February 20, 2019 – Cochrane, Chile Chico and into Argentina.

“You should always keep something beautiful in your mind.” – Pascal.

I’m staying at Residencial Cero a Cero in Cochrane again. I slept here on my way to Patagonia National Park and promised myself not to return after an icy cold shower on my way out last Sunday but the Hostals in town are full so here I am. A small room with a shared bathroom cost about $20 so I’m not going to complain. This is an option that I’ve used often when not camping. All the towns and small cities that I’ve traveled through have these homes (and also backyard camping options for $8) that have converted or added a few bedrooms and bathroom. It’s a really affordable way to travel and I’ve been immersed into home life each time in an intimate way. The ones that I’ve chosen have been run by women and if there is a man in the house he does the cleaning and serves breakfast, which is usually included. This morning Roberto is serving breakfast. He’s about 70 and was very stern during my last stay but he’s whistling this morning and that’s my crack in the door so when he stops I start and he immediately recognizes a damm good fellow whistler and the ice is broken and the next thing you know I’m singing to him (and a couple from Switzerland who are also having breakfast) and whaddya know, he’s smiling! I have done this often on my journey, this breaking out in song, Chileans seem to enjoy it. They listen to a lot of sixties and seventies rock and roll in english so they recognize most of the songs that I know. I’ll be walking down the road on a sunny summer morning and pass a group of hitchhikers and loudly and passionately bust out a few lines from the Eagles ‘Ventura Highway’ and it is smiles all around and they finish the song with me. Weird is good, I do not hold back, what’s the worst that could happen? Deported from Chile for singing in public? The breakfast is great, Roberto and I are buddies and the shower is hot this time! Woohoo!

I have an early morning bus to Chile Chico so I’m laying over in Cochrane for a second night. There is a cold west wind blowing here and fortunately it’s a sunny day. This (and a slight time constraint) is why I’m turning back north here. The Antarctic generated wind is constant and chilly south of here. I hope to save that gorgeous geography for another day. I head to a cozy cafe on a corner across the street from the plaza to have a rare, real cup of coffee and do some writing. I’m sitting and enjoying a nice caffeine buzz when in the door walks Ullrich. He looks like a wizard and has the presence and wisdom to back it up. As mentioned in a previous post we are about the same age and are both greatful to connect. Most travelers on the Austral are less than half our age. We talk about our travels and he tells me that he’s given up his possessions (he’s originally from Germany) and traveled the world, walked over a thousand miles and is headed to the southernmost point in South America then back north up the east coast of Argentina to Buenos Aires. We talk about wisdom and ego and fear and love and joy and trust and relationship and trade contact info and part ways for the fourth time. What a strange, synchronous sequence of occurrences, crossing paths like we have!

I spend the afternoon walking along the Cochrane river and thinking about my journey. I’m headed back north and it’s hard to say goodbye to this wild and mysterious place, Patagonia. A quiet night at Hostal Cero a Cero and I’m out the door headed to the bus station at 7 am, too early for breakfast and singing to Roberto. Once again I leave with sadtitude, roosters crowing, the wind at my back and a warm orange glow on the eastern horizon, this big old world turning slowly into another day.

The road to Chile Chico follows the rugged south shore of Lake General Carrera. It is a narrow gravel road that rivals the best roller coaster runs in the States. The views are amazing but a flat tire and it could be lights out. I make it to Chile Chico after four hours of this, feeling just a little carsick. How would you like to ride a roller coaster for four hours?

Chile Chico is about five miles from the Argentine border and another super windy town. I’ll need to stay overnight and catch a bus into Argentina in the morning so I head to the Hostal recommended by the Lonely Planet Guide but it’s full and the owner refers me to one just around the corner. Hospedaje La Casona looks kind of run down but I ring the bell anyway and a woman answers the door and invites me into a dining room where there are six women, probably in their seventies, sitting around a table playing cards. The inside of the house is much nicer than the outside, quaint with a lot of nicnacs everywhere. There is a wood cook stove in the kitchen just next to the dining room and I smell bread baking and it’s warm and cozy. The owner, Rosa Ulloa Cardenas, introduces herself. She speaks only spanish and somehow, as usual I’m able to stumble my way through enough conversation to get a tiny room at the back of the house. It’s drafty and cold with no heater and she is smiling and waving her arms and even though I don’t understand a word I’m sure that she is telling me it’s the finest room in town! Of course I take it. At 4am there’s a rooster crowing right outside my window, revenge of the chickens, eh? Rosa has breakfast waiting for me in the morning. Her cook stove is warm and there is that kitchen wood smoke smell in the air. She is very sweet. She ambles around her kitchen and watches the morning news while I eat breakfast. I rise to put on my backpack and clasp my hands in a gesture of prayer and thanks and bow to her. She smiles and points to her right ankle (I noticed that she had been limping) and I know that she is asking me to keep her in my prayers and I tell her I will, in english but I know she understands. Out into the cold west winds of Patagonia I step, with tears of gratitude in my eyes. I don’t feel the cold, Rosas blessing is glowing warm in my heart. How strange; when I stepped off the bus into this seemingly cold, desolate town i just wanted to move on, but with an open heart even the tiniest moment became magic for me. I stop to take a picture of Rosas humble home, turn the corner and walk down the street to the bus station and head into Argentina.

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