Unexpected Surprise (Cullen, Chile)

Well, this was certainly an unexpected end to a tough day…

It was cold this morning – just a few degrees above freezing – but the wind was only a gentle (cold) breeze, so we bundled up and headed out.

As expected, the road turned to gravel immediately beyond Cerro Sombrero (we’ll have dirt road until we cross back into Argentina), but conditions were good – tail wind and great road conditions.  For a while, anyway.

The road began to deteriorate at about the same time the frigid wind shifted into a cross wind. We bounced and jiggled over the rocky road, struggling to maintain control of the bikes – all the while wind threatened to knock us over.

I lost control twice.  The first time I strayed a bit too close to the edge of the road and deep gravel ate my front tire.  BAM!  The second came toward the end of the day when I was exhausted and could barely keep hold of the handlebars – a gust of wind came at the exact moment I arrived at a patch of loose gravel. BAM! (again)

And so it was that we pulled into the town of Cullen.  “The town is abandoned,” people had told me.  “There’s nothing there anymore.”  We hoped we could at least find a building to pitch our tents behind – camping directly out in that wind was not something we were looking forward to.

I flagged down a truck.  “Is there any place here we could pitch our tent?” I asked.

“No,” came the reply.  “This is all private.  You’ll have to go outside the gate.”

“But we need a building or something to block the wind,” I told them.  “Is there a supervisor here I could ask permission from?”

A few minutes later I stood before the plant supervisor explaining our predicament. It turns out that Cullen is not quite abandoned – it’s a petroleum plant and they have 40 workers there.

“Yes,” he told me.  “I think we can find a place.  Just a minute – I’ll call my supervisor and get back to you.”

Another worker invited us into the rec room to wait – out of the wind and on nice, comfy couches.  We couldn’t wait to climb into our tents for the evening and get out of the wind for good.

“Come with me,” the supervisor said a few minutes later.  “I’ll show you where you can sleep.”

He took out a key, opened a door, and showed us to rooms.  Dorm rooms!  With two beds each!  Nice soft comfy beds!  And a bathroom!  With showers!  And hot water!

“Get organized, then come over to the cafeteria for coffee and bread,” he invited.  “And dinner is served at nine.”

I’m still stunned. I never, ever expected to be in such luxurious surroundings tonight.  All I was hoping for was to be out of the wind.

Kilometers today:  54
Kilometers to date:  27443
Distance remaining:  350


Dirt road through Chile

In dorm room at petroleum plant

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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9 Responses to Unexpected Surprise (Cullen, Chile)

  1. Vernon March 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Our travels, as well as yours it appears, have renewed my faith in humanity. People are basically goood and when you aren’t afraid to get out there and look you can very quickly see that.

  2. Lisa Bergren @TheWorldCalls March 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Hurray! I love such reminders of our shared humanity…

  3. Ian March 16, 2011 at 1:29 am #

    Vernon – spot on. I love these sorts of travel moments and agree.

    I guess the challenge for us is to then get home and make these moments happen for travellers in our home countries 🙂

  4. Pete March 16, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    sounds like you met mauricio. now you’re hanging with norma in rio grande–wonderful lady.

    dont forget in tolhuin to stay (for free) at the panaderia La Union. there is a room for touring cyclists in the back of the bakery.

  5. Pufferfish March 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    This post made me smile and feel warm and fuzzy inside.
    What a wonderful surprise. And even at the factory…they eat dinner at 9pm! Oh, they love their late dinners in Argentina (and that’s considered pretty early)!

  6. Barbara Raaf Wolff March 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Mis paisanos en Cullen! Rotos buenasos. A warm wind did blow in Chile- Tierra del Fuego! Glad you ran into warmth as well.

  7. Marina June 30, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    The kindness shown reminds me of the Argentine movie Intimate Stories. It follows the adventures of three people on the roa to San Julian Android the kindness shown from most of the strangers.

  8. Juan Carlos August 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    I was raised in Cullen when it was a vibrant little town for the plant workers.

    I have been back now that it is semi abandoned and it is a stunning isolated place. The wind and the cold!

    Great that you were surpriced with the kindness of the plant workers.


    Juan Carlos
    Now in Scotland

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