Note: If you haven’t read the first part yet, click here.
‘Osorno?’ I ask the young couple in the car, the first one that has stopped for me in the half hour I have been sticking my thumb up on the side of the road. The dude in the passenger seat looks at the driver. She shrugs. I try to look as miserable as someone working at a burger joint on the New Year’s Eve. They fall for it. I lift my backpack and get out of the rain and into their steamy car.
They had saved my butt, but my embarrassing lack of Español kept the next few hours an strictly conversation-free affair. An hour or so before the dusk, we pull into Osorno’s main drag and my Chilean guardian angels drop me off in the town’s main square. I thank them profusely, and after some struggle, locate the town’s sole hostel. They have no vacancy and the manner in which the receptionist delivers that piece of news conveys that she has no intentions of letting me sleep in the lounge area either.
To be fair, Osorno is a bustling, mid-size town, it’s streets buzzing with families and the usual loitering youth. In spite of that (or because of it) my instincts are screaming at me that it isn’t the kind of town you wanna spend a night at without a bed. I spend the next hour or so locating and getting unceremoniously turned away at the town’s few modern hotels.
Desperate and bewildered, I sit on one of the benches in the town square and wonder just how the fuck I got myself into this marvellous mess within a week of leaving home. I pull out my tiny Swiss army knife, check it’s cheese-cutting blade, and place it in my pant’s pocket like that shit is going to offer me any protection. It is decision time; crash at the dim, grim bus terminal or sleep in the park surrounded by an assortment of less-than-desirable characters?
Fuck it, I’m gonna go for a stroll. Perhaps I can make some positive rapport with the town’s gangs along the way and get them to promise to nick only my wallet and not my kidneys. And then, a few blocks down the road, a little, badly beaten up hotel sign in some small side-street catches my attention. I yelp in excitement and run towards the hostel, my backpack making me look like a baked tortoise trying to stand upright. A small, well-trimmed lady answers the door and gives me an extortionate price with a charming smile. I curse under my breath, smile back at her and take the room.
I wake up the next day very much unsure of where to go. Back at the bus terminal, there are no tickets left to Bariloche, so I hop on a bus to Puerto Montt, the gateway to Patagonia instead. A humble, weather-beaten port town, it is skipped by most people on their way for its more glamorous sister-town called Puerto Varas. But the town has a charismatic grit and endurance to it which I suspect comes from centuries of defying the destructive hands of elements. And the proof is in the wooden houses and shops which are painted in peeling, but vibrant red, green and yellows; as if they are sticking it to a world which wants them faded and gone.
I meet Felix at my hostel in Puerto Montt. He too is unable to obtain a ticket to his next destination, so we decided to spend the day visiting the nearby town of Frutillar Bajo, famous for its views of Volcán Osorno (Osorno Volcano) nearby.
‘I subscribed to a travel agency’s newsletter a while ago. Yesterday I received an email from them with a special deal on Antarctica cruises.’ Felix drops the line casually on the way. ‘Have you been to Antarctica?’
Is he trying to sell me something here? Does he know what I did for a living? (I’m a travel agent FYI). Still, his sales pitch is bloody effective. I’m interested, go on. He whips out the itinerary of the 15-days cruise and tells me about the bargain price. then he decides to just come clean, admitting that he needs a cabin mate he can get along with rather than sharing a room with a stranger. Antarctica! Images of early explorers, those bearded immortals, scrambling through landscapes frozen in time pop up in my mind and I figure with beards becoming ever more fashionable in popular culture, it might be time I grew a magnificent facial forest of my own.
I get in touch with people from back home and ask for their opinion. The unanimous response is just fucking go. Less than 12 hours after meeting Felix, I have signed up to go to Antarctica.
Is there a lesson in this story? No, not really.
Except that maybe, just maybe, sometimes we need a colossal fuck-up to get us where we never dared of going.