The last two days were a bit of a culture shock.
Driving from Rio Tranquilo, we came to the worst section of road so far. It wasn’t scary-twisty-windy-mountain-edgy-sheer-drops bad, like the extreme south down to Villa O’ Higgins, it was just bone-rattlingly bumpy, incessant washboard that was so uneven and irregular there was no way to ever get into a rhythm.
I tried speed – impossible, too likely to skid; I tried just ambling along at 30 km/hr – awful, just bumps and the lack of speed just meant the van went sideways as much as forwards. I swear at times it actually jumped sideways. I tried driving with one wheel on the edge – but the edge kept falling away. There was nothing to do but just take it. Hours of juddering, headache-inducing, arm-wrenching, up and down dusty mess. And when it rained, hours of juddering, headache-inducing, arm-wrenching up and down muddy mess.
At least the scenery was, as usual, stunning (I need more words for stunning/beautiful/lovely, suggestions in the comments please). The autumn colours were particularly evident around Cerro Castillo.
Then, just like that, when my arms were actually hurting from holding the wheel straight – we shuddered rounded a bend and hit tarmac.
I wasn’t prepared.
I wasn’t ready – it even had a yellow line down the middle and I couldn’t see a single pothole.
WTF? This wasn’t supposed to happen.
The feeling of relief mixed with resistance at such ease continued as we approached what turned out to be an actual ‘city’ (for Patagonia), Coyhaique. Population 50,000! How had I missed that?!
About 50 km out, we started passing farms – actual mechanized agriculture and houses. It was horrible! There were even flat bits. After all the nothingness and mountains, it suddenly felt like we were in Norfolk or something.
We found a campsite, and the next day, this feeling of slightly wide-eyed delight allied with unease continued – I had an actual latte made on a real coffee machine, rather than nescafe, with a cinnamon roll for breakfast. Lauren had French toast. With syrup! We went shopping and found green broccoli and red red peppers. We had pizza. (Yes, it was all about food). The ‘city’ had shops that went beyond basic necessities, and people with make up and smart clothes. I counted three pharmacies!
In the main square, there were buskers, guys passed out slumped on the floor, a (closed) tourist information office, free wifi and even a black woman! I felt like running up to her and hugging her, which i am sure she’d have found very strange bordering on racist. But cosmopolitan or what?! Mind you, the following sign reminded us that even in this thriving metropolis, and despite two weeks of driving north, we are still considered to be in the ‘deep south’ by Chilean standards. That’s a hell of a long way to go to Santiago…..
It hasn’t really been that long, but we both were slightly conflicted and agreed to enjoy it all, stock up on vegetables, return for more latte and French toast tomorrow morning, then get the hell out of here and back to the Ruta 7.
Luckily, I hear the tarmac runs out again not far north.
My arms have almost recovered….
Bring it on.