Saturday, December 10, 2005

Training in Patagonia

December 6 – flight from El Calafate to Bariloche
You can see it in the chapped lips and scaly skin; in the fading tan and the thickening layers of cloths. Training for a New England winter is under weigh, and its happening in the southern hemisphere spring.

Mark Twain insisted “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I doubt he spent a summer in Patagonia, because down here in El Calafate, Argentina where my dad and I hiked a glacier yesterday, the snowflakes are still large and occasionally plentiful.

El Calafate is only as far south as London is north, but on the hip of the Andes that doesn’t matter much. Less than a week after flirting with the Equator the climate takes some getting used to. What’s most unusual is that despite the cool temps—the weather is similar to New England at the moment—the days are long, with light lingering until 11pm each night.

Folks come to El Calafate mainly for the giant glaciers. “This will be a once in a lifetime thing,” dad said when we booked the Big Ice glacier hike. “Or I guess twice in a lifetime for you.”

I hiked a glacier in New Zealand seven months and twenty-five countries ago, but the Franz Joseph ice over there doesn’t compare to the big cube of Perito Moreno here in Patagonia. Much larger and entertaining (though less dynamic to walk on), Moreno terminates in the Lago Argentino and all day long chunks of ice crash into the water, echoing through the National Park and firing little waves across the chilly lake. (Beyond the presence of glaciers Argentina and New Zealand have some other similarities, but generally speaking the main attractions of Argentina (Iguaçu falls, the glaciers) are more spectacular, while New Zealand’s overall landscape is much more beautiful).

Preparing to be released back into captivity requires more than climate acclimation. So the visits from NYC Jason and now dad have provided a social reminder of what awaits in the States. It is a symphony of the familiar—common accents and interests, common experiences and beliefs. It’s the security—or banality—of knowing who you will spend your time with and what they will be like.

With ten days and just two cities left, there are considerations of what is already over. Have I trudged aimlessly through my last over-booked town? Have I taken my last twelve-hour bus ride? Am I done hooking up with strangers in dorm beds or turning strangers into new friends?

I’m nostalgic for dorm rooms; for communal kitchens and shared bathrooms. I’m settling into the knowledge that the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been are the sum of my trip. And in retrospect it all becomes much bigger or much smaller than it was at the time. The chance encounters that could have been with someone else were instead with Jens or Ella or Tania and in memory they are major people in my life.

Which brings up another question for the end of the trip: How was it? (Not was it good or bad, it was fantastic, of course…But how was it compared to how it might have otherwise been). If I took the trip 100 times each one would be different—though in certain fundamental ways not that different—and some would be better than others. On my trip I suffered no serious problems (medical, logistical, criminal) or remarkable good fortune (meeting a wife, stumbling into some new career). I think my trip fell into the giant middle class of long-term travel—few trips go badly or much better than all the rest.

Ten days. How many people never take a trip longer than that? How many times the rest of my life will I? Ten days isn’t such a short time to travel, but its short to me. Because it doesn’t feel like I’m going home in ten days; if you’ve ever gone home from a vacation this feels nothing like that. It feels like moving cities, like breaking up with someone you love, like quitting a job. It feels maybe like it did when I left to start the trip. But that big space of uncertainty that was filled with the excitement of things to come is empty now. There’s no giddiness that comes from moving back home in the dead of winter and being broke. There’s only the comparison the future suffers to the past. And I suspect Mr. Twain never spent a winter in New England after traveling around the world. I best train hard.


At 10:37 AM, Blogger ajoy said...


im just dying to get off on a trip but cant seem to have any luck,round here its tough to get work so im sticking to the work that i have.

But someday hopefully ill be able to go for a round the world trip.

Also put up a few pics please coz the places you visit are really exotic.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger ajoy said...

man,this is unbelievable.its almost like a dream.

i really envy gonna link you NOW.

keep moving.


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