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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

In Patagonia Day 7

February 24th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 7
Puerto Natales

For the category of odd but helpful coincidences: in part to help wrap my head around the vastness of Patagonia and to further an understanding of solitude (which I seem to write about incessantly), I was reading Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces, which describes her time on Wyoming sheep farms. In one essay she describes the shepherds who stay long months away from any human contact, living in sheep wagons. Over morning coffee, I tried to picture such a wagon, then, on crossing the street, I passed a place selling traditional Patagonian products, particularly wool, and they had a Chilean version of a shepherd’s wagon parked out front. It was as I had imagined, though I’ve not yet been able to imagine that sort of solitude. It was a Saturday, with some early signs of festivities—I passed a group of musicians in traditional clothes—but the town in places was a lonely as a shepherd’s wagon. In a desultory stroll, I performed the necessary tasks—equipment for the trek, finalizing transportation, buying food. There is a large UniMarc supermarket which is apparently where everyone was. For some reason I couldn’t face that, so I ambled on to a smaller local shop that didn’t really have all that I needed, but moved at the right pace. Again today I was reminded of my small-town childhood. Even though this is a tourist town and one would assume weekends are busy times, many of the businesses, including restaurants, were not open or they closed at noon. I remember in Woodstock, many if not all the businesses closed at noon on Saturday, remained closed (by blue laws) on Sunday and usually closed on Wednesday afternoons. Given the possibility today to order anything on Amazon at 3:00 am, such a pace of commerce seems as slow as the Moreno Glacier. It was a time when we didn’t define ourselves by what or how we consumed. Some of that perhaps still lives here. One place that was open was Mesita Grande, a pizza restaurant just off the train engine square. It was a large table, lined with generally happy people, watching the servers smile, laugh, and occasionally dance across the space. Although not a Patagonian version of a Cracker Barrel, it had probably once been dry goods store and a lot of the furnishings remained, including old enameled metal signs for Lustre Nubian and Señorita Brasso. Nubian polish….. I’ll just leave that without comment.

The pizza was interesting as it had all the different ingredients you would find anywhere in the world, but in different proportions. My ham, cheese, and onion included a few bits of ham, some cheese, and was piled high with thin sliced onions. All was washed down by a Cerveza Natale, another local brew—unfiltered, slightly sweet, hoppy but pretty much unrecognizable, and to be truthful difficult to drink a whole pint. It is an ale they describe as a “hybrid … a blend of Belgian aesthetics, British aromatic presence and pleasant bitter taste, emulating the Czech styles.” I guess they are trying to mimic the languages spoken around the mesita grande. Much of the day was cold and overcast, so a good one to run errands. Late afternoon on a long walk by the gulf which, unlike in the US, is lined by gas stations, warehouses and the like, I discovered a cafe with big, old-fashioned mullioned windows looking out over the water sparkling in the late afternoon sun toward Torres Del Paine. A writer next to me had piles of papers and journals in front of him, scribbling madly, while the sound system played disco/electronica versions of sixties hits (including “California Dreaming” and “The Sounds of Silence”). Patagonia, definitely a place to visit.

T. Hugh Crawford