In Patagonia

El Calafate, Argentina

My commuter flight from Raleigh to Atlanta was packed with briefcase-toting businessmen. My subsequent flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires was filled with Japanese tourists and Christian missionaries, one of which sat behind me and proceeded to spend most of the 10-hour journey attempting to proselytize his seatmate. The food was mediocre and my plan to finally watch Slumdog Millionaire was dashed when it quickly came to my attention that Delta doesn’t have personal entertainment centers on its international flights. Guess you get what you pay for — although Air France proved in December that great service at reasonable fares does exist. Maybe only in France?

The trip’s saving grace was the emergency exit aisle seat that was somehow assigned to me. Maybe it was a miracle granted from the missionaries — I’m not sure — although it’s amazing what an additional 6 inches of legroom did on a 5,200-mile overnight trip.

Wheels were down in Buenos at around 7:45 a.m. My last experience at this airport was a complete nightmare; after arriving 2.5 hours early, we nearly missed our flight due to lines at the security checkpoint. Wanting to avoid this, it was a hustle to Terminal A to check-in, and then a healthy walk back to Terminal B, where the flight was departing from. My ticket said boarding would start at 9:25 a.m. The security checkpoint didn’t open until 10:25 a.m. Needless to say, we had a delayed departure — but at least we got out before Aerolineas Argentinas was nationalized.

My disappointment of not spending any time in Buenos Aires was erased as we began our final approach into El Calafate. Jagged snow-capped mountains sat majestically at the end of sprawling and desolate plains. Majestic blue glacial lakes spotted the landscape. And, as indicated by the bumpy ride down, the Patagonian winds were certainly blowing.

A 30-minute shuttle brought me from the airport to Patagonia Rebelde, our base for the next two nights. It’s a relatively new hosteria — part hostel, part hotel, part B&B — that was built and furnished in such a way that it looks like a remnant of last century.

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Our room, #254, was small and simple, with sweeping views of the surrounding plains and Lago Argentino in the backdrop.

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Burt arrived about an hour later (burned to a crisp from his stay in Iguazu and having lost his bank card — again) and we set out to explore this small town, which has an alpine-village feel. The main road, Avenida Libertador, is lined with restaurants, bars and stores selling outdoor wear.

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We had a couple of beers at a café while a local musician jammed out and the sun showed no signs of setting — during summer, it doesn’t until after 10 p.m., if not later.

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We headed back to Rebelde, showered up and set out for dinner at Casimiro Bigua Parilla, what looked like the most upscale and trendy spot in town. We ordered a big salad, two medium-rare rib-eye steaks and a side order of Spanish fries, spiced with garlic. Washed down with a bottle of malbec from Mendoza, it could not have gotten much better.

Exhausted from the 7,000 mile, 24-hour journey down here, we headed back to the hotel. Earlier in the day, I’d been reading Bruce Chatwin’s epic novel, In Patagonia. And, drifting off to sleep with stray dogs barking in the distance, one poignant paragraph came to mind.

“Patagonia is the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origins. It is therefore a symbol of his restlessness,” he writes. “From its discovery it had the effect on the imagination something like the Moon, but in my opinion more powerful.”

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Comments

  1. Burt you’re an idiota, Marc I hope you don’t have to spot him.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your blog… it sounds like a difficult trip down there… but certainly worth it..the food at the restaurant sounded really good… keep on blogging … be safe love Dad

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