It’s 8am on a Friday in northern Patagonia and I am deeply engrossed in this morning’s top secret mission: operation birthday surprise.
I am doing my best to keep any noise to a minimum. Faye is still asleep in the tent next door as I delicately unwrap the sponge cake I have been carrying in secret for the past few days. As I ease it out of its plastic coated case, the packaging threatens to reach decibel danger level. I wince and pause to listen for any noise from next door. I am rewarded with a light snore – phew! Princess Faye is still sleeping.
I set about stuffing glacé cherries deep into the buttery cake, and finish off the sponge-sculpture with a sprinkling of hundreds and thousands. I consider shoving half a banana in the top of it to add some ‘depth’ to my creation, but decide that all good artists must know when to leave a masterpiece alone.
Taking care not to drop the cake and cause an explosion of rainbow coloured sugar, I ease open the zip on my tent porch and creep a few steps forwards until I am just outside Faye’s tent. The crunch of my bare feet on the gravel surface seems to pierce through the morning silence, but at last I am in position. I inhale deeply…
Today, my beautiful red-haired adventure amiga turns 30 years old. It is a landmark day by all accounts, and I feel privileged to be spending it on the road with her. I also feel a responsibility to make sure that she has a lovely birthday, because, well, there is no one else out here to do that job.
Faye giggles from her tent: ‘Thanks McNuff!’ she yells, seemingly having enjoyed my rousing morning chorus. I proceed to present her with the adorned cake as well as a few cards I have kept hidden in my panniers since her mum smuggled them to Santiago a few months back.
‘Errr, sorry they’re a bit battered’ I say sheepishly, dusting mud and crusty pieces of cheese off the envelopes as I hand them over.
‘Ha! No I like that they have been on an adventure too!’ Faye says. ‘They are perfect.’ She is too kind.
Today we are heading for the town of Villa O’Higgins, and the conclusion of the Careterra Austral. From O’Higgins the only way to continue south is via a 3 hour ferry ride to the Chilean / Argentinian border. In our usual relaxed, unplanned style, Faye and I had elected not to research the ferry times, and instead just ‘rock up and roll on’.
‘It’ll be fine.’ said Faye, earlier in the week.
‘Yeah. Of course it will.’ I agree.
Yesterday, however, we suffered a revelation which threatened to put a large hole in our ‘rock up n’ ride’ unplanned plan – when fellow cycle tourist (and new friend) Meg dropped an information-bomb in my lap:
‘It’s a shame the ferry from O’Higgins only goes once a week now.’ Meg says.
‘Does it?!’ I exclaim. This, of course, is news to me.
‘Yeah, it’s getting into low season. They changed the ferry schedule last week.’
‘What day does it go?!’ I ask, thinking that Faye and I really can’t stomach a week in a small port waiting for a boat out.
‘Saturday.’ Meg smiles.
Phew. Saturday is exactly the day we were hoping to rock up, and ride on. We take this as an unexpected birthday gift for Faye, and count our lucky stars as we roll out of morning camp, fuelled by cake and song, and towards the ferry port at Villa O’Higgins.