“I’ll get the gate” I say as the red Nissan pickup truck slows to a stop in front of a sturdy, wooden gate. I open the door and hop out. The brisk Patagonian wind kicks the life back into me and is worlds different than the stagnant air of the truck cab and its three hour ride. The trees and bushes bend and flutter in the wind. I watch as it makes waves of grass across the unmowed soccer field. Across the expanse a timeless, battered and unpainted bleacher structure stands unflinchingly against the a backdrop of cloud shrouded mountains.
I walk up the rough gravel toward the hand-hewn gate. Behind me Sergio slides out of the cab and walks to the front wheels to lock the hubs into place. He returns to the cab and pulls the truck through as I hold open and then close the gate. The rugged, deeply treaded tires grab at the loose rock and gravel as the young Chilean drops the transmission into four-low and the truck starts crawling its way up the hill.
Dave, Ting-ting, Matt and I had met Sergio that morning at our hostel in Coyhaique. He arrived right on time, at 0800, just as the four of us were finishing breakfast. We quickly excused ourselves from the dinining room table and started shuttling our packs to the street. I push the metal gate open, extend my hand to our driver. “Soy Jared” I say.
“Sergio” is the response. We shake hands and he helps me load the first pack into the back of the four door, diesel fueled pick-up.
“Cinco bolsas mas” I reply when he asks how many more. He seems somewhat skeptical that they will fit into the back under the zippered down, leather bed cover. “Necesitamos parar a el Sodimac” I add, as we load another pack.
“Y también el ATM” I continue, only to be met with a quizzical look, which is not that uncommon when I try to speak in Spanish though. Oh right, I think “cajero automático.”
“Ahh sí” Sergio replies. “No problema” he says again, then adding “¿escuela de NOLS también?”
“Sí” then “¿hablas Inglés?” I query.
“Sí” he responds and I instantly feel a weight of my shoulders.
The forecast is calling for wet weather over the next week and we are in need of some solid trash compactor bags to help waterproof our stuff. This requires a stop at the Sodimac, the local Home Depot-esque store. Dave and I head inside, he to get cash at the ATM and I to find the bolsas de basura. At this still early hour, we have to wait about three minutes for the doors to be unlocked, but when they are, we are the first in. Five minutes later we are back at the truck with 150,000 Chilean pesos and five sturdy trash bags. Sergio pulls out of the lot and after a quick stop at the NOLS campo to drop off our computers and gather some dromedaries, we speed south down the Carretera Austral, Chile’s southern highway.
About 100 quick kilometers outside of Coyhaique the pavement ends and the gravel begins. An old rusty sign reads “Bahia Murta 101.” The truck winds southward through lenga filled valleys, passing azure lakes and turbid, blue-grey rivers, wide with glacial effluent. We chat occasionally, but mostly ride in a cramped, unrestful silence as the wheels rebound from one pot hole to another. Almost three hours after leaving the NOLS campo Sergio makes the left hand turn off of the carretera and onto the spur road to Bahia Murta. He spies a soccer field and makes a left turn, then another and deposits us at a gate below a long, steep hill. “I’ll get the gate” I say and hop out into the stiff, unrelenting Patagonian wind.
“Hmm, sure glad we have this truck and someone willing to drive it up this road” I say, to no one in particular as the truck claws its way up the steep and winding gravel two track.
“Yeah, I’d be pissed if we had to hike up this” Dave quips. Soon enough the heavily laden truck noses over the crest near a small weathered barn, made of hand sawn wooden posts and boards.
“Huh, looks like the end of the line” I observe out loud as Sergio and I look at the road as it peters out into a mud filled cow track. He grunts in agreement, sets the parking brake and turns off the ignition. Ahead, tall, green grass sways in the wind in a large, wide meadow. Behind us the turquoise blue of Lago General Carrera is vibrant against the cloudy sky and beech tree covered mountain sides. After unloading, Ting-ting grabs the money and pays Sergio. Matt, Ting-ting and I all do seperate sweeps of the vehicle, looking for the random, stray objects we are likely forgetting, but going to need. We all shake hands. “Bon viaje” he offers up as he gets back in the cab, turns around and starts the two-hundred kilometer journey back to Coyhaique, with, unbeknownst to us and him, a roll of five sturdy trash bags on the floor of his back seat.