M&MRC Cruce Story #9: Kitchen shelter for exhausted runners
The feeling of crossing that finish line, after 10 hours on the move, wet and aching, tired but oh-so-happy, was unbelievable. We had done it. In those final metres we were laughing; we had no idea why or at what. We were talking some kind of crazy language only we understood. The photographer was slightly bewildered and afraid of our euphoria. We were destroyed.
I would like to say we walked, but we stumbled off the beach in jubilation. The lake behind us was still bathed in the last rays of the day; the sky was pearl blue and the moon sat squarely above the mountains, gleaming brighter with each passing minute.
The campsite was in a large field right next to the beach. Rows and rows of bright blue bugs greeted us again. Home sweet home.
Maria walked towards the first pile of backpacks she saw. “There’s ours.”
No there’s not. They were for the workers. We wandered further into the mayhem. Well, mayhem in slow motion. People were hobbling, dragging their packs, sitting on the grass wrapped in warm clothes and survival blankets looking, above anything else, totally worn out. We picked up a chorizo and bread on the way to find our bags.
They hadn’t arrived. The large boat that had transported us to the first camp two days before had broken down, and instead there was a tiny boat being used to transport everything down the lake. As that morning we had had to put our packs in piles according to the previous day’s times our bags were not a priority. And, true, we had arrived six hours after the leaders of the pack. But still. We were wet. We were dog-tired. We were hungry. Dry clothes, warm clothes, cutlery and plates, torches and sleeping bags: all these were in our backpacks.
We decided to sit by the fire and get warm. Ah, what pleasure it was to take off those wet trainers and socks and toast our toes by the crackling flames of the fire. Darkness had descended and we sat boggled-eyed staring at the fire’s glow. Maria went for another chorizo.
Then we heard it. Your bags will be arriving between 12 and 1am. We looked at each other. It was nearing 10pm. The temperature had dropped. We now understood why people had run in that sweltering heat with fleeces strapped to their packs. We also knew that information was a lie. 1am meant 3am. We had lived in Argentina long enough. We understood that.
Two shadows cast over us. “Chicas! Equipo 90!” It was José and Gonzalo, our neighbours and saviours of Equipo 86. It had been a tough day for them too, but they had arrived in plenty of sun and sat on the beach with mate awaiting our triumphant arrival. The wonder of crossing the line, however, had now passed. We sat and considered what to do for the night.
Equipo 86 came into their own, lending us dry socks, plates and cutlery, handing us fleeces and jackets. They kept our places by the fire as we went to fill our bowls with pasta. With each forkful the need to lay horizontal and be warm intensified. More news came over the loud-speaker.
Some people were being offered a trip to San Martín de los Andes for the night in a hostel. A warm shower and bed seemed like an amazing option. But we had driven that road two days ago. It was a long trip. By the time we got there and found a bed for the night, we’d have to come back for the start of the third leg. And what about our passports? They were in our backpacks. Would we be let out? Would we be let back in? We knew we had to make some kind of decision soon.
Then José told us about a cabaña that had been mentioned earlier (way before we crossed the line). He went to investigate as we shoved spaghetti into our mouths. A dry and warm bed, here in this tiny village? Too good to be true, surely. Why wasn’t everyone there?
He came back. We were going to the cabaña, regardless if we were on any list or not. Equipo 86 thought they knew where it was. It wasn’t as if you could get lost in the village: one way was forest and the Argentine border; the other the lake with a tiny boat working its way back and forth all night. Anything resembling a cabaña was in total darkness. There was only one light on in the village and we headed to that door.
The heat that hit us from inside was wonderful. Smells of coffee and bread greeted us. It was a tiny kitchen, which we learnt made the bread rolls for the village. All the lady could offer us was a couple of inflatable mattresses and some blankets. Would that be all right? Sounded like heaven to us.
José and Gonzalo left us to it, as the lady’s sons brought mattresses out and laid them on the floor in front of the mud oven. We kept looking at each other, shaking our heads in disbelief. We were inside; dry and warm, with snug clothes, a better bed than we would have had in our tent and a working toilet. This was 5-star luxury.
I laid down as Maria helped a woman find her contact lens. Another couple had arrived and found the kitchen shelter for exhausted runners. We were happy to share. Even in extreme tiredness, relief buzzed around the room. I tried to move my legs. They were stuck, already sleeping.
The stars out of the window next to us pulled us towards sleep as well, and we were rocked by the lady’s kindness, the smell of baking and warmth of that oven all night long.