It was thirty minutes to midnight when the lights of a small town appeared on the horizon.
“Want to get out and look at the stars before we get too close to town?” “For sure.”
Room At The Inn
In the hours we’d been driving the now-dirt road of La Cuarenta, the wind had picked up. More than we’d realized while driving. I struggled to open my car door to get out and look up at the night sky.
Immediately chilled to the bone, I gazed at the stars, my first time seeing what the sky looks like in the Southern Hemisphere. Incredible.
“There’s no way we’re going to be able to pitch a tent in this wind.” My star gazing was interrupted by my friend’s very reasonable statement.
“Then where will we sleep?” “I don’t know, but maybe we can find something in town.”
“It’s nearly midnight and that’s the tiniest town, man.” My lack of confidence in that plan was apparent.
The town was one main street and two side streets that headed out of town in opposite directions. Hardly likely we’d find somewhere to sleep at this late hour.
But he was right. Trying to pitch a tent and sleep in this wind would be brutal, if not impossible. We jumped back in the car and sped into town.
As we came onto the main street of this tiny town, eyes peeled for any signs of a place to stay, “a hotel!”, I exclaimed.
The only hotel in town still had the lights on.
“Hop out and run over there and beg them to let us in even though it’s late. We’ll take anything they have. I’ll go find somewhere to park the car.”
I jumped out, ran across the boulevard dividing this main street, and popped inside the hotel. With pleading eyes and deep apologies for arriving so late, I asked about a room.
As the man working at the desk tried to determine if he could accommodate us, I turned to see a restaurant behind me. Instantly my mouth watered. It’d been a long time since I’d had a meal. But it looked like they were closing up, so it likely meant we’d be going to bed hungry – unless we wanted more jerky from our food cache.
I turned to the man, who saw me staring into the restaurant. He asked if my friend and I would like to have a meal. “Oh, oh no, we couldn’t, it’s so late.”
“It is no problem, please.” As the man was walking me in to the restaurant, my friend arrived and his eyes widened as he saw that we were going to have a real meal tonight.
Despite it being past midnight, we were served a full meal, even offered dessert, and put into a spare accommodation they had despite it requiring some juggling of rooms on their part.
We had been desperate to find somewhere out of the elements to sleep and even more desperate than we’d realized for a proper meal. The good folks at this hotel took care of us on both accounts.
With full bellies, full hearts, and immense gratitude for the good people we met in that Argentinian town we went to sleep that night in far better circumstances than we could have imagined.
Good thing too, for tomorrow this road awaited us…
70km on a “road” full of pot holes the size of large vehicles and enough loose mud and rocks to make the car rental agency woman say “ay dios mio!” when she saw the vehicle we turned in a week later.
(To this day I don’t know what that road sign means)
Waking Up To Possibility
You could say this was our “payoff”, spending time in Torres del Paine, one of the most majestic places in all of Patagonia. But really, this whole thing had been one big payoff.
All of the dirt roads, the non-roads, the wind, the rabid dogs, the border guards, the tiny towns, the volcanoes, the miles – so many miles – they were the Experience to be had as much as standing in this place was.
I’d be lying though if I said the views didn’t defy comprehension. Bodies of water that boasted a blue-green you could barely believe. Puffy clouds pushing quickly through a densely blue sky, riding that ever present Patagonian wind.
Exploring the rugged beauty of the region, exploring the equally rugged internal terrain of ourselves as we went through experience after experience.
From all of those experiences, we grew.
Hiking and camping and playing Spikeball with new friends we made at camp…the days in Torres del Paine felt like a dream. A dream I had frankly never considered.
I could just…go places? Wild, amazing, breathtaking places? It was like telling a goldfish living in a tiny fish tank that there’s an ocean out there and it’s big and beautiful and somewhat dangerous, but worth seeing nonetheless.
Two friends I made in camp were spending the next month rafting down a river whose name I can’t recall, too mesmerized was I at the thought of spending a whole entire month beyond this one in this part of the world.
After a few days of good times, we sadly packed up. We needed to finish this trip. All the way to the end of the world…
We’d set out for Punta Arenas, Chile eighteen days ago from Santiago, Chile by way of ‘anywhere that looked interesting’.
After an abundance of rugged terrain through Chile and Argentina, a total of three showers, and a fully submerged baptism into ‘new experiences in the outdoors’, we arrived in this small city at the end of the world.
Punta Arenas is the last city before you need to catch a boat if you want to go further. And by ‘further’ I mean, out the Strait of Magellan and on to Antarctica.
The wind is fierce in Punta Arenas, as if it’s daring you to try and stay here. Large chains are strung along the boardwalk for holding onto when the wind is intent on whipping you into the water.
Dogs roam freely. As do parking meter maids, at the ready to provide you an opportunity to pay a fee for parking incorrectly in a city where ‘how to park correctly’ is the greatest of mysteries.
A french cafe in the middle of town. Excellent wifi. Comforts of home I’d never expect in a place that couldn’t be further from…
Except this place did feel like home. Or maybe it was Me who was more at home, and so any place could feel this way now.
A few days in this city to rest and recalibrate, an excellent dinner of local cuisine, and then the long flight back to Santiago. A few more days, then the next long flight back to the US. And just a few more days after that, I’d move to Utah and that feeling of Home I cultivated in Patagonia would come with me.