There are so many little snippets, tiny little memories, stuck to metaphorical post-it notes that I want to preserve from my time in Patagonia. The many differences, whether cultural or physical can stay with you; if nothing else, that is why we travel. I didn’t write as much in my journal as I expect I would have, or should have, but together, all these short stories help illustrate the downtime, those fragile little things that will soon be lost to the mundanity of my daily routine.
These are those snippets, the little shreds I don’t want to forget…
“Bitumen Strips” aka Roads
I the point of a road was to lead you to your destination in a timely and relatively-routine manner, then roads really ought to be renamed to Bitumen Strips in certain parts of regional Chile.
The attitude to road rules is rather lax, bordering on non-existent. Drive on the right hand side of the road yes, indicate when turning, have your lights on, stop and start when you need to, all the usual things. Never mind that there are hardly any lines, this strip of bitumen will take you there, it is better than gravel (marginally!).
When queuing for traffic lights, it is important to remember that there is no order. Just get in line, somehow. By one way or another if you’re turning, the others on the road will sort themselves out… you hope. The speed limit on the roads is mostly 90kmh, but nobody – nobody- will know if you go less, more or greatly over that. There is no traffic enforcement of any kind around these parts. If you’re dumb enough to break the rules, you’ll probably break yourself first.
Just watch yourself on the gravel. There’s nobody around to help you if you don’t.
Oh annoying little blister, how I am so disappointed to see you.
You appeared after a long day on the trails, in my warm and moist shoe.
I put on double socks, to prevent your arrival,
But it is clear that I was so wistfully in denial.
The pain you inflict on my foot seems so minor,
But a hard day walking, you are my reminder.
Your presence shall be celebrated with a sharp prick,
I cannot afford the discomfort, you must go quick.
None of this weeping you hear, none of this pus,
For a little blister I've already made such a fuss.
You are the reminder that I should probably slow down,
But not until the hike's finished, when I arrive into town.
Sometimes it only takes going to a fuel-station bathroom to realize that you’re actually in another country. Don’t let this fool you, it’s only once you get “out there” beyond the comforts that you notice it. At first, all seemed normal. In the big, plush hotel suites that we soon became accustomed, the sanitary system was relatively robust. You went, you wiped, you flushed (didn’t you?!). The further out of town one went, the routine changed a little.
You went, you wiped, you-threw-the-paper-you-used-in-a-growing-to-overflowing-bucket-next-to-the- toilet, you flushed. You walked out of the stall hoping you didn’t just clog the toilet.
You went. You wiped. You still put your paper in the towering pile of used sheets and hoped that none of it was going to overflow. You flushed. You realize you clogged the toilet. You flapped your arms around in abject horror and shame, wondering how to remedy the situation without drawing attention to yourself. You watch as the stained water doesn’t quite gurgle over the edge. You breathe a sigh of pained relief. You give in. You call attention to the matter by calmly walking up to the hotel staff, and, keeping a straight face, you alert them to the plunger needed in stall 3.
While I am not speaking from experience here, I came awfully close to being.
In Argentina, the situation was slightly different.
After several hours in the car, if you made it to a bathroom, you were one of the lucky ones. Finding the loo was never a difficult task. Making a bee line from the car to the facilities, I dived in a stall and, feeling completely relieved, started searching for the vital next step. Where is the---!
No hallowed stainless-steel dispenser of dignity.
Peering between the cracks in the cubicle, it was on the wall, next to the washing and drying facilities. Worryingly, the sudden but horrifying feeling is dawning that you darted past the paper in your mad-rush to the stall, and now there you are stranded. Nobody speaks English, or pretends not to hear my feint cries for assistance. Stuck. People come and go, attempting a few words, my pleas are ignored. I hear some people come in speaking a fluent British. I’m saved! Hello! I get a reply. Embarrassingly, I explain my situation. Some paper soon appears below my door, “I understand’, she says sympathetically, ‘I was in your situation yesterday.”
I never got to thank her properly, other than through the door.
From then on, the actions used in the bush were repeated in the city…Keep some tissues in your pocket.
Back to the Chapters next week! Coming up, Las Torres!