The plane cracks and shudders against the Antartica winds as we make our final descent. “I personally know 20 people who have committed suicide”… I can’t help but think of this famous quote from Bruce Chatwin’s ground breaking travel book In Patagonia as we fly into the pequeño Comandante Armando Tola International airport in El Calafate, on the border of Lake Argentino, the southernmost point of Argentina.
Looking out of the window of the crackling twin-engine Cessna 337 it’s easy to see why, in the face of such raw, untouched, unforgiving wilderness, if one stayed here too long, they might want to leave this mortal coil.
Leonardo DiCaprio filmed part of The Revenant here. For that alone the deceased Mr Chatwin might say he deserved his Oscar. Never mind the raw liver, the bear, the phlegm, the avalanches and the frozen rivers.
I have to admit my initial thoughts were; Thank god I am only staying 3 days.
At the airport a couple of spaced out Germans offer to share a cab into town, I oblige and the taxi sets out along a stretching, secluded, icy road that consistently hints at the possibility of Jack Nicholson popping up and waving a wood axe whilst shouting “Here’s Jonny!”
The night convenes at the Glaciar Perito Moreno hostel, a comfortable, clean-yet-clinical hostel, generously heated to protect against the vast frosty emptiness that encompasses the world outside. Its greasy wood frame delicately painted a warm Oxford blue, with rosewood trimmings, presumably to ease weary traveler's nerves.
After a short and shaky night’s sleep, we (the next round of intrepid glacier gladiators) drag our creaky bones from the rickety bunkbeds and embrace the cold darkness. The infamous Patagonian wind scratching our bleary-eyed faces like the boney fingers of the Grim Reaper. We head out along the winding roads of the Patagonian highway like drunken soldiers about to be thrust into the Battle of the Bulge.
The first rays of sunlight silhouette the nomadic clouds, halcyon lakes and stern, unforgiving, yet emphatic mountains, innocently revealing the stark contrast of sweeping, endless, chromatic plains and distant glacial peaks. The morning blues and greens fracturing the dark numbness like an aimless steward’s flashlight at a cheap movie theatre, highlighting the solitary, sad, endless void of human existence. It all seems suddenly more magnified, yet at the same time incandescently beautiful.
A crystallized boat in a frozen ship graveyard signals we have arrived. That and the other 20 bus loads of people in the parking lot. The sudden realisation this is not the small 20 person boat the salesman had promised, but something slightly more titanic (no additional DiCaprio pun intended) puts a knot in my stomach… Welcome to Touristville. Will the magic be lost among 200 other happy snappers?
At first it seems it might, but a fully stacked bar and hot chocolate on tap helps, and quickly I am adopted by a group of 3 Porteño ladies, who, on hearing I am alone announce "we are your new mothers now!” as they stuff candies into my rucksack.
We depart from the small port on Lake Argentino, stacked with multiple layers and topped up with a Puff Daddy super coat, hired from a friendly local store owner the night before. At times the wind threatens to blow us off deck, if you dance with it head on, but it's worth it to get this close to the blue ice.
Pictures don't do it justice, and even among the non stop camera flashes it's impossible not to be awestruck by this herculean natural spectacle that offers a glimpse into our ice-covered past. I stand there watching the ice crack, crumble and cascade into the lake, with my all too ironic hot chocolate, as thoughts of climate change invade my fuzzy brow. Though scientists still seem to be at odds as to whether or not the prehistoric ice river is increasing it’s thaw-rate or not. Surprisingly google nor any of the major news outlet seem to have anything to report since 2008. Did I hear some Steemian shout cover up?
Whilst the other passengers run the gauntlet from one side of the boat to the other, intent to capture that perfect selfie, Christina, one of my new mothers and I sip on whiskey, stare into the blue and repeat the same starry eyed uttering; "Es muy linda".
Photos and words by @Dylan007