Greetings from Patagonia! I haven’t posted yet mostly because I’ve been too damn tired to move. No pictures yet, so I’ll just say briefly that this is easily the most beautiful place I’ve ever been (empty praise, I know, but I don’t have the energy for poetry at the moment).
Getting here went smoothly enough, none of my nightmares realized about losing luggage or missing connections or being held up by banditos. It just took a long, long time—ten hours to Buenos Aires, 45 minutes by cab to the local airport, another two hours in the air to Bariloche, then six hours by car to the Futaleufu border station.
A couple of quick observations about my dash across Argentina:
First, I read a travel account recently that claimed all drivers in Buenos Aires are frustrated Formula One racers, and I’d agree with the assessment except that “frustrated” implies ill tempers. No matter how fast everyone drives or how closely they follow or how abrubtly they change lanes (when anyone pays any attention to lanes), no one gets angry or honks the horn or flashes their lights or engages in retaliatory tailgating (which no one down here would find intimidating anyway). At home, driving like this would lead to open road rage warfare.
Then, when I arrived at the Aeroparque, B.A.’s “local” airport, I was pleasantly surprised that I had my choice of five open Aerolineas counters to choose from for check-in. After standing in line for an hour the night before in Atlanta just to check my bags, this was a nice change. I picked someone who looked like she might know a little English and hoped for the best. A few keyboard taps later, she says “I think I can get you on an earlier flight,” and she’s so pleased with herself that I agree, even though this likely means I’ll wait an extra two hours for my ride in Bariloche. A few more keyboard taps and she hands me a boarding pass, tells me which gate to find, and says “It leaves in ten minutes.” To say the least, I’m a little alarmed, but she says “Oh, sure” that I can get there on time, and off I go at a run (rather conspicuously as the only person running in the Aeroparque). I fly through airport security (no line, no shoe removal, no placing of the laptop in a separate bin) and arrive at the gate to find no plane. A sullen troop of American tourists all carrying fly-rod tubes tell me “We’ll probably all be on the flight you were originally scheduled for.” But no, at precisely the time indicated on the ticket, the whole crowd is ushered down some stairs and loaded into a line of waiting busses and driven out to the plane on the tarmac. Two hours and some change later, we touch down in Bariloche, again at precisely the time indicated on the ticket.
I was the last of three Norteamericanos to arrive, and after just enough time for quick introductions, our Spanish-only driver arrived in a pint-sized Chevy, crammed all of our bags into every available space and then some (my paddle bag stretched from the deck behind the back seats to the top of the dashboard), and rattled us away southward. Every mile of scenery was spectacular, but try as I might, I couldn’t stay awake for the whole ride. Even our driver’s disregard for double-yellow dividing lines in the center of the road became routine after a while, and I dozed.
At the Argentina/Chile border
But after 24 hours of constant motion, I did indeed reach the town of Futaleufu, which is charming beyond measure, and I’ve paddled three different spectacular rivers in the past three days. I’ll try to get a post up about the paddling after dinner tonight, but I’ll just say for now that I’m humbled and frustrated—my introduction to big water can be quickly summed up: whirlpool 1, Clark 0. Most alarmingly, the same southern-hemisphere Coriolis effect that makes bathtubs drain in the opposite direction from home has seemingly affected my roll (or at least that’s my excuse), which has gone from bombproof to speculative with stunning rapidity. On my first day on the water, I took my first swim in three years. Evidently, I enjoyed it so much that I’ve taken two more, eventually ending up in the whirlpool, which was not enjoyable in the least.
Well, that’s all for this afternoon—it’s Happy Hour time back at the Hosteria, and I’m pretty ready for a Pisco Sour. Cheers to everyone back home!