I was born a Midwesterner and a Midwesterner I´ll always be. Most of my life has been lived on the plains. I get excited when I come home to flat fields after traveling. For this reason, it can be quite a shock to me any time I see mountains.
Actually, I haven´t seen many mountains before. One time in Nevada I saw a mountain in my uncle’s back yard, and I saw some hills in California, I guess. But true, ominous, heavenly mountains? Not until last weekend did I truly see those.
For the last of our three excursions around Argentina, the whole Knox family packed up and hit the road for Patagonia. We were headed for the town of El Calafate, a small town that has grown in the past ten years from a population of 6,000 to a population of 25,000 all because of tourism.
El Calafate is located in the province of Santa Cruz in the region known as Patagonia, a place that previously seemed like nothing more than a mythical place, never actually to be seen by our eyes. It is the southernmost part of the Americas, as far as the mainland goes before breaking off into islands.
Our first day in Patagonia was spent strolling around town, trying the local blood sausage (sometimes open-mindedness does fail), and marveling at the snowcapped mountains we could see from afar. It was a day of rest before our ¨excursion del glaciar Perito Moreno¨ the next day. Oh yes, indeed- we hiked a glacier.
It was via boat that we began the next day. With the wind whipping our hair into dreadlocks and trying to get under our hats, we soon came upon the massive wall of ice — 240 feet high and taking up just under 100 square miles of space, the glacier is tinted blue and glows.
It seems to sit solid on the water, invincible. Mountains surround its edges, hugging it. Every so often a rumble of thunder could be heard, which wasn’t thunder at all, but a rupture of ice that would fall and freeze in the water. We were lucky enough to see three of these ruptures, and watch the glacier fall to pieces before our eyes.
Hardly enough time had passed to get over the shock of the glacier and us being in the same place in the world when our guides started to attach metal spikes to our shoes to begin our trek.
While preparing our shoes for ice hiking, we looked around. We were sitting on a mountainous rock formation while overlooking a glacier, black mountains, and, simultaneously, looking at a lush forest of green, with baby waterfalls trickling from the highest point. A cornucopia of environments all coming to a meeting point. It seemed like it shouldn’t work, but it did.
The trek began, and indeed, it would have been impossible without the help of metal spikes and occasionally the help of the guide to ensure we didn’t fall into an endless crevasse that led to the glacier’s deadly center. During moments of silence, we could hear the water rushing through unseen tunnels beneath our feet. We reveled in the glorious moment of drinking water straight from a puddle on the glacier after gently breaking the ice. There were moments, after hiking to a low point on the glacier totally surrounded by higher walls of ice, when nothing existed except for the ice, the sky, and us.
The day after our glacier love affair, we had a good two-hour hike up a mountain in El Chaltén, another small village near El Calafate. After stopping to drink fresh spring water (no purifier necessary) and breaking at a lake for lunch, we ended up at a peak overlooking Mount Fitz Roy, a series of craggy, unreal mountains that we were convinced was merely a trick the earth was playing on us.
Tired after trekking over and up various terrains, we ended our last day in an unexpected snowstorm. We took a heavy-duty land rover over slippery mountains and through boulders to have a snowball fight while overlooking the Andes and confirming that Patagonia is, indeed, a place of dreams.