Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wrapping Up the Trip: 2 Weeks in Patagonia

So this trip I've been on for the last two weeks is essentially over now. In a little over a half hour I'll be heading to the airport in Ushuaia and flying back to Buenos Aires, arriving in the late afternoon to heat and humidity from cold and rain. It's been a good trip, albeit a different one than I'm used to, but I'm ready to get back to the capital city.

We covered a large portion of this country, and I visited places that I never imagined I'd be able to. These places are very expensive, and I know how lucky I was to be afforded the gift to travel here, especially at my age. What did I learn? Patagonia isn't all mountains, for one thing. In fact, it's mostly wide open, windy desert steppe, with hardly any change and little to look at. Driving through this part of the country is difficult, not only for driving conditions but for possibility of falling asleep from boredom. If the guanacos don't cross the road as you drive 120 km per hour, if the wind doesn't push your car off the road, and if the dirt roads don't give you a flat tire, you might just go nuts from the loneliness of the place. There's hardly any radio stations, so make sure you have some good CDs to listen to, or it will be the sound of the wind hitting the car that you listen to.

Prices are higher here, as transportation obviously has to be taken into account, and even a simple dish like milanesa, which costs around $12 pesos in Buenos Aires, could cost around $18-20 down here. Internet connections are lousy at best, and cell phone service is nearly non-existent outside of the larger towns. Would I recommend driving all the way down here to someone else? On the one hand, you really get the see the country up close, but it's just so big that I think you'd be better off flying between destinations and cutting the gap, giving you more time elsewhere. Besides, if you've seen the steppe for an hour, you've basically seen it all, and 12 more hours of it won't enlighten you anymore.

The weather dictates life, but life must go on regardless, and so you will continue to work and live through harsh winds, dust storms, and never ending rain. People are friendly, but beware of the tourist traps and look for the truly authentic places. El Calafate has the look of a place that is sinking into a trap, and with a casino in the center that charges $2 pesos to get in, you can tell it's hardly improving the place. But Bahía Bustamante and Monte León are the traditional images of a Patagonia with no connections to the outside world, and absolute connection with the natural world around them.

Prepare to see sheep, guanacos, and tumbleweeds. And make sure you have plenty of batter power for your camera.

Above: Dirt roads, giving vaccines to sheep, a road sign between El Calafate and El Chaltén

No comments: