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Lyons, Colorado to San Juan, Argentina, practically just a hop a skip and a jump away, or not. Really it was more like 5 hops, 20 skips and 18 jumps. I was so exited to get there, that every drive, every bus ride and every flight felt like watching paint dry. But traveling with friends made it all that much better. All the late nights in the airports made for some great adventures and lots of slap happy jokes. Traveling with my boat was no easy task either, but what I’ve learned is that it’s much easier to plop it, and yourself, on a cart and give your co-traveler your very best puppy dog eyes.

Traveling to a Spanish speaking country was very challenging because I don’t speak much Spanish. In school we learn how to conjugate verbs, not how to order mashed potatoes, that would’ve come in handy. And fun fact, caliente doesn’t always mean the same kind of hot as one might think. The locals seemed to think that was super funny, considering I was using it wrong for the fist two weeks I was there before someone finally corrected me, as they laughed at me. I figured that little giggle that followed my comments about how hot I was, was just a “haha I don’t know what to say” giggle. That was definitely not the case. All jokes aside, I did learn a lot of Spanish while I was in South America which made me want to go back to learn more.

If you know me at all, and for those of you who don’t know me, you should know that I love dogs. And The Argentinian streets were littered with them! Everywhere I looked there was a dog. I sit down in a cafe, dog. I go to get my boat out of the storage container, dog. Even on my runs through the middle of the desert there were dogs. Most of them were very friendly and just wanted attention (and food). My mom didn’t want me to pet any, fearing the diseases and bugs they might have, but It would take a straight jacket to keep me from petting a puppy. My favorite dog moment from Argentina was the morning of finals. I had arrived at the hole early to get my warm up run in and get my gear situated. I walked into the storage container to find my boat, but instead, I found a dog. The second he saw me he popped up and started to hop around like he was trying to get me to play. He started barking and howling, then I howled back at him. He bounced up onto his hind legs and put his paws on my hands, we stood there and howled together for a few seconds before we both returned to our business. How does this relate to kayaking? Well, this being the day of finals, I was progressively getting more and more nervous the closer the competition got. This stray dog made me laugh and gave me a quick reminder to loosen up and have fun. After our little duet, I felt much more relaxed, less nervous and ready to compete. Who knew a dog could give such a good pep talk!?

New Things
There were a few things that I had never seen until I got to Argentina. One of those being, the shoes. Most of the women wore 4 inch wedges. Everything from their flip flops to tennis shoes had these thick soles. I’m not sure how they don’t break their ankles walking in them, I know I would. Though that style could be pretty handy for me, only being 5 feet, 3/4 of an inch. Maybe I could finally reach the top shelf without a stool. Another very interesting thing that I experienced was the food. I have never seen more ham in my life. It’s on everything, it’s awesome! When you order a ham and cheese pizza they cover the whole thing with ham. And the burgers have just as much ham as they do beef. Same thing with caramel. Every cookie, pastry and churro had caramel in it. The craziest and most different thing I saw was the driving. You better be on your toes because you never know what is going to happen on those South American streets. Many of the cross streets don’t have stops signs or even yield signs. And if there is heavy traffic the motorcycles and mopeds will just dive up onto the sidewalk, and nobody even blinks, because that’s totally normal! Getting to explore and paddle in such a different place taught me a lot about other cultures, and changed my perspective on the world.

The Sights
I saw some pretty amazing things on my trip. Flying from Santiago, Chile to San Juan I got the chance to see the Andes mountains in a whole new way. Until seeing them out of that tiny plastic window, I didn’t realize how big and desert like they can be. On a tour through the desert outside of San Juan I saw herds of wild alpacas! Or they were llamas, I really don’t know the difference. But before my trip, it had never accrued to me that alpacas ran wild in some other countries. I also got to see some amazing waterfalls, the ocean and a few volcanos in Chile. If it weren’t for kayaking I probably wouldn’t have ended up in Argentina and I definitely wouldn’t have gotten the chance to go to Chile and see all these incredible things.

The People I Met
While I was in Argentina I met so many awesome people from all over the world. I met lots of other kayakers my age, which made training a lot of fun. I also met some local kids when myself and some other team USA members talked to a school about freestyle Kayaking. My favorite way to pass the time, waiting for a surf in the 20+ person line, was to meet new people. Sometimes it can be hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger, so I started recycling the line “Hi my name is Katie. What’s your name?” That one works like a charm. Of course the language barrier can be hard to tear down, but that’s why I just learned how to say that in Spanish. Now I have friends in Spain, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, The UK, New Zealand, Germany…and the list just goes on. Most Everyone there was super friendly and supportive. Meeting all these amazing people was definitely the highlight of my trip. The athletes, the community and the spirt is what’s makes Freestyle Kayaking so easy to love.

Argentina was a trip of a lifetime, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to experience new cultures and compete internationally. I couldn’t have done it without the support of Jackson Kayak, Wayfaring Women, RedFox North America, and the amazing community here in little, Lyons Colorado. And a big thanks to Lyons Kids Kayak Club for putting me in a boat and introducing me to the kayaking world. Without kayaking, I wouldn’t be who I am today. It’s taught me how to face my fears, work hard and have fun. My boat, the river, and the freestyle kayaking culture has taken me to new limits and now, new countries. For this I am forever grateful.

See you on the water,
Katie Fankhouser