Never in my life did I think I’d be riding in the back of a roadworks truck down a bumpy road in Chile passing around a bottle of wine with perfect strangers.
This was my third ride while I hitchhiked down the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia so if you haven’t read the first post go back so that this all makes sense. I’ll be waiting here for you patiently.
We good? Aiiiight.
As the sun rose on day two of the hitchhiking adventure, Steve and I figured that the early bird would get the worm so we readied ourselves to leave our ridiculously basic hospidaje, the kind of accommodation that is really common along the Carretera Austral where building materials and really, anything at all from civilization, is hard to come by.
I crouched under the dipping ceiling and stepped over the heads of the nails sticking up in the carpet and looked out the window. It was raining. Pouring, in fact. It would either prove to be an advantage by discouraging other hitchhikers or one long, wet, and frustrating day.
We walked out to the end of the town of La Junta where we’d made it to the previous day, stacked the bags on each other with the rain covers on so that they’d be dry enough, threw on our ski jackets we still had in our packs from Austria, and stuck our thumbs up.
Not many cars came by. Those that did were either full or disinterested in picking up soaking wet passengers. We entertained ourselves by playing games like, “I see something yellow.”
Whenever a cyclist would bike by we’d cheer for him or her and they always smiled or even laughed, happy to have the encouragement.
The day trudged on and the rain never let up. We wondered if there was any possibility of catching a bus and took a stroll back into town for some lunch and to check the time tables. There wasn’t a bus going in our direction and there wouldn’t be until the next morning at 6am. We walked back to the curb and the wind and rain picked up.
The previous day it had been Steve who had to talk me out of giving up and that day, standing in the rain for the better part of six hours, it was my turn to keep the spirits up.
Just as we were discussing whether to give up or not, a 10-wheeler truck drove by and, given I didn’t see any room in the front and they never stop anyways, I didn’t lift my arm.
Then, to my astonishment, I saw the truck pull over to pick up a group of four girls 50 meters or so behind us. A pair of hands stuck out from the back of the truck and started pulling up their bags for them.
“Oh my god, he’s picking them up!” I gasped to Steve. Then without another word I took off running, hoping to whatever powers that be that I would make it there before the truck took off again.
Now a rational person might think to themselves, Hmm, riding in the back of a dirty-ass dump truck does not sound ideal, and I would normally agree, but I was no longer rational at that point.
The driver was out and standing next to the door when I arrived.
“Dos personas mas por favor?” I stammered in broken Spanish, breathless. A middle-aged, very relaxed-looking Chilean man jovially smiled and nodded in approval back at me, as if to say, well of course, why didn’t you ask when I passed you the first time?
I took off running back towards Steve, who grabbed two of the bags and met me halfway, then went back for the other two. The same pair of hands reached out from the top of the truck bed and pulled our bags in. Then Steve climbed up and I right after him.
I couldn’t believe what I saw in there. There were a good dozen or so other young people sitting together in a circle, all hitchhikers. They were mostly Chileans, a couple of Colombians, and a couple young Spaniards, all of whom were wet and a little dirty from the asphalt still inside of the truck, but smiling big and welcoming us with open arms.
We sat on our backpacks and, once Steve was satisfied that nothing was crushing his drone pack, settled in for the bumpy and hilarious ride.
There was a white tarp on top of the truck bed to cover us from the rain, and probably any authorities, because as a guy in the truck who spoke English pretty well confirmed, it was definitely not legal to carry passengers in the back of a truck in Chile.
I looked to my right and one of the Colombians was cradling a jumbo bottle of wine like a baby in his jacket. He took out two coffee cups with lids and poured them full of wine then started passing them around. Next thing I knew, someone took out a portable speaker and started playing Chilean reggae music.
It was the absolute best afternoon ever. I mean honestly, how often do you find yourself in the middle of Patagonia, passing around wine with a bunch of people in a 10-wheeler truck?
We bid our friends goodbye and strapped on the backpacks once more to search out accommodation and just as we did, a couple of cyclists came by all smiles,
“Hey, you were the ones who cheered for us! Glad to see you made it.”
Upon seeing the town we’d arrived in, Puyuhuapi, I was very glad too. It was absolutely gorgeous and surrounded by national parks we’d explore over the next few days.
But that’s a story for another time.