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aka: the great shoelace dilemma, with a shout-out to La Cumbre in Las Condes.

This past (southern) summer I spent a couple of months in and around Patagonia, hitting some great hotspots, including the park at the end of the world (Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego) where Argentina’s Ruta 3 comes to an abrupt halt at Bahia Lapatía, and the sign that proclaims itself to be the end of the world. I also traipsed that silly W of a trail in Torres del Paine and did some hiking in Argentina’s Mt. Fitzroy area. I visited parks large and small, had a giant beetle named after a cobra land on my neck in Parque Nacional Quelat, honed my backcountry cooking skills, determined that I needed a new backpack. Oh, and I broke a lot of shoelaces.

Hiking boots generally have sets of about four holes or grommets and three hooks on top. The concept is simple. Just like your gym shoes, you start at the bottom, and tighten your way up. I should digress here and talk about my sadly injured and abused right ankle and how it’s goofy and weak and doesn’t hold itself up well. But not wanting to generate a pitystorm, I’ll just say that I like to lace the ankle support of my boot pretty tight. For me it’s not just protection from rocks and the occasional poisonous snake (Argentina, not Chile, and the north, not the south), it’s keeping myself upright.

It turns out I have a very aggressive tying style. I blame too much time at the Abe Stark iceskating rink in Coney Island, Brooklyn when I was a child. I was taught to use the pinky side of my hand, and loop around those hooks and really pull to get good tension. And so I do. I pinkyside pull and yank and tie tightly. And bit by bit, the laces fray. And fray. And fray. And then pop. Insert badwords and lace-knotting here.

A normal human in a metropolitan area will go to a store and buy replacement laces. Bootlaces. They’re longer and stronger than regular shoelaces, with a nice nylon core to resist the pinkyside pulling and the tight tying. But in the south of Chile and Argentina, outside of the touristy hiking areas, there are no outdoorsy stores. What there are are tiny “almacenes” which are kind of general stores with shampoo and tshirts and soda and maybe, just maybe, shoelaces. And these I bought. Black, brown, whatever I could find. And every three or four days, pop! Broken shoelace.

Fastforward a couple of months, and you’ll find that I switched back to bicycling, and winter arrived, leaving my hiking boots in a heap next to my excellent Leki telescoping trekking poles (more ankle accommodation, I’m afraid). But spring is upon us in the southern hemisphere, and so began the brand-new quest for shoelaces.

Which brings me to the outdoors store “La Cumbre” in Las Condes. It’s not far from the Escuela Militar metro, though I cycled up there to buy a gift for someone’s birthday. In between gift purchasing and whatnot, and drooling over the new Mountain Hardwear parkas with the hoods and some Arcteryx x-country ski packs, I mentioned my shoelace dilemma. Some shoelaces were produced, and I frowned. More browny-black regular shoelaces with no strong core. And then the guy helping me came upon a simply genious solution. What if you used small-bore climbing rope? It’s strong, resistent, and it costs about 80 cents a meter. And so I became the owner of some snazzy new “shoelaces” made out of rope which make my merrells look much more styley, or chori, as we like to say over here.

Not only am I happy as a clam to have functional shoelaces, and they were cheaper than the inadequate ones I might have purchased, and also way cooler looking, this is something I love about Chile. Every problem has a solution, and every broken item has a replacement part. And if it doesn’t, they’ll just MacGyver one. So kudos to La Cumbre and the smart dude who has saved me hours of frustration, knot-tying and the pop! of broken shoelaces.