From time to time I have mentioned to people that I consider myself morally flexible. The reaction this gets is often mixed. I like to think of people running wild scenario’s in their heads where I play strange role as an outlaw bum, stealing pies off of country windowsills and retreating into a world of pie inhaling shame beneath a bridge somewhere.
It is, however, often much more subtle than that. For example, a few days ago after crossing in to Chile once more I arrived in Pucón. Pucón is a very tourism centred operation and I was riding a high from a few nights of very remote and beautiful riverside camping. To make the entrance even more special, I happened to briefly cross over with an Australian couple I had met at the start of the Carratera Austral. So far so good. So upon cruising into the only camp in town you can imagine my upset to find a huge plot of dusty sites near the highway and a bathroom block offering a distinct smell combining stale urine, plumbing glue and vomit. I don’t need to tell you anymore for you to understand it was overpriced.
Not a big problem, wth judicious use of a moral slide rule I paid the first night and stayed long enough for the nightly average to come down to something more appropriate.
I rested, washed, and left before new years to ride south in search of more tranquil locations. The search was rewarded with a quiet new years spent on the outskirts of Panguipulli, nestled near some reeds by a lake surrounded by glowing and smouldering volcano’s. The dizzying height of the landscape was shortly matched by my own dizzying drunkenness as a big box of wine became slowly beneath me.
I woke to a bright 2016, too bright actually. My one resolution became to combat the hangover with healthy doses of more red wine throughout the day. And so I found myself on a small backroad, riding highway bound and occasionally uncorking a bottle of wine with my teeth and singing gleefully to the new year. A good start to the year.
I quickly sent our a few couchsurfing requests from a small Chilean town and found the highway to clock up some seriously quick kilometres.
One chief concern of the highway is the availability of easily accessed wild camping locations. A few cyclists had told me that the service stations generally allowed cyclists to camp – not however my experience. A particularly memorable attempt involved a security guard at a truck stop who informed me that I couldn’t camp as I was not a trucker. I began to convince him I was carrying an important shipment of baby wipes to a man in Santiago who had run out of toilet paper, and that failing the successfully delivery of them he may be stuck there on the can forever, unable to clean his coight. He didn’t buy it, and directed me to a paddock to camp in. When I asked if it belonged to the truck stop he replied ‘yes’. Of course, it did not, and the fact that he told me it did pointed to his own moral flexibilities. With a generous shrug I hopped the fence and set camp next to a patch of wild strawberries which I used to experiment with varying strengths of sangria.
I drifted off to sleep thinking about the contrast between the flowing traffic on the highway nearby and the preferred sound of a gently babbling brook I would otherwise be camping near. A nice example of man imitating nature. The last thought I recall was seeing my meagre pile of belongings outside my tent and appreciating the joy and simplicity which comes with only keeping what you need.
On the subject of few possessions, my clothes are particularly few. It’s a well known fact that you don’t smell until someone tells you that you do. As long as you realise this it’s possible to travel by bike with only 2 sets of clothes, one for riding and one for drinking. The reality is that when you’re on the bike, most of you time is spent alone – so you only have to be pleasing to yourself. If you’re cutting through some serious tinto in the evenings you probably exhibit floral notes anyway.
And so I’ve moved North, when I wrote this I was staying with a lovely family on a tranquil plot of land in Pillanlelbún. Juan and Carla are part of a couchsurfing type network for cyclists, and live with their 2 children Olivia and Miguel. They are hosting and helping cyclists until the kids are old enough to come riding with them.
The property was a beautiful green space edging a large flowing river. Depending on where you were it threw out scents of herbs and mint. The kitchen was full of oats, nuts and quinoa and Juan was a wealth of knowledge about cycling and Chile. I often find it difficult to learn the local politics of a place while travelling, but Juan was more than happy to indulge my interests, and Chile has a very interesting political history. More red wine of course.
They also had a large horse-dog called Babu. Babu was a mastiff with an infant like energy and temperament. He doesn’t appreciate his size and is constantly trying to put his large head where it won’t fit, like under my arm while writing this. Ignoring him prompts different behaviour, like raising a paw and prodding you, and finally climbing up and putting a paw on each shoulder, using his full mass to bring you to a small heap on the ground. He’s the boss.
It took me a while, but the only way I found to press the point was to stand above him, limp armed and never making eye contact. This inspired new reactions; first, energy – this was all a game of course and maybe he needed to play harder to fix me. Second, apathy, a Chilean standoff develops and he’s the first to break eye contact. And finally, acceptance, Babu sulks away, pausing to look over his shoulder at me as he drops the largest and steamiest dog shit I have ever seen. I understand what he thinks of my strategy.