Posted by: Hours Per Mile | April 16, 2010

Chapter 2 – El Calafate, Argentina

Perito Merino Glacier

The glacier is considered by the locals to be the eighth wonder of the world, its oozing, icy body wedged between mountains, a phenomenon left over from ages ago, old ages, strange ages, ice ages. Two meters of ice it expands every day and two meters it sheds every day. I don’t understand how or why…

El Calafate is home to too many tourists, its scenery discovered and monopolized like veins of gold. I feel like we’re cheating. This is too easy. This town feels hospitable, not at all like Ushuaia. There is a warm coffee house, a book store, a few restaurants, even a camping store with a real life Santa Claus in whose lap Emma and I took a picture. All this for the sake of the glacier, it is all I can think about, and yet the glacier cares nothing for the build up surrounding it. In fact, one day in the 80’s a huge piece of it broke off, crashed and splashed into the frigid, blue water beneath, sending a wall of ice water over the heads of some forty tourists, killing all of them. There these people stood, in awe of a very uncaring and inconsiderate natural phenomenon, probably priding themselves for getting out of the city and being a part of nature, and then it lashed out and ate them.

The sense in that is the fact that humans are inconceivably small—earth does not make pardons and graciously step out of our way. If dwelt upon, this idea can spoil an optimistic mood…but then I begin to ponder Moses and the Red Sea, the stopping up of the river Jordan, the halting of the Sun for an entire day. I believe in the utter validity of these occurrences. Humans weren’t so small after all. God deemed them important enough to disrupt nature’s course. How interesting! Hiking to the top of a mountain and squinting through the blaring sunlight to see how mountain range after mountain range files toward the horizon, I certainly feel small, inconsequential, forgettable. Small, yes, the others, no. I cannot make a light so bright, a world so vast…therefore, small I am, but Jesus did not die for the Sun, for the mountains, for the glacier—He died for me! I am his prize creation and I am beautiful—come, feast your eyes upon me and see His glory, for my Lord loves me and even died for me. This earth and all its beauty shall one day pass away, yet I will be eternally praising its maker. The world may forget me, may not even know me, who cares?

A far cry from our home in the woods…we splurged and paid 10 dollars each to stay in a little cabin with beds, a bathroom and a minimalist kitchen. This morning we woke up to a gut-tightening beautiful day so we threw open the doors and windows and began to fry some bacon. I took slow sips of my orange juice, careful to savor and enjoy my only little glass. We hooked up the iPod to my scratchy, weak sounding speakers and hummed and bounced along to the groovy hippies of Bela Fleck, scrambling a whole carton of eggs, toasting bread, sitting around a tiny table together and feasting on a delightful American breakfast. We are who we are and we love what we love…

Another big idea spawned between the four of us, this time over a plate of very salty bacon. Maybe it was the warm day, the light breeze lifting our hair and our spirits, that brought buying a car onto the bargaining breakfast table, but again we are at the mercy of the bus schedules, and that is a disgrace, especially to the integrity of our free-for-all trip. On our minds are all the alluring dirt roads we’ve passed leading around curious bends and into the depths of country way beyond the main highway, roads the buses dare not navigate, roads we are itching to explore. There is one vehicle in particular that we have seen cruising about El Calafate and we lust for it. Circa 1970’s I’m guessing, it is a bright yellow old mail truck with two seats up front and room in the back for sprawling out. The amount of work it probably needs is incalculable, and none of us have a clue about mechanics. Nevertheless, we left a note on its windshield with our email address asking if they would want to sell it for “a very good price.” We have yet to hear from the yellow mail truck.

Not to be discouraged, we began asking people if they knew anybody wanting to sell a car. We had one taker. I had never heard of the manufacturer, but it was red, a little rusty and the clutch felt like it was about to go. We each took turns giving it a spin and our unanimous consensus, especially after hearing their swindler-esque asking price, was a gracious, and grateful, no. Never did boarding a bus seem so luxurious.

El Calafate, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile

Can you tell if you’re moving if you close your eyes? Open them and watch the world pass by. Such a wide, wide world!

What do they see when we roll through their towns, their towns of muddy sidewalks, tin-framed houses, all seemingly charmless and uninteresting to the line of tourists that unwind as if from a never-ending ball of yarn…do they feel like spectacles, our gaping and curious faces staring out at them from inside our tightly encapsulated autobuses? I want out of this, off this gringo trail. I want the windows down, feel the cold, the heat on my toes, the dust in my nose, feel the extreme vastness of the empty plains, drive towards the distant mountains on the road of my own choosing. I want to be able to communicate with these people. Not just watch, but participate. Experience life as they do. That is only possible if I spend more time here than just passing through…will I ever have the time? I am left to the imagination…

We told everybody we met that we were all brothers and sisters: Emma and I were twins, Graham was our half-brother and Gordo was our step-brother. We would then ask them to take pictures of us as we got into the most awkward poses. Glacier in the background.

Yellow Mail Truck

Perito Merino Glacier


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