Its good to be back in Chile; I left prematurely at Paso Sico.
I spent roughly four days in Córdoba with Vir and her family. They were all very nice, particularly her dad, Jorge. The first night I was there he spent several hours with a geography book that focused on Argentina telling me about all the different places and the best things to do in each province. He was a very proud Argentine citizen; however, he was man enough to admit that his country is not perfect, telling me “El mejor problema de Argentina es Argentinos.” (The biggest problem of Argentina is Argentine people.)
I went with Vir to el Centro de Córdoba several times, solely to kill a bit of time and do some exploring. I found a nice shop that had a few books in English, and I read Ernesto Guevaras’ “Guerrilla Warfare” several times, as well as another book of his titled “Critical Notes on Political Economy: A Revolutionary Humanist Approach to Marxist Economics.” Both were very interesting and thought-provoking, though the attendants at the bookstore did not seem to appreciate the fact that I was reading entire books in their store without buying them.
Córdoba is a very nice city (muy linda, as they say in these parts) and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. The mornings were chilly, but not too cold, and the afternoons hovered in the pleasant mid-seventies. When I wasn’t in el Centro, I spent the days relaxing at the Piña household, which was located in a classy neighbourhood about twenty minutes away from the downtown. There was even a special bus that would take you to and from the city centre, every hour on the hour, for free. How convenient!
I basically just relaxed while I was there, overusing the Internet while Vir poured her efforts into her studies (she is very dedicated). On Sunday, the eighteenth of April, I took to the road again.
I am aware that I said I was going to stay in Córdoba until I received a bit of mail; However, I ran into a few issues. First, the minimum time that I would have had to wait in order to for my package to arrive was one month, which was far too long to burden the friendly Piña family with my presence. Second, my mother informed me that Fed-Ex was going to charge her nine hundred dollars to mail my stuff to me. You read that right; that’s a mere one hundred dollars short of a grand. ¡Que ridículo! So we mutually agreed that I would receive nothing. Thankfully, Jorge was more than happy to help me out, and gave me some warm sweatshirts, pants, a jacket, gloves, and lots of socks. He even gave me a mate and some yerba, since I like the drink so much! Later, we even devised a means of repairing my pack, more or less, by way of a stiff board cut to size in the space where the now-useless back stabiliser was. It’s not perfect, but it got the job done, despite adding half a kilo to my pack.
Before I left Córdoba, I decided to give couchsurfing.org another try, this time in earnest. I sent out seven requests to stay for one night in Santiago, figuring at least one of them would host me.
After re-packing my modified bag with used new clothes (I now only have a few articles of clothing left from my original departure from the USA) Jorge drove me to el próximo peaje (the next toll booth) on the road west to Chile. I had, on Jorges’ suggestion, decided to change my rough itinerary to include travelling the Andes in the south of Chile, which I thought was a great idea since I had only spent three days in Chile at that time. So from Córdoba I planned to travel west to the provinces of San Luís and Mendoza, across the Andes and to Santiago de Chile.
So I waited at the peaje for about two hours. There was a police checkpoint just past it, and I talked with them for a while. I guess I must have been acting a bit giddy (no doubt stemming from the excitement of being back on the road) because one of the officers gave me a breathalizer test right there on the side of the road. Amused, I blew into it, and for the first time in my life the reading was 0.0.
Finally, a red car pulled over and brought me the short distance of twenty kilometres to Carlos Paz. The driver told me that it was roughly eight clicks to the other side of the city. There was medium traffic at a stoplight that led in that direction, so I decided to camp out there for a bit and see if I could find a lift for the distance. After a while, after no success, I decided to make myself a mate, not only because I really wanted one, but because I figured it would make me look more like a local, therefore increasing my chances of getting picked up.
I made my delicious beverage and sipped it with class at the red light with my thumb in the air, much to the amusement of the passing motorists whom clearly hadn’t seen anybody drinking mate and hitchhiking simotaniously.
Eventually, I gave up and decided to suck it up and just walk the eight kilometres. So I packed up and packed out in the westerly direction of the province of San Luis. After finally making it out of the town roughly an hour and a half later, I stopped at a restaurant to get some much-needed water, as it was rather hot out that day. This ended with the kind owner giving me a few meat pies and a glass of coke.
After leaving there, I did some more walking. I actually love to walk, for anybody whose wondering why I do it so much. There’s something about walking towards an exciting and unvisited place with everything you own on your back, and all the places you’ve been behind you, that just makes you feel just swell.
Past Carlos Paz was several very small towns with an obvious dependency on tourism, evident by the numerous “Cabañas” and signs written in English. After walking for about three or four more clicks, a small car pulled over and drove me for about two kilometres, which effectively got me out of the little menagerie of towns in that area. Soon, thankfully, a little blue car pulled over just as I was topping a rather difficult hill.
The driver and passenger were near my age, perhaps twenty-three or twenty-four. They both had massive dreadlocks and were very nice to me, giving me some cigarettes and one of their lighters after driving me about fifteen clicks to a remote traffic circle. From there I walked roughly two more kilometres until darkness began to set in. Now, I had learned my lesson about travelling in Argentina at night, and despite my remote location, decided to call it a day about one hour after sunset.
I found a place with relatively short grass about five meters from the road near the entrance gate of a horse ranch. I figured here would be a good spot, because I know horse people wake up early, and their headlights would surely awake me bright and early the next day.
Sure enough, around five a.m. the sound of hooves clopping on damp morning grass rattled around in my eardrums and awoke me. There were the ranchers, up early as predicted, and running the horses around the pasture for some purpose that was not clear to me. I shook the sleep off my body and packed up my simple campsite, the sound of horses whinnying echoing off the sparse rocky cliffs surrounding the ranch.
I began walking again, feeling the slight soreness stemming from the nearly fifteen kilometres I had walked the days before. I felt good though; I decided to make a habit of walking at least ten clicks a day with my pack, the keep the old muscles firm. After only five minutes, a little blue Volkswagen Jetta pulled over.
Upon entry I found a very old man driving with a younger man of about twenty-five in the passenger seat, presumably the grandson of the aged fellow. The two men were happy to take me about 100 clicks to Mina Clavera. There, we stopped for a spot of breakfast, which I inhaled like a four thousand dollar Hoover vacuum cleaner in about two seconds, having eaten only two meat pies the day before. Then, the pair offered to take me a bit farther into the neighbouring province of San Luis, which I was happy to hear.
We drove for about an hour and a half more until the men diverted to a different road and my lift was over. I told them bye, thanked them for the breakfast, and continued walking.
I was feeling good; that ride had taken me nearly 300 km, which is about six times as far as I went the day before. This part of Argentina was proving much more hitchhiker friendly than the northern provinces of Salta, Jujuy, and Tucumán. My theory was solidified after an old rickety pickup pulled over five minutes later.
These guys were a laugh; the driver was in his fifties, but had a friendly air about him. The rider in the passenger seat was very old and apparently stone deaf, since I had to literally shout everything to him a mere foot away from his cauliflower ear. He was never without a toothless smile, and his old eyes shined with laughter, despite rather advanced cataracts.
I was dropped off at a gas station after about twenty-five clicks. There, I made myself a delicious mate and read the morning paper. I am becoming quite good at reading in Spanish, and can understand most of what is written, especially the simple language of the local periodicals.
I left the gas station half an hour later and continued walking. Then, lo and behold, the same creaky old pickup with the two friendly old men from earlier passed by again and lifted me a further thirty kilometres! Hot damn, a double ride! Up until then I’d never had one of those before!
A few hours and a few rides later (one of which was with an old man who nearly fell asleep at the wheel) I was a mere fifty clicks from the providential capital of San Luis, aptly named, San Luis. I figured one more ride would probably get me there, and at the rate lifts were coming today, it couldn’t be too long in the making.
I stood in the shade of a tree and stationary hitched for about fifteen minutes until a blue Volkswagen hit the brakes and pulled over about thirty meters ahead. As I was jogging up to the vehicle, I noticed that it looked rather familiar…
Holy Queen Elizabeth! It was the same car that had given me my first and longest ride of the day! What are the odds, two double rides in one day, one of them a good five hours and a few hundred kilometres travel apart! I was beginning to feel as if I wasn’t hitchhiking on Earth at all; I was hitchhiking the galaxy, and the Infinite Improbability Drive was clearly at work!
Sure enough, inside was the same two guys from earlier, the old man and his assumed grandson, except for this time the grandson was doing the driving. We chatted about the unlikelihood of what had just happened happening and I was soon in San Luis.
In San Luis, I soon made my way to the gas station with the most semis that were heading west to Mendoza. It was nearly dark, and I finished the five kilometre trek just before sundown.
At the station, I hung around for about an hour and a half until I found a couple of guys who were going to the province of Mendoza but not the city. I took the lift, not really caring where I went as long as it was west and somewhere in Mendoza. After about four hours we were in Monte Comán, which is a few hundred clicks southeast of the city of Mendoza. The hour was late by this time, around midnight, and the truckers dropped me off at yet another gas station, of which I was grateful for, as it was very cold.
I hung around here for a good three hours, bullshitting with the gas pumpers, who, upon hearing that I was writing a book, insisted that I mention their names. They are Diego Carrasco and Orlando Reyes, and I drank several mates with them.
Then, around three a.m., a truck hauling propane tanks stopped for gas and I asked him if he was going to Mendoza. He told me no, but he was going to Ñucañán (it’s a mouthful, I know) which is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere that is nonetheless on the way to Mendoza. That sounded good to me, so that’s where I went. We arrived around four a.m., and as soon as I got out of the truck I found the nearest patch of clear ground, rolled out my sleeping bag, and zonked out for the night.
The next morning I awoke around seven, packed up camp, and began walking along a very deserted road that went through a rocky terrain with lots of scrub trees, similar to San Antonio, Texas. After about twenty minutes, a semi passed and gave me a ride to Mendoza.
In Mendoza, I wasted no time looking for the nearest gas station with international truckers going to Chile. After about an eight kilometre walk, I found one station, but it was for truckers coming from Chile, not to Chile. I was told that the station for truckers to Chile was about twenty kilometres south of here, near Luján de Cuyo. I sighed deeply and began walking.
Many hours later, I arrived just after dark to the station, exhausted. I went inside and rested for a bit with a lot of free water from the semi-pretty girl behind the counter. I waited at this station for about four hours, with a few nice people inside buying me a coffee and a big sandwich. Finally, around ten, a large fellow came in to buy what appeared to be several hundred pounds of chocolate, and I asked him if he was going to Chile. He said yes, but he could only take me to about 50 kilometres from the border. I took what I could get and went with him.
When we arrived, I was dead tired, and made camp under a sign advertising cheese sandwiches in temperatures well below freezing in the middle of the Andes Mountains.
The next morning I was pretty much a popsicle. My sleeping bag doesn’t zip up since the zipper broke back in Guatemala, so a freezing wind chilled me all night. I got up as soon as there was light and hobbled my way over to a good hitchhiking spot.
After about twenty minutes a semi with Brazilian plates pulled over. The driver was super friendly, though I had no idea what he was saying the whole time since I don’t speak a word of Portuguese. He brought me across the mountains, into Chile and to a town called Los Andes about ninety clicks north of Santiago.
There in Los Andes was a huge truck check point, and I knew I would be able to get to Santiago very easily from there. First I needed to check my couchsurfing profile to see if I actually had a place to stay there before I zoomed southward.
I was disappointed. All seven of the people I requested to surf with were either hosting at the moment, out of town, or simply unavailable. Great. So as a last-ditch effort I picked a random town about 250 km south of Santiago and sent a request to the first person I saw, hoping to get a place to rest and shower, even if it was only for one night.
I sent the request and then gave it three or four hours while I waited for a reply and charmed the lady at the restaurant into giving me a few free sandwiches.
When I checked again around six that evening, (after managing to get the money changer to change ten Argentine centavos into twelve pesos Chilianos, which is about one cent) I quickly logged on and found good news; Jorge from Talca, Chile wanted to host me! Sweet! So I mentally altered my plans and began looking for truckers to Talca.
I had no luck there, so I just stood out on the freeway with another old guy who was also hitchhiking and shared a semi to Santiago. After we got there, the truck dropped me off about fifteen clicks from Ruta 5, the main route of Chile that goes straight south to Talca. Well, it looked like I was going to get my exercise in today, after all.
As I was walking, several people warned me of the dangers of being robbed in this area. For once, I heeded their warning, not wanting to get the only warm clothes I had (which also happened to be my lifeline in this colder climate) stolen. So I decided to walk along the median of the autopista. Ignoring the numerous signs telling me not to walk on the autopista, I darted across the road, dodged several lanes of fast-moving traffic, and lept over the guard-rail and onto the median.
Hours later, around two a.m., I finally got to Ruta 5. All I wanted was a gas station where it was warm and I could get some water. I followed Ruta 5 for three more kilometres, and was about to give up and go to sleep when I saw a few security guards in front of an official-looking gate. I decided to go and ask them how far it was to the next station, just in case it was only around the corner.
I soon learned that it was a mere one kilometre away; however, after I told them that I was looking for a truck to Talca, the guards told me that this place was actually where the trucks get their trailers and things to haul, and that many trucks leaving here were going to Talca. What luck! So I decided to hang around and see what I could get.
The security guys were super cool, and gave me more cheese sandwiches (which seems to be a staple here in Chile) endless cups of coffee, and, most importantly, a wonderful, boiling hot shower. I took so long in there that I missed a truck that was going to Talca. This was bad, since the next one didn’t come until about six a.m.
So at six a.m., I was speeding down Ruta 7 bound for Talca. Just as the caffeine was wearing off, we thankfully stopped for more coffee and a spot of breakfast. I arrived to Talca at approximently nine in the morning.
I contacted Jorge upon arrival, and got directions to his house. Unfortunately, they were very vague and I got thoroughly lost. I went into a shop and used the phone to call him and discovered that I was on the wrong side of town, about four kilometres in the wrong direction. Big surprise. So I managed to get some better directions in verbal form as the pay phone gobbled up the last of my pesos like a fat kid eating Hershey’s Kisses.
Later, I was doddling around el Centro when a guy on a bike rode up to me and, out of breath, managed to gasp, “Are you Pat?” I told him I sure was, and it turned out, that was Jorge!
He’s a super nice guy; and my favourite part: he’s a cook! Like, for real, he’s going to school for it. A cook is a starving man’s best friend, I can definently vouch for that statement, though it’s not like I’m really starving…more like flavour-deprived.
He lives here in Talca in a nice little house with his Australian girlfriend. They are all highly friendly people, and I look foreword to spending a bit of time with them.
Oh, and on a related note, I’ve volunteered with the International Red Cross in Santiago, and in a few days’ time, will be going back to Santiago to help with earthquake relief! I’m very excited and eager to do my part; I figure Latin America has been helping me out for the past five months, and it’s about time I returned the favour. I anticipate working with the Red Cross for about a month. Wish me luck, friends!
The Modern Nomad