02 abril 2007

niebla, chile y todos sus huevones

What a rollercoaster ride it´s been since my last post. Dirk and I first headed north out of Calafate to the nearby national forest and Perito Moreno glacier (about 70 km). We rode late, starting at about 7pm. For the first 25 or so kilometers I was able to stay on his rear wheel into the stiff headwind. Once I was no longer able to keep his maniacal pace (even while drafting) the two of us drifted apart like ships on the open sea. It was very beautiful. There were many stars. It was also some of the most difficult riding I´ve ever done.

Hours later, I found the only camp site in the park (which was technically closed) by talking to some of the construction workers, but they told me that my friend had "flown by" a half hour earlier, and that the truckers had already spotted him at the base of the glacier (16 km further than we intended to go). "Watch out for the pumas," they told me as I continued on toward the camp. I laughed, but they didn´t smile back. It was about 1:30am, and I was too tired to keep riding, so I pushed my bike past the rubble blocking the entrance to the campsite and made a nice camp amid the trees and out of the way of the wind. The next morning I woke early and made the rest of the trek to the glacier, where I found Dirk´s tent pitched illegally outside the tourists' mess. I made myself breakfast and tried to explain to the rangers (who were fucking power-tripping pissants) that my friend was still sleeping, but that we'd be out of there pronto.

In actuality, he wasn´t sleeping, but had gone out to hike the glacier, and I met up with him after I´d finished my mate. The glacier was very beautiful, but despite claims I´ve heard that it is the world´s only glacier that is still expanding it seems to have receded greatly since the pictures were taken for the posters which dot the area tourist offices. I did an hour hike out to the base, sat and enjoyed the sun. Every ten minutes or so I could hear a crack of ear-splitting thunder, a roar which sustained itself for 15 or 20 seconds each time. Once or twice the crashes were close enough to the front wall of the glacier that ice fell and caused enormous tidal splashes that rocked the heavy tourist boats. Implosions.

We rode back to Calafate the same day, had a nice meal and shower, and the next day set out for Chalten. To speed things up, during the next three days of constant headwind, I decided that I would skip the cycling and head to one of the organic farms I´d contacted near to Bariloche. The story is much more complicated and involves certain persons sleeping in sewer pipes to avoid 50 km/hour winds, injured knees, crazed San Franciscans, Argentine madmen from Entre Rios, etc. I did make it to Chalten. I´ll say that much. but not without detours.

For two and a half weeks afterward I was unable to pick up a pen, use a computer keyboard, or even push my hands into my pockets. I was constantly shaking, and my fingers wouldn´t close after fighting to keep the bike upright for so many hours in the Patagonian wind. It was one of those times in my life that I will look back on when things are bad, and I will think to myself, "Really, things are not so bad."

I spent about four days in Chalten warming up. Hiked to the base of Mt. Fitzroy, which was incredible. Wished I had a warmer sleeping bag. Drank beer with some Estadounidense hippies.

Then spent about 4 days biking/bussing/hitchhiking to Esquel, AR, where I spent a couple pleasant days riding. I also was able to find a bike shop to replace the skewer I´d lost the previous night at a bus station further south.

I contacted Erica Penttila and filled her in on my plans to stay at a farm outside of Puerto Montt, Chile for a month or so. After two nights in the port town of Puerto Montt (which reads like a real swashbucklers dive) I arrived there, at el campo de Matias, "El Refugio," on 4 March. After two hours of meandering through the lush green I found a house and an old grey-bearded Chilean, Matias´s dad, Don Miguel. He told me to make myself comfortable and that Matias would come and find me "in the pines" when he returned home.

He didn´t, and I made myself a fire and some food, and finished what was left of my Old Smuggler´s whiskey in order to put myself to sleep before 11pm. It rained for about 10 minutes every five minutes.

The next morning I met Matias, and subsequently was introduced to the only other volunteer, Alison, of California, who was staying in "La Casita Fea" (the little ugly house). Not really so ugly at all in my opinion, and considering the fact that I´d been expecting to spend a month in my little tent, was absolutely luxurious. Running water, gas stove (for cooking), wood stove (for warming), and electricity. There was even a dilapidated mattress and a pile of Chilean wool to keep us warm at night. We spent the next several weeks concentrating on food. Planting, seeding, harvesting lettuce, oats, acelga (chard), basil, tomatoes, potatoes, sunflowers, garlic, onion, fava beans, apples, blackberries,
bussing, biking and hitch hiking between little Metri and Puerto Montt for grocery supplements to the home grown stuff, I feel as though my cooking became like food divination. Every improvised meal a godsend.

Erica came to meet us after my first week, and proved to be a natural hand at milking the goats, something I was a bit intimidated by (you really have to yank! how indecent!). We made marmelades and roasted hazelnuts, but we didn´t get around to learning the entire cheese-making process.

In the end, it was clear that Matias was disappointed to see us go (as we were the only volunteers left), but Alison had already postponed her departure and had to be back in Valdivia (where she´s studying Spanish and Anthropology), and I have to be making my way north toward La Paz to meet up with Craigolas by the 13th.

Right now I´m in Valdivia, which is terrific. Neighboring Niebla, where Alison and her friends live is the coolest slice of ocean I´ve seen (and I´ve seen a lot in recent times). The whole region is lush and green, and while usually rainy, the past few weeks have been unseasonably sunny. I´m finally getting the fall I've been missing since I left Chicago.

I´m staying with Alison, who lives with a 30 year old yellow belt and single mother, Márcia. She designs film sets and has a used clothing store where she also sells homemade jam (and in the summer her front yard seconds as a juice stand for the beachgoers). She and her daughter are terrific, though the rapid Chilean dialect still leaves me dizzy...

Tomorrow we head north to Santiago for a couple days, before I continue on toward Cusco and then to La Paz.


Anónimo said...

thanks for th update, amigo. greg & i were beginning to wonder if your plan to cross the andes at the onset of rainy season was as functionally insane as it first sounded. now we know. ride on, brother, and watch your shit around those hippies.


05 abril, 2007 16:38  
stridewideman said...

I'm glad you're alive and having a good time. This stuff sounds awesome. Congratulations on living the dream.


10 mayo, 2007 07:05  

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