The End of the Journey
This is where I write “The End” on the story. Where trash turns to treasure, research to resolution, and vacation to fictional vision. Day 6, the final chapter of our Patagonian Journey.
“The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight… Be wary at the end.” –Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
You may remember, I’ve been searching for a story on this anniversary tour of Chile’s Región of Aysén. In the back of my mind has also lurked the vague goals of sighting pudús or huemules, eating calafate berries, and oh yes…finding pink rhodochrosite stones.
We spend so much of our life in anticipation, don’t we? As children, we only want to grow up and get on with it. With every trip, we look forward to going home (at least, I do, after the first week away). Even when reading a book I love, I can’t wait to reach the end.
So, in the end, what have I accomplished this week? Drum roll—the moral of my story is…
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” –Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
Whether the anticipation or the reality of this journey was better, this morning I answer: It’s always a mix. We can marvel at the glimpses of heaven on earth here…or suck lemons. (Or pick blackberries, according to the poetess.)
In the same way, God forgive me for failing to notice most of the miracles around me, beginning in the Maine where I grew up “the way life should be,” and each day since.
The sun’s barely crept over the mountains when we wake up—not that we can see it through the rain pouring outside our cabin in Puyuhuapi, anyway. But we concoct a sumptuous breakfast with the supplies our hostess has provided—scrambled eggs, ham and cheese, French-press coffee, homemade bread. And raspberry crumble that’s to die for.
Though I can’t help remembering the local saying our earlier tour guide, Tamara, mentioned. “He who eats calafate will return to Patagonia.” It looks like raspberries are as close as we’ll get to those Patagonian blueberries. We get underway before 7 a.m. and head south over the brutal mountain pass for the fourth and final time.
Passing through the town of Mañihuales, we find cell signal so stop to do our flight check-in. Then we veer east off the Southern Highway and take the gravel “short-cut” to Coyhaique that we bypassed the day before yesterday.
There’s little here to remark on. But we make it an adventure, because we miss so much through our preconceived notions of significance. The tranquil country road, winding between misty hills and meadows of purple lupins, rests the eyes and mind. The rain dissipates and the sun plays peek-a-boo.
The only other traffic is a gaucho on horseback herding his cattle to the next field. Hardly a novelty in Patagonia, but it counts as a “wildlife” sighting of sorts. I muse on the rancher’s life.
We reach the regional capital of Coyhaique well before lunch. This bustling locale reminds me of the rustic coziness of Villarrica in Chile’s Lake District. A new bus terminal under construction just off the highway. A host of tourist kiosks and strings of sandwich shops…all hovering in the wings for vacation season in a few weeks.
Under today’s overcast skies, we luck out, finding a couple of restaurant recommendations either retired or recharging for January. Good thing we’re not very hungry, but knowing we’ll be aboard the plane at lunch time, we finally settle on bacon-cheese fries at a coffee shop named for a national park, one we didn’t make it to.
Next, I spy a tented crafts market in the city plaza down the street, so we take a stroll around the square. I could invest in plenty of wood, wool, and leather goods here, but not today, thanks. For friends at home, I do buy a few magnets featuring a sprig of calafate berries encased in resin.
Then I spot the earrings. I’ve been asking during this trip about the rhodochrosite, Argentina’s national stone, assuming it’s mined in Patagonia. I guess not on this side of the Andes, at least. Apparently Aysén doesn’t have much mining activity, which should have been obvious to me—but wasn’t.
However, the pile of polished pebbles catches my eye. Just tiny plain-gray stones attached to earring backs. Back in Coquimbo, we’re building a home in a gravel pit, remember? But I sort through these Patagonian “gemstones” and match a set, to remind myself later: Whatever you comb the world for, you can usually find outside your own front door.
Down the last lane of tents, we encounter a vending cart bearing shelves of preserves. Among the containers of rosehip tea and antioxidant maqui-berry cream, stand boxes and bottles of everything imaginable made of calafate! I snag a jar of calafate marmalade and another of calafate honey—and start to laugh. It looks like we’ll be returning to Patagonia someday after all.
Then…as we leave via one of the plaza spokes, we run into Samuel, a young Patagonian who frequented our home for Sunday dinners while studying topography in Santiago a decade ago. This gem of a guy took my gringa soup experiments with cauliflower-and-butternut-squash in cheerful stride. We only have a few moments to catch up, but I feel like we’ve just struck gold.
“The best things in life are the people we love, the places we’ve been, and the memories we’ve made along the way.” –Unknown
After that, we’re sliding downhill toward routine. The drive through road construction back to breezy Balmaceda. Turn the rental SUV in. Check through light security. Mid-afternoon nonstop to Santiago.
The temptation to feel let down at the journey’s end might exist, but I don’t sense it, not at all. The take-away value of the story is often whatever the author chooses to highlight at the end. So what’s front and center right now?
Because of schedules, once again we’ll take a night bus from here. So we have time to wind down, decompress. At the Santiago airport, we order salads and reminisce for three hours about the San Rafael Lagoon, the Marble Caverns, the Hanging Glacier—the preview of paradise we’ve been privileged to visit.
Then we splurge on chocolate truffle cake and cortados (coffee topped with frothy milk) and talk some more. By now we’ve gone from debriefing to planning tomorrow. We’re in the groove of what’s next instead of what’s past. Along with Chile’s national crisis, tensions await us back home.
Outsiders still, we’re striving to spread roots in a stony field. Yet, it’s only the beginning, not the end, and people are worth investing in. This sometimes delightful, sometimes tragically sad, sometimes wonderful, sometimes desperately wicked, copy of Eden—the world—is our home.
And yet, not our final home, for we anticipate “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) and long for an Eden according to the last Adam, Jesus, who “makes all things new” (2 Cor. 5:17) and “everything beautiful in his time” (Eccl. 3:11).
“Love beauty. It is the shadow of God on the universe.” –Gabriela Mistral
Last hurrah before our 11 p.m. departure: We click a selfie in front of the airport Christmas tree, then board our transfer to the downtown bus terminal. I whack my head squeezing onto that bus and my knee getting off.
I’m doomed to accidents this trip, it seems. On the sleeper bus, I go out cold and all but tumble from my seat when we arrive at our destination at 6 a.m. In a blind daze, I stagger behind my husband to collect our luggage.
Cases in hand, we rumble up the hill toward home. Suddenly I’m wide awake as chill air cuts through the brain fog. If Balmaceda is the “queen of winds,” then Coquimbo is king.
As C. S. Lewis described it, we live in the Shadowlands now. The beauty we see around us is but a foretaste…of the glory that awaits, a heaven without disappointments, catastrophes, illness or accident.
In the meantime, I will enjoy every wondrous vista of creation, every leaf and lake, every rock and raindrop. And what’s the matter with blackberries, you ask? Nothing at all, except when they blind us to the Extraordinary Creator of every ordinary life.
Except when we watch for the whales and miss the penguins. When we take refuge in stories and hide from real tears. When we listen to the news but not to people. Oh God, don’t let me hang on the phone and fail to hear the voices of conversation. Let me not focus on the berries and miss the Presence of the burning bush before my eyes.
At our front door, at the end of our Patagonian Journey, we discover a lovely belated anniversary card from dear old friends in Canada. Welcome home to the backyard of Eden…and you can kick off your shoes.