Ian, Jayne, Phil, and I finally arrived in Punta Arenas late at night after the adventure of running out of gas and then riding in the dark while it started to snow. Needless to say, we were cold and tired. A man that they met a week earlier in Tierra del Fuego had invited them (and now me) to stay with his family when we arrived in Punta Arenas. Mario was expecting us 4 hours earlier but showed up at the gas station a minute after we called and greeted us. He led us to his house and welcomed us inside. Tea, coffee, and fresh baked treats were waiting on the table. Another one of those moments where I found myself smiling at the incredible beauty of the kindness of strangers. But Mario wasn’t just a stranger.
Let share the backstory of how they met Mario. Phil, Ian, Jayne, and Joe were riding down towards Ushuaia but they found themselves still on the dirt road far away from any place to stop for the night. With the strong winds and few trees to take shelter they stopped at a ranch that had a line of trees to ask if they could camp there. Before they could even knock a young rancher opens the door and greets them. His name is Mario and he owns the ranch where he raises sheep. He welcomed them to stay in his home that night and fed them. Before they left the next morning he gave them his number and said when you get to Punta Arenas you have a place to stay again.
So there we were in Punta Arenas, a small city in Chile on the Strait of Magellan, being treated like we were a part of the family. Mario lives there with his wife, Daniela, and their two sons, Benjamin and Bruno.
That first night we stayed up till 3 in the morning hanging around the dinner table laughing most of the night. Mario has an infectious laugh and sense of humor. The days and nights passed by so quickly we were enjoying ourselves so much. During the nights we would share meals and stay up late, playing guitar and singing songs. Here’s what I wrote in the early hours of the morning after our first night at Mario and Daniela’s.
I never remember the easy days. It’s the hard days that I’ll always remember and end up being the best days. Today in Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) I spent most of the day riding at a 45 degree angle through 30mph crosswinds, through a hale storm and then snow. It didn’t end there, for the first time in the trip I ran out of gas at night while it was snowing. Of course there’s an amazing end to the story. A sheep farmer and his wife put me and the three friends I’m riding with up for the night in their home and fed us. Up till 3:30 in the morning talking about the good things in life. Mario said “I’ve worked since I was 12 years old and have never had a vacation, but I’m rich because I’ve shared life with people like you”. Beautiful. It’s not the things that make us rich, it’s the people, the experiences, the connections that make life rich and beautiful. And dare I say It’s the freezing cold windy snowy days that end up being the most beautiful.
In the days Daniela would work at the women’s clothing store they own and the boys would go to school. Mario took us anywhere that we needed to go and showed us around his city. In the afternoons I would ride with Mario to pick up Bruno from school. We visited Mario’s mother and her friends and spent time with Mario’s buddies. I never felt that I was just visiting. I always smiled when he explained how he ended up having 4 gringos staying at his house.
Mario splits his time at home in Punta Arenas and on his ranch. It’s almost the slow season for him so he only goes every other week. Lucky for us this was his off-week and he showed us around. We rode out one day to the nearby penguin colony but after an hour of driving we arrived only to find out they had already left the area. Instead we stopped by the Museo Nao Victoria. It is a museum of life size replica ships. They have the Nao Victoria, the boat sailed by Ferdinand Magellan who discovered the waterway. The James Caird, which was the small lifeboat of Ernest Shackleton’s harrowing Arctic Expedition. And they are constructing the HMS Beagle, the boat of famed Captian Fitz Roy and that Charles Darwin traveled on. If you don’t know the story about Ernest Shackleton you should. Here’s a quick summary.
What was originally going to be just 1 night turned into 4 but eventually we had to move on. I won’t remember the city of Punta Arenas but I’ll never forget the 4 days spent with Mario, Daniela, Benjamin, and Bruno. This is the incredible thing about leaving behind your worries of strangers. Looking at people that way will only make you miss out on one of the most beauty of sharing, learning, laughing with others.