2017 as refugees from twenty-seven Canadian winters, Clive and I biked along the Carretera Austral through Patagonia. The Carretera is a 1,200km mainly gravel road. Had I known I was going to spend Christmas Eve miserably wet I would have planned better. The 23rd Dec our friend Pedro, from Rio, Clive and I pitched our tents in a wooden shelter by a lake. Just like British Columbia, rain hovered over the tree clad hills, water lapped on the shore, as we warmed ourselves by a fire. In the morning it rained. Not much was said as we packed our saddle bags and set off. After a couple of hours, the road steepened, dripping wet and weary we biked past a road workers shelter. Pablo and Annibal, Chilean student bikers popped their heads out. “Hi, it’s dry in here.” Full of smiles they looked as if they were having the best adventure. ev Fuelled up with milo powder mixed with yoghurt and their youthful exuberance, we biked on the wet ripio - gravel road - to the pass.
Tongues of snow descended from the gloom that obscured the summits. Waterfalls spilled over cliffs and snaked through the forest. We zipped our rain jackets up to our chins then hurtled down. Trembling, cold to the bone, I hugged my instant coffee and hot dogs purchased from a roadside food van. The rain trickled down my face as we biked the next 30 km of tarmac past more waterfalls and rushing rivers, breathing hard up the final uphill to the small village of Villa Amengual. I passed a hand painted sign for the Refugio Para Cicilista but I hoped to find better lodging for the night. We dripped around a small supermarcado with well stocked shelves. After knocking on several the bed and breakfasts we were disheartened to find there was no room at any inn.
Wet and close to hypothermic we headed to the Refugio. Once again Pablo and Annibal welcomed us with their big grins.
“Come in. There is a wood stove.” We entered a basic room, their bikes on one
wall and mattresses on the floor. I held my wet back to warm stove.
“Come and meet the owner Inis. She lives across the hallway.”
“Hola! Make your selves at home,” she said beaming. “Yes I have hot shower. You can dry your stuff by the stove. I thought I was going to be on my own tonight. I will make a meal for you all.” I was touched by her kindness.
Clive headed back to the supermarket and returned with champagne, Chilean Merlot and snacks. Meanwhile, Lean and Manuel, Argentinian cyclists who we had met a week ago as they emerged from their night under a bridge, joined us. We were with five cyclists, from Chile, Buenos Aires, Rio, Inis and her teenage son. Warm and dry we shared wine, laughter, chatting in Spanish and English. Wonderful aromas came from Inis’s kitchen as she and her son cooked. We sunk our teeth into juicy ribs, chicken, salads and the finest lemon meringue pie. To round off the night, Pablo played the guitar and sang Chilean folk songs.
Christmas Day after a delicious breakfast, we hugged Inis goodbye. Basking in her Chilean generosity we rode through the stunning Lago Torres Reserve with wild tall trees and snow covered peaks, our hearts full of gratitude for the true spirit of Christmas.