Daren sits on a rickety wooden stool and strums the guitar in the early morning sunlight. I pack my bags, take down the tent and try to gather all my trash. The wind has abated slightly this morning and a small Chalten street puppy wanders around looking lost as I pack. The four of us walk to the bus station and, after trading hugs and goodbyes with Daren and Matt, John and I board the double decker bus to El Calafate.
“What do you want for dinner?” John asks.
“No se, I don’ t have strong preference, in fact I am a bit full from the litro de Quilmes I just drank.”
“I was thinking about getting some meat” he says as he walks out of the pale yellow bunk room where we are spending the night. The quaint, El Calafate establishment is someone’s home, replete with family pictures on the walls, backyards, and seventies era interior decorating. Soon he returns from the backyard of the Hospadje Jorgito “Yep, there is an asado and a pile of wood out there. I am going to walk to the corner and get some meat.”
I throw on my shoes and join him in the walk. We return with a bag of meat, bread, potatoes and mayonnaise. In the backyard under the cherry, peach and plum trees drooping with fruit John builds a fire in the asado. I tend the fire, building the bed of coals while John climbs the cherry tree getting the best remaining sweet cherries from the branches at the top. We munch on bread and avocado and wait for the fire to build. John salts the meat; we wander and pick fruit and it is not too long before a big bed of coals is ready. We position the two sausages and kilo of carne asada over the coals and eagerly await the meal to come.
John and I wait to catch a microbus to the airport the next morning. Red, pink and yellow roses surround us as we wait on the concrete sidewalk in front of the hospadje. The street dogs congregate, happy, healthy and fat. Even at this early hour they are eager to play. Soon a small blue and white bus pulls up and stops. Clamajura is written on the side. It is a bit amusing. “El aeropuerto?” I ask the driver as he hops out. He nods. John and I load my bags into the back and we take our seats. The rattly bus circulates the dirt roads and various lodging establishments of El Calafate. The rounds made, we e speed toward the Aeropuerto International de El Calafate.
The sliding glass doors part revealing a terminal under construction. Over the din of the hammers, saws and voices I hear a familiar voice. “Hey guys, how’s it going?” I look over and see Hayden and Corey sitting on a pile of duffle bags against the wall.
“You guys heading out today?” John asks.
“Yeah, we got a three thirty flight” Hayden responds.
I amble off and find the LAN check-in line and add myself to the queue as it snakes around the lobby.
The first thing I notice about the boarding of United flight 846 in Buenos Aires is that the announcement is first made in english and it is followed by spanish. I listen as I lick the sticky, white chocolate flavored substance from my fingers and shove the Triple Blanco Alfajore wrapper into my pocket. Seating for Group Two is called and once again I join the queue of people snaking around the boarding area. I look at my ticket. Thirty-seven A is my seat. We are flying into the United States so, security measures are a bit tighter. My bag is searched and I am wanded. An old lady takes my dulce de leche stash, though they don’t find it all. Sulking, I board the Boeing 767-300, wondering where it said I couldn’t bring food on the plane. I make my way to the back of plane sweating in the oppressive heat of a Buenos Aires summer.
“Please make sure your personal items are stowed under the seat in front of you…this is a full flight , we will be sharing overhead bins…” the intercom instructs. I sigh. There goes my chance of having a row to myself. I put my headphones on awaiting the awkward moment of greeting my neighbor for the next ten hours. My notebook is balanced on my knee and I scribble notes about Jake and Eva. Looking up to see the incoming stream of people, I see a lanky frame in a t-shirt with a mop of brown hair peeking out from under a backwards ball cap. “Hey, what’s up?” I ask peering over the seat in front of me.
“Hey…whoa, it looks like I got thirty-seven B” Hayden responds, reaching out his fist. I return the gesture adding my typical head nod. He sits. “Sweet, well at least I get to sit with a friendly…”
Later The drink cart approaches up the aisle. “Can I buy you a drink?” I ask, temporarily switching our conversation from climbing to drinking.
“Uhh, sure, as long as I can get the next round” he responds.
“What do you want?”
“Whiskey and Coke” Hayden says and I motion for two to the white haired steward. He pulls out two Jack Daniels and a can of Coke. Plastic cups of ice are set on our trays and I reach into my pocket to grab my credit card. The steward leans over “my machine is broken” he says in a low voice “looks like I can’t take your card.” We smile and get another round the next time he comes by.
Washington-Dulles, Gate C11 is the waiting point for United flight 427 to Denver. We post up there and similar to the alpine arena we just came from, we wait.
While good to be back on American soil, I also feel little attachment to going home. I have no plans, no home, not much for which to look forward. My mind swirls around singular thoughts, wondering. I try to steel myself, not knowing if it is worth the cost. So lost am I in my own head, staring out the window at the rain soaked runway, that Hayden’s voice startles me. “Dude, that is so weird. I got twenty-two C.” Quickly brought back into the present of seat twenty-two A, I shake my head in amazement at the strangeness of it all and offer up my fist to response to his usual greeting gesture.
We taxi past the terminal and my head begins a dull ache from the black coffee of the boarding area and the dehydration of travel. We climb in altitude and soon the plane levels out for the three hour flight to Denver. We talk climbing and Hayden shows some pictures of the Torres and of Pakistan. We talk family, climbing, work, friends and sip some more whiskey and Coke.
The A Concourse at Denver International. Riverton. And finally “where’s Jared? Go get Jared.” Emma bounds out of the passenger door greeting me in front of the airport. I lean down and give her a big hug, her tongue covering my face in kisses. Anna gets out and opens the back hatch. I toss in my bags and we hug. After thirty some odd hours of travel, I feel at home.