Notes from a journey, part 3: we’re delayed, and we meet Vincent

After camping for two nights–Tuesday and Wednesday–near Siete Tazas, we planned to head back down to Radal. There, we’d get the bus to Molina, then, hopefully, get to Curicó and leave for Pucón on that day. We had to work around some inconveniences, though. The bus from Radal left each day at 7:30 a.m.; there weren’t any buses from our campsite to Radal, so we’d have to figure out a way down there either early in the morning or the day before. So on Thursday morning, we began asking around at the park office to find a ride down to Radal. We didn’t really want to spend another night camping in Radal, so we figured we could try to find someone to get us to Molina or Curicó.

After a while, some guys from CONAF–the park service–told us they could give us a ride later that afternoon. Immediately after we spoke to them, we talked to some hikers who said they were driving to Curicó that afternoon, and that if we waited for them until six, we could get a ride there. This seemed like a sweet deal at the time. We assented with enthusiasm, and commenced six long hours hanging out in the dusty picnic area, waiting and waiting. We played cards. We ate snacks. We bought cookies from the park office and ate those. We journaled. We played tic-tac-toe with a stick in the dust. We napped. We had a pebble-throwing contest. We had a bowling competition using our Nalgenes and big stones. We put our feet in the river. We watched a group of elementary-age kids slackline. And, eventually, we began to get worried.

Six o’clock came and went, and we didn’t see any sign of our friends. We figured they’d be late, though, running on South American time. Seven o’clock came and went. We got really, really grumpy. We started asking around again. Eventually, we found a ride down to Radal, with Felipe, an outdoor education instructor who’d been managing the group of kids earlier. He dropped us near a campsite there, and we decided to try to find someone to take us to Molina. By now, it was after eight, and the traffic was down to a trickle. We waved down each person that passed; a man driving in the opposite direction said he’d be returning in un ratito, a moment, and could take us. We waited, packs strapped to our backs, more hopeful this time–he said he’d come right back! We were going to get to Curicó!

As the sunlight began to wane, and evening passed into night, we began, again, to grow impatient. The campsite across the road seemed like an alright stop, but we didn’t want to bank on it. Another night in a tent didn’t seem so hot anymore. A few cars passed–not our friend. Un ratito had turned into an hour, and then some. Feeling defeated, we trekked down to the campsite, planning just to check it out in case we needed a back-up plan. It was across the road and down a slope on a riverbank. As we crossed the campsite’s parking lot, we turned to see another car passing us up on the road. Our friend from earlier slowed down, flashed his lights and couldn’t see us where we were freaking out in the parking lot below. He kept on driving. We were devastated. Another night in Radal.

Fortunately, we found the owner of the campsite, named Vincent, right away; he showed us around and explained to us how to use the bathrooms, which were sparkling clean and had hot water. We thanked him and began attempting to set up the tent in the dark, fairly cold and miserable at this point. He returned a moment later, though, with an idea–“you have to get up early in the morning, and it’s already really late–why don’t you stay in the camper?”

Vincent led us to an RV in the parking lot that he rents out to visitors; he said he wouldn’t charge us any more for it than he had for the campsite. It was warm, light, and had enough beds for each of us to have our own space. After two days in a dusty, cramped tent, it felt like a five-star hotel. And I slept great.

The next morning, we woke up at 6:30, packed up our stuff and got ready to wait for the bus. As we straggled out of the camper, Vincent came by and invited us to share coffee or tea with him. With furtive glances at the time–we had about twenty minutes–we agreed. He led us to his cabin, which his father built in the 90s, and he told us about his time in Radal and his work. Vincent was about 65, I think, incredibly spry and energetic. He’d lived in Santiago for 30 years, but moved to Radal two years before to run a campsite. He spends his days building cabins; he does everything, including outfitting them with water and electricity. It’s a very quite, isolated, Thoreau-esque life. He has to drive up the road to get a cell phone signal, which he uses to call his two kids, teenagers who live with their mom and don’t really like the spending time at his Wifi-less neo-Luddite campsite.

Vincent shared all of this with us in about twenty minutes, over Nescafe and wafer cookies. At about 7:27, we thanked him and he walked us up to the road. We boarded the bus several minutes later. We’d finally begun our return to Molina.

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