Patagonia

BOTTOM OF THE WORLD

Frigid gusts make the trees grow sideways, penguins and sea lions slide from frosty beaches into icy waters, and flurries fall gently on the snow-capped glaciers ringing this small peninsula at the bottom of the world.

It may feel like winter year-round, even recently in late summer, but the blustery assault of Antarctic winds at the southern tip of South America can be a cruel illusion. Patagonia is a land of extremes.

Despite freezing temperatures and an occasional blizzard, the sun on a clear summer day at the bottom of the world can burn more quickly and dangerously than the rays on a beach in Miami. In fact, on a cloudless day from late August to December, especially after a recent snowfall, there may be no more dangerous place on the planet to spend time outdoors.

Every summer over the past two decades, an expanding hole more than two times the size of Europe opens in the ozone layer and exposes this area’s residents to the most unfiltered ultraviolet light anywhere but the unpopulated tundra of Antarctica.

The ozone won't return to normal levels until at least the middle of this century, if ever, and scientists see Tierra del Fuego as ground zero in the debate over the biological consequences of the hole. Yet the pull was irresistible, it was to Tierra del Fuego I determined to go.

This may end being my last solo hurrah. While I wouldn’t have traded this quest for a fortune in gold, the loneliness I experienced became intense at times. Cold winds and loneliness always seem to go hand-in-hand.  Never-the-less, I expected this and went mentally prepared. For this was not just an opportunity to see a wild beauty that few will ever share; not just an opportunity to match wits with the greatest fish of my life; and not just bond with a people so culturally different than me that at times I was moved to tears; but to reflect on the man I’ve become and where I’m going. No, it is not good for a person to travel alone. In life or otherwise. However, there are benefits that come from self reliance; self reliance and a willingness to take risk. Thus, my adventure began…

Excerpts from my adventure notes

.... I like to travel slow. Slow enables me to inhabit my journey. To absorb the sights, smells, taste, and whispers of my surrounding.  At times it seemed as though I was in a hurry to finish, but in fact I was savoring the moments, despite occasional discomforts. There is a satisfaction in traveling slowly, until the sun, pain, hunger, or exhaustion does not allow you to continue. I savored my days, wringing out every last drop of energy and time that I could. I have always appreciated the wisdom in the words, “it’s the journey, not the destination that counts.”

.... Suddenly, that sign I have seen on so many fishing magazines came into view, the moment arrived, and my heart panged as I anticipated casting my fly rod into the icy waters. All around me, lay open stretches of water containing some of the largest Trout in the world. I do not hunger for the flesh of these magnificent creatures any more, only to catch and release. I have played this adventure out in my mind since I was a small boy, when dad first taught my brother and I how to craft a lure and entice a fish to bite. Oh what a day! If only papa could share this moment with me now.

Trout4

.... I consider myself oh so fortunate to have taken this journey, to have found that spark of interest that grew into something inextinguishable.  Dreams are slippery things.  Without dreams, it can be hard to get a grip.  Many whom I met and helped me along may not even have known it.  When a mind is set on a goal, it searches for confirmation.  Nay saying is seen as a challenge; and encouragement, as validation.  Perspective obscures some views, and highlights others.  A dream is an immensely personal work of art, shaped, warped, and blurred.  Like the photographer’s lens, the painter’s brush, or the poet’s pen, the heart proves it’s point and makes it’s case in the most biased, self-serving way.fly

With a smile and a sense of glee, I rolled through rain, snow, sleet, and hail along the Strait of Magellan and eventually back into Punta Arenas.  I basked in my satisfaction of having made this journey across continents and continental divides.  Not so much for the triumph itself, but for what it’s been, for what I’ve seen, and for what it was. 

Just a short 450km more distance to the Island of Tierra del Fuego, the end of the world, and I can’t wait to see it. I can hear the fish calling my name, the echoes lingering as I drift off into dreams, peaceful in the comfort of my sleeping bag.

Click to watch video: Fly Fishing in Patagonia

PostscriptSurprisingly, travel through Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia was like waking up in the 1940’s. Modern civilization has intruded the big cities, but it was the small communities where time seemed to have stopped. These I favored most. When not motorbiking through the wilderness or fishing the many lakes and streams, I occasioned the out-of-the way hotels, restaurants, and night clubs. I even bought a white dinner jacket for such trysts. Many new friends were made this way, and I was treated to a multitude of sights and sounds few road warriors ever get to enjoy. It added a touch of class to this old man, and that made me very approachable. A smile, a nod, a round of Chablis, and the beautiful young woman in the red satin dress, even took time to teach me the basics of the Tango.

It is a sad thing to reflect in a world so overflowing with goodness of smell, of fine sights and sweet sounds, we pass by hastily and take so little note of them. I believe this seen beauty, is partly in those who see it. Our lives are defined by opportunities. Including those we miss, those we ignore, and those we forestall.