Tourists don’t visit the children’s court in Mendoza, Argentina. Why would they?
The three-story, cement-block building sits in the heart of a centuries-old colonial town that offers sightseers plenty of historic, whitewashed landmarks. But well-tended rose gardens surround the courthouse, and if on your tour through Mendoza you glimpsed them, you might ignore the building and snap a photo. If you had official business inside, however, you might ignore the flowers and see only the building. It looks just like a courthouse should: intimidating.
Rewind to December 14, 2007, when Jordan Romero entered the court, along with his dad, Paul, and Karen Lundgren, Paul’s longtime partner. They are not tourists. They are climbers. And they hope to summit 22,841-foot Aconcagua. But unlike other mountaineers–who arrive in Mendoza, pay the $300 permit fee, and head to basecamp–Jordan has an extra challenge to overcome. Park regulations prohibit climbers younger than 14 years old. Jordan is 11.
Paul carries a manila file crammed with permissions and endorsements from Jordan’s mother, his pediatrician, even character references from teammates and family friends. The folder contains health records, passport forms, and reams of paper documenting Paul and Karen’s expertise (they’re both world-class adventure racers, and Paul works as a helicopter medic). They’ve also hired a young local lawyer, Arturo Erice Argumedo, to help Jordan secure a special dispensation to climb South America’s highest peak.
Inside the courthouse, Karen presents their documents and a clerk hustles them off to an examination room, where a doctor takes Jordan’s pulse, peers into his ears, taps his knees, and examines his tongue. Next stop: the Honorable Elsa Lidia Galera’s chambers. Inside, a large oak desk sits beneath a slowly rotating ceiling fan. Galera waits to hear Jordan’s case–from Jordan. Through a translator, the slight 4’11” boy details his previous climbs up the likes of Kilimanjaro and Elbrus. He explains his dream to climb the highest peak on every continent, and he politely asks for permission to attempt Aconcagua.
The judge remains silent for a moment–then she walks around her desk and gives Jordan an affectionate, motherly squeeze and ruffles his disheveled, sandy curls. She squats so she can look directly into his brown eyes. Then she grasps his arms in her hands and makes him promise that he will cherish their new friendship, take care of Paul and Karen on the climb, and send a signed photo when he reaches the summit.