It’s a night like most in the Chilean Andes. The sun has sunk over Laguna del Inca, falling prettily behind the jagged silver points of the peaks, lingering awhile in a pink alpenglow, then fading entirely to black, the great Roca Jack resting in the shadows.
The sinking of the sun is a signal for the people of Portillo. Some move indoors off the decks of this imposing, all-yellow hotel. Others awake from their après-ski siestas. Still others abandon the outdoor hot pools, where a little too much liquor has loosened the lips of the Americans and Argentineans, the Europeans and Brazilians. This United Nations of skiers has gossiped raucously in these pools for more than an hour, comparing descents on The Super C and race times in the Sol de Portillo. Conversation has been a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, English; as the August sun lowers, the boasting becomes louder, then louder still.
With the day’s light gone, swimmers quiet their tongues to search out robes and scurry back to their rooms. It’s dinnertime at Hotel Portillo. One mustn’t keep the dining room waiting.
We join the hungry throng. Juan Beiza, the sturdy maître d’, stands at the leather-lined dining room entrance, a fixture at Hotel Portillo. He shows us to a round table at the right of the room; the silver gleams, starched linen napkins lie waiting. Our table, Beiza tells us, is akin to a ship’s Captain’s Table—La mesa del capitán—and the maître d’ is honored to seat us for El Capitán himself will be with us in moments.