Me, My Thoughts, and Patagonia

To be honest, I seriously thought I wasn’t going to be able to get to Patagonia while here. It is not a cheap flight down, which means that even if I could figure out how to afford it, it would be very difficult to get friends to come with me. But, last week when thinking about what I wanted to do for Semana Santa, I decided just to go ahead and do it all by myself. So giddy with last minute inspiration, I began my planning. It turns out that Patagonia, like the rest of Argentina, is much bigger than one would think. At first, my list of things I wanted to see included the famous glacier, dinosaur fossils, and penguins – all of which, it turns out, are impossibly far from one another, at least when you only have five days. So, I had to pick and choose, and since the glacier was at the top of my list, I ended up flying in to El Calafate.

El Calafate is a very cute town, regardless (or perhaps because) of the fact that it is completely tourist centred. I stayed in a great hostel called El Ovejero that definitely gave me the outdoorsy feel I was hoping for. My bunk was in a cabin on the compound, and there were sections for people to pitch their tent if they were camping, too. The whole place smelled like bonfires and dirt and I was instantly at home. My first day there, I went to Laguna Nimez, a beautiful lagoon and bird sanctuary right on the edge of town. I decided to rent the binoculars they had available, and man was it worth it. It was a bit difficult to see the birds up close, but with the binoculars I was able to see swans, geese, ducks, hawks, and my favourite – flamingos! I had always considered flamingos a tropical bird; I pictured them in warm, beachy places. So, it was a bit strange and surprising to watch them while bundled up in my Patagonia sweatshirt and windbreaker. I couldn’t get enough of their fluffy pink butts sticking up out of the water while they were eating, and I actually started laughing out loud. I especially loved watching them fly, though. When they soar their necks stretch out as long as their legs, which makes them look a bit like dragon flies. Their wings are much darker than the rest of their bodies and have a black stripe at the bottom which matches their beaks.

My first look at Lago Argentino.
My first look at Lago Argentino.

The birds were super cool, but half of what I loved about this place was the beauty. The lagoon was surrounded by mountains, some with snow on the tops and others a rich, chocolate brown. There was a little hill separating the lagoon from Lago Argentino and the view from there was amazing with both bodies of water stretching out to each side. That was my first time seeing that hypnotizing turquoise water that would end up defining my time in Patagonia.

My second day was glacier day – my whole reason for choosing this part of Patagonia to visit. Honestly, I knew it would be cool, but I had no idea what I was in for. Nothing could really have prepared me for it. When the bus I took to get there entered the natural park the glacier looked long, low, and flat. It wasn’t until we got close that I realized how utterly wrong that had been. We had two hours to walk around and take it in from different angles, and I was amazed by the spikes that rose out of the water and towered over me. It looked like a bright blue mountain and the contrast between the three different shades of blue in the sky, the water, and the glacier was breathtaking.

View of Perito Moreno by boat.
View of Perito Moreno by boat.
The beautiful Perito Moreno Glacier
The beautiful Perito Moreno Glacier

It felt like an honour to be in its presence and I walked around quietly out of respect. Most people seemed to feel the same way I did so the whole place was pretty quiet. The only one making noise was the glacier itself. As I watched, chunks of ice would occasionally fall off the face and make a sound like thunder. First it would crack as the ice broke, then rumble deeply as it fell. At one point I heard this strange gurgling and I turned to see an enormous chunk of ice that had broken off the bottom of the glacier (100 metres deep) rise to the surface like a sea monster. I was never quick enough to catch any of these happenings on camera, and eventually I just stopped trying.

After our two hours of observation were up, we took a 20 minute boat ride to the glacier and there the guide explained to us a bit about the science. When snow falls way up in the mountains it eventually compacts into ice. Then, as one mass, it slides down the mountain at an average of two metres a day. Since it’s pretty much like a solid river, it presses itself into the different valleys so the glacier I was currently seeing was just a part of the enormous original. After a 400 year long journey it ended up in that spot and began to melt back into the lake.

Beautiful mountains surrounding the glacier.
Beautiful mountains surrounding the glacier.

After being outfitted with special ice shoes, it was time to begin our trek on the glacier. It’s really hard to say whether it’s more beautiful from far away or up close. From far away you are able to take in how massive and impressive it is, but from up close you get to see the details. It was really amazing seeing the spots the wind had blown holes through or where the sun had begun to melt the ice into the bluest water imaginable. We were actually able to eat ice off the top of one puddle and we filled our bottles up with water that streamed out of holes in the ice. I couldn’t get over how cool it was to be drinking water that had been frozen in that same place for 400 years! It was also amazing to hear the water gushing around somewhere deep in the glacier below us.

The view from on top of the glacier
The view from on top of the glacier
Whisky on glacier ice.
Whisky on glacier ice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I never wanted the adventure to end, but of course it had to. To soften the blow, we were each given a glass of whisky on ice scooped up from the glacier. Not a bad way to end an amazing day.

I didn’t think anything could even begin to compete with my experience in El Calafate, but then I went to El Chalten. This small town surrounded by big mountains is the hiking capital of Argentina and a wonderful breath of fresh air. I was very excited to do some hiking, but since I was alone I decided to just do a short one my first day and made my way to Laguna Capri. I couldn’t believe the views even from the very beginning of my walk. The mountains rose up all around me into snow covered peaks and a turquoise river wound lazily between them. It took me a few hours to arrive at the lagoon, and I spent quite a bit of time there taking it all in. It was unbelievably still and the mountains were reflected perfectly in it, including the Fitz Roy peak which rose up in the distance. I was happy to be alone. It gave me time to really think and reflect on what it was I was doing and experiencing. Plus, I rarely find people willing to sit in one spot and stare at a lagoon as long as I do.

Fitz Roy peak over the Laguna Capri.
Fitz Roy peak over the Laguna Capri.
Rio de las Vueltas winding its way through the valley.
Rio de las Vueltas winding its way through the valley.

That being said, I was very happy when I made friends with the others in my hostel, Aylen Aikee, that night. One of the other guests actually cooked an entire asado which we shared until we were absolutely stuffed. Then, tummies filled with red meat, we decided it would be a good idea to head to the town’s wine bar. We had so much fun and talked and laughed for hours, drinking cheap but delicious Argentinian reds. The next day, I decided to tag along with some of them for the long hike up to Fitz Roy, which I had seen from a distance the day before. This hike is 20K, so needless to say the wine bar no longer seemed like such a good idea during our initial ascent. Still, after about a kilometre I had sweat out my hangover and was feeling great. The trek started off hard, but it soon flattened out a bit and we were able to really enjoy the amazing scenery around us. We wandered through woods that had never been forested and I was amazed at how well preserved the land was. Even the trails were minimally invasive.

Our group at the steepest point of the climb
Our group at the steepest point of the climb
Spectacular views are a good excuse to rest.
Spectacular views are a good excuse to rest.

The last kilometre was extremely difficult and definitely the steepest climb I’ve ever done. I did well, though, and felt very proud of myself. I loved making my way through the rocks and using my entire body to move myself upwards. I was so thankful for my muscles and my body’s amazing ability to bring me to such wonderful places. Eventually we got so high that there was snow and things got a bit slippery, but we made it. The view that was waiting for us was like something out of a fairy tale. Fitz Roy stood proudly behind a bright blue lagoon on one side, and it seemed like all of Patagonia stretched out before us on the other. I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to experience such a magical place, but I also knew that I had earned it.

The last kilometre was extremely difficult and definitely the steepest climb I’ve ever done. I did well, though, and felt very proud of myself. I loved making my way through the rocks and using my entire body to move myself upwards. I was so thankful for my muscles and my body’s amazing ability to bring me to such wonderful places. Eventually we got so high that there was snow and things got a bit slippery, but we made it. The view that was waiting for us was like something out of a fairy tale. Fitz Roy stood proudly behind a bright blue lagoon on one side, and it seemed like all of Patagonia stretched out before us on the other. I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to experience such a magical place, but I also knew that I had earned it.

A well earned closer look at Fitz Roy.
A well earned closer look at Fitz Roy.

Millions of words would never be able to explain how beautiful Patagonia is, but if I had to describe it in one, it would have to be pure. Patagonia gave me truly pure silence, pure air, and pure water. Spending even just five days there seemed to wash me out and now, back in Buenos Aires, I feel completely renewed.

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