Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nature's Call

I don’t like nature. For as long as I can remember, I have longed to live in a city, vacation at resorts and, at all costs, avoid the great outdoors. I don’t hike, mountain bike or white water raft. I even recall being bored at Yosemite National Park (and cringing at the port-a-potties, to say nothing of the bugs, rodents and other inconvenient species out there) during a family vacation when I was 11. As a teen, I rebuffed my parents’ several attempts to take a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park, wondering why on earth anyone would want to see bison roaming around in the middle of nowhere.

So you can imagine my surprise when over the past year a strange whisper began beckoning me to the wilderness of southern Patagonia, Argentina. I suddenly had this overwhelming urge to ride horseback across the Argentine pampas looking out at nothing but earth as far as the eye can see; to climb mountains of ice to get a glimpse of what the ice age might have been like; to look above and out at an epic sky, feeling a sense of isolation from civilization in knowing that the distance to the end of the world – Antarctica – was close within reach.

Finally last month, after spending a relaxing few days in Buenos Aires, Sonny and I did go to Patagonia – El Calafate – for a few days of quality time with nature. The first thought I had when we landed was that this is what Alaska must look like – the beauty being the raw and wild landscape, with little civilization for thousands of miles on end.

The main attraction of El Calafate is its close proximity (1.5 hours) to the Perito Moreno glacier, a mass of ice that is 200 feet high, stretching out 20 miles in jagged peaks. It is located in Los Glaciers National Park, and a trip to see it requires a boat ride across Lake Argentina through floating seracs of ice that have broken off the glacier, and a hike through the beautiful park national park to and from the actual glacier.

The highlight was the two hour ice-trek on the glacier, climbing up and down and around its peaks, valleys and ponds as the winds whipped across our faces and nearly knocked us over at times. That day we were lucky to witness huge blocks of ice breaking off the glacier with the sound of thunder, and then peacefully floating away in the frigid lake. There really is no way to fully capture what it was like trekking on that glacier - surreal and scary, awe inspiring and amazing, to say the least.

The day after, we visited a Patagonian ranch (estancia) where we saw a demonstration of sheep herding as well as sheep shearing, and ate an authentic barbequed lamb dinner (well, at least Sonny did – I stuck to the salad bar consisting of canned vegetables and white bread). Perhaps my favorite part of the visit was the sunset horseback riding expedition that brought to life my fantasy of riding through the wilderness under a vast sky and looking out at nothing but the snow capped Andes jutting up from the earth in the distance.

Our last day in El Calafate we took a 4x4 off roading trip up the side of a mountain, 3400 feet up, for breathtaking views of the Lake Argentina region and Chilean Andes, as well as a glimpse into the wildlife residing in the mountains.

Since I have never been a real nature buff, we did not plan to spend a lot of time in Patagonia, hiking to Mt. Fitz Roy and El Chalten, and visiting Chile like most people do on such a trip. But somehow I managed to fall inlove with the Great Outdoors in just the few days we were there - and regretted a bit not planning more time there than in Buenos Aires. On the other hand, I suppose it is an incentive to return to southern South America one day, hiking boots and all.


Purvi Vora said...

WOW! ALWAYS wanted to go there!!!

Nipa said...

" look above and out at an epic sky, feeling a sense of isolation from civilization in knowing that the distance to the end of the world – Antarctica – was close within reach"

WOW!! Beautifully written. Your trip sounds absolutely amazing - I am definetly adding patagonia to my "must see" places after reading this!

Danielle said...

Just found your blog! I'd love to ask you some questions about Mexico city and the surrounding areas. my husband may be accepting a new postion in his company in which he'd be in cahrge of Mexico/Costa Rica/Guatemala/Etc. I homeschool my two daughters, ages 7 and 4 and would love to hear your opinion about life there,saftey, etc. We currently live in Philadelphia.
Your expat life looks great!
best, Danielle