Part 2 of 3
Rasmus was a young adventure filmmaker from Sweden. He and a Swedish friend who was a professional skier were about to complete a three-month expedition in South America. Their aim was to climb, ski, and film on the highest mountains of every country from Ecuador south. Ojos del Salado, Chile’s highest peak, was the only one remaining.
We invited Rasmus to sit at our table.
I became the translator for the evening, explaining to Ro and Eloise what he said about his peculiar lifestyle. Until then, none of us knew anything about mountains, expeditions or “chasing winter.”
Eloise was shy, so when I saw the light in her eyes while staring at Rasmus, and realized that this light could be mutual, I invited Rasmus to my yoga classes as a way to stay in touch.
The morning after, Rasmus wrote me an email thanking us for our kindness and expressing his interest in taking a yoga class and having dinner together.
My answer came quickly: Tonight, class at 19:30, then dinner at my home.
After explaining how to get to the yoga school, I ended my email with the typical Spanish besos y abrazos (hugs and kisses), which, judging by his answer, made Rasmus nervous.
That sounds great but, hey, is it OK with you if I bring my friend?
Of course it’s OK! Eloise will be here also!
At the bottom of his email, Rasmus invited us to watch some webisodes from their Latin-American adventure.
I clicked the link. These guys were serious adventurers, climbing and skiing in extreme conditions. The images showed mountains covered in pure snow, sunsets of magical light, and humans as two tiny dots in the middle of an immensity.
However, what captivated me most was the voiceover (whose voice was this?). It seemed to use nature as an excuse to talk about something else. I was curious to know where this complexity came from.
During the final part of the class that night, through the window, I saw Rasmus and his friend getting out of a taxi. Eloise was about to arrive any minute so, although they’d missed the yoga practice, my idea of acting as a matchmaker was still on.
When I finished cleaning the yoga room, I heard one of my students call out.
Oli, two gringos are here asking for you!
Walking towards the door, I replied.
Yes! Let them in please… have a great weekend!
When I came into the hall and looked up, I saw Rasmus smiling at me as he came through the door and, over his shoulder, his friend’s face.
He will be the father of my children.
The thought arrived from somewhere deep inside me, upsetting my incipient emotional stability.
Oskar was a tall, really blonde guy. His big white teeth made his smile warm and beautiful. Even though he was losing his hair, and had the skin of someone who’d spent a lot of time exposed to the elements, anyone looking at his light blue eyes could see his fervent spirit. His strength and his fire.
After Rasmus introduced us, I asked them to feel at home while I finished organizing the school and changed my clothes before closing up. Inside the yoga room, with the candles still on, I saw Rasmus take out his camera and take photos of Oskar, who was posing for him.
He knows what he is doing. He wants to look spiritual.
And I laughed.
Once Eloise met us, we walked towards my place.
The apartment is a small one-bedroom.
Dishes and glasses are scattered on the living room floor.
Rasmus and Eloise sit on the couch trying to communicate mixing Spanish, English and corporal expressions.
Oskar and Olivia talk in the kitchen. There are books on the counter.
Oskar has a book in his hands: The Kings of Eldorado.
“The conquerors heard about a place somewhere between Ecuador and Colombia, with a lake supposedly filled with gold and precious stones. That story grew so much that, over the years, they searched a whole city covered with gold! Their ambition prevented them from seeing that the true treasure was the earth in front of their eyes.”
Oskar spent most of his time in a place called Chamonix in the French Alps, but he came from the far north: Luleå is a city in Sweden located just a few kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. Before even learning how to eat on his own, he was cross-country skiing, tucked into his grandfather’s backpack in Finland; before learning how to walk, Oskar had his own skis on. Since he was a child, snow, darkness, cold and long winters were a part of his nature.
That night we talked about poets, mystics, languages, music and movies. Although he spent most of his time in the mountains, like me, Oskar was also thrilled by words—even if he did profess an odd admiration for Paulo Coelho. What had begun as a way to help my friend Eloise have an affair was transforming into a different situation. Although the night seemed to follow its natural course, something else was happening.
I want this to be over; I want to be safe inside my bed, thinking how great meeting these gringos was but… why does he look at me like that? Is he feeling this, too?
Oskar and Olivia are sitting on the living room carpet.
There is a tiny container beside them.
Olivia is doing something to Oskar’s hands.
She is painting his fingernails black.
You must see many beautiful birds when you are in the mountains…
Well, yes… and it’s special because in the world I live in, it’s said that the souls of climbers who die in accidents are transformed into birds flying free around our beloved mountains.
Olivia looks at Oskar. She is surprised.
Some hours later, Eloise went home, leaving Rasmus staring at Oskar with a questioning face.
I’m staying here, was his answer.
As soon as his friend closed the door behind him, Oskar jumped over me, pushing me towards my bed.
Olivia is on her bed.
Oskar is on top of her.
Oskar wait, let’s see… I’m sorry… I’m not sure about this… I just finished a relationship two days ago… I’m confused… What is this? You must do this in every city you visit… Wait… Let’s talk… Do you have a girlfriend?
Yes. You are my girlfriend.
Before I could think about it, we were naked making love.
The shower is on.
Olivia, wrapped in a towel, with wet hair, brushes her teeth in front of the mirror.
The shower is off.
The curtain opens: Oskar dries his skin with a towel he puts around his waist.
Olivia looks at Oskar and realizes something. With a questioning face, she touches his shoulder.
While he points to his scars, he begins to narrate.
“Three shoulder reconstructions (shoulder).
Three knee surgeries (legs).
A ski pole hitting my face (scar on his eyebrow).
And this (Oskar turns around to reveal a huge scar on his neck) is from a little more than a year ago when I got caught in an avalanche in France. I broke my neck.”
Olivia looks at Oskar with her mouth open.
When I was a little girl, I remember once viewing, together with my family, a video in which a skier fell head-over-heels down a mountain. He began losing his skis and poles one by one, sinking down into the snow briefly then appearing again in the air, cartwheeling down like this until he reached the foot of the mountain. The clip was part of a group of funny videos; I remember we all laughed while watching it.
That morning, the video came into my head, and I realized I never thought about the damage the skier might have suffered in that accident.
Over time, I would learn that in the ski world, this kind of spinning, out-of-control falls are called tomahawking.
During the previous night, Oskar made it clear how much he loved his job. More than once he talked about the effort he’d had to make to reach the place he was now at.
All that effort seems to be finally paying off.
His main work consisted of selecting descent routes (he called them lines) on high mountains around the world, most of the time in previously unskied terrain, and creating expeditions that allowed him to go there and ski them. Apart from this, he was also about to begin his education to become a certified mountain guide.
I didn’t know something like that even existed.
The night before
OSKAR: “Everything changed since the moment I skied
the south face of Denali by myself last year. That marked a breaking point in my career.”
OLIVIA (questioning face): “What is Denali?”
The evening after we met, Oskar and Rasmus traveled to the north of Chile to climb and ski Ojos Del Salado, in what would be the finale of their South American project. The trip would take between eight and ten days, time I could well use to digest everything that was happening.
After finishing my morning class, less than two hours after we said goodbye, I got an email.
Hey, baby... Just wanted to send you a short message to thank you for last night. This is my email and I will write to you as soon as I ́m back from the north... Then I hope to spend as much time as possible with you if you don’t mind! I ́m grateful to have met you... You are amazing! Lots of love. O.
OK, fine. Though I was still happy I’d have some time to myself first.
But also no.
The next morning, Oskar called to say they didn’t get the permits to climb the mountain, so they were coming back to Santiago tomorrow.
In all the time we would spend together, Oskar gave up skiing a mountain only once. Perhaps Ojos Del Salado is still unskied.
Sound of knocking: “KNOCK, KNOCK!”
The door opens.
Oskar is standing there, smiling, with a huge backpack and a ski bag by his side.
I think we should live together, he said.
Olivia and Oskar make love.
 Denali is the highest peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 6,190.5 meters.