December 8, 2008
Where you can hike out any time you like, but you can never leave
Chile´s famous southern road is a dusty, mostly gravel arrow headed south 1,240 kilometers through Patagonia. At some points, passengers are picked up even if the bus is full, since transport is few and far between. It would just be too cruel to leave them. But not in Villa Cerro Castillo.
Welcome to the Carretera Austral. Such a lovely place.
Never attempt to head south on a holiday weekend. After a broiling two-hour wait, both Cochrane-bound buses stiffed the rural stop, blowing dust on my thumb. A roomy pickup stopped and a lawyer from Coyhaique got out to photograph Cerro Castillo, test me on Obama vs McCain and provoke me on Guantanamo.
After thinking I aced cross-examination, the lawyer ¨didn´t have room¨ in the truck. Some curious Argentine retirees stopped and a group of motorcycles. They both wanted directions. Finally a tech from the rural electrification project stopped. He was headed north, but wouldn´t a night at Coyhaique´s only disco do me good?
When between a rock and a hard rock club, there isn´t much you can do.
Technically, a traveller has better chances of getting a bus south from Coyhaique, since it´s the regional hub. That´s what I thought before I found out about the holiday weekend. Hiking´s funny that way. It becomes nearly impossible to keep track of bank holidays.
(The bus in the photo, sans engine, found its niche serving avocado and beef sandwiches to hungry hitchhikers in waiting, Cerro Castillo in background)