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It is a nine-hour bus ride from Coyhaique to the frontier town of Cochrane, and the heart of Patagonia. The first 90 minutes of that journey are on a lonely paved highway, the remaining 7 and a half hours are a rattle across washboard gravel; through forested mountains, past azure blue lakes, beneath plunging waterfalls, and along thunderous rapids. Lisa and I were the last two remaining at the bus stop, sheltering from a tenuous rain beneath a street side birch, when I heard my name. It was Claudia, our friend.
Her energy is indefatigeable, her spirit unchecked. She was the first to share with us the traditional process of taking matte, explaining the ceremony of drink with cheer and focused clarity despite our formidable language barrier. Over the coming weeks, Claudia and Roberto Contreras’ house was our home away from home, where we would learn to expect the appearance of random friends and extended family members at the revolving front door. All entered after a quick knock to share conversation, matte, or maybe a meal.
In the evening, we took a drive to the Escualo Kayak Center, the brain child of Roberto. Currently, an old shed houses a dozen vintage kayaks, a pile of mostly repaired paddles, and a wall of tattered sprayskirts. Out front, a small wooden dock stretches into the cerulean waters of the Cochrane River. The place is about to get a face-lift thanks to Roberto, who spearheaded an effort to gain municipal support for the new facilities. Cochrane is deserving, a cow-town with a growing tourism element that sits in a dreamland of mountains, rivers, and lakes.