Sunday, 12 December 2010

THE LAND OF THE DOG





In Chile, a dog´s life is not necessarily a bad life - there are hordes of dogs around, many of them seem to be packs of strays. Dogs apparently hold a special place in local society, and anybody who harms a dog could find himself in big trouble. I´ve learned to look around a bit, scanning the area for dogs before I set up camp, but before long they usually sniff me out. Initially there´s a bit of barking involved, but as soon as they realise that I´m about to prepare dinner the dogs pretend to be a lot more friendly. After my last report from Temuco I continued on my way South, and when I enquired around at the small town of Mafill regarding a camp site a local man (Juan Ernesto) invited me to camp at his humble home. Of course Juan Ernesto had a dog which he tied up on one side of the yard, leaving me hardly enough space to pitch my tent (and the dog disturbed the whole neighbourhood for most of the night, barking at my tent). I also had dinner with the family that evening, and my attempts to communicate with the help of a dictionary were rather futile as Juan Ernesto turned out to be illiterate. In Chile I also introduce myself as "Ernesto", otherwise the people don´t quite catch my name (as in Mocambique, where I had a sign on my bike advertising this blog - leading some of the Portuguese speaking locals to think that my name was Ernesto Nbike). Further South on Chiloe Island I had to wait for the ferry from Quellon back across to the mainland, and I stayed at the home of the welcoming Sylvia and Mauricio (unfortunately their dog didn´t share that attitude, and had to be tied up before I could leave the house). Sylvia has done cycle touring in the past, so they are keen to accommodate cyclists who have to spend some time in their town, Quellon (contact Mauricio on e-mail morrispet2108@hotmail.com if you don´t mind camping out on the lounge floor). The other night, after a long cold and wet day on the bike, I found refuge in an auto scrap yard, where I shared a breezy shed with the two resident "Junk Yard Dogs". They weren´t at all mean towards me, and probably considered adopting me as one of their own when I let them eat my leftover dinner from the pot. The following morning I awoke to a freezing wet day, with fresh snow low on the surrounding hills. After a few k´s on the road I stopped to eat some peanuts which I had with me, but before I could even help myself to a second handful of peanuts there were 6 dogs in close attention (where did they come from!?). I carried on cycling - dogs in tow - and after about 10 km most of the hounds had called it a day. However, 2 of the dogs managed to stay with me (lagging behind as I sped down the hills, but they obviously knew the road because they kept on going and caught me on the inevitable uphills). Later I sheltered from the rain in a tunnel and decided to reward the dogs by giving them some of the peanuts, but they didn´t want any! (they just wanted to run along with me, it seems). When I was crawling up the subsequent mountain pass I coudn´t feel my hands and feet anymore, and then it started to snow. Those 2 dogs trotted ahead of me through the drifting snow, looking around every now and then to make sure that I was still following. I got the feeling that they may have been angels guiding me through trouble, but then it struck me that they were both pitch black dogs (probably what I deserve, anyway!). Once over the top of the pass the sky cleared for a moment and I could see the town of Coyhaique about 10 k´s away at the foot of a large mountain. I felt rather awkward leaving those 2 dogs like that on the big downhill after they´d run with me for 27 km - but all I could think of was a nice warm room in one of the hospedaje´s in town (and the inevitable wood-burning stove which these places have for heating). Later, in my warm room, I was sitting in bed watching cable TV (just to hear a bit of English for a change). I glanced out of the window and was overcome by a strange feeling when I saw the 2 black dogs sniffing around the supermarket entrance across the road where I´d done my shopping about an hour earlier.

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