April 16, 2004

the middle of everything

Back from a rainy, muddy, week in Northern Patagonia in the mountains (or “cordillera,” a term I prefer for its precision and the corduroy sound about it). Anyhow, after several trips to the upper Puelo I’ve found something unexpected. The middle of nowhere is becoming the middle of everything.

Llanada Grande is about 140 km south from Puerto Montt, the capital of Chile’s X Region. Until this past year the village only had an airstrip and a network of trails that could take you and your horse to the city in 12 days, descending parallel to the flat, turquoise River Puelo. Last year the road was finally put in, so now, via vehicle and ferry combinations, the village is seeing more and more traffic. While staying in a farmhouse there this past week I ran into a Tango performer based in Toulouse, was interviewed by a Chilean film crew making a show on fly-fishing and traveling with models, and met a collection of local kids in the public boarding school struggling with poverty, low-funding and scandals.

The major achievement of my trip was learning to ride at a gallop, not achieved by my own election, but rather, with help from a friend bored with the pace. My horse was “motivated” by a slap on the hide whenever Oscar would pass, or a smoochy sound that drives horses wild. We made a four-hour trip in three, me laughing most of the way in sheer terror.

That was Easter, a dark and chilly day of mud and rain, rewarded earlier by a lamb barbecue at a local’s farm and chocolate bunnies for the kids, who found prodigious appetites for the new discovery. In a place where the nearest church was hours away and only open for business every few months when the traveling priest was in town, the date was barely observed beyond a mere acknowledgement, “it’s Easter?” “Happy Easter.”

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