Chao for now, Chile

Patagonia can be a confusing place. Obviously, it’s spectacularly beautiful but, when you’re trying to navigate it, you feel a bit like Christopher Columbus must have done when he first sat down with a sketch of the world. You know you’re going somewhere, you’re just not really sure where and you definitely have no idea how any of it is going to turn out.

With that in mind, it was probably unsurprising that the night before I was due to leave Chile, I suddenly realised I was about to leave Chile. The next few days would be devoted to hiking, glaciers and yet more Patagonia magic. I just hadn’t realised I would be crossing the border into Argentina to do it and, worse, that I wouldn’t need to cross back again.

I felt extremely sad, which was strange considering that, in the beginning, I wasn’t even sure if Chile was for me. People didn’t salsa so much, I wasn’t sure about the rich food or the apparently serious people – I missed the warmth of Colombia; I wasn’t yet tuned to the tiny smiles, the droll remarks.

But I got there in the end and I can’t shake the feeling I’m not done with Chile. Hopefully I’ll be back. In the meantime, you’ve perhaps realised that I like to record the little things, the kindness of strangers, lest anyone should dare to believe that these things don’t matter.

So here are a couple, just for the record:

1. Two nice Chileans save me from being stranded.

One morning, a rude and not-at-all-house-trained American woke me up by talking loudly at 6.03am. I know it was 6.03am because I checked my phone, with the alarm set to wake me almost two hours later. Except – and I blame the American – the alarm failed and I woke up three hours later. My bus out of town was gone.

I grumbled myself to the bus depot, where a surly official kindly informed me the buses were all sold out until the following day. I was so irritated, I decided to wait an hour for the next bus – in case someone else had also overslept. The hope was faint, at best.

But the bus arrived and I explained my situation to the driver, who was downing a quick coffee. He looked at me steadily for a second. “Just get on,” he said. “We’ll figure something out.”

I crept onto the bus. We’d been moving a few moments when the conductor appeared. “Do I need to buy a new ticket?” I whispered. He hid a smile. “You have a ticket don’t you?” he replied quietly, stamping my useless piece of paper as he casually placed his thumb over the incorrect time.

Well, that bus journey was 11 hours long and those guys hid me like a fugitive. I’m sure they had a plan in case those ‘sold out’ passengers ever materialised, but they didn’t. This incident boosted my faith in Chileans and erased my last bit of faith in bus company computers.

2. All taxi drivers are crooks, but some more so than others.

Considering I was a stowaway on that bus for 11 hours, when I finally arrived on the island of Chiloe I was shattered and definitely not in the mood to fight over money.

One waiting taxi driver, Javier, told me it would be 2,500 pesos (£3.25) to my hostel. “Fine,” I said, smiling weakly and hoisting my rucksack into the boot. “But if we arrive and 2,500 seems too much, I am going to be really sad.”

Javier and I ended up gossiping the entire journey, which was possibly not worth 2,500. I paid it anyway, only for him to hand me back 500. “It does cost that much, because it’s night,” he insisted. “But I’ll give you a discount because you’re funny.”

Chao for now, Chile dear, Chao for now.

Chao Chile... Patagonia, the Argentine side

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