Monday, May 7, 2007

Across the Lake

My first real venture out of Coyhaique reveals just how isolated we are down here. To reach Chile Chico, a small town on the Lago General Carrera, we must first board a small van (there aren´t enough people to support full size buses down here) and travel through the mountains to Puerto Ibanez. The tiny van bounces along through steep passes full of red and yellow trees and surrounded by the white spires of the Andes. There are two women in the van who are from Puerto Aisen and are looking to buy houses in Chile Chico. They are among many who are fleeing Aisen due to the recent seismic activity. We arrive in Puerto Ibanez, a cold, windy and desolate town consisting of a couple of buildings and a boat launch. A cup of hot, sugary coffee and a bread and cheese sandwich costs 1,000.00 pesos, about $2, which is quite expensive and probably an adjusted "gringo rate. "

As we wait in the blustery wind to board the ship, it occurs to me that I am taking a boat from nowhere to nowhere. This is the reality of Patagonia; it is what allures us and frightens us at the same time. The space and emptyess is overwhelming. I decide to sit on the deck and brave the cold, as my other option is the stuffy and windowless cabin below. As dusk sets in, I wrap my wool scarf around my face and sit back on the lifejacket box to watch the mountains become dark and silent shapes. Men with tan and windburnt faces converse quietly and smoke cigarettes. Through the partial cloud cover, I can just make out the Southern Cross.

When we arrive in Chile Chico it begins to rain, and it doesn´t stop for two days. We find ourselves in a small cabana feeding the woodstove and drinking Nescafe with Baileys. At night, we stumble upon a local dance party in the banquet hall of a ranch. The band plays local folk songs praising Coyhaique, Chile Chico, the mountains, and the snow, and everybody seems to know the words. The locals send us bottles of wine, and soon we are up dancing to the synthetic accordian and playful beats, feeling less and less awkward in our hiking boots. We dance until 5am and we can barely lift our legs, but we head back out into the cold night amongst Patagonians, feeling satisfied that for at least one moment we were a part of this desloate world on the edge of the lake.

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