Return to Valdivia

After a nice reunion with Claudio, whom I missed after two weeks apart, we headed from Bariloche toward Valdivia.  Every time I have had to cross the border between these two countries, I have worried that I’d be viewed as a mule for the supplements I haul around.  I´ve had to cross that border four times in the last month. As usual, they did a thorough drug search of our bus in El Bolson, though it’s strange as the town is more than an hour from the Chilean border.  My friend told me that the border authorities give the search dogs a chew toy type rag filled with cocaine, marijuana, and other illicit substances. When they want them to search, they seize the rag and set them loose on luggage.  I wondered whether the dog might sniff my honey and bread. Maybe they are trained to only go after certain illicit substances.  The dog pawed a bag which was set aside for further inspection.  We had to bring all our bags down from the bus, including food, luggage, and personal items.  I was relieved to be back in Chile, where food and bus transportation is about 6 times cheaper than in Argentina. Strange, as gasoline is quite a bit cheaper in Argentina.  The rest of the bus trip was uneventful.  We lucked out at getting the same top front seats in the double decker bus, a great vantage point.  Claudio took some nice photos.  We rolled into Valdivia around 8pm and were taken for a ride by a woman waiting for naive tourists.  She told us she had a place 12 minutes from the center.  We had to pay for the cab, and the room was filled with mold and more like an hour walk from the center.  I said no, and she disappeared into the darkness.  The building looked liked something out of the Soviet Union.  Rarely have I seen uglier architecture.  I had 2 CLP, enough to catch a cab to the center (I wasn´t able to withdraw any money from the ATM).   We left our bags at Las Gringas Cafe, my favorite place in Valdivia, and scoured the neighborhood for hospedajes and hostels.  A nice hostel was a bit pricey (8.5 CLP for an 8 person dorm, or 20 per night per person).   We found a pension a few blocks from the river with an eccentric Chilena who had married a German man and charged for everything extra, including toilet paper and hot water.  There was little room to move about in the room after we put our things inside, so I used the bed as a springboard to get to the door.

The next few days passed peacefully, with me going for walks to the University of Chile Austral  botanic gardens, the experimental forest where they grow non-natives as well as sections where they let the native forest grow wild. I also took an excursion to Park Saval, a lovely municipal park with a sculpture garden, forest, and lagoon, as well as made an attempt to get to Park Oncol, which I never reached. I got lost in the wilds of the experimental forest, as it backs up onto a turn in the river and goes for a few miles.  There were mountain bike trails (unofficial, but who could resist such wild beauty), huge overgrown trees, meadows, and marshland complete with planked boardwalk.  I reveled in the beauty and tranquility of the woods and felt my spirit replenished with each step.  My last day there was spent walking along the road connecting Isla Teja (island of elm shingled houses) to the island that makes up Niebla.  I walked about 3 miles till I came upon Miguel, a musician with a guitar on his back who was waiting for a bus.  We decided to hitchhike together and were lucky to get 2 rides back to back right to his house.  The roads here are dirt and difficult to pass, and few vehicles travel them (perhaps 4 an hour).  I waited for him and he accompanied me on a walk down to the coast.  Though I had wanted to go to the park, which was another 9 km (one way) down a dirt road, the lateness of the hour persuaded me to take the more direct route back.

Little did I know that I had 15 miles or so to walk to get back to Valdivia, and that the bus decided not to run that day for some reason unbeknownst to me.  I walked with Miguel and his dog toward the setting sun and talked about life on the road, folkloric music, life as a hermit, and his father the musician and tailor in Santiago.   He travels often with a guitar on his back and is lucky enough to be  living in someone´s cabin on a large piece of land rent free.  A monastic life, as he rarely sees anyone unless he ventures to town by foot.   We parted ways and I continued to the coast by foot, winding down the sinuous dirt road littered with stones.   I met an old Mapuche woman who gave me a toothy smile and we spoke of long walks and no buses, and she said she can still walk.  It got obscure and dark, and I had the feeling that the bus would not come.  I was right.  Luckily, one car passed me during those 2 hours, and I flagged it down vigorously.  I asked whether I could get a ride to Valdivia, and by luck, the man was going there.  He had 2 passengers, as is the custom in small villages in Chile (people with cars double as informal taxis), and I conversed with the woman in the back till they arrived at their destination.  The man was self-employed in Valdivia and was building a summer home on the coast, 10 miles away.

I found Claudio, went to see a free movie sponsored by the German club (fictionalized account of Jackson Pollock´s life), and proceeded to wait for an hour at Las Gringas cafe for the bus to Santiago.  Unfortunately, I misunderstood 2100 to be 11pm, rather than 9pm.  Needless to say, we missed the bus, the bus company would not refund the ticket, and all the bus companies said we would have to wait till the morning, which meant sleeping in the terminal.  Luckily, we saw a bus pull in and took a chance that it might be going to Santiago.  It was.  We jumped on, found 2 seats, had to move at 3am because of 2 people that got on the bus.  We made it to Santiago in the morning around the same time as the other bus, thanks to the speed of the driver which caused the top of the double decker to sway back and forth like a redwood during a huge wind storm.  I felt like I was in a movie.

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