Monday, December 8, 2008

Behind the Scenes of a Trip South

The Inside Scoop

Our trip south began as 1.) an escape from the swirling ash in Futa, 2.) just a "get away" to see some more of Patagonia, and 3.) an alternative to waiting weeks, if not years for the local hardware store to order and stock needed items and materials for finishing the house.

We thought of leaving on a Tuesday morning and began to pack the afternoon before. Then, considering the long Patagonia days, we took off around 6:30 p.m. with great hopes and expectations of beautiful scenery. Down from Futa and west towards the quiet little pueblo of Villa Santa Lucia, one of my favorite "sleeper" towns. A major crossroad with not much else right now, I said to Greg (for the umpteenth time), "This town is just waiting to happen! They have everything going for them."

"There's nothing here! Are you crazy?" he said.

"No, look. It's a nice, flat valley land with the rise of Andes mountains all around. A nice river for rafting, kayaking and floating and fishing. Close to Lago Yelcho, some of the best fishing in the world. A big, well built battalion of older military barracks with the infrastructure to support it being turned into lodges, hostels, tourist facilities."

"You're nuts. It's a crappy place. Nothing here.

I KNOW THERE IS NOTHING THERE right now, I said...What I meant is that is has everything right there if they wanted to promote it. Rafting...

He cuts me off, "They DON'T HAVE RAFTING THERE!" His voice is rising, his face is red. I'm thinking, ok, should I let this go? After all I didn't say they HAD rafting, I said they could promote and build a rafting business.

"I didn't say," I start...


My mouth thins into a narrow hard line on my face as we hurdle down the Carretera Austral towards La Junta spewing a large cloud of dust. It gets dark. I am mute, by choice, and with great intention. I'll give him the old silent treatment! Most men like that, but Greg hates it. It gets dark, the air is cool.

"So, do you think we should look for a hardware store in La Junta?"

No response on my part.

"I mean, it's kind of a small town. Maybe Aysen? What do you think?"

Nothing. Silence.

The one-sided conversation continues as the night comes fully on and the stars are electric. Greg grows weary and he pulls over somewhere in the middle of nowhere, a full half-hour from La Junta where we know there is nothing in between an over-priced hostel to an outrageously priced Bed and Breakfast. The motor cools and clicks. We pull the seat levers and recline back. I am still fuming, so I reach around and grab my old, wool Army blanket, a pillow and angrily exit the truck. The ground is dry and the grass is thick, perfect for a road-side snooze. Greg steps out of the truck and tries to convince me I can't sleep on the ground and I assure him I am much better sleeping outside the truck, than inside. He gives up and I pop open a Cristal and light a cigarette and watch Venus and Jupiter and the moon rotate across the night sky.

Sometime in the early morning, before the sky lights up, I wake to hear a cow bellowing and suddenly realize that in Patagonia, where cows regularly roam free along the roads, this might not be a very wise place to lie prostrate in an old, dark green blanket. I roll over up under the side of the truck and ignore the dew that has settled on my pillow. I'LL SHOW HIM! I'll sleep on the side of the road and risk death by cow hoof to show him! Ha!

The sky lights around 6 a.m., and without coffee I am in an even fouler mood. Throwing my damp bedding in the back seat, I slide in and he starts the truck towards La Junta. Chit Chat, Chit Chat from him. Silence from me. I will not fold so easily. In La Junta, the gas station is still closed and we waste an eighth of tank of gas navigating the dirt-clod streets looking for a place to get coffee and breakfast. This makes me even happier. Especially when Greg decides since I won't speak, he will find a place for coffee and breakfast. So, we periodically stop while he asks (he thinks he asks) some poor unsuspecting fellow, "CAFE!? PAN!?" Looks of shock and non-recognition fall over faces as he continues to stop and shout, "CAFE! PAN?". I let him wave his arms and shout louder and then finally I break. But you know, one must not break with consoling, or conciliatory words. It must be sharp, and harsh.

"If we were back in Florida," I quietly and firmly say,"and a Hispanic person stopped in a car and shouted "COFFEE!? BREAD!?" waving his hands at you, what do you think that might look like?" I continue. "An IDIOT??? Perhaps????"

In a small voice he says, "no, I would know what he meant."

Really? Oh good grief. So we succumb to a coffee and food panic and go to the over-priced Bed and Breakfast where we pay $14 US for coffee, bread, jam and cheese. By 9 am, the gas station is open and we fuel up and head on south. Conversation is sparse, but as the day warms up, so do I and I haven't the heart to continue my bitchiness. He's freakin lucky. I am the map girl and navigator. But I choose my responses to his questions, and comments carefully the rest of the way, and shut my mouth when I know he's totally wrong about his observations. Shut up. Not worth the aggravation.

We hit Puyuhuaipi around 11 a.m. and are equally challenged to find a coffee place or restaurant, so we park down by the waterfront and eat some old rolls and cheese and sip on some juice and warm beer. The road south is closed until 2 pm, and we will stop back at the fire station and give a ride to two young ladies from Israel who are going to Queulet to see the Colgante Glacier. Around 1 pm, we drive around and find the Anoikenk Restaurant and Cabanas open and have coffee, chat with Veronica the owner, learn a little about Puyuhuaipi and vow to stop on our way back up through.

The rest of the trip, as most turn out, comprises me clutching the passengers dash in white-knuckel fear as we hurtle over gravel, one-lane roads with cows and sheep and giant road construction vehicles, eating dust the whole way while I try in vain to slow down the truck by stomping the floor on the right side of the vehicle. "CHILL OUT, VICK! I know how to drive," he says as we round a blind curve, the back tires skittering gleefully across the road towards a sheer drop off. My teeth itch... that's how on edge I am.

It is amazing we stay together sometimes with our distinctly different ideas, travel and driving styles. I see no reason to drive fast. He sees no reason he should drive slow. I see no reason to be cheap, and he wants cheap, but with all the amenities of a 4-star hotel.

"It costs WHAT?!?!?!?!?!" Well, we could sleep down the road in a place with a small bed and outdoor toilet for 5,000 pesos... "FORGET IT!" Well, this place with a bathroom and good bed and TV is 30,000 pesos..."We can't keep spending money like this," he says and I throw up my hands and say, "You p(r)ick."

We made it to Puerto Cisnes, to Aisen, to Coihaique, along some of the most spectacular routes, lined with rivers that would hurt your eyes if you didn't know what to expect. Detoured over washed out bridges, and watched workers planting dynamite. Through tunnels and alongside rivers lined with purple flowers and ancient forests.

And we made it back. Back to Futa. With the rose bushes every twenty feet on every street. Hard at work, cleaning up ash, trimming bushes, a Colonos Fiesta in Espolon for the local huasos. It is hot, and there are blue skies in Futa, and the water trucks spray to keep down the remaining ash, and street work continues. Tipsy huasos roam down the street on sweaty horses with no shirt or shoes, and campesino music drifts from little wooden houses as families gather for the beginning of the Christmas season and Greg and I are sweet again.

Ah....the Adventure of it all.

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