Patagonian local

28 Nov 2002

Greetings again… I finally arrived in Puerto Natales, Chile after a long 8-hour bus ride through the southern Patagonian landscape.  It’s beautiful weather down here, 50’s and 60’s with lots of WIND WIND WIND.  It’s constantly blowing wildly from the west, it never ceases.   You can tell your direction at all times while inside a bus by simply watching the shrubs blowing.  The trees, none more than 20 feet tall, grow in an easterly direction.   The landscape, at least on the Argentine side, is dry and barren.  There’s nothing down here, no people, no buildings, a few scattered towns with seemingly deserted estancias (very large farms).  There are birds (rhea, kestrels, flamingos, condor), sheep & cows, and (reportedly) puma.  Despite its emptiness, it’s beautiful.

I’ve been listening to the radio a lot.  Mostly tango, southern folklore tunes, bad 80’s music in English.  A curious event is the thrice-daily broadcast of farmer messages.  Since most of the estancias have no phones and are miles and miles apart (for example, on the 8-hr bus ride I saw perhaps a dozen large farms), the only way to communicate is via the radio.  They are really interesting, broadcasting births, deaths, party dates, auction information, even just simple greetings.  Highly personal at times, always entertaining, I love listening to them.  Here are some examples I jotted down:

To Fabián at Estancia Cabo Virgen:  The baby is still in the hospital.  Everything the same.  Signed, Sebastián.

Estancia Mosaique Grande:  Bring the horses to the Punto Gordo on Friday.  Signed, Liliajara.

Estancia Martina: I wasn’t able to send the cargo on Saturday since the bus didn’t run.  Roberto Watson.

Estancia Anita: Cristián was born and is well.  Signed, Carmela.

Estancia Puerto Santa Cruz, for Elena:  I’ll be in Río Gallegos for Christmas and Ale’s party.  I arrive December 22.  Dorotea.

And on and on…  it lasts for an hour each session, and from what I gather most locals tune in (I even hear it in the shops).

El Calafate Youth Hostel

I spent a couple nights at the El Calafate’s youth hostel, a fantastic huge log cabin with very comfortable bunks, showers, and a great bar and common area.  Each room has a great outdoor balcony with sights of the turquoise Lake Argentina and the snow-capped mountains.  I bunked with a super couple from Australia and a friendly Brit, shared bottles of wine and swapped travel information.  I’m starting to prefer the hostels since it’s always eay to meet people;  less so when in hotels.  And at $4 per night you can’t beat it.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina

Yesterday I toured the magnificent Perito Moreno glacier, a 5-mile wide, 300-foot tall wall of amazing blue peak and crevasses.  It is a fast moving glacier, falling over 5000 feet in a mere few miles.  And not only is it a wonder to marvel at, but every few minutes a chunk of the wall breaks off with a roar of thunder, crashing to the ice-cold water and causing huge waves.  I noticed three distinct types of breakage: a whole chunk breaks off at once, skidding in slow-motion along the face below it creating a line of ice “smoke” and hitting the water with a cannon blast.  Another is the “gunshot” break where hundreds of small pieces break off at once and hit the water like shrapnel.  The third (and my favorite) is when from somewhere a flow of ice and water pours out of a hole, creating a momentary crystal waterfall.  And when something isn’t falling from the face, there are the steady cracks and burps from deep within the glacier.  It’s amazing, truly.

I joined a group excursion that included a 3-mile walk near the glacier face, so was able to enjoy a full day watching and listening the destruction.  It is a gorgeous and bizarre monument, but the landscape in the national park is also beautiful.  Since it’s spring, the whole landscape is in bloom, with lilacs, lenga (flowering beech tree), notro (crimson fire-bush), orquideas (orchids), mutilla and chaura (two fragrant shrubs, once with tasty cranberry-like fruit).  We stopped for coffee at a local estancia, the family descendants of Germans (all blond and still speak German), very friendly with cute puppies and guanacos (a southern Andean cameloid in the llama family) grazing in the front field.  White jagged mountains all around.  It’s a sight to behold.  I shared my bus seat with a nice older couple from Carlisle, England (where Paul and I finished the Cumbria Way last September).   They were fascinating!  They never traveled out of the UK but since they retired they have traveled 7 entire years out of the past 12.  There wasn’t a single place I could think of that they haven’t visited!  They do lots of treks, hang out in hostels, and always travel light and simply.  My heroes!  Always wonderful people to meet — that’s half the fun of going away.

Well, I must dash off to meet a nice young couple (Portuguese and French) for dinner.  I’m off tomorrow for at least three nights in the “Torres del Paine” National Park, hiking the famous “W” circuit and staying in refuges and campsites.  So I won’t be in contact until at least Monday night.  Then I cross the border again to Argentina, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.  I’m SOOOOOOO excited to get on my feet, and my guidebook calls this park “perhaps South America’s finest” which seems to be spot on, at least according to people I met who came from there.  One said it was the most beautiful place he’s ever seen, and he’s from New Zealand!

Love to all, I miss you greatly and have thought of you lots especially on this Turkey Day.  Take care!

Pedro el nataleño

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