Ramón Quichiyao

Trip Start Feb 11, 2008
Trip End Mar 2008

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Friday, February 22, 2008

An inquiry at a supermarket in Futrono reveals Ramón Quichiyao´s school is only a couple of blocks away. Inside a large hallway in the school building, a few people point to his house on one side of it. A woman opens up and when I say who I am, her eyes light up with expectation. Rebeca is Ramón wife. She is about to leave for the event, so we drop our stuff and go with her to municipal room that looks to be a converted gym. It´s huge ceilings dwarf the compact leader of tonight´s program. He´s nearly 60 and wearing glasses low on his nose. His pants and sports jacket droop down on him and for a moment it´s hard to believe he´s the mountain man I rushed down here for. Yet, there is a youthful determination built into the wrinkles in his face.
Ramón has made himself the worldwide expert on Neruda´s flee. He has been researching it since the 1980´s and has led treks across the route a few occasions. He is Mapuche Indian. These lands are his people´s lands and he knows these mountains because they are is backyard. Tonight he organized an municipal event so he could talk about Neruda and his own experience, invite some poets to share their work, and show a clip of a documentary recreating the escape. This is all a kick-off to the party he is leading into the mountains tomorrow. I originally heard about him from the poet Floridor Perez, who joined Ramón years ago on one of these treks. When I emailed him, Ramón invited me to this. When I arrived in Chile, I had no idea how I would get across the mountains. Now Ramón was presumably my answer.
He calls these events and even entitled a book, "A route through the wilderness, a way to freedom." The mayor gives a brief talk, young musicians play inspirational music, and some of Chile´s finer poets, including Sergio Mansilla perform. I admit that I had difficulty paying close attention throughout. Listening to poetry is hard for me and when it´s not in English and spoken with a slurring Chilean accent it becomes harder. On top of that, I was exhausted, very hungry, and somewhat embarrassed about my disheveled appearance. Nevertheless Ramón mentioned me in his speech the 30 or so people attending as the North American Journalist and I tipped by Brazilian jungle battalion hat to them. Afterwards, we had a reception of wine and hors d'oeuvres. I scarfed down everything that didn´t have meat and quickly became tipsy. I stopped caring about my appearance and chatted up Ramón and others.
The plan was to take a van the next morning, hike a few miles, camp, and then go the rest of the way to the border the following day. He said going into Argentina was impossible because he had not been authorized to so. In 2010 he hoped to gain that permission from the officials of each country. Although I hadn´t even bought food for the trek yet and was drunk and tired, I figured I do the trek with them, and then when they turned back at the border, I´d scoot across it and find my way to San Martin de Los Andes, where Neruda ended up.
That night, Rebeca and Ramón were kind enough to feed us more bread and we chatted until around 3AM. Miles and I slept on their living room floor for a few hours.
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