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Peregrinations Mexico and Central America on Motorcycle: Open road, open heart, open mind.

How To Flee Patagonia in Nine Easy Steps

ARGENTINA | Sunday, 30 March 2008 | Views [1528]

The mighty Alerce trees in Chile.

The mighty Alerce trees in Chile.

I mistakenly spent two full months in Patagonian Argentina. What can I say? It's pretty much a perfect place. But that left a mere three months for the rest of my journey to Ecuador, so Kyle and I balled it through all of central and northern Chile and Argentina in a mere 2 1/2 weeks. Here's the quick and dirty:

1.   Spending 17 hours straight in the cab of a semi with a Chilean truck driver will do wonders for your Spanish, especially for your family-oriented vocabulary. Moises, the driver of the truck I was in, could have talked for hours about his 5-year-old daughter whom he called his “Jaujuita Chiquitita”. He was so completely wrapped up in his daughter that his wife almost divorced him because for two whole years he didn’t touch her. He spent all of his time doting on his little girl instead. That says a lot about Latin American men.

2.   The water flowing in the Rio Azúl lived up to its name, blue as blue can be. The pool where the water left the Cajóñ del Azúl looked deep, about 12 feet to the bottom, where the shimmery backs of rainbow trout could be picked out among the cobbled bed. The sun was shining, the river was pristine…what other choice did we have but to jump in? Now, I have swum in many bodies of water, even in a lake next to an iceberg, but this was cold. I mean trying-to-scream-but-can’t-because-you-have-no-breath cold. I jumped out faster gravity usually allows, giggling helplessly once I regained my breath. That night we camped in the chirping woods outside of El Bolson, talking in Spanish around a campfire, drinking handmade beer, and eating homemade bread. If there’s only one place in Argentina I’m ever going to return to, El Bolson is it.

3.   After two full months spending every moment in each other’s presence, Kyle and I broke up for a day in Bariloche. Two months…wow! I’m impressed. But I was also infuriated with him for very silly reasons, and he with me. So on my day off, my lovely day of solitude, I climbed a mountain outside of town while singing my heart out to the cloudless blue sky (“Another Mystery” by Dar Williams was my song of choice). On the hike down, two Black Vultures circled above my head (in an entirely non-death sort of way) for a full fifteen minutes. They were so close I could hear the wind in their feathers, and see their shining black eyes. I stood in the middle of the trail grinning like an idiot at how marvellously they soared through the air—never have I been sp envious of flight. It did wonders to my mood, and when I returned to Bariloche, Kyle and I were the best of friends again.

4.   Parque Nacional Alerce Andino is located in the temperate rainforests of Chile, just outside Puerto Montt. The forest is very old, and the oldest inhabitants, the mighty Alerce trees, reach 4,000 years of age. Standing amidst those gargantuan trees, rain pouring down my forehead and off my eyelashes, I felt as though I were in the presence of wisdom itself. The trees seemed to pump with an ancient knowledge that I could never hope to know.

5.   On the main drag of the city of Puerto Montt, our crazed bus driver swerved around a pedestrian, missing him by a hair’s breadth. Then he stopped 10 feet later at the bus-stop and got out to unload people’s bags. The pedestrian met him outside the door, and they both walked around towards the back of the bus. “Are they just talking?” I asked Kyle, who had the window seat. “Yeah,” he said, glancing out the window. “Are you sure?” I pushed. “Yeah,” he said, looking again, “They’re just…oh jeez, they’re fighting!” The two men were throwing punches at each other (rather like Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’ Diary 2, if you’ve ever seen it). Kyle ran outside and pulled the two men apart, right as the driver was aiming a kick at the pedestrian’s head. It’s that hot Latin American blood, maybe…

6.   We were sitting at a bar in Valparaiso, a beach town outside of Santiago.

A street
vendor selling miscellaneous junk came into the restaurant, something that would never happen in an American city. “No, graciás,” we muttered, sending him on his way. Then I caught a glimpse of pairs of nail clippers hanging by a chain amidst the belts, earrings and candy. “Espera!” I yelled after him. And that’s how I got a pair of nail clippers for 50 cents in a bar in Chile.

7.   I visited a raptor rehabilitation center in Talagante, just to the south of Santiago. For those RMRPer’s reading this, let me just say this: be thankful, so very thankful, for the fantastic facility we have, the abundance of people we have helping, and the generosity of those who donate to the program. And, let me say two more things: I stood in a cage with 27 eagles, and condors ROAR! Hoo-wee!

8.   Everyone tells us that Mendoza is a fantastic city. I don’t really see it. Sure, the wine is fantastic and cheaper than dirt. But the perks run out there. Maybe I’m jaded since Kyle was robbed in their main plaza, the victim of one of the hundreds of petty thieves who work the city. However, the best dollar I’ve ever spent in my life was in Mendoza, on their carpet slide of death! With Avril Lavigne pumping from the speakers, I sat on my scraggly scrap of carpet, held my breath, then screamed like the 8-year-old girls around me as I plummeted down the first hill. Actually, cliff is a more accurate description—I caught air on those things! And best of all, you can ride down as many times as you like!

9.   Finally, after a slew of bus rides and monotonous cities (I miss Patagonia), Kyle and I rolled into Bolivia yesterday afternoon. The change in culture and environment was palatable. Clothing, customs, prices, food…everything changed the second we stepped across the border. And what better way to celebrate our arrival into Bolivia than with beer and coca? We bought four cans of beer from a street stall (three cold, one warm, it’s all they had), a packet of coca leaves from an Andean woman with green teeth, and a packet of sodium bicarbonate from another street stall. Then we retired to our fancy-schmancy hotel that charged us $5 for the night, and sat by a window to indulge in our vices. Coca is actually supposed to have many health advantages (that is before it is turned into cocaine), so we each chewed a wad for about 2 hours while drinking our beer. The buzz was noticeable, but not as noticeable as the numbness in my cheek.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be in Bolivia (and not for the coca). And so begins stage two of my great South American journey!

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