Patagonia travelogue 2009: day 3

Day 3, in which we finally get to it.

Morning flight to El calafate, in which we stop over in Ushuai. Ushuaia is middle earth, where wild things grow and eat humans, is the southmost tip of argentina and south america. The descent and landing into ushuaia is an otherworldly experience, for the window seat of course. Thick clouds and mist everywhere. Serrated snow capped mountains jump out suddenly, like in a horror show, and– all full of menace– surround a tiny airstrip which we’re expected to land on even though your every instnct screams to get the fuck off this rock because surely there are actual ACTUAL dinosaurs living in this misty lost world—was that a pterodactyl off the left wing???? Or is that the “ham and cheese” sandwich / airline breakfast talking?

Half the plane is geriatrics on an adventure tour to see a glacier and, later, some waterfalls. At one point a woman feels ill. PA: “is anyone on board a doctor or medical staff?” A middle aged hairy man emerges, reassuringly, or as emollifying as his bare chest and gold chains could be. Is this a blood pressure check or a shakedown for protection money? No one dies here in the end. I wonder privately if I will ever be called upon to use my computer skills: “attention passengers, is anyone on board familiar with Lisp? The machine learning heuristic is unbalanced.”. Stand back people, give it whitespace.

El Calafate is a frontier town like jackson hole,WY is a frontier town. Three hours by plane southwest of BA, this town was set up to service tourists bent on seeing a glacier, which includes yours truly. In town, we arrange for the afternoon bus ride to the true frontier, El Chalten. Mel finds a self proclaimed “libro-bar” called Borges & Almarez, a perfect place to whittle away the five hours til bus time. Sunlight soaks the entire second floor, scattering on a wall of books, mostly picture books, acting as distracting grist for patrons. The table service, via four scruffy compatriots who seem to run the place– and seem to each be an entirely plausible permutation of Gabriel Garcia whatshisface. I try the “mate”, the traditional Argentina hot tea drink. Yerba is steped in a hollowed out goard and drank through a filtered straw. It tastes like tea dragged through four levels of earth. (K, when i return, will actually now use your gift. ) I crack open my copy of the Wind-up Bird Chronicle and blend in. Mel stares into the distance and taps the wifi with my trusty iPod touch.

3 hr bus ride to el chalten. Dark unpaved drive thru Rua 40. At a pit stop at La Leona Hostel, bordering some body of water, a gorgeous olive-eyed woman runs the front desk, and greets our driver openly and warmly. I try to strike up conversation with her alone: “< The lake… outside… how is it called?>” “<RIVER. RI-ver. The La Leon River>”. She is talking to a child. A fellow passenger within earshot chuckles in solidarity. Strikeouts, by necessity, are as universal as love.

El chalten is a rough hewn former ranch town. We eat pizza palmitos, and drop by the microbrewery, where they are out of home brewed pilsener and bock. Great. My atrophied Spanish is failing everywhere, and I actually feel embarassed. Surrounded by Spanish speakers– yeah I know many of them are “Argentinian”– but still. Spanish is such a manageable tongue, it seems foolish to not be more conversant.

Bed, excited to finally begin tomorrow morning. That, my friends, is foreshadowing.

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