Three years ago, I stood in the quietest place I’ve ever been, having arrived here because we saw a volcano on the horizon and drove towards it, found a dirt road and followed it, further and further back, till we found ourselves at the barren base of the volcano.
Evening of Day Two in Patagonia…
Here, without a plan or itinerary other than “aim south”, we had begun writing the next chapter of life we both were embarking on. My friend and I, we were both were facing an uncertain future, for different reasons.
Standing here, watching the sun set across the peaks, the silence roared. I buried my feet in the black sand and let it sink in. I was a long way from home.
Or was I. What even was ‘home’ these days? I’d recently packed up my entire life into my medium sized not-off road friendly SUV, ready to head west to….I wasn’t sure what.
Caught In A Peach Farm
I need to back up. Before we got to the quietest place on Earth, we had to apologize to a foreman for camping in his peach farm.
It was Day One and we’d lost most of the day trying to pick up our rental 4×4, watching the hours slip by as first our vehicle wasn’t there and then mysterious ‘fees’ were required before we could have the vehicle.
Finally on the road at sunset, we’d lost important time – time we’d needed to get ourselves far enough out of Santiago to be able to find a spot to camp. As sunset turned to darkness, we were still on a major highway and far from any place you should be camping. There were some farms though…
We turned off the highway and found a frontage road, following it back to a dirt road, further still to a farm. I rolled down the window and felt the warm night air push into the truck, along with the sound of dogs barking.
We killed the headlights and slowly drove further, passing dozens of rows of fruit trees, finally picking a row to drive up to hide the vehicle and pitch our tent. Speaking only in whispers if we even spoke at all, I was terrified we’d be murdered for trespassing. All night long, the dogs barked. They knew.
I awoke hours later to a rumbling sound. Shaking my friend awake, “I hear something!” I whispered. He peered his head out of the tent and saw the peach picking crew, including the foreman, being dropped off – right in the row we were camping in. We were trapped. Blocked by a truck full of peaches and thirty or so workers.
There were dozens (a hundred maybe?) of rows, how could they have picked our row?! By now I could hear the workers coming close, picking each tree of its fruit, bits and pieces of a conversation being held in Spanish wafting my direction.
We scrambled out of the tent to find them picking the trees right next to us, averting their eyes from us as if our presence was no distraction from their work at all.
Mortified, I broke down camp and chucked everything in the truck as fast as I could while my friend looked at me and said, “we have no choice but to apologize and hope for the best”, and strode up to the foreman and spoke to him.
Sitting in the passenger seat, I turned just in time to see my friend reach out to shake the hand of the foreman, who’d had a slight smile of compassion cross his face. The graciousness of those men that day is something I’ll never forget.
Birds & Bribes
Days later, somewhere near the Argentinian border…
We didn’t know we were camping on a lake until the sun rose. We’d gotten in late, at the darkest hour, after a multi-hour situation at the border crossing.
We hadn’t planned on crossing over into Argentina just yet, we’d just picked roads and aimed south, but we had been making a few turns east, whenever it felt right to do so. When we came upon a border crossing on the road we were traveling, we shrugged and figured we’d cross over instead of backtracking.
The line of cars ahead of us moved so slowly that I had time to pull the camp stove out, set it on the gravel shoulder and stare off into the forest while I wanted for the coffee to boi. Meanwhile, my friend sat with the truck, inching it forward every so often.
A peaceable wait became less so as an hour became several and we were still very far from being next in line to get our papers checked.
Finally at the front of the car line, we were instructed to park and go inside to another line, this one of people. The time was ticking quickly towards midnight, the sun had still been up when we’d arrived. Finally, we were next in line to show the guard our proof of paperwork for crossing.
“This is not the paperwork you need.” “Sorry, what? No. This is the paperwork, we are sure.”
After some back and forth, we were sent away to ‘get our papers in order’ (and come back with more money for them). My friend looked at me and asked if I understood what was going on.
“We’re getting scammed aren’t we?” “Yep.”
We agreed to just give them the money they were asking of us and be as kind as possible so that we could get our papers stamped and get over the border.
Looking like the more gentle and kind one of the two of us, I left my friend outside and went back in to the guard’s office with money in hand.
With as much kindness and Spanish conversation as I could muster at one o’clock in the morning, I handed over the money, discussed the weather and the birds with the guard overseeing this bribe, and got our paperwork stamped.
Exhausted and beyond hungry, we rolled into a camp and figured we’d sleep in the car if the entrance was locked for the night. Much to our surprise, a man came out to greet us, booked us into a campsite for the night, and sent his little daughter out to show us where we could pitch our tent.
That little Argentinian child puffed up her chest and with great authority walked us out and got us set up. We made dinner, crawled into our tent, and fell asleep.
We awoke to this sunrise. And three rabid dogs.
[Continued in part 2 found here.]