Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Two things become obvious. One, I´ve ridden myself into a bit of a hole. I´m off the beaten track, in an area that is mostly small homesteads carved into the thick, wet forest. This town of La Junta is a former cattle ranch, now doing its best to cater to the outdoors people who come to fish and boat and hike and take horseback rides.

As a town, it has the look of a refugee camp, except that a camp would probably have better roads. Many of the homes are thrown up out of materials that look like perhaps they came from the town destroyed by a volcano. Slapped together enough to keep out the biggest part of the weather, then considered good enough.

The room where I spent the night was made from particle board -- exterior grade , the good stuff. With a dirty plywood floor loosely holding up a couple of worn rugs. Window must have come from an older and partially rotten building, and was curtained with a cloth hanging by three nails. What I´m trying to say is that it was the kind of place I might make for myself someday. In a secret-clubhouse-in-the-woods kind of way.

The town´s main street has been -- temporarily, I hope -- replaced with a deep trench filled with rocks, water, spikes of rebar, cement pipeline. It´s not a good look, but I think it´s the first step toward pavement.

I stood waiting for the bus today, until I was told that it doesn´t come after all. There´s one tomorrow, but I was told I didn´t need a ticket until it came. Then --starting to learn --I found someone who spoke good english and found that I had to be sure to buy my ticket today. So now I have a ticket. I hope it does some good.

The reason I need a ticket and a bus ride, is, as I was saying, I´ve ridden myself into a bit of a hole. If I keep riding southward along the route I had picked out. I would not have time to get "anywhere" before my time had run out. Thus missing my flight home, which would have its advantages, but also some important disadvantages.

So I need to head back north, which for most practical purposes means a bus, backtracking a bit, then heading to Futaleufu, a town famous among whitewater enthusiasts. From there, I hope to ride a couple days to the Argentine town of Esquel, where I should be able to catch another bus on northward and back into Chile, to Santiago in about a week. That´s the current plan. Resulting from the fact that I´m running out of time and traveling slowly.

The second thing that has become obvious is that I am a weather wimp. I find that I do not like to travel by bike in the rain. Maybe it´s a curse of having grown up in the dry-or-passing-storm environment of Colorado. But when it´s wet --the all day wet on a gravel road with clouds masking the surroundings -- my interest in riding a gritty road, in spending all day being soggy, in putting up a tent in the rain and trying to stay dry in it, packing it up wet and moving on again... None of this holds much interest for me.

Besides, I am here to see the scenery, and when it´s thick with clouds and rain, there isn´t much to see and to photograph. And my camera tends to stay in the drybag anyway. So... What´s in it for me? I don´t know.

But it rained all afternoon yesterday. And I stood in the rain waiting for the bus that was not coming. I could have been riding, I guess, but wasn´t.

Both rain and storms can be delt with by a guy like me IF I have the luxury of time. I can wait out the rain, and don´t mind walking in it with appropriate rain gear, and can take photos from under an umbrella. So I can enjoy the rain as long as I´m not biking all day in it. It just takes time to wait and enjoy, and ride when it´s clear. But I´m afraid I´m running out of time for this luxury.

So with some luck, I´ll be on a bus tomorrow and on the first leg of my return to Santiago. And I would like to point out that some of this stems from the style of the area I´m traveling in. But most of it comes from my own style of not planning anything, of just wading in and seeing what will happen. And it happens that it takes time to get anywhere, riding or otherwise.

So that´s where I am in a logistical sense. But where AM I? This is Aisen, or Chilean Northern Patagonia. A slice of rumpled land between the Andes and the deeply corrugated coast. As evidenced by recent weather, the moisture of the ocean can be swept inland to freshen the thick forests and turn every steep valley into a waterfall. Normally summer is a somewhat dry season. That may have been the case earlier this summer, but not now.

The forest is made up of deciduous trees. Most of the leaves are small, perhaps to help them resist the colder months. The look of the forest of of rounded shapes blending together. Much different from the spiky pìnes forests of North America´s temperate rainforest.

I have seen a number of interesting birds. I have seen them over and over again, and no one here pays any attention to them, so perhaps they´re quite common. There is a buff-necked ibis, which seems to become more active - screaming and crying -- toward evening and into the nights. It has red feet and a long curved bill to go with its buff neck. I have photos I´ll post later.

Another common bird I´ve seen I don´t know what to call frequents the pastures along the road. White face with a vertical black stripe. Greenish shoulders. Makes quite a racket also, as I disturb them -- mostly in pairs -- from whatever it is they´re looking for in the grass.

There is a bird which I associate with crows. Brown with a white banded wing, it has more curve to its beak than a crow, but seems to be scavanging in much the same way. I´ll have to look all these up when I return, I guess.

One more bird is common, but I have no idea what it looks like. There´s a bright call of four quick dropping notes. But whenever I look, there´s nothing but dense forest to see. Seems it´s always inside, out of sight. On the ferry ride and along the seashore I´ve seen cormorants, gulls, black-necked swans. But one should always take my bird identification with a grain of salt, as I ain´t much good at it. Wait for the pics, I guess.

The only mammal I´ve seen that wasn´t -- to my knowledge -- domesticated was a small furry creature running off the road. Seemed to have a short tail with short fur. A bit smaller than a rabbit. I have no idea what it was, but there do not seem to be the plethora of squirrel-type creatures that exist in North America.
I´ve seen lots of trout, hanging from fisherman´s sticks. They were introduced here, but seem to be doing well, to the delight of anglers. There are also salmon, escaped from the salmon farms who´s buoys and fences are taking over the protected waters of the sounds, and even the long glacier-carved valleys filled with lakes.

This section of Northern Patagonia is said to be more remote than the more famous points further south. Seems to be true. The people here are fascinatingly self-reliant. Lumber is made locally, and to non-uniform specs. Each building, fence, gate, stile, is to some degree a work of personal craftsmanship, as parts are worked to fit and function. Gates have fascinated me. No trip to the hardware store for a hinge. Instead many have wooden caps and platforms, carved to accept the end of the hinge-post, and allow it to swing.

Even the windows of the places I have stayed show this workmanship, much of it excellent. Non-uniform wood has been shaped to fit matched panes, and matched to a frame, apparently by hand. I respect the time it takes, and respect the time it would otherwise take to earn money to buy parts, and time to go get them somewhere. It´s the kind of craftsmanship that North American mountain second-home owners pay extra for, to paste a ¨rustic-ness¨ over their otherwise box-cut homes.

Changes are in the air. Most every town I´ve come through is suffering from some kind of improvement. I speculate: As Chile as a whole becomes a fully developed nation, this remote, independant area is in danger of being left behind in a third-world economy of raw materials, animal husbandry, and small farms and ranches. To ease the transition, it is attempting to grow a tourist industry that will suppy income that small farms do not. Thus towns are being spruced up, and infastructure improved, attempting to extend the tourist season and encourage people to come.

Change will come, perhaps in a pattern that has developed in other countries. This internet center where I type is full of school boys playing video games. Many will not become their fathers, living here on the land, but will move to cities to become a different type of people. Some will return or be left behind. But many will not. And this area will change again.

Tomorrow, bus willing, I will go to Futaleufu, which is one of the most famous whitewater areas in the world. It is currently in danger of loosing all it has gained as a tourist center. A huge Spanish company wants to dam the river and produce hydroelectric power for far-north Santiago. Hydro power is ¨clean¨ but much damage will be done. Huge valleys flooded. The local hot point: huge power poles and electric lines that will obsure the scenery that Patagonia is trying so hard to sell.

The future? As usual, no one knows. But I will consider it a privledge to have been here to see things as they are now.

Thanks again for checking in! Sorry about the comments not showing up. I´m supposed to review them first, but I´ve managed to forget the password that lets me into that email account. I´ll keep trying.

It´s clear and beautiful out this afternoon, at last! I could be riding. Unfortunately, the best way to get where I need to be is to wait for a bus.

No comments:

Post a Comment