RAISED WITH WOLVES


Chapter Four
March 23, 2015, 8:34 pm
Filed under: Adventures, Travel | Tags: , , , , ,

Ulf and I managed to find a bed and breakfast with two cabañas in the tiny town of La Junta. There were very few options for lodging, and no real options for food. There were restaurants, but all were either abandoned, or simply not taking customers. It is honestly hard to tell sometimes in Chile.

We pulled our bikes into the backyard, careful not to rut up the bright green grass. The two cabanas we were staying with were adjoined by a covered front porch, which afforded us a view of the proprietor’s lush gardens and white sheets flapping on the clotheslines. Towering above the cabanas, just outside town, was a green mountain, almost entirely concealed by the dense clinging fog.

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The cabins were rustic, but nice enough. There were fresh flowers on the blue tile kitchen counter, and a small stove with a tea pot. The three person table, which was squeezed between the empty mini fridge and the door, was covered with a dutch design table cloth with clogs and windmills. There was a small box fireplace with a stovepipe that puffed innocuous smoke as it heated the room. Next to the fireplace was a wicker basket already full of wood, ready to be burned. There were raspberries growing right outside my bedside window, almost within reach. I hung my flannel shirt up on the porch to dry it out (I had washed it the night before in a sink to get the dust out), clipping it to a bit of twine I’d brought along with my leatherman. As I sat down to admire the scenery, Ulf handed me a cold beer he’d bought at the gas station. A little bird flitted around in the yard with a worm in his beak, and horses snorted, nickered, and shifted restlessly across the street. There were hours of sun light left, and I intended to enjoy them.

As I began to unpack my things into my cabin, I noticed that my phone was nowhere to be found. I immediately began to panic, thinking that four days into the trip, I was losing my only method of contact to the outside world. I began unpacking each bag, pulling out every item I’d brought along, searching frantically, throwing t-shirts and maps and motorcycle tools out on the floor.

Ulf walked in to inspect the commotion.

“I lost my phone. It’s a disaster. Four days in and I’ve already lost it.”

“Oh that’s terrible, Russ.” He said, trying to sound empathetic. He went on to explain very excitedly that the cyclist he’d stopped to talk to spoke german, and even lived in germany, although he was of Chilean descent, and that he had invited him to have supper with us, and probably to stay in the cabin.

I hunched down with a sigh, sitting there on the floor among my things. “that sounds great,” I said un-enthusiastically. “I refuse to eat pizza,” I said, cutting Ulf a telling glance.

I went through all of my things three or four times in absolute defeat. Checking and re-checking each pocket and compartment and zipping and unzipping and swimming through all of my gear until my eye caught my camelback hanging from the hand made chair furthest from me at the little table. There it was all zipped up, untouched and un-rifled through. I sprang to my feet, unzipped the bag, and there it was in all of its un-lost totally accounted for glory: my phone!

I did a dance in the little cabin and came out high fiving Ulf in celebration.

He smiled warmly and said, “You know, at least once a day, I get to see you at your lowest low and highest high emotionally. It is quite interesting.

I went inside the main building, which wasn’t much bigger than our cabins, to use their wifi, and let my family know I was still alive.

The bed and breakfast was run by a very nice, graying woman who  has a green thumb, a special attention to detail, speaks zero english, and can not seem to understand my broken spanish. She did offer me tea, which I took on her front porch, sitting on a cushioned wicker bench.

Before too long, the Chilean cyclist showed up looking for Ulf. I introduced myself in spanish, shaking his dusty hand, and he let me off the hook immediately in decent English, thank goodness. His named was Pato, and he was a short statured man with jet black hair, mestizo eyes, and a chin that cascaded to a point. He spoke freely in Spanish, English, and German, and he and Ulf spoke in jubilant bursts of Deutsch. Even though I was left out of a lot of conversations, I didn’t mind. I knew what a relief it must have been for Ulf to be able to speak in his native tongue to someone. The three of us wound up visiting a “supermercado” which was small and ramshackle even by Chilean standards, and shopping for supper. There was little rhyme or reason to where or why foods were stacked. Crates of packaged olives were on the floor next to cleaning supplies. Austrian energy drinks sat behind the counter next to tomato sauce. Dust covered packages of noodles at the bottom of derelict shelves. I bought the beer and wine, and the two of them split the supper-makings.It was so much easier getting what we needed with Pato there to speak for us. It was also fun to watch him go between Spanish, German, and English all in one conversation in that little store. It made me feel like a real philistine, only knowing one language fluently.

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With our ingredients tucked in our arms, we walked back, calling happily to stray dogs in the sidewalk.

That night, as darkness settled in the valley, I sat back and drank beers and ate meager spaghetti and sausages cooked on the little stove, and I stoked the fire in the fire place and Ulf and Pato talked of Germany and told me about their wives and the horses across the street winnied nervously and dogs barked somewhere in the night.


The next morning I repacked my bags, painstakingly gathering up each and every item I’d thrown across the room in a mistaken frenzy. The daughter of the proprietress was outside my door with a tray of breakfast, which I took over at Ulf’s cabin with him and Pato.

The daughter was a strikingly beautiful girl, not just road pretty, but actually pretty. She had dark eyes and long black hair that wouldn’t stay out of her face as I spoke to her around a daunting language barrier. Her nose was a little too big, which is what I liked most about her. It betrayed her far away European descent.  As she walked back across the grass, barefoot, her clothes flowed in the wind, not entirely hiding her shape.

After a standard breakfast of cold cuts and cheese and a little bread with some dulce de leche on it, we paid the front desk, in cash, and packed our bikes. In Chile and Argentina, it is common for one to “deal with the ugliness” of the payment, in the morning before you leave. I kept trying to pay at the hotels, but was constantly brushed off with a “pagar en la manana” and a smile. It is a real shock to Ulf and I, who are used to being treated as potential suspects, rather than guests, at hotels.

We bade Pato farewell, as dark clouds began to roll in over the hills of La Junta. He would continue on for a few weeks on his bicycle, down to Punta Arenas. He had a long way to go, as did we. Ulf took the time to put on his rain gear before we left, but I thought that putting it on would be an act in pessimism, and chose to believe that the day had sunshine in store, just over the next pass, perhaps.

Ruta Siete, in that area, was under heavy construction. The road was exactly what I had expected Chilean riding to be. Beneath the pervading mist, not unlike Seattle’s, was a one lane dirt road, with a cliff on your right, and a river 100 feet down to your left. Zig zagging and switch backing up and up higher and higher dodging trucks, buses, and pot holes. There were holes in the road where men in orange and yellow rain slickers were excavating with dynamite. The river ran muddy brown beneath me as I white knuckled the grips in second gear.

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I should have noticed the day before, but was perhaps too tired, the enormous gunnera leaves that were springing up along the roadside as I entered La Junta. Now, they were ubiquitous, some bigger than my torso all along the road. I’m no botanist, but it seems like a plant would need a lot of rain to get this big. The soft dirt road, which had been cut into a cliffside, was now descending into increasingly humid and lush green, and snaking along the Río Cochamó. Just as it occurred to me that I was entering the rain forest, it did, indeed, begin to rain.

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The shifty one lane road, seemingly a superhighweay for construction vehicles and tour buses, quickly turned into a soup. I was down in second gear, mucking my way through smooth river rocks that were being used to fill up pot holes.

This was what I’d signed up for, I thought. The river rushed below me,the trees grew up lush and green and would have concealed the sky if the grey rain and mist wasn’t already doing the job. I kept having to raise my face shield and wipe it off with my gloves because it was so fogged up, leaving streaks behind.

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I was switching down to first when taking the 90 degree hair pin switchbacks up through the mountain, then back to second in the straightaways, passing SUVs in the rain, KADOOSH through mud puddles, with my visor up to see in the darkness. The road rose up out of the lowlying river valley until I was what seemed like miles above the Cochamó. I was cutting through the rainforest, through the mountain, on a mud and rock road riddled with potholes, which was barely wide enough for one truck, thick forest rising up on either side. The rain was coming down hard, with no intention of letting up, and I was soaked. Not only was I soaked, but I was freezing. When the road finally flattened out, and the landscape opened up a little bit, I pulled over to put on my rain gear. Through the clouds and the mist I could see three waterfalls rushing down a mountain across a valley from me. My motorcycle boots left footprints in the mud as I walked closer to the ledge and took my steamy helmet off to get a better look. Magnificence through the mist: for a moment, I didn’t mind being so wet and cold.

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After about two more hours of riding in the pouring rain, I stopped for coffee and fuel at the first Punto Copec I saw. I sat in the tiny convenience store and tried to have a little small talk with the attendant as I ate a candy bar and sipped the cafe cafe. I used the same shitty spanish I’d been using all over Argentina and Chile, but she just could not understand me. I’ve noticed that the further I get into the rural areas, the harder it is for people to talk with me. I tried to talk to the girl at the hotel, but she looked at me like I wasn’t even speaking Spanish. I know my pronunciation isn’t perfect, but I promise you gas station girl, we are speaking the same language.

I guess its similar to when I’m sitting at a sushi bar with my Texas friends and the waitress asks them a question, in broken english, and they just look at me to translate. If you haven’t spent much time with people butchering your language, there are a lot of linguistic cues and pronunciations that you take for granted that just aren’t there, making it very hard to understand.

I thought about this as I watched stray dogs saunter around the parking lot. I was shivering with a pervasive chill. My teeth were chattering. There was standing water in my boots and my jeans were soaked through. The coffee was getting cold in my red hands, that were peeling from a sunburn I got on the Lao Lao loop, and stiff from the cold.  Ulf caught up with me at the convenience store (he had been lagging far behind all day) and after he warmed up for a bit, we headed back out into the rain, which showed no signs of letting up.

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The road leaving town was a tight paved innumerable waterfall on all sides kinda road that UIf and I glistened over side to side like black bugs in the mist. We stopped only once, to pay tribute to the Cascada de Virgen, a galloping, rushing waterfall that fell heavy on a flat rock, sounding like thunder. A few feet away was a beautiful, but humble, statue of the virgin, which was cut into the mountain side. Although it was protected from the rain by a canopy of thick tree cover, there was an enchanted halo of waterfall mist around the little statue.

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Back on the road we could tell we were nearing civilisation again. There were more cars on the road, more people, and every now and then a bridge or a tunnel crossing rivers and bypassing mountain sides. One such bridge’s exit revealed a wide pastoral irelandesque landscape below that simply dwarfed anything I’d seen in Ireland. Each day I’m more surprised at just how big this place seems.

Mist and rain clung to the surrounding mountains, but nothing can conceal Patagonia’s beauty entirely. From great southwestern ranchland mesa tops to cold Alaskan mountains down to Chilean rainforest to massive snowfed waterfalls like fingers to Irish pastureland in two days– that is why you come to Patagonia. Creation is undeniable here.


Songs stuck in my head:

Damn the Rain- Randy Rogers Band
Peace in the Valley- Dawes
Graceland- Paul Simon

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