Breathing in Patagonia

24 Jan

From the view in my room at Eolo Lodge, about 20 kilometers outside of El Calafate, I sat on the bed and watched a rain shower sweep across the desert from the mountains west by the border of Chile and end at turquoise blue Lago Argentino, with a wide rainbow frown. The wind was howling against the windowpane and some eagle was flying overhead. This is Patagonia.

I’ve been traveling through this desolate part of Argentina for a week now, and it has yet to disappoint. Even in the hundreds of miles of monotonous desert that we crossed between Bahia Bustamante and Monte Leon, even against the horrible dirt roads where a rock against the bottom of the Fiat made it seem like an IED was going off, even with the harsh winds that slapped pee all the way up to my face even as I went with the wind, it’s still amazing. There’s something new and rich about it, and with hardly anyone around it seems like it’s all yours.

We only needed to spend an hour in El Calafate today to see that we were better off on the outskirts. With a casino in a small town based off of summer tourism, you walk down the strip with expensive designer stores and wonder where the authenticity went. But we drove 4 hours up to El Chaltén with frequent stops for pictures, and here we have found something maybe not truly authentic, but developing into a tourism hub.

El Chaltén is the newest town in Argentina, founded in 1987. It was essentially slapped together quickly as a way to settle a land dispute with Chile, and a quick survey of the village shows you that people basically set down a house wherever they pleased, and lots of communication and planning needs to be figured out. This is a frontier town, so you get packs of dogs strolling around and a sense of beginning. Everything is on the horizon, which because of the large jagged peaks doesn’t really go very far.

The town begins in a small entrance across a bridge and widens out by a valley, flanked by high towers on each side. From the road outside the town you are lucky if you get a clear day with a view of Mt. Fitz Roy, which we got today. I love the Andes Mountains, and this place only solidifies in my mind how diverse and unending it is. From the rolling mountains in Ecuador to the sharp and hardly arable Patagonia, it never lets down or ends. Just when you think you’ve reached the peak, there’s another.

I can add today’s drive to another one of those “Best Drives Ever” list that has jumped up sharply since my year and a half in South America. Right now I’m sitting at the lounge of the hotel and the wind sounds like it’s going to snap the large windows in half, but so far they’re holding out. All around this area are backpackers with the alpaca sweaters and hats (myself included) and old timers with the designer gear.

Patagonia is a land for those who can imagine, and for those who want to imagine. There isn’t much to say when you stare at a peak like Fitz Roy, and there’s a lot to be said about that. You leave behind the city and find open fields and large mountains, and somewhere in the back of my mind I find that word I used last year, mountnanimous. That’s my word, but you can use it. Little else really gives justice to what you see. You just need to shut up and enjoy it.

This morning my dad and I took a hike above the hotel and with the clear day, we were able to see 180 degrees from Lago Argentino, to the snow capped mountains and Torres del Paine in Chile. Game. Set. Match.

Above: Lago Argentino, towards Chile, on the drive to El Chaltén, El Chaltén

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