Oliver rarely dances. But when he does it's in Chile, in a circus and for a paying audience.
After the hike, we threw our shoes in the garbage (with great ceremony) and decided to change into a comfortable set of wheels. Still being in Argentina, though, organizing basically anything continued to be unsurprisingly difficult, from reliably inconvenient bus schedules to clothing stores that only sold bad logo t-shirts and ripped jeans. We finally got to, literally, taste the country's best side, though, by enjoying an overwhelmingly delicious meal in one of Bariloche's parilla restaurants. Oliver also reconnected with old friends from his last visit in 2013; escaped-convict-looking dudes selling choripans in Bariloche's central square. For everything other than food, though, we missed our orderly, calm, sane Chile.
After what felt like two years on a road (in reality close to 24 hours) we arrived back in San Clemente, our own Chilean family farm, and put on a big, loud, late family supper as a thank you for keeping our stuff while we were walking. It was wonderful, after a month and a half on the trail, to feel back home surrounded by friends.
In the morning we felt a little gloomy about leaving the familiar place, and but also knew there were many more thing Chile could still offer us. So with our spiffy little rental car we headed to the coastal town of Constitución, stopping at roadside farm stands along the way to pick up incredible figs, the best grapes we've ever tasted (by a long way - holy cow...), and strikingly awful plums.
As we continued on, however, we passed through huge areas burned by the recent forest fires. We'd seen the news coverage on our resupply stops along the trail, and being there on the ground, the devastation was obvious. So many people had lost homes, vineyards, pastures, everything and signs for "We need water" and "We need hay" marked our way through the area.
In Constitución we felt the touch of ocean air in our face and were wowed by huge waves that we could just keep watching forever. We walked on a sandy beach and climbed rocky towers. We also found a local food market and had the best fish we had eaten yet in Chile, sierra grilled in front of us with a home built grill. The road trip had started well.
After a quick return to Talca to swap out our car, we started the serious miles to south, Chiloé Island as our destination (around 1000 km from Talca, then 5 km by ferry). We had heard it represented the very wild coastal side of Chile with cute little fishing towns scattered around. And we thought Chiloé delivered just that. We witnessed roaring, mountainous ocean waves, got up close with penguins, had rain almost all day everyday and as an icing on our Chile travelling cake, saw a pudú (the world's smallest deer!) on the side of the road. Nailed it! And how about food? Well, the local delicacy Curanto, traditionally cooked in a hole in the sand and served as a mix of seafood, pork, chicken, sausages and potatoes, ended up being the real authentic experience - sand and all.
After Chiloé a reality check hit us. Yes, we really would have loved to travel further south to see the essence of Chilean Patagonia. But unfortunately the distances were too great and time was running out. And yes, we really would have loved to continue exploring on a holiday mode, without a watch or a calendar. But travelling for six months means there are days you need to sit and get down to business mode instead. We chose to stay in Pucón, a place we found easy to find services we needed and maybe more importantly, queques (read cakies!) to fill our stomachs.
Over a few very grown-up days, we got our lives back in order (and rediscovered a few kg that we'd left behind on the trail in Pucon's extravagant bakeries). After two and half months in Chile, we made our way to the Santiago airport to begin the next stage of our trip.
Looking back - at the land, the people and the Chilean way of life - we realized that they'd sunk in deeper than we'd imagined they would, in a way that came to feel increasingly comfortable, and maybe even a bit like home. There's no doubt we'll be back.