Back on Two Wheels
Hey, this is great! Iīm back on two wheels! Too bad itīs a wheelchair and not Katie, but itīs a beginning. So itīs training wheels for the next few weeks. But at least now I can get around. For amusement I can worry the locals and stray dogs gangs. After being confined to quarters for the last weeks itīs great to be outdoors again. Note I am sporting my alpaca toque (the thoughtful and very useful gift from Ramon), I have my baston - my cane - handy when we have to 4x4 it, and a baseball cap from the Evangelistas ferry. What all well dressed dudes wear here if they are anybody.
My new wheels are the result of Joyce walking around town (population 20,000) searching to rent a wheelchair. The local hospital said, sure, take one for free and just bring it back when your merido is feeling better. What kindness! But thatīs Chileans for you, especially here in Patagonia.
The good folks know they could live elsewhere, but chose to live at the fin del mundo because they like living in semi-isolated communities. The hardness of the landscape and the weather encourage folks to stick together, to share, where family, friends, and even strangers are important.
Between "go-for" missions to get drugs, groceries, emails, etc, for her crippled partner, Miss P finds time to capture her impressions of this part of the world. Besides diary notes, her journal is full of maps, brochure clippings, rubbings, sketches, watercolours and colorful postal stamps. Itīs a true work of art, unique and very interesting. But thatīs my partner: sheīs happiest when sheīs creating something.
What she sees in part is this. Puerto Natales sits on a small, flat plain just meters above the sea. The surrounding terrain is windswept, grass covered, with low hedges but without trees. Houses, typically made from brick and corrogated tin, sit huddled together and close the ground, like the hedges that seem to shrink from the cold west wind. A semicircle of mountains forms the horizon, most rising 2000 meters above our little town. On a clear day, we can look 80 kms up a fiord to the northwest and see the 3000 meter Cerro Paine Grande with a shining white glacier draped from its shoulders. I should mention most days usually have clear periods - the air, fresh and pure, is the breath of Antarctica. The weather changes more rapidly and often than a Kananaskis spring day.
Days can have warm sun, bracing rain then calm all within a couple of hours. Quite often at night, we are lulled to sleep by the drumming of rain magnified on corrogated steel roofs. As I lie in my cosy warm bed in the Aquaterra Hotel, in the dark early hours, I ask myself again, why would anyone want to ride a motorcycle down here? Travellers tell us of 100 km crosswinds while riding the gravelled Ruta 40, out in the exposed rainshadow part of Argentina, some 2 hours east from here. There is a good reason why some roads are less travelled, voices say. Then I fall asleep and quit listening to the 3 a.m. worry-gremlins.
Puerto Natales used to supply cattle and sheep estancias and act as main port of entry in this region. Some of the ranches served were quite literally the size of small countries. For example, these grand-scale cattle operations helped feed the soldiers of World War I. Like so many one-industry towns of old, the town had to remake its raison dīetre; nowadays, the main business is tourism (Torres del Paine National Park is an hour away).
The superb staff at our adopted home at Aquaterra Hotel take exceptional care of us. A jug of water with a leaf of garden fresh mint brought to our room unexpectedly, our dinners made with thoughtful, extra touches, countless phone calls made on our behalf to help us, and always a cheery "buenos dias" each day. Rosita, far left, keeps our room spotless, Loreto, far right, does double duty as receptionist and phone call maker. Annie and Jackie, below, are true chefs and create incredible meals.
Marlen, far left, also sets the gold standard for customer service as receptionist and restaurant hostess. It should be mentioned too, that in 2003, Marlen climbed Aconcagua. Thatīs the highest mountain in South America, with a summit near 7000 meters.
The lady that has the most impact on our lives is Maritza, far right. No ordinary massage therapist, Maritza has the same skill, infectiously positive attitude and compassion as Claudio, our massage therapist friend in Valparaiso. Slowly, day after day, week after week, she works the knotted muscles, stretches the inflammed sciatica nerve fibres and releases the burning pain from my right leg. This damned enfermedad is reluctant to release its grip but has no choice under her strong, healing hands. I must admit though, never has any woman caused me so much physical pain. But itīs the only way, so I just turn up my PDA so that the MP3 music hopefully drowns out my whimpering & crying.
But because of her encouragement to positively visualize the future, I now see a new picture. Joyce and the mardarin yellow Bumblebee are leading on some wickedly scenic gravel road, the grand Los Andes off to our left. Katie and I are following. Iīm standing on the peg with my right leg, left leg stuck out behind like a circus performer. And we ride off as a welcoming sun rises, illuminating our dust a pastel rose as it curls up behind us.
Posted by Murray Castle at March 07, 2009 02:57 PM GMT