“I climbed a path and from the top looked up-stream towards Chile. I could see the river, glinting and sliding through the bone-white cliffs with strips of emerald cultivation either side. Away from the cliffs was the desert. There was no sound but the wind, whirring through thorns and whistling through dead grass, and no other sign of life but a hawk, and a black beetle easing over white stones.” – Bruce Chatwin, “In Patagonia”
Getting to the end of the world takes a very long time. After multiple flights starting due north in Minneapolis, I found myself arriving at literally the end of the world in El Calafate, Argentina. From 44.9 degrees north to 49.3 degrees south, it would take another three and a half hour bus ride to reach El Chalten, a tiny Patagonian outpost that marks the setting off point for Los Glaciares National Park.
It is hard to believe that Argentina and Chile stretch for so many miles from north to south (Chile is an extremely long country covering 2,653 miles from north to south while Argentina is slightly shorter at 2,268 miles from north to south). During the flight south you can really capture the amazing distance between the two ends of the country as the landscape and geography dramatically change from lush, green farmland and pastures to barren, wind-blown, flat pampas and jagged, snow-capped mountains and glaciers. It is like going from one extreme to the other and the change is quite startling.
We boarded the one and only bus to El Chalten around 6:30 pm, just as the sun began to set across the vast, flat pampas and the bus was completely silent for the remainder of the ride. The bus meandered down the desolate, barren Ruta 22 taking us through windswept pampas and a vast amount of nothingness. It was the most extreme surroundings I’ve ever seen.
We arrived in El Chalen at night in the dark. It first appeared as a glimpse from the distance. It was black all around. Total darkness except for the soft light coming from the bus headlights, bouncing off the barren landscape and empty pavement. No street lights. No cars. Nothing. Just darkness.
Then there it was. First a twinkling of light. And then more.
Several old fashioned lampposts lined the streets of the small mountain town, an outpost, at the end of the world. It reminded me of some kind of Hollywood movie set for an old western film that used to run on TV in the middle of the night. It was like no place I’d ever been; it didn’t feel real.
The bus drove down the one and only street, slowly passing rustic shops, restaurants and small, dated hotels until in no time it reached the makeshift bus station, a small, basic backpackers’ hostel. We got off the bus, with knees aching and fatigue setting in, to find our host, Diego, smiling and welcoming us to the car. We drove the short distance to our small, basic hotel, El Puma, and settled into our room. But our night could not end without a much necessary bottle of deep, ruby red Malbec and a conversation with Diego about the hikes planned for the next few days. I was looking forward to exploring this mysterious, remote land. When I reached the room, I had no problem drifting suddenly and soundly asleep into a blissful, restful sleep.
The next few days we explored our new surroundings and were spellbound like many before us by the magical lore of Patagonia.
This post was written in response to Jakesprinter’s Sunday Post: Surroundings. To read more entries, click here.