[Patagonia VI] January 10, 2012: Calafate berries

I awoke to a beautiful spattering of raindrops across all three of my dome windows. Or rather, as soon as I pulled on my glasses, I did. A modified Zen thought for you: if there’s a beautiful sight to be seen, and there’s nobody with decent vision around to see it, does it still count as beautiful?

The only drawback of how far I pushed my body yesterday to complete the hike was that today, I moved like a 100-year-old man. In particular, my left ankle (which I had broken five years ago) gave me a hefty dose of complaining, both during the hike and today. Nonetheless, I hobbled down to breakfast, and delighted in several cups of tea, alongside toast with butter and jam.

The dining dome.

I stopped at the administrative office to ask about transfers for tomorrow, to leave the park; I wanted to know whether Ecocamp itself offered vans to Punta Arenas, and if not, whether I should make a reservation for the local Las Torres van I’d arrived on. The woman told me that she would know after dinner if there was a van headed to the city. While I was in the office, I noticed that their whiteboard of room occupancies only had me listed for two nights, not three, and asked about it to make sure they had my reservation right. She checked her files, and then apologized and said she might have to have me switch domes. Since the domes are double-occupancy, but I’d been lucky enough to have one to myself, I figured that would be fine.

I retired to the resting dome while she figured out logistics, and relaxed on a sofa with a book. I had a pleasant conversation with one of the staff members. This was the same man who, when he saw my Ramen dinner last night, made sure that I had had enough food and instructed me to ask at the bar if I ever needed any extra food. While I had packed sufficient meals for my stay and then some, I appreciated the consideration. As far as I can tell, I’m the only guest here with a breakfast-only meal plan.

All of the staff here have been helpful and friendly. They all seem to be fluent in English (Patagonia is much more supportive of English speakers than anywhere else I’ve been in Chile). Nonetheless, I’ve been mostly chatting with them in Spanish, as lord knows I always need more practice. I’m not sure whether they appreciate the effort or are just being polite, but either way, they regularly strike up conversations.

After half an hour, I got the word that they would like me to switch domes for my last night, but to the dome right next door to my old one. It took me about 60 seconds to move all my things. Then, I packed my backpack with a lunch, and headed out to attempt a walk.

Before I was halfway down the Ecocamp driveway, I knew that it would be unwise for me to try to walk too far: my ankle was whining like a spoilt child. Instead, I walked less then ten minutes away, across a spiky-shrubbed field. I settled down on a little flat on the concealed far side of a hill. It was a cold and blustery day, but I was partly out of the wind. The giant mountain was right in front of my perch, with its head shrouded in clouds.

View from my perch.

A whole herd of Prickly Heath.

After a placid picnic lunch, I did what any sensible ankle-deprived gal would do: I hopped around the hillside, crouching low and taking many macro photographs of the tiny hairy plants. It’s a fascinating world down on the Patagonian ground, and I had a fun time looking for the interesting details that I might otherwise have missed, had I just been walking through.

Más calafate.
Teeny bell flowers of the prickly heath (Pernettya mucronata).

Once I returned to the Ecocamp, I spent some relaxed time in my dome. The benefit of the chilly, windy day was that the dome’s interior temperature was perfectly cozy, rather than too hot, as it had been on days with more sun.

In the early evening, I headed out to the patio to mingle and to drink more instant coffee. A large group of guests had just returned from the same hike I did yesterday, Mirador Las Torres; apparently, when they had reached the end of the hike, it had started snowing! They all melted exhaustedly into the the chairs. Every ten minutes, the sky switched between bakingly warm, icy and windy, and spurting raindrops. When it settled on icy and windy, we migrated inside to the bar dome.

I had met two Americans here a few days ago: a mother and a daughter. As it turns out, the daughter will be spending three days in Santiago after this, so she may come meet up with me in Valparaíso for a night or two — how fun.

The administrative woman tracked me down to tell me about the price for the transfer directly from Ecocamp to Punta Arenas. The Ecocamp van would be almost the same price as the wearying three-vehicle switcharoo with which I had arrived here. As an added bonus, it even leaves in the morning (whereas the earliest local van wouldn’t leave until 2pm). Since I hope to arrive in Punta Arenas early enough to see the town or maybe even some penguins, early is exactly what I was looking for. I booked the van and felt quite delighted.

As I started to leave the office, the woman asked one more thing: would I mind not eating my dinner in the common dome where I’d eaten the night before, because some of the guests had asked about why I wasn’t eating with them? Um, what? I was taken aback, but I agreed, and walked away feeling rubbed the wrong way. Had the other guests been irritated at my noodle-eating presence, two rooms away? Or had a guest mentioned it out of curiosity or kind concern, and the lodging woman had decided it was best to ask me to hide away? I’m not sure, but I get the feeling that it was the latter. What an unprofessional churl. Still, I returned to the pre-dinner socializing inside the dome, refusing to let the weird request get me down.

I picked and ate four calafate berries from a bush outside, just so I could say I’d tried them. Later that evening, I read in a book that there’s an old saying, something like El que come Calafate, siempre vuelve: “Whoever eats Calafate berry, will always return [to Patagonia].” I certainly hope so. I also chatted with a nice young Chilean man who was working at Ecocamp as part of an internship, and who soon will be doing a study abroad program in our very own Santa Barbara, California. Then, I discovered another flora field guide, and skimmed through it. This one listed the etymology of every genus, so I read through these with joy and fascination. It was just my cup of tea.

When dinner came, I prepared a tasty cup of vegetable soup with tiny croutons, and retreated to my dome to eat. Afterward, I returned to the common dome for chamomile tea, and had yet another nice conversation with a young Chilean man from Puerto Natales, who said he wanted to travel, but that he always planned to return to Puerto Natales before he died. He seemed pleased that I talked about his town with such enthusiasm. Eventually, I bid him goodnight and fled to my dome, to leap under the fleece sheets — it was the coldest night so far. I lay awake as my fingers and feet slowly regained warmth, and much later, fell asleep with naught more than my nose peeping out from under the covers.

Goodnight, domes.

4 thoughts on “[Patagonia VI] January 10, 2012: Calafate berries

  1. ¿What part of ‘breakfast only’ don’t you understand? ¿Isn’t it obvious that you’re not allowed to eat breakfast and nothing else? ¿Do you see anyplace where it talks about ramen? That poor, confused woman who busted you: her world must have bee rocked by the incongruity of it all.

    I did what any sensible ankle-deprived gal would do: I hopped around the hillside, crouching low and taking many macro photographs of the tiny hairy plants… I had a fun time looking for the interesting details that I might otherwise have missed.

    Smart little pothole. The word “lemonade” comes to mind. It’s one of the best lessons I try to learn from traveling, when we have little control over how things unfold. I’m so glad you found a fun microworld. I wish your ankle didn’t hurt. I know a good doctor. I also wish you hadn’t jumped off that structure the minute I left town five years ago.

    El que come Calafate, siempre vuelve. I like that. ¿What happens if I eat a calafate berry if I’ve never BEEN to Patagonia?

    You are such a plant nerd. You are lucky to have a passion like that.

    I can’t picture you with only your nose out. ¿Did you encircle it in a spiral of sheets to it emerged, iceberg-like, while eyes and head-top were submerged?

    1. My ankley-poo seems to have calmed itself. I had one day last week where both ankles were being twingey and dumb, but they haven’t hurt in a few days now. Knock on wood.

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