El Capitan Says No

Up and at them! Got a bus to catch at 10:30 and a boat to catch at 11:30, still need to pack and a shower wouldn’t be half bad either. As I’m leaning over the sink, eating a local version of macaroni and cheese bachelor-style, straight from the pot, Philippe comes in and says “There’s no boat today.” “What the fuck?” “Yeah, there’s too much wind.” I guess there’s a narrow, rocky part of the lake and if the wind is up it’s pretty treacherous for boats. An employee from the port just drove up, dropped off the news that the captain said no-go and drove away.

Everyone congregates in the kitchen to figure out what to do. Hendrik is in a real jam because he has to return to Germany in less than a week and if he has to backtrack, he’ll have to reschedule his flight – not something that will be easy given it’s the holiday season. As the last ATMs along the Carretera were more than 600 km north of here in Coyhaique, Damien and Marion are both running low on cash and are talking about trying to find odd jobs around town over the next few days to get some money in their pockets. Philippe is surprisingly cheerful – he reckons the weather’s a sign from the universe he shouldn’t return home for Christmas and that he should keep traveling instead. A Kiwi couple I got to know yesterday are fairly annoyed and wonder if they’ll run the boat tomorrow, weather pending – everyone figures they’ll just run on Saturday, the next scheduled departure, but I figure we might as well ask so the three of us head over to the office. The dude (haven’t got his name yet) says “Just one second, I’ve got to go take a wee so I don’t piss my pants when they give me an answer I don’t want to hear.” His wife facepalms and says “You’re disgusting” while I crack up.

Over the office they tell us there’s no chance of leaving tomorrow – the wind will be worse than it is today – but Friday’s a maybe. Well shit. I toss around the idea of leaving early, either by hitchhiking or taking the bus north on Friday, but after checking my cash I decide I’ll wait it out until Saturday. I’ve got about $200 left which should be enough to stay here for a while longer and take a later bus north if need be, as long as I watch what I spend on food and booze. With the weather the way it is camping rough just isn’t an option, I’ll freeze my ass off. Marion’s also talking about getting a bottle of vodka and just partying it up tonight, and everyone else in earshot seems to think that’s a great idea, so admittedly the idea of sticking around for some heavy-duty partying plays a factor in my decision to stay.

I decide to walk to the port where we’ll be catching the boat, it’s seven kilometers down a dirt road. I didn’t notice it before on account of cloudiness, but where the road meets the first river there’s a glacier visible overhead. I continue walking past the odd sheep farm and cabin rental spot until I reach a bridge with about a dozen cows standing around. After walking past a few there’s one cow standing in the middle of the bridge, staring me down, looking disinclined to make way. Wait, that’s not a cow, that’s a bull, and a pissed-off looking one at that. Well, fuck that. There’s no other way over the river so I just walk away slowly, there aren’t any fences nearby to jump through if he makes a run at me and I don’t feel like running one way or the other. On the way back to the El Mosco I see about twenty rabbits scurrying across the road in front of me and through the bushes around me.


It’s another sedate day at the hostel, most people either chatting in the common area, sipping tea, or reading a book. I hang out for a bit but it’s pretty boring so I go back out for another stroll. It’s been a couple hours at this point so I go back to the bridge to see if the bull’s still there. He’s not on the bridge but he’s close enough that I still don’t want to try my luck. On my way back I run into Philippe, Marion and Damien on their way to go fishing near that bridge and after declining their offer to join I give them the heads-up. Beware of the milkless cow.

Hendrik’s decided to take a flight from the local airport up to Coyhaique and then take a bus to a nearby border crossing, hoping to book it to the nearest Argentinian airport and then fly to Buenos Aires. It leaves in the morning and he’s got a ton of food he doesn’t want to take with him so it looks like we’re having a bit of a feast this evening. I’ve got a block of cheese I can throw in and I head into town to pick up some veg as well as some wine for dinner.

The hostel is bustling at dinner time as Hendrik, myself and Philippe prepare a large spread of pasta together, the Kiwi couple are throwing together some tucker and Marion and Damien are preparing a trout they caught to go into the wood stove. Everyone’s drinking wine and having a blast. After we eat and clean up we head out onto the porch to continue drinking and watch the sun go down. Hendrik calls it an early night as he has to fly tomorrow. Damien’s pounding back wine like nobody’s business, been drinking since 11 and has gone through three litres already. Philippe’s on a tear as well, he had beer for breakfast and finished off a 1.5 litre box with dinner. Marion professes to not really being a drinker but she’s also pounding back the vino. I’m trying to keep up and with my 1.5 litre box almost gone I quickly run into town for a communal 2 litre box before the stores close. The four of us stay up after the rest of the hostel has shut down, maybe until two o’clock, I can’t really say, shooting the shit and drinking. A really fantastic evening.

Earlier today a friend from back home, reading the blog, told me that I really seem to enjoy boxed wine. I’m starting to see what he means. It seems like every post for the last while involves at least one box of wine and usually more. What can I say? It’s like $3 USD a liter here for good-enough stuff.

I slowly drag myself out of bed sometime around noon. It’s a dark and gloomy day outside, the wind howling too, it still looks like dawn and I have to turn the lights on to dig through my shit for a snack. The rest of Team Vino is out in the kitchen, sipping tea and looking as sluggish as I feel, perhaps with the exception of Marion. Surprising given that she woke up early to find rain had seeped into her tent so she pulled her sleeping bag out and snuck into one of the spare beds in our dorm room in the wee hours.

Hey Hendrik. Wait, what? What happened to your flight? It turns out that the weather’s so shitty that they chose not to fly the local Cessna up to Coyhaique. He shrugs his shoulders, there’s a very good chance he’ll miss his flight out of Buenos Aires and home for Christmas now but he’s happy about being able to take the boat/hiking excursion tomorrow to the Argentinian side, which he’s optimistic will leave tomorrow. Nothing he (nor anyone else) can do about it though, really.

A few new travelers show up and on account of the weather most people spend the afternoon congregated in the common area. Marion has been here longer than myself and it’s clear she’s starting to turn shack-wacky, as we’re hanging out she’s practicing The Robot. We discuss the possibility of hitchhiking north tomorrow if the boat is still a no-go, not ideal but we’re both running low on money and time. I need to fly to Adelaide to start my new job early in the new year and she’s got a flight booked to India for February, with a lot she wants to do between now and then.

I throw on my raincoat and venture out into the streets for a bit of air. The clouds are hanging low over the mountains and from a few hundreds meters up everything is frosted with snow. I find an elevation profile of our hike to Argentina and it’s definitely at least as high as the snowline. I certainly didn’t anticipate hiking in snow, but at least there won’t be horseflies. The lay of the land worries me a bit though – the first 6.4 km look like they have a serious incline. I don’t have much experience reading these things though, I don’t know how to tell what the scale is or what I may have hiked in the past.

Around eight p.m. we get word that the captain’s tentatively saying it’s a go for tomorrow, but we’re going to leave early – seven a.m. – to beat weather that will be coming in later in the day. The adrenaline hits, it’s fuckin go-time!

I head over to the office to get my tickets modified to reflect the new date of departure. The woman at the desk asks whether I want the second boat and second bus tickets to be for the following day (as they’d originally been) or for the same day. With a seven o’clock departure it should be possible to hit the trail at 10 with seven hours to hike the pass and negotiate two border posts by the time the second boat leaves at 5 p.m. She says the trail takes five hours, others say six. Hell yeah, I’m in. It sort of means it’s a race but it also means saving a day.

Everyone heads downtown to grab last-minute bits and pieces of food. When I return to the dorm I see a huge amount of food on Philippe’s bed. Him: “This should be good for five or six days, no?” Me: “Whaaat??? You think we’ll be out there for five or six days? It’s only 22 km!” Him: “Oh, you didn’t hear? Since I’m no longer going home, I’m going to join Marion on her trek.” After entering no-man’s land, she’s planning to veer into the mountains on a fairly off-the-beaten-path trek up to the top of a glacier. Planning to take four or five days. Sounds pretty dope. Phil has also bought a quart of whiskey and put it into a water bottle to save weight. Awesome.

In the kitchen I talk to a traveler who’s been in Villa O’Higgins for a few weeks doing odd jobs and fishing. I hadn’t spoken to him before but it turns out from Spain and when he mentions visiting Mongolia a couple of times I tell him of my experiences there and soon find out he’s a former Mongol Rallier as well.

Even though it’s late, I’m wired. I need to do something to prepare. I tear open all of my stuff and go into prep mode. In case something gets fucked up with the horses I need to shed as much weight as I can. My old, hole-filled spare boots that I’d been lounging around in – gone. A ratty t-shirt – gone. My surprisingly heavy camo cargo shorts with a metal-studded belt – gone. A large, kitchen-style can opener that I’d bought when I couldn’t find a camping can opener – part of the hostel kitchen. A stick of deodorant with about four days left on it – I slather it on and toss the rest. My Spanish-English dictionary and Diesel‘s copy of Road to Oxiana now live among the hostel’s collection of books (sorry dude). I open my paper notebook and go page-by-page determining what I no longer need, throwing the unneeded pages into the wood stove. I have a stash of official documents from Mexico and Central America, car insurance, border docs – they all go in the stove as well. When I pack everything up it’s noticeably lighter.

I’m ready to rock. Too ready, in fact. I’m ready to go now. Sleep is elusive.

Leave a Reply