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  • Day31

    Coyhaique and Villa Cerro Castillo

    April 4, 2019 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    Coyhaique is the “capital” of Northern Patagonia. With a population of 50,000, it’s considered a “real” city in this part of the country. I first stayed in an Airbnb lodging with a single mother and her 12-year-old daughter, inconveniently located a mile from the center. I was placed in the daughter’s room—no space whatsoever for my things—just the floor and the bed and a shared bath. However, the mother was so articulate, friendly, and generous, that I forgave her the inconveniences—though I did mention them to her in my private review for Airbnb. She had just lost her job in town, after the new federal government administration kicked out of her long-held job. So I could tell that she was quite desperate for anyone to rent the room. I have found that this is often the case in the rooms I’m taking. Many single mothers eking out a living.

    Coyhaique is set in a very beautiful valley, so I was eager to explore the huge “National Reserve” a few kilometers away. It had a well-set-out circular trail of around twelve miles, with much variety of scenery, and mainly native plants. Three different varieties of pine trees were planted in Patagonia in the 1950’s to quickly fill in the losses from various forest fires. Bad idea: the pine trees have multiplied so rapidly that they are out of control in many areas. They are used for paper pulp and firewood, mostly, but they are not native, and blemish the landscape. I did love the Reserve, though.

    After two nights with the kind mother and daughter, I moved to a hostel. In a hostel? Me? I chose one that was run by an elderly couple. I took a few peaceful days there with strong wifi to finish my Thai Add1Advance Challenge and my Day90 video of a conversation with a native speaker. It was a surprise to me that I could speak Thai at all, with 99% of my day speaking only Spanish. A miracle. In the process, I discovered many great cafés—some of which did NOT serve instant coffee.

    I moved south by bus on the Carretera Austral (the main—and sometimes only— road in Patagonia, built during the Pinochet dictatorship) to Villa Cerro Castillo, a village of 2500 souls, with high jagged peaks definitely resembling a castle. My lodging was a boarding house for twenty-four men working in the area. I didn’t know this when I accepted the room, loving the view of the “castle,”and the price: $15 per night. I soon found out that there were no locks on the doors, no heating at all, and the bathroom was shared with the guys—way way down a steep ladder-like staircase. The elderly couple that ran the place gave the men three home-cooked meals a day, including hot bread from the oven at lunch and dinner. The husband was the “panadero,” making well over a hundred 3” X 3” “ayuyas”—flat Chilean-style rolls—per day, using two wood-burning ovens. Such an experience!

    The hike to the peaks was a trail leading straight up 1000 meters—3,280 feet—again across a lovely and varied terrain. I found myself wildly out-of-shape after five months mostly sitting down to study Thai. This situation was to change rapidly! The hike was as rewarding as the hot “ayuya” I ate with my usual vegetables upon my return.

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