Retreat from Puyuhuapi

I’m running on literally zero sleep. I sipped the Israelis’ wine all night and got beyond-smashed. By the time it was gone it was 5 am, and the only buses south of here leave at 6 and 8, if I go to sleep I’ll miss both. A little too tipsy for the 06:00 bus so I hang out until 08:00…

I go up to the corner where the bus is supposed to be but I don’t see it anywhere. I head toward the only road that leads south and I wait there, thinking I can flag it down… Waiting… Waiting… I wait for what feels like an hour and nothing, so I head back to the campground. Talk to Edgar and the Israelis about it – turns out I waited more than an hour – and I’m kind of stumped, but I need money and Edgar’s heading north most of the way to Chaiten (before turning off into Argentina) and he says I can jump in with him. Awesome.

We roll out of town heading north and although it’s foggier than it was on the way down the scenery’s still great. Making WAY better time than the bus too, everything’s going great, at this rate we might get to Chaiten for lunch. Then we have to stop, because the van feels weird…

The front driver’s side tire and the rear passenger tire are both damaged and letting air out fast. We’ve only got one spare, so we throw that on the front but we’re not sure what to do with the rear one, we’ve got no compressor and no patch kit. We decide the best thing to do is for Edgar to stay with the van, keep an eye on all our shit, while I hitchhike into the next town (~40 km) to try to find someone who can patch it. I roll the tire out to the roadside and wait. And wait.

Vehicles are about 10 minutes apart and the first few are totally full. Finally a van pulls over – it’s almost full, a bunch of middle-aged guys coming back from a fishing trip, but they manage to find room for both me and the tire. The drive to Santa Lucia takes almost an hour because of construction delays and when we arrive there isn’t much. We talk to about ten different people to try to find anything, even a new tire, without any luck. Only one guy selling used tires and none of them would fit the rim. We backtrack to the road construction sites, surely they must patch tires constantly? We talk to several people there and no one can help us either, there’s some kind of government office/garage as well, the highway department, but there’s no one around and the garage is locked up. The fishing guys drive me back to the start of the construction zone and drop me off at one of the traffic control sites with a sign-turning-lady, it’s raining by this point and I didn’t bring my jacket so I hide out in a roadside shelter and wait for a ride back to Edgar and the van with nothing but bad news.

There’s no traffic at all at this point and I wait there for an hour and a half when a bus rolls by. It’s a bus owned by the road construction company for moving workers up and down the 30 km long stretch of roadwork but they let me and my sad tire jump on. The bus stops and drops me off and I break the bad news to Edgar, we’re both really unsure what to do at this point, but as I still haven’t slept and I haven’t really eaten anything substantial in two days now I really, really need to crash. I throw the passenger seat back for a quick nap while Edgar tries to wave the almost non-existent traffic down to try to find anyone going to Chaiten, the next significant-sized town that’s another two-and-a-half hours down the road.

I awake to a knocking on the passenger-side window. Edgar says “Your friend is back” and it’s the company’s bus driver, he’s on his way back with an empty bus and says he might know someone in Santa Lucia who can help. It’s worth another shot so I jump on the bus with both of the flat tires and we take another hour to get back to town through all the roadwork. When we get there we go to one of his friend’s houses – no patch kit but he’s got a compressor and figures he can substitute a patch with a couple of small screws and some kind of epoxy. One tire’s too far gone – it’s got a gash, not a single puncture, but he successfully patches the other. When it holds he throws his arms to the air in victory and we all let out woo-hoos, I try to give him some cash (well, Edgar’s cash, hehe) but he refuses to accept anything. Back on the bus another hour and back to the van.

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We throw on the one good tire and we’re back on the road, a total of six hours after the blow-out. It’s dinner time now but we’re still hoping we can get to Chaiten before dark. The bus driver, despite having just wasted a few hours of his time, also refused to accept any money but he’s high-fiving us like a madman.

On the road I pass out almost immediately but I wake up just in time to realize there’s a problem, the van’s riding funny and the rear tire’s making noise. The patch is still there but’s been slowly leaking and we’re almost riding on the rim now. Dammit! We’re only 30 kilometers short of Chaiten! Gotta stop though, no choice. The only thing in sight is a vineyard so we pull in there – it’s beautiful, with a long twisting driveway that leads up to small house and some sheds. We knock and look around but are unable to find anyone.

It’s raining and almost dark so we’re out of options. Edgar pulls the last two beers out of his van’s fridge and we relax, just going to have to stay here until the morning and hope that someone shows up or go back out to the road with the flat tire.

As we’re finishing our beers we hear a car pull in and the driver, a guy in his fifties or sixties, waves to us. It turns out he’s the manager and he lives in the house with his wife, who’s currently away visiting friends. He invites us in, not only for dinner but also offering us the spare room he has set up with bunkbeds for his two sons, both away in university at the moment. The dinner’s fish chowder so I’m out of luck again but I do scarf down a couple of small biscuits, better than nothing. He cracks open some really nice wine and we shoot the shit in Spanish for a few hours. Turns out the farm (Fundo Las Rosas) is owned by Kris and Douglas Tompkins, the founders of ESPRIT and The North Face and major players in Chilean/Argentinian conservation. It’s a great evening, chilly but the wood stove warms the place up fairly quickly (the wine helps too).

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