Travel Story: Real Freedom Outside Puerto Natales, Chile
Hooray Readers! How are you? Ready for another insane travel story in Patagonia?
Today is one of those days when inspiration to produce a travel story arouses from many sources. The spirit-lifting enthusiasm comes from the smell of tea vaping out of the mug by the computer, the kitty catching sun warmth on the bed, the dog snoring on the floor. It’s getting cold outside, as winter approaches the south hemisphere, so I’m not cycling at all ― which demonizes one’s mood. Just not today!
The vibe also comes from remembering a post from two-years ago about freedom. There, I mused about the sense of liberty within the borders of society, but never addressed the topic as a travel storytelling; apart from some photos that represented freedom the way I envision it.
On this post, let's revisit freedom, from the eyes of a hitchhiker vagabonding remote Patagonia. You'll read about insane mishaps and positive emotions ― camping, washing stuff on lakes, living. Keep in mind that the following text represents a summary of something I’m writing for my book. Enjoy!
If you feel interested on the book about Patagonia, drop a comment and I'll let you know once it's out of the oven.
January 12th, 2017. Foolish mistakes cost me an involuntary night sleeping exposed to the breeze below a truck's trailer. Truth is, I didn’t want to lose the ride I had found, but I never imagined I’d get into such a bizarre situation either.
The previous day I took a ride with a road worker of outstanding kindness. He agreed to drop me on the intersection between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas; I was there in the past, when I traveled with Eduardo on the way to Ushuaia. To the left was Punta Arenas. To the right Puerto Natales, where I pretended to go. There was only an abandoned gas station that looked straight out of Route 66. A complete apocalyptic scenery, with shattered windows and a door that squeaked with the wind on the main building. Outside, a few rusty oil tanks and one or two dismantled cars. It wasn’t the best-looking place, but enough to spend the night as it offered some shelter by the road ― right where I should be to hitchhike the next morning. Yet, things didn’t play out as planned.
Two groups awaited for a miracle when we got to the desolate gas station, completing the horror movie scene ― car hoods opened, guys looking at engines, someone with a gallon walking around, women on the phone. Something was not right and it was evident. The last thing I wanted to hear was Riders on The Storm and the character Ryder asking for a ride ala The Hitcher.
The Dutch seemed to have their situation sorted out by the insurance company, as expected from Dutch pinpoint organization and control. The Brazilian, on the other hand, ran around the car like a headless chicken. Being a helpful person, Abdon, the road worker, decided to grant the Brazilian group with some diesel; it wouldn’t be enough to continue their journey, but enough to go to Punta Arenas, where provisions would be certain.
― I’ll give you the diesel… and you take my friend to Puerto Natales, ok? ― He appealed while holding my shoulder.
For me, it sounded like a great deal. Although I embarked with them not knowing where the heck I was putting myself into. Only if I knew…
The first task to do in Punta Arenas was to refuel their Jeep; one of those five-seat jeeps, that in fact only allow three on the back if the legs are squeezed. So far, so good. I had gotten a guaranteed ride to Puerto Natales, right? That’s when the saga began. The spirited group was not eager to sleeping outside in the middle of nowhere, they wanted a hotel. I didn't have money for that luxury, for such I tried to find an excuse and announce that I'd sleep somewhere else. But I didn't. So they drove in circles until we could no longer find any open hotels in town; either they thought it was too expensive, or not good enough. Brawls emerged between the group, an annoying entanglement of “I want this” and “I want that”. Finally, the last word was spoken! They decided to sleep at the gas station in Punta Arenas ― not the abandoned one on the road. A decision for my misfortune, not to say the least.
Generally, sleeping in weird places presents no problem. But when I’m solo, accessing the options remain a top-most priority; there's little room for wandering around and discussing. Since the group’s indecision limited the choices, I lumbered my carcass near a maintenance ramp and unpacked my tent. It wouldn't be a piece of cake, would it? For the grace of God, my tent can't stand on concrete; it doesn't stand without the pegs. Mumbling with all the nonsense, I flung the sleeping bag on the ground between a truck trailer and the wall. The garage had no roof, so the breeze coated everything in minutes. A wet mess that combined the smell of oil and dust ― if you’ve ever been to a scrap yard you know the feeling. A complete defeat.
We reached Puerto Natales after all, not without a few hours boxed up on the back seat of the small Jeep to the point of not feeling the buttock ― I wriggled in hopes of delivering some relief to the muscles. When will we stop? Only if that burning pain could disappear. I didn’t even desire to spend time in town, as Puerto Natales is nothing more than a base for fancy travelers who visit Torres del Paine National Park. It’s not I undervalued the village, but exploring nature sounded more exciting. And... my behind got numb by the time.
The Brazilian dude, who accompanied me on the tortuous back seat, also went for a quick photography walk and a search for free wifi; both our legs were nowhere to be felt as blood had vanished from the veins. He was a kind bloke I must mention, wouldn’t hurt an ant ― soft voice, shy countenance. Wherever I went, he followed. And stopped to examine a flower here, a tree there.
― I study biology.. ― He said once.
Soon I realized he had lost faith on his trip and searched answers on me. I grew exhausted of his mumbling about not having money to cope with his Jeep mates. His complaints would go on and on, no matter how I advised him. He could split and plan his own path! But no… he wouldn’t listen. I didn't want to be rude, as he indeed displayed an affable personality, but negativity is never welcomed, it drags your spirit down. As we strolled along the coast, I invited him to camp on the outskirts, to try and introduce an alternative perspective to his journey ― he refused. Undeniable that it was heartbreaking leaving the guy behind. I wished him the best and focused on wandering outside the village.
The unique view of the landscape completed me with contentment after the Jeep trip. The gulf and the snow-capped mountains on the horizon. The frigid air and the fast moving clouds. Vegetation was in between arid and summer-ish, a mix of tawny and military green colors. I rambled on the fields heading to Torres del Paine ― if not by the coming wind and the darkening sky I would’ve walked into the backcountry. However, I looked to the dark formations spilling out from the peaks; the clouds movement suppressed the least sunrays remaining. There wouldn't be much time before the storm. I unpacked everything and sprinted to pitch the tent, right there, on that spot overlooking the mountains. If it was allowed or not I didn't care, the goal was to escape the coming drench.
Straight away, nature unleashed its powers, entrapping me inside the shelter with nothing to do but to prepare a healthy warm meal. The sleeping bag enveloped me like a fluffy sarcophagus, providing enough comfort to begin reading Amyr Klink’s most recent book. It didn't last long until the combination of coziness and rain droplets on the outer layer to make my eyes heavy.
January 13th, 2017. All sorts of good energies sparked upon unzipping the tent overlooking the contouring mountains on the horizon. That's the proper meaning of the word freedom; the absence of objection to foreign domination or despotic government, the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. Being in full control of one’s own existence, and certain that life can flow without interference.
Cheese sandwich for breakfast, the perfect fuel for my well-rested body, was enough to inflate the spirit before hitting the road ― plans were to spend some time somewhere breathtaking and, if possible, isolated from civilization. Is it a weird fetish? It’s a simple task really... when you have a thumb and determination. Few minutes past and a farmer drove me not far, a second delivered me to the access road to a place called Laguna Sofia, which I had heard was a peaceful wild camping spot.
A fifteen-kilometer walk on that isolated dirt road didn't present difficulties, only if I could stick to the damn route! But no… to spare me from an ascending curve on the road, I shortcutted through a verdant field covered with small yellow flowers. That’s when I discovered that misguided instincts quite frequently cause frustrations. Why not retreating you might ask?
The inspiring landscape sent me to the the bottom of a shallow valley, where the only way forward was through a tangled vegetation or back all the way up to the road. Naaaah. ― I thought. So I plodded on that path carved by the cattle as tree branches insisted on hooking to my backpack. The silence broken by insects and birds singing. Silence... stop! I hear something... ― I though. Something sprinted. My heart crushed inside. Puma! ― Came to mind. I looked around frenetically. Nothing. If it was a Puma I would still hear it, or I’d be fighting the beast whose jaws would be searching for my skinny neck. I kept on searching, zoomed on a bush to the north-west. There it was, the pointy ears of a scared hare. I placed my hand on my chest and exhaled in relief. Uncertain who the hell got more scared, me or the hare.
When I ultimately got to the hidden spot and pitched the tent, It was time to appreciate the beauty of nature. Patches of blue appeared on the sky from where the sun played hide-and-seek behind sparse clouds. The sunrays provided heat to meander bare feet over the boulders by the lake, despite the wind and the splashy waves of the green glacial waters. The place I called home was near a ravine that protected against the gusts. It was like a bubble by the lake, where I could lay down and sunbath. I also exploited the opportunity to wash some clothes for the first time since the beginning of the journey ― socks dried with stones inside to serve as anchor, the rest of the shirts and underwear laid over an enormous log. Wearing summer shorts, I tiptoed knees deep into the lake, dreaming of a bath. Noup, I can’t do this! ― I shivered.
What a joyful day! I wrote in the diary about the experience and recalled the words of explorer Roald Amundsen:
Adventure is just bad planning.
Even if he was right, the results of my adventure astonished me. I never planned to be camping alone by that lake, but there I was. With food provisions, clean clothes, refuge and a diary to record my thoughts. What else do we need? That day I wrote.
Nature renews the energies. Dinner eaten and it’s almost time to sleep again. I didn’t have the courage to bath, but at least the clothes are clean. Tomorrow going to Torres del Paine.
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~Love ya all
Disclaimer: The author of this post is a convict broke backpacker, who has travelled more than 10.000 km hitchhiking and more than 3.000 km cycling. Following him may cause severe problems of wanderlust and inquietud. You've been warned.**
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