In Patagonia Day 13
Puerto Natales—El Calafate
Today was uneventful except for a border crossing—actually two as leaving Chile required an exit queuing in a dusty gravel wide spot in a narrow dusty gravel road. Then a couple clicks further, entrance queue to Argentina. Such processes remind me of many border crossings, always with a bit of tension and the absurdity of how meaningful an arbitrary line is. I’ll be in Argentina for a while, and since nothing else of note occurred today, I’ll just list some quick observations about my time in Chile.
Puerto Natales has many accommodations on all levels of luxury— my nights at the We Are Patagonia Hostal were as good as anyone could expect—clean place with wonderful staff who bent over backwards to make things smooth, but I’m curious about a group of Bucky Ball tents around the corner. I remain intrigued how Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic design functions as canvas sleeping quarters.
Surfer and rock climbing videos: sadly many bars/restaurants have hung TV screens on their walls, but rather than streaming live sports or maybe the news, they alternate films of surfers and rock climbers (I’m waiting for the sociological study of race, class, and gender when it comes to rock climbing).
Music: in Santiago music by local artists filled the air, in the deep south moving from cafe to cafe the “Eye of the Tiger” follows me around, along with many 80s power ballads, but then they play Sinatra. I took great pleasure listening to old blue eyes in La Lenka, an amazing restaurant in Puerto Natales, but was jarred a bit by the Aerosmith followup. And I still can’t quite embrace reggae versions of Pink Floyd.
Receipts: Chile is a country awash in bits of paper with a personal touch. Every transaction brings a handwritten receipt, often on plain white note paper. At first it seemed odd and probably inefficient, but it structures the time of the transaction, slowing it down, and making it very personal.
Dogs: Also already talked about this, but I remain struck by how loose dogs are simply part of the fabric of the city, in the same way as trees, streets, and sidewalks. They sleep on the stoops, greet you when you pass, control the speed of traffic as it moves through the towns. Last night I sat in a cafe overlooking a park and watched two dogs fight. At first I was concerned that this would be bloody, but they seem to recognize and understand limits. I couldn’t help comparing the fight with the current American political scene (i had made the mistake of reading the news). The difference is the dogs did understand limits and actually showed dignity.
I saw a condor near Lago Sofia. I’ve always wanted to see one fly, but all I got was the image of a big-ass buzzard huddled on a ledge.
Speaking of strange animals, on leaving the park at Torres Del Paine, I saw herds of guanacos grazing in the draws just above the waterfront. Beautiful animals with generally white and light brown fur looking like wild llamas, which is pretty much what they are. With some trepidation I ordered guanaco last night as a specialty of the restaurant (which was Puerto Natales’s primary locavore establishment). Have to admit it was tasty though I felt strange eating them. It was odd being in a town founded as a meatpacking center in a culture that has long been defiantly carnivorous.
El Calafate is a tourist town, crowded with travel agents and outdoor equipment stores. Everyone who walks by is dressed to withstand a Siberian blizzard . I’m enjoying a Esquél IPA (local brew) while REM echoes in the the bar. I did make the mistake of turning to see their TV screens are tuned to golf (Nobody needs to do the race/class/gender study of that one, it’s self evident). Tomorrow I set off with all the other tourists to see the Perito Moreno glacier. Will get that blue ice thing figured out.
T. Hugh Crawford