It’s not very deep – most places the water barely covers my feet, at the deepest it doesn’t even reach my knees – but we can still feel the latent forces of the wide river as we cross it. No wonder the rivers here can destroy roads during rainy season, no wonder there’s a sign near the road to be aware and take care near the water. But this is not rainy season; the river is just a mere shadow of its powerful self and we can cross it.
There’s something liberating about throwing off your shoes, ripping off your socks and step into a muddy river, to feel the soft wet mud under your bare soles, the water caressing your bare feet . Combine that with a lazy shallow river with water reflecting the rays of the sun. Combine that with a massive red block with stunning red cliffs. Combine that with steep purplish canyons. Freedom! I feel free – and high, high on nature!
Last year, when i was travelling in Laos, I met Caro and Sole, two wonderful Argentinian girls also exploring the world. When my travels brought me to their home town of Tucuman in northern Argentina I had to visit them. We went to Tafi de Valle together with some more of their friends and how better spend a Sunday afternoon than clowning around the shores of a lake?
I swirl my glass around, letting the Malbec wine twist and turn and supposedly release more of its natural aromas, while the lady in charge of the wine tasting explains about the wine, grapes and the aging process in a barrel. I feel slightly out of place, standing there with a glass of twisting red wine in hand, this is definitely not my normal setting, especially not while backpacking.
My stay in Chile stretched to over one and a half month, way longer than I had originally anticipated. I completely fell in love with the country and its friendly people but all good things have to come to an end, and I felt it was time to return to Argentina, and which better place to start than Mendoza, the largest wine producing region in all of South-America?
“I got caught up in this crazy demonstration in Valparaiso yesterday!” the British guy in front of me says as he fishes out his iPhone and starts showing me pictures of carpets of tear gas, people running with scarfs covering their faces, water cannons and heavily geared riot police detaining demonstrators.
“In Valparaiso, yesterday?!” I look at the pictures not quite understanding what I’m seeing.
“Yeah, I had taken the bus from Santiago and was walking from the bus terminal towards the center to join in on a free tour of the city when I got caught up in it. It was crazy, like a war zone!”
The day before I was also in Valparaiso, and I was watching the demonstration – or demonstrations, people were opposing both the building of a mall near the pier and of the rising cost of education in Chile – but the demonstration I saw was nothing like the pictures on this guy’s iPhone. People were playing drums, dancing, it almost seemed more like a parade than a demonstration, and if it hadn’t been for the riot police hanging around on the sides you wouldn’t for your bare life even suspect that this could turn into anything violent.
“If you want to be an artist, marry a an art curator” it’s scribbled on a building a couple of blocks away from the hostel I’m stying in in Santiago. So that’s the secret, good to know! I keep wandering around in the neighborhood, taking random streets, getting lost on purpose (without actually getting lost, I get back to the hostel without even having to look at the map once, now, where’s my sense of direction when I really need it!?). Barrio Brasil, you never know what you’ll encounter around the next corner. Scribbles of wisdom words on the wall, elaborate wall pieces, political statements, psychedelically mixes of colors or tons of simple tags. On one wall the light filtered through the leaves of a nearby tree make the underwater piece almost come alive.
I haven’t had use for them in ages, luckily, but my dodging-annoyingly-pushy-sellers skills have to be employed as soon as I enter Mercado Central in Santiago Chile. “Linda, ¿de dónde eres? would you like some lunch? We have the best fish at the market” “We are the only restaurant with toilets inside” “Good prices, good fish, and with air-condition, come take a look!”, dodgy looking young guys, stylishly uniformed waiters, and old guys with stained aprons and filleting knives in hand all try to lure me in to their fancy restaurants or small eateries with scattered tables that the fish market is filled with.
But I’m not there for food and eateries. Not yet. I want to see the market, the fish. Heaps of mussels, shell fish, big stables of them, slimy squids, and of course all kind of fishes, with their deflated eyes looking emptily out at you.
It was all coincidences that had lead me to Cochamó, that had made me venture through the ancient moss clad forest on a century old horse trail all by myself, and that had taken me here, to the top of Arcoiris, where I now could see the Osorno volcano – yet again – in the distance. All coincidences that had lead me up to this moment, this place that would make me fall head over heels in love with Chile.
Exactly three weeks earlier I had been on another mountain top, Cerro Lopez, near Bariloche, Argentina and been looking at the same volcano – far in the distant, behind the fjord-like lakes and behind countless mountains. What was I thinking when I was standing there – looking at the rugged landscape, looking into Chile? Did I see myself falling in love with the valleys, the mountains and friendly people on the other side of the border? Did I plan to spend more than one and a half month on the long and narrow stretch of land next to the Pacific Ocean?