“A Pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose.”
– Peace Pilgrim
I stay in Bariloche for an extra day to look for a new pair of shoes. The ones I arrived in Chile wearing are frayed and torn and smell pretty bad. This reminds me of the two Brazilian rock climbers who stayed in the room next to me in Cochamo, gateway to a world renowned rock climbing area on the northern edge of Patagonia. They kept their trekking shoes on the deck outside of their room. I noticed that the shoes were as ragged as they could get. In fact they were headed to Puerto Varas, about a two hour bus ride, to buy new rock climbing shoes. To them their trekking shoes were fine. They were constantly monitoring their cell phones – two fellow climbers were missing on Mount Fitz Roy, several hundred miles to the south. The search effort was stalled by bad weather. Another climber had just died on the same mountain and they were very worried. I gave them the hands together prayer gesture and still pray for their friends. I haven’t found an update yet. I don’t find new shoes and am still wearing my originals, no problem, I’ll just keep on walking, sorry about the smell! The next morning I’m back on Ruta 40 headed north around lake Nahuel Huapi, then west on a remote mountain highway over the Andes and back into Chile. The bus first stops at the Argentine border and all passengers walk to the emigration office and get passports stamped or ID’s checked, then back onto the bus and ride a few miles further up the road to the Chilean immigration checkpoint. It’s a sunny summer morning and so it’s a great opportunity to stretch legs anyway. Chile is very strict about controlling any food or illegal drugs coming into the country. All luggage, including carryons, is unloaded from the bus and put onto platforms and several dogs are brought out and spend about a half hour sniffing both passengers and luggage while we stand to the side and watch. The dogs race back and forth and single out a few backpacks and the uniformed agents call the owners over to their backpacks and have them empty the contents and here is where I find out what’s in those huge things. A mountain of clothes, pots, pans, laptops, cameras, blow driers, stoves, phone chargers, backup batteries, climbing ropes and gear and helmets, sleeping bags and pads, tents, cups, plates, rolls of toilet paper, towels and just about anything else that you could imagine. And all just stuffed in there willy-nilly. I’m obviously fascinated by the backpack thing. Fully loaded there will usually be pots and pans and a metal cup dangling from the pack, clanging and banging together as the owner walks along. It’s actually very cool the way it advertises the personality of the owner.
The search is rewarded when a customs agent pulls a plastic bag with two apples in it from the pile. She has a look of glee on her face, the owner is fined and back onto the bus we climb. One small pink handbag that was sniffed out was not claimed by it’s owner and the driver brings it onto the bus and asks who it belongs to and a woman in her eighties claims it and steps back off of the bus to face customs officials and about fifteen minutes later we are off down the road into Chile. I never did get to find out what contraband she was carrying.
The ride over the Andes is stunning, that’s all I can say. Pristine lakes and rivers and peaks and forests and a quiet highway, I would love to make this drive in a car and be able to really see the land. Maybe someday. Then the long descent into the central valley and the landscape changes to farmland and then I’m stepping off the bus in Osorno, a fairly big city. I hail a taxi and ride across town to another bus station and catch a bus to Bahia Mansa, the town on the coast where I plan to stay for a few days. I’ve heard about a series of bays that lie in territory that belongs to the Huilliche people, original inhabitants of the area, and I want to check it out. I get off the bus at Bahia Mansa but there’s not much there so I walk south along the narrow road above the ocean to the next bay and drop down to the shore and there waiting for me like a long lost friend is Hosteria Miller. I had also heard about this Hostal and was hoping that I would somehow find my way to it and here it was. Legend has it that a couple from Europe purchased it in the sixties before the road existed and guests were flown in by helicopter and it was a real cool place to be. It sits just above the beach and is a big, quaint wooden house. I walk up the driveway and climb the stone steps to the front door and ring the bell and a woman in her twenties answers and she speaks english which is great but no longer necessary for me. She is from France and is a volunteer at the Hostal and sets me up with a small second floor room with a view of the ocean that is so enchanting and dreamy that I can hardly leave it to go exploring.
I learn that I am in the town of Maicolpue. I would call it a village, just a few small homes on a hillside with a grocery store and a couple restaurants next to a plaza on the beach, all sitting on a small bay. Maicolpue and the surrounding region is owned by the Huilliche people but because of my language limitations I never was able to learn the dynamics of that relationship. I spend three days hiking to adjoining bays and taking in the ambiance of Hostal Miller. The lower floor consists of a dining room, living room, small reception desk and kitchen. There are views of the ocean throughout and the wood interior makes me feel like I’m on a wooden ship looking out at the sea. The other guests have traveled here from Bariloche in Argentina, about three hours away by car. Evenings are spent on the deck facing the ocean watching dolphins and sunsets and there are a lot of oohs and ahhs. I spend some time there with other guests but as mentioned the ambience and view from my little upstairs room is so irresistible I’m on the bed watching the earth turn the sun over the edge of the ocean, exclamations of wonder filtering up to me from below. I have never seen the sun set over the ocean as purely and perfectly as it did on my last evening at Hosteria Miller.
I’m having a good time with staff and guests during my three days at Millers. They find it fascinating that my last name is Miller (an uncommon name in Chile) so I immediately have celebrity status. The shared second floor bathroom faucet breaks on my second day there (I didn’t do it!) and they have to turn off the water and with no plumber available will have to send guests away. I know how to fix that thing so I volunteer and take it apart and tell Nicole, the manager that I need a pair of needle nose pliers. She is also French, speaks fluent Spanish and some English but has no idea what I’m talking about. So I look up a translation into Spanish: ‘pinzas de punta de aguja’ and the entire house is laughing hysterically about that! She’s going to go ask neighbors for them and I’m heading out to hike so I show her how to replace the washer and put the faucet back together and I return in a couple hours and she has repaired it and it works great and she is happy and proud and we high five and the Miller name is even more polished in the eyes of Hosteria staff!
Leaving is tough but I’m headed home in a week and have to move on. It rained the night before and the morning is bright and the beach and road that runs along it and the forest that falls to it are glittering in the sunshine as I walk the road to where the bus stops. I wait an hour for the bus, listening to the waves talk to the shore, collecting my thoughts from the eddies and bays of my mind, putting this place away where I can get to the memory easily, on another day.