There are few other doubts as familiar: this road I am on, is it the right one? And how long do I persist before I stop and ask? We decide our own points of return. The fog is cold and thick and I wipe the visor of my helmet every few minutes with the back of my glove. My hands are freezing. Every half an hour I stop on the side of the road and drag icy fingers out, hover them rigidly over the hot motor. I do jumping jacks and put on another pair of socks. Nobody calls this fun.
That afternoon when the sun finally breaks through and I’m almost there, the cold of the morning asks for amnesty that I’m not ready to give. Without me, it whines, would that sun really feel as warm?
Without you, I say, ah, without you.
I’m hot showered and warm teaed and Antonio and Miguel and I are standing in the kitchen. They have come to Chile from Spain for a semester to study. Between us on the table is spread the bounty of yesterday’s mushroom expedition. The two discuss the recent protests in the country – their Spanish is fast and blurry and I struggle to follow along. At dark we join the marcha as it chants its way from the university to the central plaza. Miguel is wearing an orange tee shirt and I hold onto it with my eyes and try not to let the crowd come between us. The rhythms of protest are the same the world over much like, I suspect, the injustices being resisted. Patagonia! Sin Represa! These are not my struggles nor theirs, but Antonio’s voice is among the loudest and my hands are two more clapping.
There are more likely ways to see a city for the first time than to protest through its streets.
The plaza is littered with remnants of the day’s earlier struggle between police and manifestantes but tonight is peaceful and before long the crowd breaks apart, fanning outward into the dark streets beyond the lights of the city centre. We turn homewards as well, still marching in time to the hanging strains of activist poetry.
At the coast we pile out of the car. We missed the sunset by half an hour but the sky has enough colour to backlight the tsunami monument in front of us. Joaquin races from one exercise machine to the next in the small park. A couple of boys walk past in wetsuits, heading home from the beach with surfboards underarm. Christian and Beatrice point out the things that used to be here – houses, ice cream stands, picnic benches and public barbeques. It’s hard to imagine, but I can at least get the sense that these spaces are empty – something was here and now it is not.
This was the epicentre, they tell me, and the wave moved whole houses. Indeed, up the hill about three hundred metres back from the beach a blue house sits at odd angles to the houses on either side. We walk to where it used to stand, where now there is only a cement pad.
In a few years we will forget, Christian tells me, and there will be another house here again. That’s just how it is.
On the drive home Christian gives me an audio tour of Chilean rock music.
Somos un pais de rockeros, he tells me. On the outskirts of the town I catch myself smiling out the window into the dark. After miles of making decisions, it’s nice to sit in the backseat with the kids again with a warm home ahead of us.
I wake up the dark before dawn to the sound of a car passing on the highway. It’s freezing cold and I try to retreat further into my sleeping bag, try to go back to sleep. As the first bit of dark washes out of the night sky I pile my things onto the back of the bike and gnaw on some bread. These are not moments of drama; they are lonely and cold and witnessed only by the ever crowding doubts.
Over the first rise the world opens out before me. The fog flows down the hillside away from me and gathers around ever tree and in every hollow and I can see all the way to the Andes.
Along the road I pass people waiting for the first morning bus; they breathe fog and stomp the ground to fight the cold as the sun climbs slowly higher behind the hills that surround us. Finally it reaches the top and light and warmth spill instantly into the valley, spread out over the vineyards that race by on either side and on me, so glad that from here on in, the day only gets warmer.