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On Patagonia

Currently we sit in the wonderful little port town of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, north across the river from Buenos Aires. We are enjoying all the quaint little cobbletoned streets, the colourful old buildings and, of course, the sublime sunsets over the water. Which we have plenty of time to enjoy since most of the restaurants don’t even open until after our normal bedtime. Since our last entry we have traveled all the way from Puerto Iguazu (further north on the Brazilian border) way down south to Patagonia in the (very nearly) bottom of Argentina, west across into Chile, then back north and east halfway up the coast to Puerto Madryn, then all the way north to Buenos Aires, and then finally here. We flew down, but then took bus after bus, after bus, plus several days of trekking in Torres del Paine National Park, moving on basically every day. Which is my excuse for, once again, being way behind in what I like to refer to as the Semi-Formal Unofficial Historical Rendering of our Trip for Posterity. Laynni, on the other hand, just calls it “the blog”, as in “get your hands out of there, quit being lazy and go write your blog”. Obediently, here I am. However, you’ll note that I did not promise to use proper sentences, cohesive paragraphs, or body wash, hence I present to you:

Patagonia in Point Form (Now grammar free!!)

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The “Questioning Our Decisions” Travel Moment

Sitting in the cafeteria at the Rio Gallegos bus station after getting only four hours sleep just in case the only bus left early, which it didn’t, so now we’re watching the Pink Panther cartoon I grew up with (no talking – translates remarkably well) and playing an Israeli card game with four hours to kill as it snows outside in the dreary parking lot in a place we’ve never been to and never wanted to visit waiting for a bus to someplace we had never heard of until this morning where we will then catch a different bus that will take us to yet another place we’ve never been to in a country we’ve never entered. If all goes well.

Rio Gallegos: Dream Destination

The “Welcome to Patagonia” Moment

In the industrial mining town of Rio Turbio, which may or may not be in the business of renting rooms to strangers, we are told that the bus to Puerto Natales (just 50km away but across the border in Chile) will not be going tonight because the Chilean immigration officials have closed the border, possibly temporarily, possibly not. They are either on strike, or politically motivated, or maybe just tired, depending on which of my confusing translations can be believed. The bus might go tomorrow….but it might not. Definitely Wednesday….well, unless it’s still closed then. Is there an ATM in town? Oh, sure, <long complicated directions follow>. But it’s not working right now. Oh. Hotels? Mmmm, ye-, no, mmmmm….. Never mind. Are there any other buses going anywhere tonight? Oh sure, there is one going to El Ca– We’ll take it.

Worst Travel Book

“In Patagonia” by Bruce Chatwin. Hailed as a classic, a riveting journey, a must-read if you’re visiting Patagonia. Read it before we came – complete shit. Irrelevant, incoherent and drier than athlete’s foot at the senior Olympics. All despite what you’d think would be a winning formula – traveling through an exotic foreign country and describing Europeans that have moved there. Also, found out later that much of it has since been discredited as fiction meaning that, on top of everything else, he couldn’t even make up a good story.

A brief bit 'o weather

Surprising Discovery

All jokes become exponentially funnier when whispered from the shade behind a window-screen as though you’re a cutout villain in a B-rate thriller. Try it some time. I guarantee you’ll pee yourself at least a little.

The “Not Sure If I Like It Or Not” Town

El Calafate, Argentina. Nice restaurants and picturesque lodges often compared to Switzerland or Banff, but kind of dusty and full of stray dogs. Stayed in one of the nicest hostels we’ve seen, but Laynni got ambushed by some kind of weird bed bug. Every place offers several different types of tour to the Perito Moreno Glacier, but I doubt that Dr. Phil with a pair of pliers could have convinced our hotel guy to tell us anything about the ones they sell. Great breakfasts, but had our worst lunch yet (rotten ham, plastic in my sandwich). Absolutely incredible glacier, but we ran out of toothpaste. You take the good, you take the bad, put them all together….

Lago Nordjenskold (sp?)

Interesting Travel Trend

A notable decline in the amount of dreadlocks. Oh, I’m sure they’re still considered a prestigious symbol of rebellion and unemployability on the beaches of Thailand, where 1999 has ensconced itself to while away its old age, but we are definitely seeing fewer and fewer these nasty mops in other parts of the world. Which has to be considered a positive since, despite the touch of sadness that comes with the end of any era, it is clearly a disgusting way to live. Honestly, sometimes I lay awake at night wondering if they’ve ever touched the headrest of my bus seat.

The “What’s the Catch?” Moment

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Renowned for its terrific hiking, world-class scenery, cozy refugios  and water cleaner than Michael Phelps’ urine that can be drunk straight from the streams. Yet also notorious for its unpredictable weather, terrible storms, winds strong enough to dry my soccer gotch and a remarkable number of Dutch people. However, the rain stopped soon after we got off the bus and the following day was apparently the first of unblemished sun since June. Then we were treated to just enough of a snowstorm on day 3 to feel like we’d “had the TDP experience”, and just enough wind on day 4 to rattle the most troublesome mountain fairies out of my armpit hair. Our luck runneth over.

Lunch along the "W"

Profound Example of Global Assimilation

The variety of different ways to experience Torres del Paine (camp or lodge, independent or tour, enjoy nipple pinching or find it mostly uncomfortable) led to an astonishing variety of hikers. Seniors on rigid tours, gringo gauchos on horseback, skinny Europeans in hiking tights, not to mention smokers, vegetarians, people hiking in jeans (some even tighter than my relationship with cheese), small backpacks, rolling luggage, packs big enough to conceal a medium-sized Bolivian, cowboy hats, hiking poles, casts, and more of those hiking pants with the annoying black patches than STDs in the cast of Cats. Yet one way or another we all ended up at exactly the same place at exactly the same time. It’s the epiphany that I like.

Gratuitous Personal Hygiene Update

After two long months of shampooing my face and tugging pensively at my facial hair in order to look both tough and wise, the high 30’s temperatures and oppressive humidity in Iguazu finally convinced me to shave. Don’t be alarmed, however, since with the help of plenty of salt-free butter and just a pinch of over the counter horse steroid I am once again well on my way toward a softer – yet more imposing – jaw line. Meanwhile, just a few days ago my hair finally reached that elusive position where it became a virtual Hair Helmet – not quite short enough to stand up, not quite long enough to lie down, but solid and tangible, as though poised to accomplish great things. But in the same way the full moon suddenly shrinks to a sliver, or the Jays lose 8 straight right after the trade deadline, abruptly it succumbed to gravity, settling down into comfortable anonymity along with payroll clerks and CFL offensive linemen.

Stunned to learn the world is actually covered in slips of paper

Communal Living by Northface

In lieu of staying in a tent and taking your chances with the rain, snow, sleet and gale-force winds (can you sense the need to justify our choice anywhere in that?) hiking the “W” of Torres del Paine meant partaking in the strangely luxurious dormitory accommodations of the refugios. The food was almost good enough to be from the Granada House and a bed with full board cost as much as a Swift Current hooker yet the walls fell several feet short of the roof allowing for unlimited communal farting and the cleaning crew nearly pulled off a daring heist of a pair of my $2 Walmart socks. Overall, it seemed as though it would be very similar to living at the Y except that our roommates wore full Northface and Patagonia (how fitting!) ensembles and included an elderly Dutchman who always peed at exactly the same time as me in the middle of the night, rather than indigent homeless men smelling of urine and socialist democracy.

The “Not Sure How Much to Read into This” Moment

Watching the first leg of the France-Ireland World Cup qualifier in a bar full of people, none of whom were Irish, and realizing that not a single person was cheering for France.

Coming soon: Our wacky adventures in Puerto Madryn, a town with a long history of Welsh and whales, strangely enough, where we visited majestic right whales, comical penguins and some elephant seals which may or may not have been recently deceased.

Perito Moreno looks on warily

In the News:

Ancient Glacier Given “The Creeps” By Roving Tour Boat

Eminent Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the only ones in the world’s still advancing, reported extreme discomfort Tuesday when a boat loaded with foreigners allegedly approached it in a lewd and unusual manner. According to police reports, despite having no prior relationship and receiving no signs of encouragement, the boat allegedly sidled up uncomfortably close to the glacier’s exposed southern flank where it proceeded to spend nearly 45 minutes lurking quietly.

“The people were all lined up along the railings, just staring at me like I was a piece of meat or something, and taking picture after picture. I tried to ignore them but everywhere I turned they were right there. One guy kept muttering ‘so pretty, so pretty’ over and over again. Others were leering and waving their huge zoom lenses at me, laughing and talking about how I was the one who wanted it…”

When asked to comment the group leader explained,

“Yeah, that was one of impressive slab of ice, right there. You shoulda seen it, we got up real nice and close where we could see right into all the cracks and crevices. Hmmm. What I wouldn’t give to get up on that honey, even for a minute or two, just to see what it feels like.”

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