Monday, October 29, 2007

No Pain, No Gain

“Hay que sufrir”
This was advice coming from a Patagonia native… a Torres del Paine park guide and one of my private English students, who grew up on an Estancia across the Strait of Magellan in Tierra del Fuego. “One has to suffer.”

I was beginning to understand the place, both as a physical presence and a way of life. A Patagonian Priest once told a traveling author:

“O Patagonia, you do not reveal your secrets to fools.”

Taking both bits of wisdom into account, we three fools have suffered much down here at the ends of the earth. But with a little patience and a much greater sense of humor, we’ve also seen the best Patagonia has to offer.

This is not your typical South America. The people are not warm and neither is the weather. On the contrary, on any given day you never know what to expect. You wake up one morning to cool air and sunshine which makes the blues of the water in the Strait of Magellan stand out, almost alive in their intensity. One hour later a dark cloud blows in out of nowhere bringing with it torrential rain, which later becomes snow. The next day the wind might blow 40 miles/hour, which is normal here. They actually tie up ropes along the buildings in the city center for people to hold on to while they’re walking so they don’t get blown away. See Video:

So we’re just coming out of 5 full days of rain, with a little bit of snow mixed in… and believe it or not, they call this Springtime. It sounds miserable… and honestly it is miserable at times. But just when you think you can’t take it for another second, that if the rain doesn’t stop, you’ll be on the next plane to Miami for a much needed beach vacation… in that exact moment the sun comes out, the rain stops, revealing 4 different rainbows at a time in separate corners around town, and shedding light on all the multi-colored houses, making you feel, for a fleeting second, like you’re incredibly lucky to have been able to see this place.

And that’s what this whole Patagonia experience has been. No pain, no gain. Our next big adventure after doing “the W” in Torres del Paine, was a three day trip to the Argentine town of El Calafate: primary purpose to see the Perito Moreno glacier—a large glacier flowing from the massive Southern Patagonia Ice Field…and also a UNESCO site.

So two Fridays ago, we caught a bus to Puerto Natales, in order to catch another bus early the next morning for a 6 hour bus ride to El Calafate, Argentina. The ride reminded us of just how very isolated we are down here.

There are really only two points of interest between Puerto Natales and El Calafate… the Chilean border crossing and the Argentine border crossing. The primary excitement in both places is that we got a passport stamp for each respective country… in addition to a large blue road sign upon entering into Argentina, reminding all drivers that “Las Malvinas son Argentinas.”

No, that’s not a useful driving tip. It means that “the Malvine Islands belong to Argentina.” Apparently a heated issue down here (which I knew nothing of prior to my arrival), the Argentines refuse to recognize the Falkland Islands (a small group of islands off the Southern tip of South America) as British property. After a battle over the territory in whatever decade or century ago, the Argentines still hold an obviously (judging from the road sign) intense grudge against the Brits, who won the fight.

So my friend Steph, as British as they come, was nervous to show her passport at the border, but we all went through just fine and spent the next 5 hours experiencing the expansive Patagonia landscape.

La pampa—once again my Lonely Planet: Chile fails me. In the glossary section of the book this type of terrain is defined as “vast desert expanse,” which doesn’t quite accurately describe the terrain that comprises most of Patagonia. Something more like flat windblown plains with short straw-colored grass and and muted yellows and browns for miles and miles and miles. This is the Patagonia pampa, with the same brown mountains looming far off in the distance, which we drove through forever and ever and ever…

Bored out of our minds, with nothing much to look at in the way of scenery, we suffered through the infernal smell of the bus bathroom, which had a tricky handle, making it so that when you went in it after “holding it” for as long as humanly possible, you got stuck inside, until a kind soul came to let you out, completely out of breath and smelling like piss. Thankfull Tracy was my “saving grace.” See Video:

In any case, we eventually arrive to El Calafate. After getting off the bus, we walked through this pristine little town on perhaps the warmest day we’ve experienced since we’ve been down here. We heard music playing from little outdoor patio restaurants, and best of all, no one even batted an eyelash at my blonde hair.

“It almost feels like we’re in another country, doesn’t it?” I said to Tracy and Steph, reaffirming my blondeness. We WERE in another country, and while still in Patagonia, I had my first glimpse into how very different Argentina is from Chile, and how very much I look forward to visiting Buenos Aires in December.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentine Patagonia

The next day we scheduled an Ice Hike on the Perito Moreno glacier, and witnessed one of the most incredible sites I’ve seen in this place, and perhaps in the entirety of my life. I will let the pictures speak for themselves regarding this experience.

My Pictures

Tracy´s Pictures

Steph's Pictures (Coming Soon)

On the way back to Punta Arenas, it snowed. It was miserable and freezing. Our bus between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas broke down an hour into the three hour ride, and we had to sit on the side of the road waiting… an entire bus full of people… for two more hours, making for a grand total of more than 12 hours traveling in a single day.

And yet how could we care? We’d just had one of the greatest weekends. Patagonia had revealed to us one of its many spectacular secrets, and we three fools had sure enough earned it.


Ellie said...

Your hair has gotten so long!

Anne said...

Wow, La Pampa looks exactly like South Dakota.