notes from a southern edge of the world
(Nov 06) I will confess now that my birthday present to myself was a short break to South America, hiking over Chilean glaciers and mountains then spending some time winding down in Argentina, accompanying a friend on her working holiday.
We certainly traveled a long time (spending 36 hours in transit) to get to a place far away and we were described by an American we encountered there as WENCHes (Women Enjoying Nature without Children or Husbands). I actually do not have either of the latter two accessories but who was I to argue with a man who came from the Land of the Free.
The thing I will remember most about this holiday is that I am allergic to South America. I should be more precise - pampas grass, which grows in abundance across the South American landscape, is another grass I can add to my list of grasses to avoid. Without any exposure prior to this trip, I suffered the mother of all allergic reactions. No amount of antihistamine could stem the tide. It took three days into a stay in Buenos Aires (is it irony that this city’s name translates to clean air?) and a rain drenching of the city to clear away the worst of my affliction.
Autoimmune blood disorders aside, there were many positive experiences on this trip...
- I admit it; I got a buzz out of standing on the edge of the Magellan Straits. It seemed to be a long way from anywhere – I’ve always loved that “edge of the earth” feeling.
- I loathed the idea of spending a day on a boat to get to the Serrano Glacier (named after a man who was lost trying to find his way to the Straits) - generally speaking I don’t like any ride where I cannot get on and off at a time of my choosing. But the glaciers were worth it – spectacular blue ice. And, an additional bonus, blonde himbo who was on the same plane as us from Santiago to Punta Arenas was sitting next to us on the boat. I asked him if he was German (bluest of blue eyes and golden curly hair that would have made Hitler proud). It turns out Mike was an Englishman (and a nice one for a change) - we spent the day talking with him in between glacier viewing and enlightening him with useful facts like how many players in the Australian cricket team are tossers.
- The Torres del Paine National Park. Important fact: ice mushrooms are not edible. I saw condors flying overhead in this place - truly amazing. On the minus side, I could not complete the climb to the Towers. The combination of my clumsiness, slippery granite rocks, snowdrifts and snow showers, precipices that seemed to be 1000 feet drops, I simply did not have the courage or the stamina to go the distance. Breathtaking view though, even halfway up the mountain, so not a complete loss. [I decided my hiking days were over after this experience but two days later changed my mind given the tracks around Cradle Mountain in Tasmania remain on my list of things to do some time soon.] My traveling companion did manage to complete the climb and said it was worth it despite a Chilean guide wanting to break his previous climb record (5 hours for an 8 hours trek without snowdrifts) and so urging her and her fellow trekker (a travel journalist from the UK) to a pace only suitable for 20 year olds without any heart conditions.
4. Lunch at La Brigada in San Telmo in Buenos Aires. The beef in both Chile and Argentina is outstanding and this particular establishment served it to perfection with the added bonus of being surrounded with some of the most impressive soccer memorabilia I have ever seen.
5. The must-do activity in BA – going to a soccer game. Not the cheapest thing to do at short notice but here is what $85 will buy you:
a. transport to and from the game;
b. sitting a couple of hours at a bar before the game (it turns out this is significant as no alcohol could be purchased during the game);
c. spending a game with a bunch of eclectic tourists that included two Mexicans, two Costa Ricans, a Brit and his hapless wife and a passionate Argentinean guide who had the job of his dreams providing hours of commentary on the history of the game every week at a match;
d. learning every obscene Argentinean soccer chant ever known (kindly translated by the two Costa Ricans) – truthfully though, there are only so many ways to say your mother is a whore to a player on the field;
e. gaining an understanding of why it is important to separate the home and away fans (who sit at opposite ends of the ground and are divided by extremely high wire fences) especially where firecrackers are involved and the risk of a major riot if the loser fans are not escorted by security police out the game at its conclusion prior to the winner fans leaving the ground;
f. experiencing the atmosphere of a 60,000 crowd in one of BA’s impressive stadiums (the Estadio to River where the 1978 World cup was played) – a crowd willing to stand in torrential rain [that, in true footy style, bucketed down for a whole three hours with clear skies before and after the game] to watch River defeat San Lorenzo 5-0; and
g. witnessing a quality of football, including a miracle goal, that made the Australian A-league look like rank amateurs.
Alas no Edwardo to sip vino with or to stroke my silky smooth skin, but more than made up for by friendly Alexandro, Carlos and Jose Juan. I had a lot of fun playing name bingo during my holiday....