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Coyhaique & Carretera Austral

Sunday, February 6, 2011

*Note: I do not want this to be a “travel blog”, in the sense of posting pictures with narration of “I went here, I did this”; rather, over the year I hope to build a more reflective “living abroad blog”, but for now, as I have been traveling, here is another travel post.  I hope you enjoy it!

The metropolis I have left behind:

Yes, this is Coyhaique, the largest city in Chilean Patagonia, with around 50,000 inhabitants.  For a place that is so far from everywhere else (see sign below, in central plaza, with distances to various cities), it seemed pretty well-equipped to me.

I walked around a lot, both by myself and with my guide from the Foundation.  I know I got stares for taking this picture, but I just had to:

See, it’s back-to-school season– in February! Sales on pencils, rulers, and school uniforms abound.  I have to say, the past few days were cold and chilly, and I was getting kind of cranky about this being my summer, but I did go on an adventure to ExpoPatagonia, sort of a state-sponsered fair/market/festival of local goods and producers:

We knew there was going to be an event with horses, but the stadium looked like this:

However, we soon noticed people heading behind the stadium, where the trailers were, to a smaller, dirt ring, where we watched the show.  Guasos, the traditional, iconic Chilean “cowboys”, showed their prized horses, in categories of age and sex (of the horses, not the guasos– they all were male, but ranging generations in age). There was perhaps only one other group of (visibly) international tourists– otherwise families, kids, and older couples had all come to see the show.  I explained that where I grew up, riding horses is an elite endeavor, not the language of daily life, as it seems to be here (and I know it is in other parts of the US).  I was struck by how slow the show was– one lap, then another, then reverse, then all line up, then the announcer’s commentary, then lining up again, then pictures, and so on. I felt lulled by the meditative rhythm, watching the guasos parade with the sleek, muscular animals they know so intimately.

And then yesterday, I took a twelve hour bus ride on dirt roads to my new home here in Palena.  The bus leaves Coyhaique at 8:00 AM every Saturday and Tuesday.  The whole ride was so unbelievably gorgeous, that while at first I was afraid to doze off and miss anything, I soon realized that I could sleep for an hour, and wake up to more mountains, some snow-covered, bridges (each with a posted name) over pristine little brooks and bigger rivers, lakes, and so on.  This was on the Carretra Autral, the southern highway built by Pinochet, as memorialized in this sign in La Junta:

The friendly bus driver (on left) made frequent stops for food, gas, and photographs.

At the first stop, I got an empanada de manzana (apple empanada, like a turnover) and te.

We stopped for lunch in Puyuguapi, where I enjoyed ensalada de betarraga and papas fritas. I hadn’t heard the word betarraga before, but I had a hunch it was a beet, and confirmed with the woman taking my order (trailed by her toddler) that it was a vegetable, so I knew I couldn’t go wrong.  It was delicious.

Now, the bus actually goes to Futalefú, the other town with an American English teacher, but I was getting picked up in Puerto Ramírez, where two people from the Foundation were waiting for me.  At what I guessed to be our last stop before Puerto Ramírez, I was feeling a little down, and also hungry, so I bought myself some chocolate with almonds and more water.  The bus driver and the teenage boys who were working with him were in line behind me, piling up cookies and chips and candy.  Back on the bus, the driver walked back to my seat and handed me this treat without saying one word.

Now, he know people from the Foundation personally, and he knew I was going to be the new English teacher in Palena, but still, I was so surprised and touched.  I thanked him again when I got off in Puerto Ramírez (two hours later than his original estimate, but no importa).  Later we were talking about how people here speak more in actions than in words.  I am a verbal person, to be sure, but I think I’ve already learned a little bit about the power of action.  We’ll see where this takes me over the next months.

Coming soon: my new home!

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