Planet Hiker
2005-03-30 Impressions of Puerto Natales, Puerto Monnt and Chaiten, Chile


The street was busy with pedestrians, rushing from store to store, window-shopping, bumping into each other, glancing at the brightly colored displays of cell phones, lipstick, shampoo, pastries, "for sale", "for sale", shoes, jeans, electronics, "for sale", "for sale". Every once in a while they would halt for the red light, cramming into a tight group, then exploding forward; always continuing forward.

In the midst of all of this, an elderly couple was coming towards me. They were holding hands.

Flannel shirt, sweater, gray pants, warned out shoes that were now too big, were covering the old man's weak, skinny body. He had his mouth slightly opened yet he could not breathe deeply. All that his lungs could do now was supply oxygen in short, barely noticeable breaths. I tried catching his glance, but missed. He gazed blindly ahead, never meeting my stare. He wasn't wearing glasses, but I suspect that they could not help him any more. All that his eyes could do now, was hope.

His wife, slightly taller and significantly fuller, was confidently striding ahead, but slowly, in order for her husband to be able to keep up. Meanwhile, he tried his hardest, which amounted to shuffling of tiny, 6 inch steps, in such a manner that the shoes would never leave contact with the ground. The couple passed me in another quarter of a second but in the very last moment of our encounter I manged to notice that she was wearing thick, square glasses. Her eyes were looking straight ahead, never bothering to wear off onto the continuous of the advertisement signs - they were meaningless to her. She knew where they were going. She was the one holding her husbands hand.

I imagined that just a heartbeat ago they were young, strong, full of energy and enthusiasm, looking forward to the challenges and surprises that life holds for them. He was agile on his feet, with strong legs which he could always trust. She would take a moment every morning to look into his eyes and find infinite kindness. They both worked hard to bring food to the table, and enjoyed what ever time they would have together. She was a fair wife to him and he was a fair husband. There must have been times when everything was good as well as times when they needed each other's support more than ever. But they always held hands.

...

"How much for the a room" I asked. The owner of the hostel, a man in his 60s, with a strikingly thick neck told me to wait while he checks with his wife. The hostel did not present anything special. There were simply a few extra rooms in the house which were furnished with beds and little lamp stands (without the lamps) to make it a hostel, while the kitchen was large enough for the family as well as the guests to share. In another minute the owner's wife came out. She was thick all over and had strikingly ugly teeth, but her eyes were kind. The years simply took away the beauty that she once had. All that she could do now was accept and let go of cosmetics. She named a reasonable price and thus I stayed.

In the evening I went down to prepare some tea. Before I could open the door to the kitchen, a spectrum of aromas, ranging from steamed vegetables to grilled meat to bread being toasted over a wood burning stove, hinted to me about a booming chaos of travelers preparing meals. Sure enough, the kitchen was full of people, continuously shuffling between themselves, competing for kitchen resources, like utensils and pottery, exchanging tips on how to prepare a tasty meal as well as boasting about what they have seen in their travels.

In the other end of the kitchen the owners of the hostel were sitting side by side. They were quietly sharing a glass of wine. This was just another evening for them but they were happy and content with knowing that their house is full of sounds and activity. Life was raging with full force in this house.

...

The sun was already up but it was still too early in the morning and the streets of Chaiten were completely empty. I was taking a walk when I saw a very small old woman quickly striding across the street just to the side of me. I said "Hello" when she was close and heard a cheerful "Hello" back. Since I was in no hurry, I hesitated for a bit to take a second look at her and noticed that she also paused. To my surprise, she then politely asked how I was doing. I turned around to face an Indian woman, wearing baggy clothes with generous amounts of stains, and over-sized galoshes. Her long skirt barely revealed that she was also wearing sweatpants, tucked into the galoshes.

I could tell that she was very old from the amount of wrinkles on her face and hands, patches of silver hairs sticking out from underneath the beanie, complete lack of front teeth and murky eyes, yet she did not seemed old somehow... She was full of energetic curiosity, asking me about where I am from, where I am headed, advising me on which buses to take and their schedules; all in a very clearly annunciated Spanish, not at all being bothered by the lack of teeth. Having gotten to know me a little she even invited me over for coffee, but as she did that, some saliva slipped out of her mouth. It was a bit disturbing for me to see the saliva and my reaction was to politely decline her offer. On that note, she wished me luck, jumped up and sprinted towards the fence of her house like a 9 year old, where a giant albino husky was waiting for her. She took a minute to play with the dog, wrestling him by the neck. Having realized my mistake I shouted that I will swing by later on. She replied that she will be looking forward to that, smiled and went inside the house.

...

The catch was good. Two fisherman, father and son, unloaded a cart full of fish off of a little wooden boat, painted white, with a red roof and a green deck. It was an early afternoon but the low Patagonian sun was enriching all colors, warming up the scene to look like a saturated painting. While the younger man (in his 30s) sorted the fish with his back to the shore, the older man stood proudly upright and smiled broadly when he saw that two little girls are running up the dock to meet them.

"Daddy! Grandpa!" cheered the girls as they ran up to hug the fishermen. One of the sisters was older than the other by about 3 or 4 years, but they were both wearing the same kind of school uniform - white blouse, navy blue skirts, white socks and black shoes. The reunion decorated everyone with bright smiles. It seemed that even the fish were smiling.

Since the cart had two handles, to share the load each man took hold of one of them. Then the younger sister ran up and grabbed her daddy's free hand while the other sister took grandpa's. Lined up in such a symmetric fashion, they marched down the dock, with the cart of sparkling fish in the middle. After covering some distance, grandpa wanted to switch hands. So the men placed the cart down and without letting go of the girls, switched sides. But that placed them all facing the dock in the wrong way. Having realized that, all 4 synchronously let go of the hands, pivoted 180 degrees and burst into giggles. Having sorted out the confusion, the men picked the cart once again and continued forward.



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These photos were taken around the dock of El Chaiten and Torres del Pine: