoric. The hostel sported a picturesque view of the mountain tops, two full kegs awaited me inside and a kitchen stocked with food laid at my disposal.
I listened attentively to make a great impression, but as day turned to night, I quickly became suspicious. That first day, I worked from 10 a.m. to dusk, chopping wood, making fires, cleaning bathrooms and attending to clients.
I figured the first day was an exception, but on the second day I worked another 6/7 hours. And the next day, and the next day and the next.
I soon found out that my schedule required a minimum of 6 hours every day: 3 in the morning and 3+ at night. Granted I had the opportunity to ski every day – on my own wallet, of course – but 40 hours a week without pay still felt a bit extreme.
Things took a turn for the worse on the second day when the employees called a surprise meeting.
Turns out that two bosses owned the hostel, but one only visited once a week and the other chose to ski instead of work. Therefore, my three fellow employees had been left to manage the entire hostel themselves. When things went wrong or they needed supplies, the bosses were rarely to be found – hence the meeting.
On only my third day, one of the workers quit as she simply couldn’t handle the stress anymore.
On the fifth day, Danne, my favorite fellow worker quit too. She too refused to handle the unjust responsibility.
Unfortunately, this left the third worker (Eugenia) and I alone to manage the hostel ourselves.
Remember I was just an unpaid volunteer.
Luckily, the other two workers came back later in the week, allowing me some free time, but I could sense their return was fleeting. The beer was kicked, the food nearly gone (probably because of the rats) and the boss still missing. Not to mention, the ceiling had burst in the guest bathroom forcing much of the hostel to share the same toilet and shower
Despite the work load, I still loved my time in the mountains. I managed to ski nearly every day and even conquered another famous chute called the Chiminea. While less famous than the Super C, the Chiminea is by far more difficult to maneuver. The drop in alone requires a serious cornice jump and immediately shoots skiers onto a hard-packed 60-degree face with a width no more than 14 feet across.
Despite my fear, alone I jumped into the chute and prepared for the worst. Yet before I knew it, I was safe and sound cruising through the sunny field of snow below. I recommend the Chiminea to anyone and everyone who considers themselves a backcountry skier.
With my bank account dwindling, I decided it was time to leave my home in the mountains. I loved the tranquil lifestyle, the tasty barbecues and the kind guests, but the snow was fading and the work gnawing at my conscious.
I asked Eugenia (the worker in charge), if I could depart Friday, 10 days after my arrival. She realized how much the circumstances had changed and let me leave in peace.
I found out that two days later, the boss forgot bring gas to the hostel. This meant no heat, no water and no hot food.
I made it out just in the nick of time.
I stayed in Santiago for 4 more days, gallivanting around town with Joaquin, a charming and generous Chilean man who I met at the mountain hostel – he was actually Danne’s (my fellow employee’s) boyfriend. For five days he gave me a shelter, food to eat and a family to live with. For that I will forever be grateful.
One night, an old friend of mine Erika Craven, a professional ice skater, invited me to her Disney on Ice show. Her South American tour was passing through Santiago, Chile and she managed to score me a free ticket to their show.
I sat alone in the front row, between hoards of toddlers, and wore a Snow White dress with makeup to fit in….o.k. that second part is a lie, but I did go alone and sit front row! And even though I’m sure 95% of parents thought I was a pedophile, I loved the show! Erika was truly phenomenal on the ice and I was proud to be her honored guest.
Come Wednesday, I parted my separate ways with Joaquin and the city of Santiago and bought a bus ticket for Mendoza, Argentina – the wine capital of the world.
The bus took six hours longer than expected as we got held up at customs, but eventually I arrived in Mendoza. After two hours of hauling my equipment around and buying bus tickets, I found my home at my new volunteer job in Chacras de Coria – a wealthy town 45 minutes outside of the city center.
And so began my third Workaway experience: constructing a new hostel.
I worked with four Frenchman, one Brazilian, two Colombians and a few Argentines to chop down trees, rebuild walkways and deconstruct doors.
I have to say that while at first, the lack of food proved rather difficult to survive, in the end this third Workaway became my favorite experience. I made some incredible friends and now, even though I’ve moved out, the hostel still invites me back every day or so for a hot sandwich or a tall glass of wine.
So where have I moved to? Well, for third time in my journey someone offered me a free room in their house, but however this time I chose not to act (something was a little off)
Instead, through a well-placed Facebook post and some crucial bartering skills, I found a private room in an international exchange house in the center of Mendoza for only $130 dollars a month (with all utilities included).
I also found work as a waiter last week and worked my first shift Friday night!!
I quit Saturday morning….
No matter how hard I try, I can’t do something I don’t like. That’s why I’m traveling the world. So that I don’t have to slave away behind a desk and take orders from some egotistical boss. Granted there are sad times and lonely times too as I live and often eat alone, but I am learning and seeing so much that it’s all worth it. I encourage anyone and everyone to hop on a plane and join me right now!
For now, I’ve got a small income writing and the chance to make some money playing music. Not to mention, a friend offered me a month free at a local Cross Fit gym, so I’ve been doing that to get in shape for Aconcagua.
I’ll write back soon, but in the meantime, I’m trying to settle down a bit. Get in shape, write some words and enjoy life. Then summit Aconcagua.