Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nevados de Chillán Days 2-4: Shangri-La and the Markets of Chillán

Following the incredible powder day that introduced me to the magic that is Nevados de Chillán, I slept great and woke up early ready to rock another snow day. However, as we rolled out in the truck caravan we noticed strong winds on the mountain, wind that turned out to be so strong that the resort shut down, wind that blew all that great snow right off the mountain, turning it into an icecake. Booo.

Puelche wind blowing the snow off of the mountain
Apparently this particular type of wind has a name: Puelche. They are warm winds that blow over from Argentina and have the nasty effect of blowing any fresh snow off of the Chilean mountains and then melting a layer (that later freezes) as a final kick to the nuts of skiiers in the Chilean Andes before retreating a few days later. Argentina, I know you are jealous of Chile’s superior snowfall, but do you really have to be such a jerk?

But the BackChillan guys had other adventures up their sleeves and we reversed direction and headed deep into Shangri-La for a mellow tour in the sunshine. We climbed through forest, past gorgeous mountains, through a volcanic landscape that Panchi (one of the BackChillan guides, also unofficial Grillmaster) pointed out looked like an Oreo Blizzard (I don’t remember what he said since I’m pretty sure there are no Dairy Queens and therefore no Oreo Blizzards in Chile, but I immediately knew what he meant) because of the snow on the black volcanic rocks, and out to the recently collapsed Refugio Shangri-La. Where we stopped and ate lunch and drank beer. Which was glorious.

Suiting up for the Shangri-La tour

Photo shoot with Manu in Shangri-La

Collapsed Refugio Shangri-La

On our return, Spanish Amazon Maria, a friend of the BackChillan guys and ski patroller by profession who spends her European summers snowbirding in Chillán, made Spanish Tortilla, which despite the egg allergy I tried a bite of and enjoyed thoroughly (Benadryl chasers have been my survival tool here in Chile), and Xavier, another friend of the group, made “barber’s spaghetti” (apparently his nickname is “the barber” although I never found out why).

Since the strong winds put a kink in any touring plans, we spent the next day in the city of Chillán, a 2 hour drive away, a place known primarily for its sausages (Longaniza). The guys took me through the Chillán market, a huge multi-block partially open-air market that sells everything, especially meat (like, there’s a whole block dedicated to meat, meat, and more meat). I of course loved it. And bought a lot of meat. They also got me to try Cazuela (a sort of hearty soup/stew involving a broth with vegetables, a boiled potato, and a large chunk of meat) and I had my second "mote con huesillos" (the first having been sprung on me with glee by Ignacio in Santiago), which is like a liter of supersaturated sugar with rehydrated peaches and grains inside. It looks as vile as it sounds and tastes delicious. The guys somehow gulped theirs down in all of 10 seconds, and it took me the better part of half an hour to finish mine, after which I had that “oh god, what have I done?” sugar overdose feeling (but oh, was it good).

Cazuela de Pavo (turkey)
Mote con huesillos

The primary purpose of the Chillán trip was to pick up a shipment of five brand-spanking-new mountain bikes that the guys had purchased on government start-up grant money in order to help make BackChillan a year-round venture (and therefore support their mountain hut-living lifestyle year-round, something I both completely understand and fully support). Five beautiful shiny mountain bikes, which we loaded into the back of their truck to cart back to Shangri-La.

Panchi and Pipe with their truck full o' bikes

And of course once we returned to Shangri-La, the first order of business was to assemble and test out the brand-spanking-new mountain bikes on a few mellow trails around Shangri-La and Las Trancas. The bikes came back nice and dirty, officially deflowered and ready to be rented to future visitors. That evening dinner was a giant rack of mutton ribs that the guys had pilfered off of an Asado at the local bar the previous night. Like, they literally brought a very large sheep’s rib cage home, intact, and plopped it down in the middle of the dinner table. A massive, dry heap of mostly bone and broiled fat. It was ridiculously tasty. And fat makes excellent touring fuel.

The next morning we were back on the mountain for the tour I had been most looking forward to: Aguas Calientes.

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