From the Notebook: Jan. 6, 2013
“Two half-rotten apples make one good apple.” That’s the quote of the day.
I found two rotten apples in a trash pile next to an empty grocery store and was just hungry enough to eat them. For 20 minutes, I had been knocking on the door and no one seemed to be in the place. Or anywhere else for the matter.
It was foggy and drizzly in small town Puerto Guadal and I was standing there considering and re-considering the rotten apples when a middle-aged woman appeared on the street. She was round, disheveled and walked in zig-zags, but no one else was around so I approached her to ask about the store.
“Disculpe, buenos días,” I said to be polite. “Do you know if the grocery store is open at this time?”
She looked at me like snakes were coming out of my mouth. Her lips pressed shut and her eyes widened with confusion. She was both disturbed and hypnotized by my face and kept looking at me as she walked away without saying a word. As I write this, I still wonder what she saw during that long, strange moment. That kind of insanity is contagious. It must thrive in these small mountain towns.
The woman disappeared around the corner and then I heard the sound of power tools coming from inside the grocery store. There IS someone in there! I ran to the door and knocked again, but no one came. Just the sound of a circular saw. Bbbbbeeeeooowww.
I knocked again, and again, and again, until the saw stopped. There were footsteps and the door unlocked. A large man with mustache let me in. He also didn’t say anything, but I was relieved to be in the store, that is, until I saw the apples on the shelves were just as rotten as the apples in the trash outside. Round on one side, flat and brown on the other – all at a spectacular $8 US a kilo.
I went for the carrots instead. They were somewhat fresh. Then I searched out my Patagonian staple food: tubed cream cheese. Always available. Always cheap (and not many food items hold either of these qualities in this region).
The man with the mustache didn’t sell bread so he pointed me towards an old lady that did. She lived in a green house across the street. I went over and knocked. The lady moved slowly and breathed heavily. When I got inside I asked her how life was going.
“Bad,” she said. “I’m sick all the time and it’s painful to do simple things.”
I offered her some of the flax seed oil pills I had in my pack, but she didn’t understand what they were and refused. She seemed to want company so we talked for a while about the world outside her window, mostly the bad weather, and then I paid for the bread. She gave me two extra pieces since the bread was old.
Lunch in hand, I walked out the door back towards the trash pile next to the grocery store and picked out the two rotten apples. If they were selling the same thing inside, how bad could they be?
Not bad at all after chopping off the bad halves. “Two half-rotten apples make one good apple” I mumbled while chewing the first fresh fruit I had eaten in days. After that, I cut the hard bread in half and made cream cheese and carrot sandwiches. Under normal circumstances, I can’t imagine these tasting any good, but after walking all morning in the mountains they were absolutely delicious.
As I swallowed my last bite a dark cloud covered the town and the rain started. It was heavy at first and then lightened up, but it never stopped completely and I went on my way down Route 265 towards Chile Chico in search of this micro-climate everyone talks about. A place where it doesn’t rain.
I never made it. Traffic was extremely low and the people that did pass were usually driving large SUVs to their vacation homes with the sole intention of escaping the soggy outside world, not to give it a ride in the backseat. Regardless, I kept walking. Must reach the microclimate.
A few hours passed and the only living creature I saw was a large hare that ran across the road. It started to rain hard again so I took shelter under a tree on the side of the road. I sat there on my bag and waited for the cars to pass. Sadly, I think three passed in about two hours. All of them refused.
Just when I started getting fed up with waiting, I looked down and realized there was an animal leg sticking out of the dirt in the ditch below me. I looked closer and couldn’t tell what it was, but it had light brown fur and could have been attached to a dog or cat.
I got up and started walking again. The rain never let up. I got to the point of being soaked and stayed that way. The road went up and down, and up and down, and it wasn’t easy, but there were waterfalls. Very nice waterfalls that kept me distracted and very nice vacation houses with lakefront views of the mountain ranges on the opposite shore.
Then, around 7 pm, despite all my efforts to stop her, a woman with sunglasses drove by me in a Mercedes and I gave up. “Fucking rich people “ I said, realizing no one would pick me up in this area. I decided to turn around and walk back to a vacant home I spotted along the road that had a nice, dry garage with open doors where I could at least get out of the rain.
I jumped the gate, checked the area around the home, made sure no one was around and was stunned by the luxury of the place. There were two houses, both beautifully decorated with woodwork, stone chimneys and large decks with porch swings. There was also a shack, the garage I saw from the road and another structure near the lake.
They call it a “quincho,” a building made specifically to host big “asados” or barbeque events and parties. I tried the door and the quincho was unlocked so I went in. Instant Relief. Shelter. A dry place. An upscale dry place. There were windows with panoramic views of the turquoise Lago General Carrera. There was also a fire pit big enough to cook entire animals and, most importantly, a stack of dry firewood.
I put down my bag and started a fire immediately to get warm and begin drying my wet clothes. When I had the fire burning well I got up and realized the rain had finally stopped and the clouds were clearing up, revealing snow-topped mountain peaks in every direction. I snapped many photos.
I also took advantage of the break in the rain to collect driftwood and replace the firewood I was using. (I may be using your vacation home, but I’m not an asshole.) By nightfall I was back inside, comfortable next to the fire, boiling water for the morning and making oatmeal for the second time that day.
Adventure means going outside your comfort zone and considering all the wet, miserable places I could’ve ended up, this quincho wasn’t bad at all.
I’m now writing in front of the fire before going to sleep. The wind and the waves on the shore make sounds that can be similar to voices or the closing of car doors, but I think I’m just paranoid that the homeowners will show up in the night and find me here.
It’s been a long day of mild hallucinations. This is what happens when you walk too much and eat too little. Wonder how army people do it. Do they even know what they’re shooting at in these conditions? Half-starved, fully-armed.
Maybe it was that women by the grocery store. A contagious demon was in there. Maybe she wasn’t even real. Two half-rotten apples make one good apple. What the hell am I writing. Okay, time for bed. I’m tired of hearing voices now.
Puerto Guadal, Chile - © Diego Cupolo 2013