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Off to Patagonia

Geoff and I flew to Balmaceda, Chile, to pick up our 4-wheel drive, manual pickup truck. It was explicitly designed for Patagonia because it could go 400 miles on a single tank of diesel. We needed the range for the three weeks we would traverse the Andes to the southern tip of South America.

In addition to being my husband, Geoff is a human computer that uses Artificial Intelligence with GPS tracking. He kept us going in the right direction. Once driving, Geoff suggested I look on his phone for the Google map with our destinations. To be safe, he had also printed out the day-by-day directions and put them in the glove compartment. Always cautious, on the Michelin map, Geoff marked the 9 gas stations along our route in yellow.

On the other hand, I had no idea where we were going other than flying to Santiago, driving through Patagonia, and eventually taking a flight to Antarctica. I like being surprised when I go to places uninformed. I rarely know anything about the movie when we go to the theater. I sit down, the projector starts, and off I go.

It’s not like the information wasn’t available to me. Our travel agent emailed preliminary itineraries for the last 6 months. I never participated in the trip discussions. A month before we left, the agent sent the final details. I printed out the table of Destination/Date/Accommodations/Activity/Nights/Basis/and Room Type. I stuck it in the back of my journal and hoped it didn’t fall out. promotes Chile’s Ruta 7, all 770 unpaved miles, as a way to explore wild Patagonia. ‘Its current configuration is an incongruous jumble of drift-able gravel, flour-fine dust, potholed tarmac, and perfect concrete. Road materials can change three times within a mile, demanding concentration.’ I agree, except for the perfect concrete.

I thought the roads were brain-rattling and dusty, with a surprising number of cars and bicyclists. Each time a vehicle passed, a cloud of dust obscured the road, potentially causing a head-on collision. But it was the cyclists that worried me. They rode in the single-car track with the least gravel and bumps. They carried heavy loads of camping equipment up steep hills while they faced a headwind. Because of the traffic, they were also breathing the dust of the cars that passed. The wind was blowing so hard that we saw one bicyclist get nearly blown over when they stopped for some protection. Periodically when our driving was rough, I said, ‘At least we aren’t on a bike.’

The drive to our first stop, Rio Tranquil, took four hours. When we found our small hostel, we were rewarded with tranquility. The atmosphere balanced rustic and chic. The delicious dinner was created using only the vegetables from their garden. We slept soundly, then took a boat ride on Lago General Correro to visit the famous Marble Caves. That afternoon, we climbed a mountain behind the town. From the top, we could see the lake and the dust-filled road we would travel the next day.


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