It is early in the morning the day after Patriots’ Day in Boston. I look to my right at the frightening pile of still damp running clothes, wondering how all of it will fit back into my bag. My black Boston Marathon 2007 shirt lies on the chair where it was thrown yesterday. The finisher’s medal? Someone else is wearing mine.

Those of you who have run a marathon may have an easier time understanding the allure of the Boston Marathon than you non-runners out there. Non-runners – you don’t just sign up for Boston; you have to qualify for it with a specific, rather daunting time.  For men of my age, the qualifying time is a 3:20 marathon – a challenging pace, but one that I finally reached in October 2007 at the Chicago Marathon.

Second, getting to Boston is, in and of itself, a huge honor. I spent all day yesterday at the expo just in awe of the fact that I had finally made it – after 13 marathons, and two serious attempts at qualifying, I was there, running in the steps of so many other amazing marathoners. I did not care about my time today; I was in Boston. Even the approaching Nor’easter did not dampen the spirits.

I had an awful weekend three weeks ago. Within two days I had to put by little boy Toby to sleep due to an advanced case of feline leukemia and pulled a calf muscle, one I had injured a year ago in training to qualify for Boston. I ran in the pool for three weeks, hoping that the water would help heal the injury. It did. For the first eight miles of the marathon.

Our weather conditions were horrendous when we got on the buses this morning – winds roaring through the streets of downtown Boston, with driving rain and cold temperatures. But by the time the race started, it had calmed down a bit, with less wind and slightly less soaking rain. We started, and I had a huge smile on my face as we left Hopkinton, the start town of the marathon. The calf was fine, and then it was less fine, and then between mile 8 and 9 I both heard and felt something go ‘pop.’

The Souders-male-of-the-species really wanted to continue, and I did for another mile. But the listen-to-Coach-Anne side won out. I asked one of Boston’s finest for the medical tent, had my leg wrapped, got on the bus and turned in my chip. Instead of having Boston be a last, very painful marathon experience, I pulled myself out at mile 10.

Yes, I am disappointed. But do I regret it for a second? No. My leg hurts, but my head does not. I want to be a healthy runner in 2008, and running on an injury for sixteen miles is stupid. I’ll let it heal, go to the doctor this week, train for Chicago in October and not climb a volcano in March of 2008. And then I’ll kick Boston’s rear end firmly next year.

And, more importantly, I know what an honor it is to even get here. I earned my t-shirt, even if I did not get the matching finisher’s medal. I’ll train hard, train smart, and maybe bring some Baltimore running friends along next year for the ride.

In twenty-four hours it will be all over, my first Boston Marathon. For some of the people at today’s runners’ expo, it was another day-before-the-race expo – frantically buying this year’s Boston running jacket, getting extra power gels, or . Today was my first, and I sat in quiet awe at all that was swirling around.

When people find out I run marathons, they always ask if I’ve run the Boston. I’ve answered no, and I tend to get a look as if I didn’t realize that it was an important race and why had I not scheduled it in. I explain that I hadn’t qualified yet for Boston; the only North American marathon that requires a specific time in order to be allowed to fill out the application form.

When I first started running marathons, Boston was a distant dream. I ran my first marathon in just under four hours, a full forty-five minutes slower than what I would need to run Boston. For a few years my times would improve a little, but not too much, keeping me safely in the far-away-from-every-running Boston zone. I continued to run, not because Boston was a burning goal, but because I enjoyed the peace of the long runs, the friendships I developed over the years with Team in Training, and the ability to show off those finishers’ medals to the folks at work.

In 2006 after two particularly rough and unpleasant marathons, I decided to give qualifying a serious try for the first time ever. I lost weight. I took up speed work. I ran on the treadmill to practice in awful weather. I got faster. And I got older – turning forty gave me an additional five minutes to qualify, all the way to a leisurely 3:20. Most of all, my running friends kept telling me that I could do it.

I came close in Ottawa in May 2006. I trained well, but pulled a calf muscle a month before the race. Even thought it healed relatively well by race day, the combination a warm late-May day in Ottawa, a re-injured calf at mile 9 and an ill-timed bathroom break led me to miss qualifying by eleven seconds. I was down at the end of the race, but came back knowing that on a cooler day with no injury, I could do it. My running friends commiserated, and one gave helpful advice. “You shouldn’t have stopped to pee,” my running buddy Alan said. That pearl of wisdom did not necessarily help.

In Chicago in late October everything clicked. I ran well, the weather cooperated, and I did not pee recklessly. When I crossed the finish line in 3:16.16, nearly five minutes faster than I needed, I was in tears. Before even calling my mom, I called my friend and coach Anne, who kept telling me that Boston was possible. When I got home, I found a card in the mail from here with a Boston application inside.

So tomorrow is Boston. Many friends have e-mailed or called their good wishes, especially after they saw the weather reports – a Nor’easter is expected to develop tonight, with heavy rains, high winds and cold temperatures for the race tomorrow. And I do not care.

I walked around the expo, as I have done thirteen times before. This expo has been so different; all of us with our large orange goody bags did more than throw in some money to sign up. We earned our way here by qualifying. We are taking part in North America’s oldest marathon. We have dreamed of getting here, and here we are.

It has been a rough few weeks – the calf re-injured itself the day after I put my precious boy Toby to sleep from feline leukemia. I have run in UMBC’s pool for three weeks, I have cursed my luck, and I have missed Toby more than I thought possible. But I am here, about to run Boston in some of the worst weather that the marathon has seen. And I am thrilled.

At the expo we were encouraged to share our inspirations. I took a moment to think of why I am here, and after a few moments thought it was really not my efforts, but rather the support of my friends that got me here. They thought I could, they picked me up when I missed qualifying, and encouraged me to keep trying. I am so grateful for their support, and so excited to tell them what this experience will be like. The weather will be horrid, and I’ll finish cold, wet and miserable. And I’ll have the usual moronic grin on my face, so happy to be done, so happy to have done it.

When I though of why I am here, I wrote,” Because my friends told me I could make it here. #7112 Brian” Here’s to you, my dear friends, thank you for your understanding and your support me. I’ll carry you with me to the finish line.

Desafortualmente, señores, su vuelo a Santiago está cancelado. El aeropuerto está cerrado por que de la neblina.

The alarm may have been set for five in the morning, but I was awake at 4:30. And 4:00, 3:42 and pretty much every fifteen minutes throughout the night. Early morning flights, early trains, early boat rides, early taxi rides, early exams, early anything usually mean an alarm clock is pointless. Oversleeping does not happen – instead, a restless night of non-sleep leaves me wide-awake before dawn has even considered cracking I was awake, waiting to head home.

Our flight was scheduled for 8:40 to Santiago. I wanted to get some gas for the rental and get to the Puerto Montt airport. I showered, Jack slept. I dressed, Jack slept. I wished that I could sleep like that, Jack slept.

“Hey, time to get up,” I muttered, walking over to kick his bed.

Jack grumbled and turned over. “What time is it?”

“Quarter to six; we need to get on the road.”

The airport could not have been more than a half hour away, but US airport security has me trained to get to airports early. We dragged our bags quietly down the stairs, loaded the rental and headed to Puerto Montt. The fog that I had noticed as gloom as light filled the sky did not improve. We drove in near silence, me out of a lack of caffeine, Jack out of not being a morning person.

“So, when will the next flight leave?” I asked.

“At 1:30 this afternoon.”

“And when does that get us to Buenos Aires?”

At eight this evening.”

My flight for Dallas left that evening at 9:40. Ezeiza International Airport is not famous for its organizational skills. Previous flights out of Buenos Aires proved to be a seemingly endless series of long, snaking lines, surly fellow passengers and slightly less hostile airline staff. Lan Chile’s staff confirmed there was a later flight out of Miami if need be, but tried to be supportive. “You may,” one demurred.

International education, as I describe it to friends, is all about problem avoidance. Students complete forms to guarantee that their credits will transfer back. I stalk them to get these things completed because I know what happens when things go wrong. Things were currently going wrong, and my date stamp of problem prevention was six thousand miles away.

I know the basic techniques of crisis management – appear calm, but allow the insides to turn to goo.

Outside

“Okay then, at least we’ve got the car. Want to go check in and then go have a look at Puerto Montt? Maybe we can find some coffee.”

Inside

“I want that nice aisle seat I pre-selected on American and they’ll just stick me in the middle in the back. I hate Miami’s airport. I want control back. GAAA!”

A provincial Chilean harbor town, Puerto Montt has an attractive, wind-swept waterfront, a large mall and casino under construction, spectacular mountains in the background, and any number of hills to walk up and down trying to find an attractive shot of the city. We wandered into a café and asked for coffee. Two steaming cups of Nescafe appeared on our table. It was markedly better than gritty instant chai, so I swallowed any complaints with the coffee-esque liquid. We walked, we snapped photos, we talked, and we headed to the airport after a few hours

On board our plane to Santiago and in the waiting area, Jack and I were checking out. At the end of any journey, I start to draw an emotional end to the trip. It was never evident until a Russian friend pointed it out. Two days before leaving my second summer in Moscow, Misha, noticing me stumbling over simple Russian, told me, “Brian, you have already left us.” “Chego?” came my reply. “You’re head is already back in America. You don’t leave until Wednesday, but your mind is no longer here.” He had a point. Jack and I sat in silence in Santiago, Jack wrapped in the protective white plastic ear buds of his iPod, me plotting strategies of getting on my next plane. We were still in Chile, but neither of us was really there. The adventure over, mundane existence creeps in.

My insides churning, I created a plan to get out of Argentina.

1. Luggage needs to appear.
2. Sprint to the check-in area.
3. Unload my sleeping bag that I had packed away in my bag for Jack to use the rest of his time here.
4. Jack needed to find a cajero automatico that both worked and dispensed dollars as well as pesos to pay me back for his Chilean reciprocity fee.
5. Line up to pay my airport tax.
6. Find each other to transfer goods and say goodbye.
7. Sprint to the gate and sit in the aisle seat.

In an hour.

As we taxied to our gate in Buenos Aires, I lay out the plan to Jack. “Here’s what needs to happen. Once we get through immigration and I get my bag, I am going to run. I will meet you at the American check in at the far end of the terminal. You get my sleeping bag and the Chile guidebook; I’ll get on the plane. You go find an ATM and get cash. Okay?”

“Dude, run. Don’t wait for me. We’ll catch up inside” Jack replied. If it were not for the fact that he is hoping to go into academia, Jack would make a good study abroad advisor. He has already learned the art of the gentle-reminder-as-subtle-threat e-mail technique from a pro.

On the world’s slowest luggage carousel, bags emerged from the netherworld of baggage claim at a leisurely pace. We waited. I breathed. And remembered to breathed. Boxes appeared. Other backpacks appeared. Televisions emerged. After a short eternity, my bag appeared, and off I sprinted.

The line at check-in was horrifyingly long, stretching well past American Airline’s designated space. Hoards of surly passengers glared at their watches, then at the slowly moving line. I ran past them all to first class check-in. The Platinum Card trumps the cheapie coach ticket. I tore my pack apart, grabbed the toxic blue sleeping bag, and threw the now hated, uncomfortable and damp hiking boots into the recently vacated portion of the pack. I sweat. My check-in agent looked at me with alarm, “Are you okay, sir?”

“Yes, I just ran here.”

“From Buenos Aires?”

I checked in, grabbed my luggage tags, and darted to the airport tax line. I kept looking for Jack in the mobs swirling around. Had the plan included a place to meet in case all of the necessary steps actually worked? No. I climbed atop my luggage cart, hoping to give another foot to my height to find him. Why do Argentines have to be so tall? And so prone to wandering around in unorganized clumps when I was trying to find someone?

In the crowd, the familiar four-day scruff and black t-shirt emerged. “I have never been happier to see anyone in my life,” more out of happiness than honesty. Jack’s a good guy, but Mom wins every time. While my news was good, his was more Argentine – no ATMs were dispensing US dollars, so no reciprocity fee. “Whatever – you’ll get it to me when you get home,” was my reply, “I have got to run. Have an amazing experience here. Even on your worst days here, remember how staggeringly jealous of you I am.”

We hugged goodbye, and we were off – Jack to his shuttle downtown, luggage and toxic blue bag in hand, me to battle three more lines to get to that aisle seat.

Hiking trips come in two basic varieties: fun adventure or disaster containment. They can be a blast when the weather is good. When it is drizzly, gray or foggy, you wake up in a big world of damp. I reached over to check my watch that morning, brushed against the side of the tent, and found water beading down the sides. The down bag was damp, not quite giving off that scent of wet chicken that tips the scales from a bad camping trip to a moderately disastrous camping trip. We were still comfortably on this side of disaster, but damp does not make for a comfortable morning of getting dressed al fresco.

I looked over to my tent mate. Jack looked alarmingly scraggly, with a now four-day growth of beard and a near terminal case of bed head. The toxic blue of my synthetic bag, a loaner to Jack for the rest of his time in South America, clashed with the visible parts of his UMBC pullover. He was still asleep; looking cold and damp as he tried to cocooned himself into the bag. I unzipped my bag, stumbled out and fixed another cup of cold, grainy instant Indian-style tea. The companions on my January trip through North India would have been horrified; what I would have done for the monotonic chant of ‘chai chai chai chai chai’ of India Rail’s walking tea salesmen.

It was end of adventure day, time to head back to Puerto Montt and our long trip back to our respective homes. No better way to reintegrate ourselves to ex-Grizzly Adams status than an afternoon in the Termas de Puyehue. According to our Lonely Planet, the Puyehue Thermal Resort had several geothermal pools in an Alpine setting. The massive resort is right outside the park, a massive Swiss chalet nestled in the arms of the Andes. We snacked, broke camp, packed Jack’s wet tent and shoved the damp bags into the back seat, and headed out to get clean.

Descending the mountain, the sun suddenly broke out from behind the gloom. We parked, walked up to the locked door, quietly despaired that we would leave filthy, and then found the unlocked door to get us on a path to cleanliness. The termas were not quite Icelandic in grandeur, but they had all the basics – warm water by the ton and beach chairs. And many, many geriatric Chileans; our entrance dropped the average age in the pool to 70. Warm water after three days of backpacking soothes many ills, and we soaked. And soaked. And soaked. Two hours and a nap later, we showered, I shaved, and off we drove to find an authentic Chilean lunch (pizza with chorizo and garlic), and a place close to the airport in Puerto Montt to stay for the night.

“What do you mean you can’t sauté an onion? You’re gay, for God’s sake!” I shouted. After a false start at finding a place to stay in Puerto Montt, we ended up at a Scandinavian-style hostel in Puerto Varas. In the well-stocked common kitchen, I started to cook dinner, asking Jack if he could cut up an onion for the pasta sauce. Jack gave me a puzzled look – one that reminded me that students tend not to have the most finely honed culinary skills. “You don’t need chopped onions for mac and cheese,” he answered. I stared, shaking my head in horror.

My graduate school friends were the beneficiaries of my own fears during the coming out process. Afraid of rejection when I told them my news, I cooked for them; if they were alarmed at finding out that I was gay, they could at least like me for my cooking. Some got lavish tapas parties or full-on Thanksgiving dinners, others were stoked by quarts of homemade salsa from homegrown produce, while others got a caramel apple pie as I broke the news. No wonder they were not surprised.

Jack had not yet honed these skills and, given his puzzled look at the garlic cloves, may be a few years behind in developing them. I demonstrated the not-so art of chopping an onion while Jack stirred boiling water. We inhaled the first home-cooked warm meal in days, split the last bottle of Chilean red, as I wondered what it would have been like to cook this camp food out at camp where we had hoped. If nothing else, the packaged arrabbiata sauce might not have taken on the cloying sweetness of toxic pink industrial solvent.

Our room resembled an REI explosion. Wet sleeping bags, soggy boots, damp towels, muddy sandals, aromatic socks, and my empty burnt umber backpack covered the bed and filled the room. Somehow all this gear had fit into my bag, and while Jack wrote in his journal downstairs, I needed to get it all packed away. For someone who travels as often as I do, I find packing to be excruciating. I stared at the mess, snacked on the remaining ham potato chips, wrapped up a damp bag, and then sat down in quiet depressing. Packing sucks. Packing wet camping gear sucks more.

The end of a trip always brings a tide of mixed emotions. The mundane rhythm of daily life will soon return, and with it comes the comfort of regular supplies of warm water, a house with a complete kitchen, and a bed that neither zips nor rolls up. As I shoved layer upon layer of gear into the pack, I looked forward to seeing my boy Toby in the front window, pawing at the glass as I approached. That sight would be two days, four flights, two train rides and an alarmingly early wake-up call away.

Anne, the running coach from the charitable organization we volunteer for, stressed the following pearl of wisdom during marathon training. Never do anything you would not normally do in the final weeks before a marathon. No additional miles, no sudden decisions to do speed work, no new foods, nothing out of the ordinary that might interfere with your goal. It is safe to assume that a month out from the Boston Marathon Anne would not recommend the following training regimen:

1. A steady diet of Thai lemon-and-chili peanuts, ham-flavored potato chips, peanut butter granola bars, cold instant-chai mix, and a half bottle of red wine;

2. A seven-hour day hike up a volcano.

After driving around Entre Lagos and Osorno, visiting every ferreteria we could find to get fuel for the multi-fuel stove, Jack and I thought we had found what we needed – solvente industrial. It had worked in the stove in Argentina, and should, in theory, work in Chile as well. It did not look the same as what I had used several years before in Ushuaia, but it had the same name and was on the same continent; what could go wrong?

Chilean industrial solvent differs from Argentina industrial solvent in a few ways – it is an alarming shade of pink, it smells hazily like sweet perfume, and, most importantly, its relationship to petroleum products is somewhat distant. It did catch on fire briefly in the stove, but sputtered out after a minute of plaintive weak flame.

With no functioning stove, Jack and I opted for a campfire, using the same industrial solvent and kindling gathered from around our campsite – the temperate rain forests of Puyehue National Park.  There were stacks of wet wood in most of the empty camp sites, as was all the kindling we could scrounge up.  Aside from our clothes, the only dry thing to burn was yesterday’s New York Times which I had brought from Baltimore for Jack.

Jack: “This wood is all wet.”
Brian: “Aah yes, but we have rose-tinted industrial solvent to get it to burn.  How can you go wrong?”

Rose-tinted industrial solvent does not a good substitute for gasoline make. Twenty minutes later, we stood around the smoldering remains of our fire, our non-existent dry kindling burnt, no more New York Times, looking forward to two days of snacking for food. The Bigger! in Osorno, if nothing else, left us well stocked with chips, granola, dry pasta and fresh fruit.  And white wine, Jack Daniels and Coke.

The day hike we had in mind was the longest one on the map we got from the briefly unlocked park guard’s office. The first hour was in HeidiLand, wandering through the lush rolling green hills surrounded by cows and conifers. “Hey, Jack, forgot to tell you. Puyehue is actually in Switzerland,” I yelled as we strolled up past some more cows. We crossed fences, we talked, we skirted past mud and cow pies, and we enjoyed the late summer sunshine of a March morning.

The trail entered a lenca forest, and went from our gradual, gentle ascent to a case of near terminal Stairmaster. Erosion control does not seem to be a priority among CONAF officials; the trail was a series of ruts and gullies with some traction – but on the upside, it would have been impossible to miss the trail. Just follow the ditch straight up the mountain.

Up and up and up we climbed. The conversation sputtered and stopped – not because we had run out of things to talk about, but because we had entered that zone of grim determination that hikers get into when they are not necessarily having a good time, but do not want to share their feelings of dear-God-in-Heaven-will-this-wretched- trail-going–to-end?

This trip was Jack’s and my first backpacking adventure together. Traveling with someone new is always a learning adventure – you never know whether or not you are going to have the same travel temperament, the same interests, the same physical stamina, the same ability to put up with the weirdness that a backpacking trip throws at you. With no hot food, no campfire, no warm shower, no shave and no morning coffee (hence the instant chai not quite dissolved in cold water), we had done pretty well. Similar abilities to cope with randomness matched with interesting conversations made for good fun.

After two hours, increasingly frequent rest breaks for water and snacks, Jack finally sighed, “This is tough.” Finally, one of us had broken the fessing-up barrier.  “Yeah,” I agreed, “this is a lot harder than I though it was going to be.” It’s not as if the map had given us any topographic lines to show that we’d be mountain-climbing that day, but common sense would have led us to believe that the going would be steep.

Finally, not long after the confessional water stop, an opening appeared in never-ending lenca. A grassy alpine meadow appeared and, after hours of feeling burning legs, sweat pouring down my shirt and feeling as if the Volcán Puyehue would get the better of us, the ground leveled and we started a gentle down slope to the refuge – 1800 meters shy of the top of the volcano.

Usually I would have considered this meadow a staging area. Today, seeing nothing of the cone but a big bank of cloud and fog, we decided that Puyehue would remain, for now, undiscovered by Americans. We left it to the Israelis and Germans, loudly eating lunch and ignoring each other’s existence at the top.

Jack and Brian atop a fog-shrouded Volcán Puyehue

I would have liked a nap. Twenty-mile training runs are always follwed by family-nap-time at home, with my two cats crawling up on top of my slowly rising and falling chest for a doze. There was a refugio at the top with slatted bunks, but with a wet t-shirt, a cold room and no cats, it did not seem quite the same as home in Upper Fells Point.

We headed down. On the way, we ran into multiple groups of Israeli backpackers, each looking tired and asking if it was much further. We lied, “oh it’s not that much longer, maybe a half an hour” in true hiker fashion. We stopped at one point to split the last of our water, and listened to the astonishing silence of the lenca forest. The chirp of unfamiliar birds, the whistling of the wind through conifers and our no-longer-labored breathing were the only sounds in the sun-speckled gloom of these damp woods.

Heidiland reappeared. The parraderilla at the end of the trail promised a warm, inviting, possibly expensive dinner. Except that it was Sunday and the grill was closed for the evening dinner, so no dead-cow-on-a-stick for either of the increasingly shaggy, stinky, sweaty hikers. We walked the remaining two kilometers back to our camp, I took a frigid shower, and we cracked open another bottle of wine. Never have granola bars, cold curried chickpeas and potato chips tasted so good under the dim twinkle of the unfamiliar stars of the Southern Hemisphere.

When you think of a hiking trip, you don’t think about the mundane crap that goes into it – packing, organizing, cursing at the weight of your backpack, and dragging it all to the airport. There are always the supplies you have to get at your destination – fresh food, a few bottles of wine, and cooking fuel.

Usually these trips are solo; it is a time for enjoying nature, having some time to myself to think, to reflect, and sometimes to remember why I love my job. This time for Spring Break my buddy Jack and I met up in Buenos Aires – he’s currently there working on his Spanish.

Jack and I found each other quickly in the early quiet of Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires. The flight from Miami arrived on time; he actually woke up at an ungodly hour to get the airport shuttle out to the far suburbs of Buenos Aires. Timeliness is not exactly Jack’s strong suit, so finding him walking in at 7 in the morning, unshaven, with bed-head hair, hazily awake, dragging a large gym bag of gear, was a welcome, surprising sight. I was undoubtedly a similarly shaggy-looking creature to behold, having been on the road, unshaven and groggy after 18 hours of flying.

We sat down for some coffee, got caught up on his first month in Argentina, and talked about the trip. We got his ticket changed on his return so that we were on the same flight home. And we plotted strategies for getting through Chilean customs, immigration and to the domestic terminal in fifty minutes. My last trip through Santiago took nearly two hours; chances of making this connection seemed grim.

And yet we made it – Jack paid his reciprocity fee (i.e. the we-won’t-make-you- get-a-visa-beforehand-but-we’ll-charge-you-the-same-as-you-charge-us-to-get-a-visa- and-make-you-wait-in-a-long-line-to-pay-it fee), we got spiffy new stamps in our passports, found our bags and ran, bags in hand, up the two flights of stairs to the domestic check-in. To discover at the gate our plane to Puerto Montt delayed by mechanical problems.

Our tiny rental car barely held our bags in the trunk and back seat. The clutch ground slightly as we headed east toward the mountains. Jack snapped photos of the volcanoes and the western side of the Andes, the stunning lakes of Chile’s Tenth Region. I focused on the Panamericana. Our goal was to get to Parque Nacional Puyehue, about three hours away from Puerto Montt and set up camp before sunset. We needed to do was get to Osorno, get some groceries and find some fuel for the multi-fuel camp stove. A map would be nice as well.

Osorno will never be on the cover of a Fodor’s guide. An agricultural hub, it should, in theory, have all we needed. The supermarket was an easy find on the main drag. Jack focused on finding Jack, I wandered through the wine section to get the perfect camping wine – a bottle of red for around three dollars. The three-dollar bottle of Chilean red is the evening equivalent of camp coffee. Your standards of what is good in beverages take on more flexibility on the road. We left the Bigger in search of fuel.

The multi-fuel stove can, in theory burn anything. It should take white gasoline, readily available in North America, but it can handle pretty much anything. An earlier trip to Argentina told me it was available as, of course, industrial solvent. So off to the Chilean equivalent of the Home Depot we went.

Two somewhat-Spanish-speaking Americans wandered into the Easy! in search of camp stove fuel. We sounded like a bad imitation of David Sedaris looking for antique forceps in Paris.

“Hi! We are going to Puyehue to make camping. We need gasoline to make food. Do you sell it here? In Argentina they call it solvente industrial. Do you have that??”

Puzzled stare.

“I think it’s called bencina blanca. Do you have that?

“You’re going camping, and you need fuel for your stove?” came a reply, after the clerk processed our bad Spanish into normal Spanish. “Okay, we have that over here in our camping section.” We were promptly shown canisters of butane, which, if used in my stove, would explode.

“No, no, it’s in the form of a liquid. Like gasoline. But white. Or industrial solvent.”

Puzzled stare.

“We don’t sell that. You should try the ferreteria.”

“Where is the hardware store,” I asked, standing in the middle of a big-box hardware store.

“Oh, in the city center. They’ll have it there.”

“Is there a camping store here?”

“Oh sure. Commercial Menendez. It’s on Errázuriz Street.”

“Is that near here?”

“No, but it’s near the bus station.”

“Where is that?”

And a stream of Chilean Spanish followed, of which Jack and I caught several ‘turn rights’. We got back into the rental car, and drove at random, following buses. Our Lonely Planet did not show a bus station or any Erráruiz Street. Getting hopelessly turned around, we found ourselves at another big-box hardware store, asking the same questions, and getting the same confused looks. With no fuel, no idea where we were in Osorno, and with night rapidly approaching, we decided to find a place to sleep for the night.

“Doesn’t the guide say that Camping No Me Olvides is six kilometers east of Entre Lagos?” I asked Jack, as he tried to read the Lonely Planet in the dusk of the rental car.

“Yea, I think so.”

By now the sun has set, and I’ve been on the road for more than a day. The car is hurtling down the road in the growing gloom, and there are no obvious Motel 6s nearby.

The challenge of traveling with someone you have never actually traveled with before is that you do not know how they will react in stressful experiences. As a fan of The Amazing Race, I pictured that any minute we would be screaming at one another, with a cameraman filming away in the back seat. I was tired, Jack was tired, and we both wanted to eat. With no camp fuel. No obvious restaurants around. And with night approaching.

Six kilometers came and went. At kilometer eight, I broke. “Okay, I am now officially tired. Remember that place with lights back in Entre Lagos? We’re going there. They had cabins.” And around we went. The cabanas were, in fact, wonderful – two bedrooms, a kitchen (with a functioning stove!) a hot shower, and with a corkscrew. Half an hour later, with a pot of water boiling for pasta, a bottle of the three-dollar wine open, and after a warm shower.

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