I wish to start my story with one word that was handed to me by a newly found Uruguayan friend as we climbed high above a Patagonian cerro in search of snow. We had used all the Spanish words available to me for explaining our emotions of the surrounding environment, imprecionante, increible, inolvidable. Maru was kind enough to offer me a word that truly described where we were, in the southern area of Patagonia, overlooking an expansive mountain range with the sheer force of the Perito Moreno Glacier in the distance.
ALUCINANTE! Think fascinating and awe inspiring in the same little package of descriptive loveliness. ALUCINANTE! Me encanta.
It really is a word that starts to give you a taste for this southern paradise. Shared between Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is an area of the world so close to its original state that it astonishes the senses. While it’s a major tourist destination that attracts thousands each year it’s easy enough to find your own solitary location to soak up the seemingly endless space filled with natural wonders.
My first stop was a lazy overnight wait in the bus terminal of Rio Gallegos, the capital of Santa Cruz province. I sat there in the early morning hours following a short flight from Buenos Aires to share a Mate Tea with two painters originally from Corrientes in the northen region of Argentina. They told me why they worked over 3000 kilometres south of their original home. They were the first to let me know something that became obvious once I spent more time in this part of the country. Wages here are significantly higher than those in the north. The tourist dollar had worked its magic on the south, not only increasing salaries but also increasing the cost of living, well above what you’d expect in any of the northern provinces including the capital Buenos Aires. Despite the high prices for food and rental accommodation the economic conditions here in Santa Cruz and the “end of the world” province of Tierra del Fuego, home of the world’s most southern city Ushuaia, entice a large number of seasonal workers.
This is the homeland of the Kirchner’s. The Political power family who has ruled the presidential office since the election of Dr. Nestor Kirchner in 2003 and the subsequent election of his wife and current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in 2007. It is more than likely that in the upcoming elections slated for October this year, she will be reelected as there are hardly any stronger candidates on the table.
In result of their local presence I started to take note of the various new roads and buildings that bare the Kirchner name. Following the sudden death of Dr. Nestor Kirchner last year it is obvious that this region of the nation has begun a process of memorialising their former President. Upon arrival to my next destination, El Calafate, I noticed they had recently renamed the main coastal thoroughfare in his honour.
El Calafate is the epicentre of Santa Cruz’s tourism industry, and for good reason. It is strategically located near the breathtaking glacier Perito Moreno in El Parque Nacional de los Glaciers, Chile’s most famous Patagonian treasure El Parque Nacional de Los Torres del Paine and my personal favourite the so called trekking capital of Argentina, El Chalten.
One of the few manmade treasures in El Calafate is a small bar/restaurant known as Librobar. Here the walls are filled with an array of literary quotes and shelves of fascinating books that create a prime setting for enjoying una cerveza. I particularly loved this quote offered by the talented genius of Chilean writer Pablo Naruda…
Podrán cortar todas las flores pero no podrán detener la primavera.
You will be able to cut the flowers but you will never be able to contain the spring.
I love the certainty of the above quote. Do what you will to destroy beautiful things but the greater beauty will overcome your feeble actions. I admire it’s hopeful message.
I will save the descriptions for the photos to explain. Basically this is an unforgettable part of the world that I will always think of with fond memories. Next stop is El fin del mundo en la tierra del fuego. This translates to the end of the world in the land of fire. If that ain’t an environment of intensity I don’t know what is.