The Puyuhuapi Screw-Up

The guesthouse I’m staying in has a pretty modest breakfast – a sugared donut and some kind of apple pastry – but unlimited instant coffee so I suck it back. Had to be out of the room by 10 but the bus isn’t until 12 so I just hang out till 11 and then walk around town to kill some time.

I get on the bus at the station but it makes a second stop a few blocks over at a cafe and a couple in their 40s climbs on. They join me in the cool seats at the back and it turns out they’re fellow Canadians – Chris and Reeva from Nelson, BC. They’ve got bikes with them – they flew from Canada to Santiago then from Santiago to Puerto Montt (I think?), and they’ve been biking and camping from there. Pretty sweet idea. They’re taking a break to get to Coyhaique and continue in that area.

Again, the scenery is ridiculous. The bus windows were dirty and my camera sucks, but a couple pics turned out:

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Lakes, snow-capped peaks, quaint little chalets and churches, blue glacial streams, single-lane suspension bridges. Just non-stop.

After two hours we stop in a little town, the name of which escapes me. Not much going on anyway. It looks like there are stores a ways down the road but for some reason we’ve stopped at someone’s house? I think the bus driver knows them. 200 pesos to use their bathroom and they’re selling some kind of donut-like things, no drinks though. I hoof it down to the closest store and it’s closed. On the way back Reeva asks wtf I was doing and when I tell her I forgot to get water she immediately offers me one of hers.

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Back and the road and the scenery continues unabated. A lot of people on the bus – tourists and locals alike – are sleeping but I don’t understand how, this is unbelievable! The vegetation has changed, we’ve moved inland from the ocean so it’s less leafy and more rugged, northern-looking. (What do I look like, a botanist?)

Another two hours and another town (I remember this one: La Junta). This one’s actually got some stores so I stock up on water and supplement my supply of nuts and fruit with chocolate and Doritos. A Chilean girl on the bus is trying to get a very timid stray dog to come to her – I look more closely and it’s because it’s got something wrapped around its leg, maybe part of a fishing net or something, and there’s some wire wrapped up in that. Reeva gives the girl some food and I give her my knife and then we back off to leave her to it, less intimidating for the dog. No luck though, it won’t come near her and before the bus leaves she makes a quick move to try to pat it and it bolts down the road.

Back on the road and the scenery soon changes back to what it was earlier, near the coast. A quick look on the map confirms that we are approaching the coast again. The road work is crazy – miles and miles of it and what’s left of the road is fucked, we’re going less than 10 km/h for a lot of it. I was hoping we’d reach Coyhaique before dark but there’s no chance of it. (I don’t want to drive at night and miss any of this stuff.)

We stop at a third town called Puyuhuapi – this is just a quick stop to let off some locals though, maybe five minutes to hit the stores. This town is tiny and it looks magical – it’s situated on a cove and the smell of the ocean is strong. Hostels everywhere, stores advertising kayak and mountain bike rentals, hills in every direction other than the beach, a few with snowcaps. Really pretty and peaceful. I say to Reeva that if it wasn’t for the lack of another bus for three more days, I’d get off here and stick around for a day or two.

“I’m pretty sure there are two buses a day from here to Coyhaique”, she says. No shit. We ask a local to verify it and it’s true. I’ve only got the equivalent of about $25 in my pocket, so I need a bank machine. I ask the local if there’s one of those here (doesn’t look like it). She says there’s something here called a Caja Vecina (neighbor box?) where I can get money out. I’m in. I pull my shit off the bus, say bye to the BCers and head over to get some cash as the bus rolls away.

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Ah crap. The Caja Vecina only works for Chilean cards, not international ones. I’m going to have to try to find a hotel or hostel that accepts cards. None do, and if I spend cash on them I won’t have enough for the bus.

I find a campground by the beach with sites for about $7; I could camp rough, but this place has shelters to place tents under in case it rains, and it looks like it might. It’s going to be really frigging cold here tonight and the last thing I need is water coming in my tent like it did in Hornopiren. As a bonus, the campsite has Wi-Fi, and a sign with a mermaid that may have formerly been a merman:

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At least I can get a hot meal at one of the restaurants. Nope. They’re all closed for the season. I do find out that the ticket for the remaining trip is about $13 though, leaving with the equivalent of about $5 in my pocket, which I spend on the cheapest box of wine I can find and a bag of trail mix. Wine might seem frivolous at this point but I know how cold I’m going to be and there’s no way I’m going to get any sleep without a buzz on. Now I’m down to about $1.60 in my pocket.

It doesn’t really matter at this point since I’m screwed, but all of the touristy places that rent stuff out and offer tours are also closed for the season.

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I start sipping wine and strike up a conversation with the campground’s other inhabitant, a German named Edgar, who’s camping in a blue VW van with Deutschland plates. He had it shipped to Montevideo, from which he drove to Ushuaia and subsequently to here. After this he’s heading to Alaska with two entire years budgeted to stretch it out over. Crazy epic trip. We talk about the Darien Gap, Central American border crossings, things like that for almost an hour.

It’s getting late and I need to figure out when the bus leaves tomorrow. I ask a random woman walking down the street and she tells me 6. In the morning. VERDAD? Si. No shit. I have to be up at six to catch this bus? I can’t even imagine why it would be leaving so early, nothing happens here at that time of day. I don’t even know how I’m going to do this, if I sleep there’s no way I’m up at 5:30 (at the latest) to pack up the tent and hustle over to the main road. Might have to pull an all-nighter. Really wish I had more wine.

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Oh man, tonight is going to be rough.

Two Israelis roll in, Dar and Evgeni. The latter is an outgoing, curly-haired cool dude with a Yiddish accent while the former seems a little uptight and standoffish, speaks with a strong Slavic accent. “Oh, you’re from Canada? One of our few friends. Your prime minister loves us.” Yup, he sure does.

Immediately, “Let’s eat together, we have lots of food. Here, help yourself to our wine as well, we insist.” Unfortunately they’re cooking up a massive scallop omelet, I have to say no thanks on account of the allergy. I appreciate it though, and it smells awesome, super-garlic… I didn’t think Jews were supposed to eat shellfish either but they say it’s only the really observant ones who follow that rule. I try a bit of their wine, it’s not great but it’ll do the trick, and offer them some of mine.

We talk about what we do and when they find out I’m in IT, Dar immediately suggests I come to Israel, “It’s dope!!!” All we’ve got for a music device are the crappy little speakers on my Chromebook but we hit up YouTube anyway and throw on on Israeli tunes. After eating the guys look like they’re going to pass out, they’ve been trekking all day, so they call it a night but insist that since I’m probably staying up all night anyway, I finish off their wine. In addition to my own, that’s a lot of wine, but I’ll see what I can do.

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