Originally published by HonestBlue
“They have worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there – and all the time they’ll get there anyway, you see.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road
It was one of those travel days where nothing was working out as planned but it hardly mattered because the plans were loose and last-minute anyway. In Spanish it’s called vacilando – the act of wandering when the experience of travel is more important than reaching the destination.
The man at the Forest Ranger’s office of Puyehue National Park said that the active volcano that Yuval wanted to climb was too volatile, so instead we spent the afternoon at the nearby hot springs. He was vaguely disappointed; I was secretly delighted. The pool was outdoors, next to a wide and rambling river in a nebulous valley. It was cold and overcast. Rain drops sizzled and steamed around us, and we soaked like lobsters. Wet haired, pink cheeked and languorous, we emerged from the hot springs in the late, indolent afternoon. We dawdled in the lobby. I bought coffee while he chatted with another backpacker who looked as disinterested as us in going anywhere in particular. The cars and buses and people dispersed slowly, like ketchup from a glass bottle. We wandered over to the parking lot and loitered there for a while, making indecision into an art form. Finally, Yuval asked me, “Do you want to go to Argentina today?”
I smiled, “Yes. Yes I do.”
We’d been meandering south, towards the tip of Patagonia, zig-zagging from Chile to Argentina and back again. Osorno is a short drive from the border crossing, which connects to Bariloche in Argentina via the Cardenal Antonio Samore Pass. Even though the light was beginning to fade, we decided to start making our way towards Bariloche.
Yuval flagged down an empty bus and charmed the driver into taking us in the direction of the border, for an arbitrary fare. He wouldn’t go the entire distance for reasons I couldn’t decipher, and instead dropped us off about five kilometers from the crossing, next to a small church that stood alongside the road as though it had been left there by a tornado. The rain had let up, and the mountains sank into a broad expanse of green pasture. Volcanoes lurked on the horizon, looking malevolent. The driver waved and wished us luck. We piled our bags on the side of highway. “I guess we’re hitchhiking,” he said, and we grinned at each other.
I took off my rain jacket and let the wind lick the moisture from my skin, raising goose bumps. I peered into the space where the highway disappeared into the horizon, willing the cars to come. They were infrequent and not stopping. Yuval sat with our bags, picking his nails with his Swiss Army knife. With his green shirt, cargo pants and wild curly hair, he looked the part.
The plain felt oddly cavernous, as though a section of the forest had been scooped out. The sky was blotchy and windswept. The church we were waiting beside looked like a long forgotten barn. The crumbling and sun damaged wood emanated desertion. A few yards away, separated by a row of evenly spaced shrubs, was an equally dilapidated farm house with peeling white paint. It looked like the sort of place that housed madmen or ghosts. I saw something move; there was a person was standing on the porch. I waved but they didn’t wave back.
I looked over at the farm house again, and saw that the figure had disappeared from the porch. He was now standing behind one of the shrubs, watching us.
“Yuval,” I said.
“Hmm?” He didn’t look up from picking his nails.
“Yuval. There’s a man standing in the trees. He’s watching us.”
That motivated him. He looked up and followed my gaze. “Keep an eye on him,” he said and went back to his manicure. There is something comforting and, to this suburban Canadian girl, disconcerting about traveling with a former Israeli soldier.
I watched the man watching us. He slowly came closer, lurching from tree to tree like an intoxicated monkey. After a few protracted minutes, he ran out of trees to hide behind, and haltingly, closed the distance between us. Yuval stood up, casually manipulating his army knife. The man flashed us a bashful smile and waved. We waved back and said hola. He began to point and talk with his hands. He was mute.
I pointed at the church and asked if he was the caretaker. He nodded exuberantly, and pointed at himself, the church and skyward. He let his arm linger in the air and shook his fist at the heavens. Then, he pointed at the volcanoes in the distance and made erupting motions. Yuval told him of our plans to get the border. He shook his head no, pointed in the direction of the border and mimed getting arrested. He widened his liquid brown eyes and drew his thumb across his throat as though slicing his neck open. Clearly he didn’t think much of our plan.
“Maybe we should start walking,” said Yuval, pulling on my arm. We bade our new friend goodbye, shouldered our packs and started walking down the unforgiving road. I looked back, and the mute church caretaker was still standing on the road, still watching.
We eventually got a ride with an affable Argentinean family who dropped us off in a town just outside of Bariloche, long after nightfall. There wasn’t a vacant room to be found in any hotel, hostel or hospedaje in the whole town, and so we camped under the stars that night, cold, exhausted and satisfied.