Friday, March 02, 2007

No Clear Exit Strategy

Dear Readers,

Team CP is currently in Santiago waiting for visas to clear, after waiting in Puerto Montt for packages to clear customs, after waiting in Chaiten for a ferry to come. We have discovered that waiting is the new black. But I am not writing to bore you with fashion advice, I am writing to set the facts straight. Over two weeks ago now, Team CP departed Coyaique for a final go at the Carraterra. The details of our exit have been hinted at in our blog, but up until recently is has just been too soon to speak of the happening.

We departed Coyaique on a down note. It was damp and drizzling- that type of cold that fills your bones. We checked our tire pressure over and over, did stretches, grabbed one last ice cream. No one wanted to be the one to call "Lets ride." But in the early afternoon we set out and after taking a few wrong turns and stopping to grab two bottles of pisco, one of coke for the 2000 km party at the last liquor store on the outskirts of town we finally, reluctantly pushed out of Coyaique.

A huge pass waited for us just outside the city limits and as we trudged up it drizzle turned to rain, the temperature dropped, hail was added into the mix and soon we were caught in a maelstrom of bad conditions. We had ridden, at most, 8 km, but the thought of riding even one more was on no one´s mind. We stopped at a farm house. No room, a maid told us. And so we plopped back on our bikes, drenched to the bone and rode on until we found a pair of bus stops set in front of a few houses and a small church. We sat together on the bus stop bench and shivered violently.

Ben stepped out of the shelter and glanced at his odometer.
"1989 k," he read, "shame its not 2000."
"Yep" everyone burred in response.
"You know," Matt piqued in, "I´m not a stickler for numbers."
"Me neither," Thea added.
"The 1% rule," I said, " you´re allowed to have 1000 km parties within 1% of the target distance- it´s well known."
Everyone nodded, cups were quickly pulled from panniers and a bottle of pisco appeared on the scene. We drank with great verve, did some warm up dances and smiles were visited upon our faces.
"Thank god for the 1% rule," we said as our cheeks began to flush.
The last drop was poured out and we climbed back onto the bench to huddle next to each other for warmth. The rain was still coming down in buckets and a small woman sat down next to us at the bus stop.
"How´s everyone feeling?" someone ventured.
"Yeah, warm."
"Great. Could be warmer, though."¨

A mischievous grin spread through the group and in the way that old confidantes can communicate without a word being uttered and a decision was reached. The second bottle was presented and cups were filled. We moved to the bus stop across the street where a couple of policemen were conducting a consensus of local traffic and began to chat them up. There were many toasts and group hugs, back patting about turning lemons to lemonade. We stumbled and cheered.

Then we noticed that Ben was gone. The three remaining troops agreed that we hadn´t seen him for half an hour at least. It was a small town and no one was worried, and so the story telling continued. About half an hour later, it was decided through that Ben had been gone for quite a long while. I decided to look for him, more our of curiosity than worry, and so I carefully ambled towards the closest house. A yellow one, right behind the bus stop. ¨

"Hola," I said as I opened the door, "ma amigo, Ben."
The woman gave me a blank stare. "Where is Benjmamin? You know?" I said in broken spanish.
"Ah, Ben-ha-meen." she said. She did some motioning and said something in Spanish. I was sat down next to the wood fire stove and a cup of mate, made out of a short ram´s horn, was placed in my right hand. I sipped and told them I was from New York. They asked me more questions. I stared at them blankly. It was quiet for a while and then I said:
"Two friends, speak good spanish. outside, it´s good?¨
Whether they understood or not I motioned for Matt and Thea to come in.
Thea sat down on the bench to my right and Matt was brought into the other room.

It was about this time that I started to notice the crosses, one over the stove, a couple over the cabinets. A half dozen in the living room. And between the crosses there were bible versus and posters of Jesus. Like bank robbers that had stumbled into the annual policeman´s ball, we found ourselves in the local missionaries house, drunk as sin in the middle of the day.

Thea was given our host´s mate cup and took a sip. It was the straw that broke the camel´s back- she suddenly clutched her stomach and her eyes became wide.
She shoved a copy of the spanish bible she had been given into my hands and made a mad dash to behind the chicken coop. Whatever transpired there we´ll leave to the confidence of Thea and the chicks.

The missionaries looked at me with concern.
"Bad empanada," I ventured.
The missionaries looked at me with skepticism.

At around this time Ben stumbled through the door, ruddy faced with an ear to ear grin.
"We´re staying up the street," he announced.
As it turned out, Ben had somehow been taken on a long car ride with a member of the mission named Jamie (pronounched Hi-mee). How exactly this had happened is unknown by all members of the group, including Ben.

Soon we were pushing our bikes up a dirt road to a small house consisting of a room with a wood fire stove and a wash basin, and two identical bedrooms, separated from the main room by a pair of curtains. It was about 6 o´clock and as the rest of the group pulled off their wet clothes I passed out on one of the beds, shoes still on my feet.

I awoke an hour or two later feeling terribly hung over and Jamie was there, showing the group the travel magazines he had accrued over the years and post cards he had collected from other travelers. He possessed a baby face just starting to show its first wrinkles and his cheeks were slightly asymmetrical, the left drooping below the right. He had a strange effect and when we asked him if he would like some of our dinner he answered, "of course."

We slept soundly that night and woke up early to avoid any unnecessary awkwardness with this generous, but strange man. He asked us to write down each of our addresses and he poured over the letters, when he came to one he could not discern he asked us to rewrite it more clearly.

By a little after nine we made double time toward the gate. The sky had begun to clear and the mix of rain and snow that visited us over the night had finally stopped. It was Ben´s birthday- streamers and confetti would be in order.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

from the way you described Jamie (or Jaimie) and based on my own research into ancient Christianity and its off shoots in SA (The Angel Moroni, etc) Your description of the missionary outpost, Thea's sudden illness and Ben's mysterious disappearence, it is almost certain that Jamie, may, in fact, be Jesus Christ. Now mind you, I am not making a categorical claim, but why don't you at least get his autograph. Ze'ev

1:48 PM  

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