This was the only comfort I had for the fact that we were leaving Torres del Paine. I was not ready to go. I could have done another five days and probably still not be ready to leave.
But we were on the bus, heading to the
border crossing, to leave Chile and enter Argentina, and we came to an abrupt stop. Nicole hopped out and then ran back onto the bus and announced, “Okay Team! We have a real gaucho, and he will talk to us!”
So we filed out of the bus, and there he was, on his horse, rocking the gaucho hat, the gaucho knife (facón) in the back of his waistband, and his two shepherd dogs, pacing at the horses hooves, never straying far.
We asked a few questions, took pictures. He commented that there were a lot of women on the bus. True fact. He was absolutely correct. He was one of six that worked that particular ranch that abuts the national park, which was privately owned long before there ever was a national park. He was heading back to the ranch after looking after some sick sheep. After our questions, Nicole gifted him with a small bottle of whiskey, and we were back on track to the border crossing.
We had stopped by this particular store at the border crossing on our way to the park. This time, though, we stopped for a delicious lunch called cazuela. It was chicken and potatoes, and corn and perfect for a day after being cold to the bone. We had another pisco sour waiting for us at the table, and by this time, we were drinking them grudgingly.
This was the only border crossing open for around 200 miles, so it is a common point for many travelers, including motorcycle adventurers. Some of you may know that I worked for a brief time at Alaska Riders, which has since become MotoQuest, and they do a tour down to Tierra del Fuego. I looked for one of their stickers, but I didn’t see one. I did, however, see another familiar logo.
After lunch, we lined up at the Chilean border office, and got our papers examined. We climbed back on the bus, and Nicole had warned us about the next phase being excruciating. A two-fingered typer, slow in the worst ways, and solo at the Argentinian side. We would be in a huge line.
Except, when we got there, totally not the case. There were three agents, and they all seemed to have adequate typing skills.
We switched buses, because there are strict tourism laws about guides from Chile in Argentina and vice versa. We had another afternoon full of bus travel until El Calafate, in Argentina.
We were up on the steppe again, huge cattle and sheep ranches making up most of the land along the road.
We stopped at another local shrine, for El Gauchito Gil, and Nicole gave him a beer, to say thanks for the easy travel day, thanks for the good weather, and please don’t jinx us. This was another legend about a soldier. He was a ranch hand and fell in love with a wealthy widow, or maybe had an affair with her. Anyway, trouble ensued, so he ran off to join the army. He joins, and then, decides fighting is no good, so he deserts. A local sheriff finds him, and decides to hang him for the crime of deserting. Gauchito Gil pleads with him, and says that if he just waits a day, he will realize that the war is over, and it won’t matter that he has deserted, because there is no army left. The sheriff goes to hang him, and once again Gauchito Gil pleads, and says, your son is very sick. Spare me, and I will heal him.
The sheriff is not impressed, and so he hangs him. He returns to town, and finds that his son is very sick. That night, it is announced that the war is over. Gauchito Gil was right. So the sheriff prays to him to heal his son, despite the fact that he hung him. Gauchito Gil indeed saves the son, and the sheriff erected a shrine, and told his story.
We rode for hours and came to a small store in the middle of nowhere. We stopped for a coffee, and I tried the submarino–hot milk with a candy bar. The candy bar is shaped like a submarine, and you drop it in and let it melt, so you get a hot chocolate out of the deal. It’s pretty good. They had a stray kitten as well, so I had to cuddle the kitten too, while I waited my turn.
Back onto the bus, and we finally reach El Calafate, which hosts one of the homes of the former Argentina President, Cristina Fernandez Kirchner.
El Calafate itself seems very much like a climbing town. It had local breweries, tons of gear shops, and killer pizza. The main street had many artisan walkways for locals to set up and sell to tourists, and the facades along the shops were very well maintained.
I was itching for another walk, so while Mary Joy had dinner with most travelers back at the hotel, I struck out on my own and walked downtown. I caught up to Linda, who was just out on a walk, so we strolled together until the main drag. She turned around and went back to the hotel for dinner, and I kept on. I looked in the shops, and the bookstore. I walked the artisanal mall. Then, I went to what I looked forward to most: local beer and pizza.
Once again I was reminded of Alaska. Though the store fronts were much nicer than Anchorage’s, and the city itself seemed much smaller, it felt similar. As if this were the jumping off point for Big Adventure, just like Anchorage. I ate a delicious Roquefort and bacon pizza, washed down with a local red ale. As I was finishing up, I spotted my comrades, Paul and Julia, getting seated for dinner. I popped over to just say hello, but they invited me to stay, and well, another beer sounded pretty good…
We talked about books (my book), and home. By the end of our conversation, I was so jazzed up about my work, I wanted to go home. I had so much to get done on my book, and clear ideas of how to fix some glaring issues.
We meandered back, night now fallen, looking at the shops again. I hoped I didn’t seem anti-social, lost as I was in thinking about my work. We got back to the hotel, and the others were all in bed. Full of two of my favorite things–pizza and beer–sleep was easy.