Blown to bits

El Calafate, Argentina

It’s very windy here in Patagonia. All the time.

We went on a tour the other day to the Moreno Glacier. The guide was very amusing on the subject of Patagonians and their eccentricities. As he put it you’d be a bit strange too if you lived your whole life with the wind ‘blowing through your brains’. I love that.

Moreno is a real spectacle. Its ice wall is 60m high above and 180m deep below the water of the lake it feeds in to. And it’s about 4km wide. By freak of nature it has one of those natural viewing platforms whereby you can just stand across the lake a few hundred metres away (feels like no metres at all) and watch it creak and crack. And to add to the weirdness, it periodically reaches right across the lake creating a dam. At the moment it has just started to form a dam and now the water on one side of the lake is rising. Apparently it normally rises 20m over several years before the water pressure explodes the dam (now that would be spectacular). The lake on the dammed side has vast beaches where only quick colonising plants grow – those fast enough to get onto the exposed soil after the dam bursts, only to get drowned again after some more years. Oh, and to top it all, the lake it flows into runs straight out in to the parched near-desert that covers most of Patagonia. Glaciers in the desert. Beat that.

On which subject, a general patriotic hurrah for the rugby. Frustratingly I was due on a bus into the sticks that morning and had counted on it being the usual Argentinean lateness instead of which it was early and I had to leave the TV after 70 minutes… I didn’t get the result until the evening. Agony. And then the BBC, in their irritating attempt to be ‘global’ about it all didn’t even manage to sound excited, instead fielding a ‘professor of sport’ to discuss whether this would revive rugby’s popularity. He doesn’t think so, he thinks the future is football. Yeah thanks for that. Mind you, the headline made me smile ‘Her Royal Highness the Queen, Tony Blair and David Beckham have all sent messages of congratulations to the English Rugby team…’ Go Dave.

We tune in to the Beeb occasionally (thanks for the radio Gary!) to get glimpses of life outside. Sounds as mad there as it is here. Arnie for Governor? Michael Howard for leader of the Tory party? Surely it’s the wind.

And the daily dirge from Iraq seems even more pointless and mad from here than it did from London.

Frankly were beginning to wonder if life makes more sense here than in Europe. Got quite a few newspapers thrust in our faces the other week with pictures of Bonnie Prince Charlie on the cover. Certainly learnt a few new words of Spanish (though ones I may never need to use).

In South America, the preferred term for the language appears to be ‘Castellano’ not ‘Espanol’. What an odd way to reframe colonial as cultural heritage. A bit like the USA declaring itself to be a ´Stradforduponavonish´ speaking country.

And how do you refer to residents of the USA when you’re already in the Americas?

It’s all a matter of perspective. At the end of our bus journey (during the rugger) in to the Monte Fitz Roy sector of the Argentine Glaciares national park there’s a long stretch where they are clearly in the process of putting in a tar road alongside the existing dirt one. Another traveller, who seemed bored by the hours of dust and Calafate bushes we were bouncing past (which Marisa and I are tranfixed by), commented to me ‘we’re arriving just too soon’ but from my perspective, it seemed we were almost too late.

The arid area is vast, due to the Andes rainshadow, and exacerbated by the fact that receding glaciers have left enormous ridges of moraine that regularly push the east flowing rivers back through the mountains into Chile (which lets face it is not short of a drop or two anyway). This fact has caused considerable problems since the original agreement between Chile and Argentina was that their countries were bounded where ‘the highest peaks divide the waters’. Sometimes the watershed is a long way east of the top of the cordillera. Good old King George VII helped matters somewhat by drawing a line on a map that both countries agreed to abide by (drawing: something the royal family are eminently qualified for), but not before the Argentine government resorted to removing the moraine east of one lake so they could change the watershed and claim more land. Makes perfect sense.

The least coherent remark of the week though goes to a guy we met while glacier trekking (how we love our crampons). We had pitched our tent in the national park, but a lot of people come in as day-trippers, and some of them don’t seem to have grasped the realities of life. When he discovered we were camping this guy said ‘Wow, so where do you get your meals?’ Err. McDonalds.

Other tourists continue to bamboozle us. So many people seem to forget to smile at all, and mindful of the principle that by the age of 40 were all responsible for our own faces, were endeavouring to affix a beatific grin to ours at all times. Maybe it will start a revolution.

But I digress (such is the breeze in my mind). Let try to get it straight for a moment…

Another week spent enjoying ourselves. Fitz Roy gave us 5 more days good trekking (including a day on top of a glacier – a whole separate, transient world of hills, ravines, rivers and pools), more great scenery (3400m spikes of rock jutting from the icecap), more great weather (and more snow, naturally).

And now were heading even further south. Next stop Tierra del Fuego.

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