I feel like the coolest person in the world. I'm staying upright, and not only that but staying upright at quite a speed. I turn to the left, change my leading foot in a move so smooth that I feel like I've been doing it forever, and continue whooshing down the snowy side of the active volcano that overlooks the log cabin town and glittering lake of Pucon. What fresh air, what beautiful views, what brilliant sunshine reflecting off the brilliant snow...
And it's suddenly all turned to darkness. Damn. The wind has been knocked out of my lungs by a spectacular forward dive that has left both my legs above my head - bearing what I imagine is a remarkable likeness to a scorpion. I peel my face out of the ground, snow has filled my goggles, and attempts to clear it with drenched and freezing gloves only make things worse. I ungracefully roll around trying to sit up, with the board that renders me immobile in such a position so that I have half a chance of staying on it when I eventually haul myself up. If you've ever lifted up a stone in your garden, and seen all the woodlice on their backs, you have a pretty good idea of what the beginner slope on Villarrica Volcano looked like.
Like my violent relationship with kitesurfing, the more snowboarding bruised and abused me the more determined I was to love it, and the more incredible it felt when the times between falls got longer and longer. I was still travelling with B, who took a snowboard lesson the first day we got on the slopes, while I went to see how much of my skiing technique I remembered from years ago. Turns out quite a bit, and after exploring all the runs, trying a jump (stupid idea) and enviously watching the snowboarders revel in their coolness, I decided I to switch equipment. Not wanting to shell out for a lesson, I got B to give me a quick rundown of everything her instructor had told her, and the following 2 days were dedicated to DIY snowboarding.
Pucon is in the Lakes District of Chile, an alpine ski town in winter, and an outdoor adventurers heaven in summer. There's almost too much to do there, but the Volcano demands to be on the top of everyone's list - with her smoke rings puffing out of the top like little deceptive halo's. After the ski lifts shut at 5pm, she would bask in the evening sun as though releshing the few daylight hours she had to herself, while the skiiers and snowboarders, never ready to leave the slopes, gazed enviously up from the pub courtyards below in Pucon.
Of course there were some days She made sure she got all to herself, high winds or poor visibility automatically banned anyone from going up there, as was the case the first day we arrived. We rented mountain bikes instead, following what the rental guy had promised to be a quiet country route to see some waterfalls.
We should have guessed when there was a police blockade in the road that something was up, but instead we happily followed the bizzarre detour we were pointed towards, that went through thick bush and meant the bikes spend more time in our arms than on the ground. When we finally got back on the road, we could hear distant sounds of roaring car engines, and came across people sporadically sat by the side of the road. Strange, we thought. As we cycled on, B suddenly leapt onto the verge and yelled at me to get off the road. I just managed to get the last wheel of my bike up onto the opposite verge when a rally car sped past, throwing dust into the back of my throat. Only in South America could we have accidentally cycled onto a rally track. Needless to say that day was cut short, as neither of us fancied competing for road space with a bunch of budget level rally cars driven by hyped up Chileans.
One evening, thawing out by the log fire with a glass of Chilean red, content that I'd chosen the perfect town to wind down the South American leg of my journey, I casually decided to double check when my flight to New Zealand was. "16th September" leered back at me from my ticket as I muttered a few profanities under my breath, realising I had just lost almost a week that I thought I had.
So here I am, having to kill 14 hours in Santiago airport, having left yet another town where I was just starting to get into a groove. With nothing to distract me, it seems the right time to admit to a nagging truth...
They do say that the first step to dealing with an addiction is to admit that it exists in the first place, and that this can often be the hardest part.
After a while of denial, shock, and disbelief, I can ignore it no longer. So I'm gritting my teeth, squinting my eyes, and laying my admition bare for all in cyberspace to see.
My name is Sophie. And I like routine. Urgh OK I need routine. I'M ADDICTED TO STABLE ROUTINE!
I won't go as far as to say I'll be wearing proper shoes, getting a proper haircut and adopting a certain song by the great Dolly Parton as my life's theme tune any time soon, but I'm starting to dream of some sort of regularity in this life I've taken to the road.
I don't have any regrets about my last couple of months, as I've got more out of it than I ever thought possible. I've met people I miss, seen places I will never ever forget, and feel incredibly lucky to have been able to do it all...
But I doubt my little drawing pins will be dotted quite so numerously around the maps of New Zealand or Australia. Watch this space... on to the next chapter.