The Road to El Calafate

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbout this time last night, I was walking into town from the ship, guitar over my shoulder, eagerly anticipating my first chance to lie down on something that didn’t spend the night bouncing around and trying to chuck me out of bed (I mean the ship, you awful people. What is wrong with you?)

Tonight, I’m sitting in a pizzeria in El Calafate, gateway to the Argentine Andes. In between, there was a blissfully quiet (and stationary) night in Punta Arenas and eight hours of overland bus across the southern pampas under skies so wide and blue they’d make a West Texan blush. Only once were we delayed by cattle.

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Having arrived, I have to admit that so far I’m finding El Calafate to be a somewhat charmless town. Main street (“Be sure to stay somewhere close to the bustling main street,” quoth the internet) is indeed a bustle, but it’s one of alternating pizzerias, tour companies and glossy shops selling row after identical row of kitsch. And I’ve already come to expect that, whenever I ask a question, to whomever I ask it, the answer will be whatever happens to be most disappointing: No, it’s closed. That’s not available. It’s not working. It’s not included. Sorry, no recommendations on what else you might try.

 

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Even the dogs of El Calafate seem to carry that resigned disappointment, venting their frustrations by blocking streets and barking down the barricaded traffic (I believe an interspecies translation would reveal the cacophony to be the dog equivalent of “Hey you kids – get off of my lawn!).

I’ll admit that I’m already a little nostalgic for Punta Arenas: Last night, when I succumbed to the urge to haul my guitar out to the square to plunk out a few tunes on a park bench, not only did the local trick-bike tweens ride over to listen and chat and high-five me, but a couple of wagtail mutts trotted over and snuggled up on the bench as if we were all one big happy.

No, I’m not being fair. The population of El Calafate does seem weary, but I’d be weary too, if my town had been overrun by such a relentless onslaught of trekkers. People don’t come to El Calafate for El Calafate. They come to El Calafate to get the hell out of El Calafate and on to Perito Moreno, Upsala, El Chaltén and the other natural wonders that surround it in all directions. El Calafate is simply the convenient nexus that makes day trips out of those other destinations, so El Calafate is where people come. Threadbare hitchhiking backpackers and Gucci-fur jet-setters, all descending on this helpless little town, throwing their money at it and demanding accommodation in the manner to which they are accustomed. Yes, I’d be weary, too.

 

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Come to think of it, I am pretty weary, and that’s no doubt clouding my judgment. That month on the ship wore me down more than I’d like to admit. I mean, it was a great cruise and a great crew, in case I didn’t make that abundantly clear in my previous posts. But a month of nominal twelve hour days, seven days a week below deck in the intense mechanical-hydraulic belly of a working ship in the open ocean is something that maybe needs to be experienced in degrees. The space station analogy is apt here: it would be an incredible rush to work on the ISS, and I’d jump at it in a second, but I’m under no illusions that it would be a benign or restful tenure.

So, for all that get-up-and-go for which I appear to be known, I’ve decided that I’m not going anywhere tomorrow. I’m going to sit in the common area of the Del Glaciar Hostel and write. Bob-knows I’ve got enough to write. Maybe I’ll wander off to one of those tour companies and see about booking a tour out to Perito Moreno or El Chaltén for the day after. But tomorrow? Tomorrow, for the first time in a long while, I’m not going anywhere.

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On the Chilean-Argentine frontier

[NOTE: I would have posted this earlier, but as I was finishing up, someone with a backhoe somewhere cut the lines that connect El Calafate with the rest of the world. And anything involving internet, telephones, bank or credit card transactions is all on hold until someone else somewhere figures out how to reconnect things. This afternoon I wandered down to Hielo y Aventura to try and book a bus out to Perito Moreno. The languid and pretty young woman at the desk leaned forward and puckered her lips to displace a wayward strand that had ventured across her face. Maybe, she suggested, if I came back this evening, the problem would be fixed.  She gave me that sympathetic half-smile half-wince that says “You know how it is, don’t you?” Then she leaned back and shrugged her shoulders, arms akimbo before passing judgment on the larger situation: “This is Calafate.”

My mood, however, has been substantially improved by a morning of absolutely nothing other than timely infusion of naps, local chocolate and some absolutely kickass cappucchino at Abuela Goye’s]

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