Chapter 50: A Glacial Undertaking

 

The following post details the Nowhere Men’s journey from April 3 – April 6:

Back in Argentina, we sailed through a vast sea of nothingness. A beige blend of sun-scorched yellow shrubbery and wind-whacked green weeds dotted what was an otherwise dry, lifeless desert. Slight bumps saved the horizon from exposing the curvature of the Earth itself. As we rumbled further and further south, no topographical changes ever formed into view. The occasional vacuna or rhea would scurry in bewilderment across the road, but nothing more transpired.

Alex makes coffee, using the front tire to block the wind. Brian watches. Eric takes a pic
Alex makes coffee, using the front tire to block the wind. Brian watches. Eric takes a pic

 

At this point, our red ninja suits would invariably stay on all day, occasionally to be wiggled off our torsos and its arms tied around our waists only at the sun’s highest hours. It was in these early afternoon hours that the sun would spare us some slight amount of warmth.

wearing a different kind of "suit" to work
wearing a different kind of “suit” to work

 

Of course, the car’s speaker system still was down and out. We took turns reading saved newspaper articles from our phones or passages from our guidebook on the places ahead. Other long stretches would pass in utter silence, each one of us getting lost in daydreams set to the backdrop of our inexpressive landscape.

this pot did not make for the greatest sound system
this pot did not make for the greatest sound system

 

The pampas poured on us for so long that when at last a semblance of mountains surfaced in the extreme edge of sight, it acted as gravity reeling us in. We’d wanted to go straight to the tourist hub, Calafete, but golden hour struck a different cord that evening, glowing above this growing wall of mountains as we steamrolled nearer. We darted off course towards El Chaltén, home to iconic Mount Fitz Roy. At first all we’d planned was a short external shot of the car driving past the camera with Fitz Roy’s splendor as a backdrop, but each kilometer closer we cruised there was nothing we could do but let the mountain build bigger in the camera’s frame. The knife-like white peaks poked into an orange sky, declaring an entrance point into Patagonia’s southern sphere of ice and wind.

we were under the spell of Fitz Roy...
we were under the spell of Fitz Roy…

 

...so we drove closer and closer and closer
…so we drove closer and closer and closer

 

We made it to El Chaltén, the touristy trekking town, after 7pm without knowing that the only gas station closed down an hour earlier. With our tank hovering around a quarter and our well-documented atrocious gas mileage, we knew we didn’t have a chance to make it to Calafate that night. But, one thing we’d learned on the road was that anything is possible. We lingered near the gas station’s locked gate until the owner came by to open up for the nightly refueling from a gas truck. With a bit of begging after an initial rejection, the jefe appeased our plea. With no time to waste we filled up and flew into the darkness towards Calafate. We arrived just in time for Eric to simmer in frustration while his beloved UNC Tar Heels let a National Championship slip through their fingers.

After days of freezing cold camping, a short night at a hostel was in painful demand. The next day was used to take care of a few lingering tasks, most notably working out our taxes. At night we followed the roads to a peaceful peninsula jutting out just outside of town, where an abandoned under-construction house stood vacant at the shore of Lago Argentino. We chose the one with the heaviest wind cover and built our tent in as unique a place as we’d found in our whole year of camping.

in the morning it looked beautiful, but at night this place was horrifying
in the morning it looked beautiful, but at night this place was horrifying

 

we camped upstairs
we camped upstairs

 

There was one obvious place to check out while we were in Calafate – drive the eighty kilometers to another section of the lake to the monstrous Perito Moreno Glacier. If there was ever one particular place that best summarized the awesomeness of Patagonia, it was here. This nearly 100 square mile chunk of frozen solid ice boggles the mind and one’s eyes. That number – one hundred squares – is just that, a number. To put that in perspective and provide a frame of reference, it is just about 250 football fields in length.

When we stood before it and took in its might and size, questions flooded our thoughts. How did this thing form in the first place? For three guys who had never seen a singular block of ice bigger than those fancy round ice balls you make an old fashioned out of, this sight lit us into an uproar of astonishment. For a number of hours we stood there and marveled at the glacier; however, the arctic atmosphere would not permit us to stare in passive peace. Instead, our lack of movement while we stood and waited for something to happen caused us an increasing level of numbed discomfort.

bigger than meets the eye
bigger than meets the eye

 

It happened when we weren’t ready. Fiddling with the tripod to set up a stable, cinematic angle, a roar cracked across the air. It was the common yet entirely unpredictable occurrence of glacial calving. A block of ice the size of three school buses broke from the perimeter of the frozen ice field right in front of us and dropped like a titanic bomb into the otherwise tranquil lake below. We oohed and aahed with excitement, but couldn’t act in time to get the footage that satisfied the event. We waited in vain for another calving of the same magnitude, which unluckily never transpired. We gave ourselves an A for effort, but the park was closing and our time had run out.

Alex gives the gritty details. Nice hat, Brian!
Alex gives the gritty details. Nice hat, Brian!

 

On the drive back to Calafate, we offered up a ride to a Colombian traveler named Juan. He had a big curly mop of hair and played his pan-flute for us unsolicited in the back seat. After the show, he shared some hilarious stories of his travels, most memorably the time he got lost in the NYC subway system on his ride back to his Uncle’s apartment in Queens. Eventually, he explained, a homeless man took it upon himself to steer Juan back in the right direction after he had strayed all the way uptown into the Bronx. We chuckled with amusement at the tale’s both relatable and seemingly absurd elements.

On that day, Juan was just an unsuspecting traveler lost in the unforgiving twists and turns, the tangled web that is the New York subway lines. For us, NYC was not only the starting point for the journey we were on, but sat on the opposite side of the Earth as the one really familiar place in our lives; it was our home. On the way to Patagonia, we’d enjoyed hospitality from so many scores of locals, but never had we offered the same back in our own city, where we could only imagine how much the overwhelming bustle of immensity can cause serious confusion and stress on a visitor. Juan’s tale about the kindness of the homeless man became the unlikely example of one way we can pay it forward when we return home, an inevitable and upcoming event we inched closer to with each step further away and towards the end of the world.

friends
friends

 

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