Somehow the stars aligned so that we both ended up on a bus from Chaiten to Coyhaique together. We were both the ony foreigners on the bus. We had bright rain coats, backpacks and ipods, and everyone else knew each other and were only taking the bus for a short period of time. We had signed up for the full 12 hours, and even despite sometimes being the only two people on the bus we were both too shy to start up a conversation.
Finally at the last bathroom stop in what I think was the home of a friend of the bus driver (also where I had the opportunity to watch Portugal tie the US in stoppage time) I finally asked, "Hey, do you speak English". If the answer to that question was NO our hopes of having a conversation were crushed. If her answer was yes, it could be the first real conversation I would have in a little over a week. She smiled and said, "yes"...but that was the end...I guess in retorspect that was where I should have asked "what's your name?", "where are you from?", but she quickly turned to ask where the bathroom was (in very confident spanish).
We got back on the bus and put our headphones back in.
The bus arrived in Coyhaique around midnight and I didn't have a hostal booked in advance (helpful tip: If you're arriving late at night it's good to have something planned) so I asked my fellow traveler (still nameless) if I could follow her to the hostal where she was planning on staying and see if they had another bed for me. She looked only a little creeped out that I wanted to follow her around in the dark but said "Yeah that's fine. I normally don't book things in advance, but I did for tonight because we were getting in so late."
And that is how I met Lena!
Lena is 24, she's from Austria, and she speaks perfect German, English and Spanish. She graduated in Austria in December with a degree in physical therapy and decided to take a year off to travel. She spent 3 months in Southeast Asia, exploring Thailand, Laos, Viatnam, Malaysia and her favorite Cambodia, and then spent 3 months in New Zealand driving around in a camper van, sky diving, BASE jumping...you know New Zealand stuff, and now she's looking to spend as much time as she can in South America seeing as much as she can for as little money as possible. Did I mention she's awesome?
We spent the next few days together watching soccer games and exploring Coyhaique, and I told her about my project for the Pulitzer Center and how I had a friend arriving in Coyhaique in a few days and we were going to rent a car and try to keep traveling south...and after talking for a little while longer I revealed that my friend coming to travel with me was actually...my mom. When her answer was "Oh that's so great. I wish my mom could travel with me" I said,"come with us! If you help me as a translator for a few interviews I can pay your portion of the rental car and it's a win-win!"
I don't know what we would have done without Lena! I still haven't met another person traveling alone, so it's truly amazing we ended up on that bus together and were able to help each other out!