Patagonia Part 4: The van, Captain Jack Sparrow and freedom

The camper van showed up a few weeks late. In an epic stroke of luck, I managed to get it out of customs by myself when the guy helping me got fired. I bounced back and forth between the port and Santiago, Chile. Batteries were dead but what little things stored in there were intact. I prepared for the long trip south. While meeting a buddy I met traveling in Santiago, he introduced me to Pascalle, a gal traveling from Holland (or the Netherlands. Its confusing.) Pascalle had her previous plans fall thru and was looking to head south. “Jump on board” I said. “I have an extra bed up top and just split gas with me.”

We rolled out the next day (after I slept in the streets of Santiago outside the hostel). I knew I had a good companion when she neither stressed about the van delay nor about me getting stuck in the sand the first night in my beefy 4wd van! I had to get pulled out (twice!) by locals. Humility in hand we headed south. She knew it was gonna be a fast trip but was up for it. I had to meet my buddy to trek in southern Chile so we rocked the 2000 or so miles in 8 days. Nearly running out of gas once and blowing out a shock absorber another. We drove past mountains and volcanoes and lakes and deserts. It was a stunning trip. Like the Colorado plateau meets Flagstaff meets the north Cascades. I really wish we had more time as the people were amazing and the views (and wind) epic. Pascalle did great driving when I got tired and we mainly camped for free when we found a spot. We got to spend time at a local Chilean Fair being the only tourists, camp out under an amazing sky similar to Joshua Tree and and swim in lakes and rivers.

We arrived back in El Calafate, Argentina for my third time and felt at home at the hostel with my friends there. Pascalle and I said our goodbyes, hoping to connect later. She was probably one of the best travel companions ever. She rocked it as a co-pilot.

Busting my ass to get across the border back into Chile to meet my buddy Michael, I had another gal with me for the ride to split gas. Thus still not having any solo time with my van!

Michael and I have backpacked together in India, Guatemala, the Grand Canyon, California, and now, Chile. We always laugh as for two guys in their fifties that seemingly have their shit together, we somehow screw shit up when trying to connect. True again as I was napping in the van in Puerto Natales airport while he landed in Punta Arenas! Three hours south! How we goofed it up I don’t know. But he got to ride a Chilean bus!

Our backpacking trip to Torres del Paine got canceled because of rain. Long story but when the busiest park in Chile has a hiccup, your reservations gets screwed. Since Michael was only down for 2 1/2 weeks, I needed to make the call to get us into the mountains. So we crossed the border (again) back to Argentina, El Calafate, and El Chalten. There was a trek there I heard about and knew that neither weather nor reservations would hurt us.

The Huemul Trek turned out to be one of the most dramatic ones I have done. It is a 60k trek over four days that skirts the Southern Patagonia icefield; getting up close and personal with several glaciers. Unfortunately, both Michael and I got blisters in the first hour (new boots!) Even though we have both been hiking a lot, the wind and blisters hurt us. But we still knocked it out and experienced breathtaking views. I wanna go back to all of these treks. I could spend a month in El Chalten alone.

With me planning to take a 2 1/2 day ferry from southern Chile (Puerto Natales) we headed to Punta Arenas (got the airport right) for his flight. An Air BnB snafu had us homeless the second to last night and a stroke of luck (again) got us to meet Juan Matric, the owner of a hostel that hooked us up.

After seeing my van (and me lamenting I had had no alone time in the wild yet with her), he convinced me to take the road all the way down to the tip of the Pan American hiway to explore. Hoping to be alone, I drove all the way down after taking a two hour ferry to cross the Straights of Magellan. Through a blinding rainstorm. Couldn’t see a damn thing.

After reaching the end of the road (it was Saturday and there was no one there so I ignored the warning signs and drove the last 5 plus miles waiting for the end.), I turned around. This road is being constructed to connect the rest of Chile to the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia, Argentina. It is way the fuck out there. Tired, sick of the rain, but glimpsing a few hanging glaciers along the Cordillera Darwin, I said, what the hell. There was a small “town” on the map towards the water. I just wanted to rest, hike a bit and maybe play some guitar. What I got was a different story.

I rolled in Caleta Maria, and its one house, as the clouds diappeared and this beautiful inlet presented itself. Pechuga is an aging fisherman turned tour guide. As I rolled up to the beach I asked where I could camp. I also jokingly asked him in Spanish when we were eating when I saw the lamb being grilled over the fire.

He asked me if I was alone when I walked back after parking and I said yes. Him and his 6 buddies invited me over to play music in this stunning, fjord-like utopia. You can see pics I posted.

They fed me (salmon, ceviche and lamb) and gave me local booze and played music with me. Allowing me to practice my Spanish. I was also told Camilo (he lived in the house; Pechuga lived in a camper on the beach.) had kayaks. So the next day I joined a pre-planned trip to paddle by the glaciers. It entailed a one hour boat ride and lots of preparation.

When we paused for lunch, we hurriedly built a fire. Not knowing the plan, I inquired. Captain Jack Sparrow is going to make us a traditional stew from Chiloe (that’s north Patagonia). I’m like who? Johnny Depp? That’s what they kept calling him.

As I napped in the sun on the beach (after these fisherman grilled me right out of the water scallops, gave me some wine and some local steak, it started getting late. Like 4 PM. Who and where is this guy? These guys dive all day and all year in suits to get lazy people like us our restaurant delicacies. A rough life they have for sure. It’s brutal down there.

Like a vision out of a movie, this strapping 40 something sleeveless Chilean smoothly walks thru the bushes to our little setting in the woods. Everyone hops to it and he makes the handmade dumpling like things, makes the salsa, and puts the clams and chorizo and potatoes and mussels into this massive stew pot on the fire. Camilo asks me what I think.

Damn. I just wanted a day alone with my van in the wilderness. No plans. Just freedom and rest. AND I GOT THIS! It was deliciosa!

That is why I don’t plan much when traveling. To have the ability to stop for a bit.

We said our goodbyes and I got my quiet time in the van.

My next stretch is a ferry north tomorrow. It arrives at the southern part of the Careterra Austral. One of the most stunning and remote drives in the world. From there, its all driving and a few local ferries. No flights for me for awhile. I am liking it down here if you can’t tell. But neither my spanish nor my guitar is improving. The people are great. It is safe. To be continued…

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