I arrived in Pucon at 8am via my second overnight bus ride in a row (getting up at 4am the two mornings before that) feeling good. I felt alert and cogent. At this rate I could easily cross the planet in 30 days via overnight bus. I made my way to a hostel to which no one from reception would become awake for hours to come. The hostel was more of a house, complete with a living room, dining room, large backyard. There was a pool, though no water. I though of how clever it would be to advertise a pool and then have the laugh of telling the guests that “We said pool. We never said water!”
I pulled out my iphone and checked my email in the living room of the house as I waited for the staff to wake up. I got something from American Express that said I owed $65,000 and that my minimum payment was $30,000 which was due a few days ago.
Oh Shit; game over. I had been compromised. My card number fell into the hands of someone along the way (likely someone who I had never met at home) and it had racked up more debt than I could dream of. How ironic? The person who has all but completely said goodbye to material possessions has a bigger credit card bill than anyone he has ever met. Wow, I have to go home, like tomorrow. And get some high paying job, so that I can work my ass off for…… Lets see, how long would it take me …….
It was definitely something that I was capable of, but with the recent hikes in APR, I was sure I would not be in my 20s the next time I would be traveling.
Why didn’t I think that I could get away with the fraud protection angle? Because I had turned off my phone number 10 months ago, rendering American Expresse’s ability to contact me all but impossible. I haven’t used this card for over 3 months. Someone could have been living like a king on my credit for quite some time by now. It would be ruled as negligence on my part in a court for not even checking my account for 3 months.
Christ, someone could have just stolen my password to the online access from an internal database. With that they could have updated my contact information to their phone number, thus sidestepping me completely. People who commit identity thefts are not idiots after all. They are nerds. When they catch the car, they don’t bark at it, they chop it up and sell it’s parts.
Well, at least I was going to say hello to all of my friends back home soon. But lets face the music. Get to the bottom of this, get some closure. I opened up Skype and made the call.
“American Express, this is Charlotte how may I help you?”
“I think someone has stolen my credit card number because I have a huge charge on my account.”
I winced as I said this over the phone. Pacing up and down the hallway, others in the hostel were beginning to wake up for breakfast. Overhearing bits of my conversation “$65k” as I was shaking up and down the hallway.
“I’m sorry, you broke up for a moment. Can you please repeat that?”
You mean I had to go through all of that again? With the magnitude of compounding interest, I think I just racked up another 200 bucks. This was becoming an expensive phone call. What if someone only bought something for 40k a few months ago and the sheer speed of the interest had grown the cancer into $65K. My diligent 750 credit score was probably an Ethiopian 220 by now. I didn’t worry though, it would be back about the time that I had finished paying this debt. I couldn’t believe it, I was about to be shopping those debt consolidation companies that I always laughed at.
“I said, I think I have a huge debt that isn’t mine….. I received an email…… do you think you could check my account?”
“Sure, but let me first say that if that happened to you, you are covered by our credit protection service and you wouldn’t be responsible for that.”
We will see, after they have record of “me” picking up the phone and approving the charges for $40K of lumber in a Nebraska Home Depot. They had to rent out every flat bed in the fleet that day. It was an extra $1,200 which was easily approved after the first call.
“Can you check and see?”
My heart flutters into overdrive. This is it. Game on? Or Game over.
“It says here that you owe us $65. You had a membership renewal fee of $50 and you didn’t pay it so there is a $15 late charge.”
“Oh is that all?” “Well, Pay it right now with my bank account on record.”
“Can you see the email that we sent you? We would like to know if our system is sending out bogus emails or if it is a spammer online.”
“Actually, I think I know what the problem is.”
I checked the email again and it was definitely a byproduct of my last 4 days of nonstop travels. The email was correct with respect to American Express. And they waived the late fee, respectably.
I was in Pucon, the Lake District, Patagonia by some people’s definition. What was there to do here anyway? Well there was a lot, but the number one draw was the active volcano that the town hugged. I signed up to climb it and heard of the prospect of snowboarding down it. This was, unfortunately, one of those things that had to be done in a tour. And again, when trying to fact gather about the difficulty, feasibility, and price of snowboarding down an active volcano there were unique stories from everyone you asked.
All in all, it turned out being an $100 excursion, out the door. The stories of difficulty varied all from double black diamond, to not worth carrying up the board, to “I’ve been skiing all my life and I wouldn’t do that run if you paid me.”
I went to the equipment shop that was run by three young French men. They asked me whether I was goofy or regular foot. What degree my stance usually was and a bunch of other questions that I should have taken as a sign that I was not experienced enough to do the run.
“Left foot, forward.” I said as I tried to keep a balance of not revealing too much of my lack of experience, yet finding out enough about the run to be well prepared. I snowboarded for about 5 years when I was a little kid, but then dropped it to make room for my healthy obsession with bodyboarding. That obsession would take importance over snowboarding for 11 years.
Just before leaving on this trip, I went snowboarding with my buddies for the first time in over a decade. I had declared that I would either not be able to stand up, or I would be better than I ever was as a kid. The later proved true. I am still, far from skilled in snowboarding. I can do S turns, but not in the black diamonds.
I told my guide that I had been snowboarding for 5 years, but had been away from it for about 10 years because of an infatuation with surfing. I used surfing because I knew that it was likely that he would, just as spell check, not recognize nor respect the sport. While abroad I often refer to bodyboarding and Surfing as one in the same. If you are stuck with the meaning of bodyboarding too, think of Boogie boarding, but ad some skill and respect (the later was a favor).
Either way, the guide thought he was about to share a run with some pro surfer. His voice became audibly excited as he began to ask me questions about my home breaks. He was a part time surfer himself. At the top of the run, he would offer to switch cameras with me so that we could take pictures of each other going down the mountain. He was also excited about taking pictures with me at the top. I was about to disappoint this guy, big time.
But first we had to get there.
We hiked for 4 hours. The paths switched back and crossed directions many times. The path was like a latter due to the amount of people who had hiked it before. The foot steps were very well plotted. I hiked with ice axes in case we missed a foot hold. We were to dig it into the volcano to prevent us from sliding too far down. I was carrying my board and boots in a special backpack. It was a lot lighter than I though but the weight distribution on my lower back would leave me not capable of hiking a national park the next day.
We hiked and hiked until we finally made it to the top 4 hours later. I was expecting to see deep red lava but was greeted with a slicing sulfuric sensation as the wind changed directions. There was steam rising from it, but we were not at an angle that we could see the lava. It was amazing how many people walked out passed the suggested safe area to try and snag a photo of the lava.
As everyone else began to suit up to slide down on their butts, I got a bit of advice from my guide. He said “Listen, we are really far from a hospital, so just ride within your skill level. The first part is hard and icy, but after that it’s a piece of cake.” It began to grow evident why no one else in the group (or any other group that day) had elected to get down any other way than on their butts.
I thought “If I can hike up it, then it isn’t very steep. And if they can go down on their butts then it isn’t that steep. And if it is that steep, then there isn’t any reason I can’t just go down slowly. Unless. Unless of course it was all ice. Then I would be screwed.”
I strapped in and saw that it was pretty freaking steep. To make things worse, it was very porous and icy from all the footprints. There were deep channels as well from people sliding down on their butts. Nothing I couldn’t handle (I thought). As I tried to stand up for the first time, I learned that my backpack would be an additional obstacle. It would pull my center of gravity back toward the face of the mountain. I overheard a voice say “Wow, that guy must have a ton of confidence in his riding ability. I would never do that.”
Nope, not confidence in my riding, just a huge want to experience it. I just wasn’t going to let my lack of experience count me out of a new one. I chose if I got to do something. It wasn’t me trying to get a job that I didn’t have enough experience for, but couldn’t get that needed experience because I didn’t have enough experience. This was not the chicken, nor the egg.
After a series of failed attempts to stand up, I eventually did and went down the first hard bit slowly. After that the guide realized that I wasn’t going to be the wizard that I let him believe I would be.
But the rest of the mountain was wide open and untouched. I found myself, yet again, in a situation almost all alone, enjoying something that most people who even came this far would sadly never get to. This was walking on The Great Wall of China all over again. It all comes down to taking the proper chances and ignoring the herd when the time is right.
As close to powder as I have ever achieved, I sliced through the fields of unpacked, volcanic, snow. The run lasted for over a half hour. I was just the guide and me.
When we got down the volcano and back to the hostel, I devoured cherries from one of the trees in the back yard that yielded enough to feed ten hungry men every day. When I was completely full I napped in a hammock that was strung between two of the trees.
Now, what would you do with a volcano?