I lean against the door, taking a moment to say goodbye to this house in the middle of nowhere in Patagonia. Unless you really knew it is there, you would never stop in the tiny town of Villa Renovald. It is not on Google maps. For all intents and purposes it looks like a collection of cabins on the prarire (15...yes, I counted). They just got street lights. This. Week. Welcome to 2011 in the campo, folks.
The light is a crystalized blue, characteristic of winter months in so many parts of the world. Snow fell on the road and the houses earlier, blanketing everything in the faintest layer of contrasting white against the black edges of trees bent by the wind. The difference of a few degrees inside the house, generated from a few hours of lighting every available burner on the stove, is escaping. It pushes past me and ripples the air around the door as if it were a sauna and not merely barely above I-can-see-my-breath level.
Click. I pull the door shut and turn to walk away. Silence envelopes the road and the town. The only thing moving is a puppy, some kind of shepherd mix with one brown eye and one blue as the light creeping around us. He is wagging his tail ferociously and playing with my heels in the snow. I realize that he has probably never been indoors.
I glance up Route 9 in both directions, following with my eyes to where it darts between the rises of the Patagonian steppe. I can barely hear the noise of a car or two churning along the road between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. I can't tell how far away they are, because the hills and stillness seem to warp distances and play with sounds. I figure they are far away enough. I step onto the road.
The bus stop is a well-maintained little property, whitewashed with a blue tin roof. A plastic garbage can, bolted down to withstand the winds, sits by its side. It even has a door. But it is already occupied by a grandmotherly woman (wrapped from head to foot in woolen scarfs of clashing colors) and her two relatives, who are all smoking. I don't feel like sharing the space with the fumes and trying to concentrate on thick wazco Chilean Spanish, even if it means I will be a bit colder. I prefer the fresh air and silence.
I plant myself on the side of the road and look to my left, from whence the three o'clock Bus Sur will arrive. It is 4:45...or so says my signal-less phone, which always runs five minutes fast. Pointless in Chile. Even my favorite television program runs at least fifteen to thirty minutes late every night, depending on unseen factors (like how long the talking heads feel like they should talk about the latest match, which may drag on half an hour until they are satisfied).
Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiuuuuuu. A truck with two unsecured fifty-gallon barrels of gasoline in the back of it passes on the slushy road, on its way from the Argentine border to sell illegally in Punta Arenas. I think to myself as I have a million times in Chile, "Oh yeah, that looks safe..." and return to pacing in the snowy gravel.
There are yet flowers clinging to the stalks in the snow, crusted in white. Their purple shines, magnified by the blue winter light. I think about how it is Spring back home, and how many flowers there must be. Spring and its wafting scent of blooming life, washing over me on my bike at night in Ferrara, Italy whem I was studyng there. The promise of longer days and warmer weather.
2011 is The Year Without a Spring for me, because I went from winter to fall to winter coming here, and I will yet go through fall and winter again when I have to leave.
Shhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiuuuuuu. Sshhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiuuuuu. Two more cars pass, carrying sleeping passangers and stressed-out drivers over the icy roads. It is 5:00. The lady at the bus company said they would get to Renovald around this time. The cold is starting to lick through my two coats and two shirts. The baselayer is still putting up a valient effort. Hell yeah, baselayer. Best invention ever.
The images of all the places I have been able to travel so far on this trip materialize out of the bluish gray light, seeming to shine in the snow and cloudy sky. Torres del Paine. Tierra del Fuego. Ushuaia. Natales. Puerto Bulnes. The Straight of Magellan. That big hill over there, that we spent the day climbing yesterday. All the toughness of the teaching and the daily stuggles, did it pay for those places?
I pace in the gravel. The snow is starting to stick to my boots. The temperature is steadily dropping, and the little black puppy from earlier is on a doorstep whimpering to be let in.
I think of my students. They are so young, and yet so many seem to have their behavior already pulling them in one direction or another. The little problems, the big ones, and the little stories each one is writing with each day in school must seem to them of extreme importance. I remember that keeping my blog, telling my stories...that seems of extreme importance to me. We all have our stories to write.
Shhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiuuuuuoooooooooooo. Damnit. Was that my bus that just passed me here on the side of the road? I squint to read the receeding back of it. Buses Ferdnandez. Thank Pachamama. I don't have to crawl back into the cabin through a window to spend the night. Or sleep in the little white bus "station."
All the people I have met, all the experience that I have gained, all the laughing and crying and struggling and succeeding...out here on the plains it all seems dwarfed by my sheer smallness. I am so small. Everything is bigger than me. The Chilean educational system. The Anglophone world. The mountains. The ocean. The massive distance between myself and home. The three o'clock Bus Sur, which is now a good fifteen minutes late. Which is to say, not late at all...in Chile.
A group of cows over my left should begin to moo desperately. The puppy whimpers louder, and suddenly the air is full of noise. It sounds so loud. So full. Not at all the empty desolation I originally thought this part of the world possessed. And it is getting darker. No lights appear in the distant trees.
A momentary thrill of uncertainty washes over me and produces a chill from foot to head. What is the bus never comes? What if it got stuck in snow or slid off the road or the driver just looked outside and said, "Nah, it looks too cold out there. Let's drink a coffee and smoke instead."
I try as I do each day to let go and abide in the uncertainty that Chile demands one accept. As always, I begin coming up with back-up plans to soothe myself. I will flag down another bus. I will walk to the hotel 3kms away and pay for a room. I will knock down the door of the cabin and eat pasta with no sauce for dinner and pile all of the blankets available onto the bed.
Shhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiuuuuuuuuu. Nope, not the bus, either. My legs are frozen, and even the valiant efforts of my baselayer cannot withstand the 45 minutes in the cold. I start to dance. The snow that was on the gravel is all brown and overturned from my pacing.
Two distant lights appear on Route 9, and the dull roar of a large engine rolls across the miles to my ears. I get excited, then remind myself as always to lower my expectations. It may not be my bus. I my have to resort of Plan B or Plan C. The cows moo more desperately. Someone finally caves and opens the door for the whimpering puppy. Ah, so he has gone inside. Or maybe this is the first time.
Shhhhiiiiiiiiii...It's my bus. They stop right in front of me, momentarily blocking Renovald from view. I put my backpack underneath and climb the stairs. They don't wait for me to get my seat before gunning it out of town, throwing me down the aisle. By the time I apologize to the three people I run into and sit down to shoot a glance over my shoulder, Villa Renovald has disappeared behind the curve of the road.