Feb 6 – Mar 25 2015 Brazil and Chile
Note: These letters are Creative Nonfiction, but accurately coincide with real events. Personal names are invented.
Mar 19, 2015. During 40 years we have visited family in Chile for a month or two at a time; altogether that adds up to about five years. In the first month there, during their Dec- Feb summer– school vacation– I have usually organized a back-pack; or, some say worse- taking along from 4-6 relatives and their friends. These adventures have become epic lore and in retelling become ever more confabulated. I love these kids who are now grown; some I call hijos postisos… artificial children, as in artificial legs. Alex is one. He lived with us in Sacramento for a year, during a difficult time in his young life.
Alex has a real dad who owns a ranch near a lake. They both love mountains, horses, cattle; he visits the ranch often, working on various projects, mainly distillates of dreams.
We meet for lunch only a week before I must leave for Sacramento. While he can’t get away for at least several days, he insists I go on ahead to see what has been done since I was last there 10 years ago; he will join me when he can. He suggests I leave immediately, that evening, by Sleeper Bus which he finds is more practical, more easily booked, and more economical than air travel.
Argentina and Chile are sometimes called the Southern Cone. Bus travel there, as in Brazil, is the predominate form of transportation for the vast majority of people. In Chile there are many competing bus companies, serving virtually every part of the country. Almost every town has a central bus station that, while hardly elegant, is functional and dependable. The buses generally leave and arrive exactly on time. Long haul buses to larger towns often go direct; and there are many several thousand km routes in a so long, North and South. The most comfortable are Leitos or ‘premium sleeper’ buses, the ones Alex suggests. I had heard of them for years but never used one.
Premium Long Distance Night Buses Rock!
Tonight, a Thursday, I take the 10:45 PM sleeper. It’s a two story Brazilian Marco Polo with two seat-beds on one side, and one on the other, separated by a narrow aisle. After the elegant monster is underway, the steward brings snacks, earplugs, stereo ear buds, a sleep mask, booties, and bottle of cold water; a short while later he makes up the beds, called ‘180s’ because they fold flat, 180 degrees. He lays on a blanket, and a pillow… all that is missing is a mother’s good night kiss.
The bus moves at about 100 km/hour- 60 MPH-, rocking the sleeper gently; it is surprisingly quiet by comparison to a jet plane. I am reminded of the adult size cribs Shakers use for old folk; children are put to work rocking the adult cribs. I was rocked and slept more than 10 hours, until the attendant woke me to say “Osorno: Terminal; for all I know it is the first stop. The night was at least as enjoyable as in a good air-conditioned hotel, at U$75 round trip for two nights.
I don’t see the person who is to meet me in Osorno, but it is early; the place is just wakening to a new day. Restaurants are shuttered, in part because the traditional Chilean breakfast is only sweet coffee or tea, and rolls, available from bus station street vendors. I pick up some more substantial breakfast makings at a grocery; my ride appears. It is about a 70 km to the ranch, so on the way I call to thank Alex and his dad for the lesson on long distance Chilean night-bus travel, and the coming visit to the ranch.
The entrance to the farm has been transformed. On the right is a long monitored and gated gravel road is bordered with moss-covered split rail fencing and blooming pink and blue hydrangea.
The farmhouse has been rebuilt completely, but retains its original distribution. The day-to-day entrance is to the rear adjacent to a big kitchen and a space for gear and cleaning up. The ground floor and basement are devoted to laundry, storage, and utilities. Two upper floors still look out spacious windows from every room because a farmer wants not only to enjoy the view but to always be able to look out at the farm and and animals. I take a short afternoon nap, but only because it seems the proper thing to do. I’m not sleepy. I abandon my iPad and break out a real camera.
A small stream has become a series of teacup lakes. Gently down-sloping green pastured and fenced grounds feature an assortment of birds and animals: geese, ducks, turkeys, peacocks, deer, some deer, and Ñandú— a small ostrich, or South American rhea, bandurria ibis, and the noisy queltehue.
Feb 24, 2015. Tomorrow I begin the long journey back to The Sacramento my own Sacred Valley: by car to Osorno; by sleeper bus to Santiago; by plane to Houston and then on to Sacramento. Alex has already returned to work. Thinking of the long journey, I lie down for a short afternoon nap but I’m restless. At 2300, I’m alone in the quiet wi-fied, air conditioned, radiant heated farmhouse. Outside only few faint distant lights are visible.
I turn off all the lights and step out into a rare clear moonless Southern Summer night, stumbling about up and down beneath the Milky Way. Orion-the hunter, Gemini-the twins, and the bright dog Sirius are visible overhead. Southward are the Magellanic Clouds, and the Southern Cross. Four light years away is the triple-star Alpha Centauria, Sun’s closest neighbors. There is no pole star visible where due South sleeps in a dark void; yet there must be one there, somewhere, so far away that we are both blinded by so many light years of Time.