You may call me stubborn, but I have learned that when people tell me something is impossible, complicated, or difficult, it often isn’t. Now, when people tell me there is a meter of snow, I don’t believe it. Even though these people are the firemen to whom drivers ask about the situation on the road. So, when those people tell me to stay until the snow disappears, I continue on.
There surely isn’t a meter of snow. And there isn’t, I find out when I cycle the first 50 kilometer towards the border with Chile, there is about 40 centimeter of snow. That is, along the main road: going off the main road, the meter measurement may be quite right.
It is difficult to find a place to camp. I have to scrape the bicycle clean, as I expect the snow might turn to icy lumps the following morning. Pushing my bicycle through knee-deep snow is hard, as the low panniers block my progress.
Next day I head off without food as I expect to be in a village 40 kilometer onward. It has become cloudy, of a snowy low hanging sort of fluffy blanket, and the first 4 kilometers I am in total doubt: shall I return to the village 5 kilometers back and resupply in case I get in trouble? Or shall I just hope for the best? If the road to Cholila village is closed I need to take the Ruta 40, which is 150 kilometer without possibility to resupply. Shall I turn? Or not? I stop and consider. Stop and consider again.
Then a car stops, ask whether I want a lift. Yes, I want.
I meet with Pia, who is also getting a lift, from Nani, a friendly man from Esquel. Buses do not ply the route anymore since the wintry situation has the region in a stressful clutch. This might be Patagonia, this much snowfall no one is ready for.
5 kilometers further a road block by police appears. Road closed. Not for gold mining people but for normal car- and truck-drivers only. Situation is a political mess where corruption is involved. We may drive on after 2 hours waiting, but only if we make sure to head back to the Ruta 40 via a winding back-road. We do so.
In the village I was planning to go to, we find out the dirt road to Chile is closed. Two cyclists on that part are being searched for by the fire department. I head on to Esquel via the Ruta 40. Arriving in town I want to be brought to the bomberos voluntarios again, and Pia helps me obtaining a free place to stay.
Unfortunately the bomberos says ‘absolutely not’, because in the past some one who was hosted stole goods. While a cat snugly moves around, the volunteer fireman starts calling around and finds me a free place nevertheless. Another bomberos empty his pickup truck and brings me and the bicycle to the municipal sport complex, the wheels of the truck covered in chains, over ice blanketed roads.
The municipal complex is set up as an emergency heaven, and here is where I will stay the next couple of days. A tank from the Iraq war is being used to evacuate people from villages unreachable by jeep. The people erupting out of the tank are mostly obese, and I don’t see a trace of them the next morning. The town can not be supplied due to heavy snow not seen since 1972. Machines to clean the road are not sufficient to the weather conditions. Though the snow is 40 centimeter deep, the roads have become ice-skate parlors and police simply refuse to let people through at certain points.
I am welcomed like a hero who has been stuck in the snow for a week, and now finally unearthed and freed. Hugs are given, my hands cupped in warmth, and coffee offered. ‘I am the mayor,’ introduces the mayor of Esquel. Without my politely answering ‘nice to meet you’, I start my story of today to him in English, as I was struggling to tell it in Spanish to the mayor’s now lesser important bystander.
I feel a fool for my need to tell my story. I could have easily written it in my diary but it seems I am boasting now about my adventurous day, which wasn’t so adventurous really. Sometimes I notice myself talking more than I would like to, because I have a slight social contact deficiency, and surely lack a Spanish tongue.
‘We can only advise you to turn back, or go to the East coast,’ says the mayor. ‘No, I may be stubborn, but I won’t go back just now, I want to see the glacier,’ and the major replies that then I should wait, and may stay for free until the roads are clear. Yippee!
The initial emergency excitement in the sport complex, mingling with enthusiasm to rescue people and give them shelter, even though I seem the only one, fades off the next day. I am interviewed by the local journalist who snaps my portrait with his cellphone. The day I feel a mixture of excitement when television camera’s witness the ongoing: military men sitting sipping coffee, a coordination team working hard, another man sought free shelter, waiting to catch a bus to his village, me using spotty WiFi to the maximum.
Comfort is so enormously soothing, and the Argentinians like to heat up the building well. They keep the fire-pits burning all day, although the shower in the dorm I sleep alone in has no hot water. I don’t mention it, I am happy to be here. Yet I feel not too comfortable, even a bit unwished-for by some, as if I lean too much on free comfort. Many people work for the municipality sport complex, which no one is visiting these days, and some employees are sweet, kind and very warm. Nadi is such a person. As is Diego, a calm guy, always offering me coffee or mate.
I keep warm inside, slide over the icy roads to the bakery opposite and make a walk. I refrain from making much photographs, though the situation is rather spectacular.
If I am seen as someone taking advantage of the free comfort, I understand. I even would love to stay a whole week. Cycling on after 3 nights and asking to sleep at the bomberos voluntarios in Trevellin, the next village, I am denied.
It rains. It is cold. Not that cold, about 2 degrees above zero. Eating bread getting wet by rain along the chilly roadside is more than uncomfortable. Taking a photo makes my hands icy cold, and the camera wet. Then I am unable to slide my hands back into the damp mitts, covered with sturdy rubber workman gloves, and it takes ages before my fingers are back to anything close to snug. My crotch is drenched. My mood soppy. I just want a stove to warm myself. I don’t want to camp. I ask shelter at the police, they deny me too. At the tourist information center where I ask where is a place to stay for free, they advice me to go to a camping. I hate camping’s. And I feel ridiculous for asking such question.
In the evenings I warm my sleeping bag with my head fully inserted. Reading a book about India, not so much corresponding with where I am, I get to know about Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan who traveled overland in the 14th century to Delhi to fortify Islam. He does so on a camel and I wonder whether his camel-gear failed too? Or is it really a thing of this century, where economic growth is partly kept up due to lesser quality, thus more purchasing power? While my camel is in excellent condition, my gear not so much.