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Tuesday, 01 January 2013

Southern Patagonia: The Bottom of the Earth - Page 2

Written by Eva Stelzer
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Disembarking at Onelli Bay, we arrive at a ranch with the same name as the boat. A variety of programmed activities, suitable for anyone from the gentrified traveler to the adrenaline-junkie, are available. Options include a gourmet lunch of local produce, a museum visit featuring the history of sheep shearing (snooze), horseback riding, and hiking in the Fossil Canyons. We choose the Canyons hike.


Group sizes are large – 30 or more – except for ours. We find ourselves with an Argentinean couple and Juan, our 27-year-old guide. Squeezed into a roofless ATV for a rollercoaster spin up to the glacier’s ridge and vista point, I begin to question our urban quest for exhilaration – not to mention that I had forgotten about the six-hour descent into a rocky gorge when I left my hiking poles in my hotel room.


From the precipice of the canyon, Upsala glacier in robes of white and gray stares backs at us. On a postcard-like day we see as far as Chile. Behind us, the research ice-station is abandoned, being too far from the frozen fields that have lost tens of cubic kilometers in the past fifteen years. Scientists call the vaporization catastrophic.  Environmentalists blame global warming, but Juan explained that much of it is due to glacial calving and he could not agree with the doomsday conclusions. He’s no expert, but then again, neither are we.

We descend into the ravine, fossil-rich and polished to a master carpenter’s finish by centuries of wind and ice. Striated stone walls flash deep red, copper and purple hues. Stepping over the uneven terrain magnifies the grating sound of dislodged pebbles in the cavernous gulch. Juan stops and to show us swirling vestiges embedded in the rock, the only evidence of animal life – until a bee stings me. “There are no bees here,” he says.


I show him the furry insect clinging to my pant leg, its stinger piercing my skin. He simply shrugs his shoulders and the five of us push forward.  


By mid-afternoon I jokingly beg for a helicopter rescue. “Not possible,” said Juan. “Push forward or sleep out in the desert.”


Knowing that the only way back to El Calafate is on the daily boat trip, I am concerned about my snail’s pace as I shuffle along. Syd tries pulling me. He jokes and that only makes me moody. My new friends lend me their walking sticks. We are the last to get on board. What was I thinking – the boat actually can’t leave without us. As we head back to our starting point I slump on one of the seats exhausted and realize that I want more. I regret not having trained harder before arriving.

Photo 6


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Last modified on Friday, 18 January 2013

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