Sunday 15 May 2011

In Patagonia........

A dish of pickled aubergine and a basket of pillowy-white bread were left on the table.

"I bring you menu" said the waiter.

He looked Lebanese or possibly from southern Italy. Like most Argentinians he came with a melted pot of ancestry.

The wine was warm and red and rich with the pink-baked rocks and yellow pampas. And delicious. I ordered lamb, I was in Patagonia. My travelling companion yet again went through the menu creating a smorgasbord of vegetarian delights. Being blond and pert and young meant that wherever we went chefs were only too happy to fling aside the flesh their country was famed for in order to skewer onions, peppers, potatoes and pumpkin at will. Travelling with such a heavenly creature was brilliant. There was not a room we entered, nor a street we walked down, that did not have heads was like being 18 again.......

Outside in the dark a thin moon rose over Largo Argentino. Imagine the Yorkshire Moors and the Scottish Highlands, New England in the fall with the back drop of the Swiss Alps, by way of the Grand Canyon and you have some idea of the scenery surrounding El Calafate, a one horse town that was no trick pony. We were tired from our day’s adventure: exploring the steppe and ice field, beating around the Calafate Bush: a spiky-berried plant indigenous to Patagonia. The bleached fists and weathered fingers of ghost trees poked the ice-blue sky, swirled with cotton-candy clouds that spun and swooped like flying saucers across the Autumn leaves of burnt umber, sienna and tangerine. The yellow, wind-bent grass scudded the steppe until Monte Fitz Roy rose, snowed white and gray. A jade-green river runs through it, meanders, loops, runs dry. The bones of trees are trunked on the river bed, shingled pebbles banked against the un-melt ice. While wide birds swoop above wild horse and guanaco herd and jump the scrub.

"Look Condors," said our guide, a dead spit for Charlotte Gainsburg, "they have their wings three metres."

"Three metres?"

"Three very big."

The lamb was cooked on a cross stabbed into the fire at a jaunty angle, an asado. It was soft and sweet and melted in my truly was the best lamb I had ever eaten. We ate quickly, hungry from a day walking on thick ice. The glacier at Perito Moreno may not be the largest but it is the most spectacular. And extraordinary.

“Why is the ice blue?” we asked our guide: young, seasonally –whiskered, his hat pulled down to the bridge of his reflective sunglasses, his nose freckled from the sun.

“Because there is no oxygen in the water.”

But what does that mean?

“And here is where the warm air rises.”

Ah ha.

“Here is where the....liars of rock come down....”

Ah ha.

And this is why there are no glaciers in London or Hamburg at the same latitude. But here, only in Patagonia, here we have the glaciers.”

Ah ha. And what is that shuddering crash like an out-take from Jurassic Park?

“That is the ice breaking off. And now you go to the cramponier.....”

The health and safety talk over, we set off: knees bent, feet apart, small steps, single the march of the penguins we crunched our way across the glacier. And after we’d wandered up and down, peered into various holes and crevasses, found out the blue barrel in the hole contained the accident and emergency kit, our guides cracked open a bottle and gave us all a whiskey & glacier to warm us for the journey home.....

Top tip: Don't ever take your eye off your bag in Buenos Aires........


  1. Hello:
    We are definitely of the view that Argentina never sounded anywhere near as delicious as your most beguiling post. If anything or anyone is going to make us book the first flight to Patagonia, then you are surely the one to do it.

    Clearly, this is a land of the most extraordinary contrasts, not only in terms of landscape but also of lifestyle. You sound to have had the most wonderful adventures and surely this is only the beginning. We look forward to more...much more.

  2. A wondeful evocation of your experience, as ever - sounds fantastic. I'd love to go there. Walked on a glacier in New Zealand - it's strange, isn't it? Best place we've been (so far) is Madagascar - amazing. Go there - you'd love it. Good luck with the tomato growing! Abby x

  3. You are such a great writer. I often wish your posts had photos, but really you don't need them. You paint a picture with your words. Glad you had a lovely time.

  4. Hey, I was wondering the other day if you were ever coming back! Sounds amazing - I had no idea about the glaciers (never paid much attention in geography)

  5. oooh Patagonia!!!! How exotic! And you're having a marvellous time. Get your pix up on Flickr or something so that we can see what you are seeing.

    Am now very hungry for lamb *shuffles off to kitchen for a kitkat* Tell us about the bag - has it gone missing?

    Ali xxxxxx

  6. Nice to have you back; you write very evocatively about Argentina, almost makes me want to go and see it. I've seen the blue ice/blue/green water phenomenon in New Zealand glaciers, especially at Mt. Cook.
    I look forward to hearing about the bag.

  7. What a wonderful piece of writing. Would love to read more about your adventures.

  8. Dear Jo, that was so brilliantly written I was almost there with you. Wonderful stuff as ever.

    Let's do photos at my house soon. Love, C xx

  9. I tried to poach the egg, I really do need practice, I got some poached egg and some mush!

  10. I really enjoyed reading your post. It seems you had a good time in Patagonia.

  11. would love to visit patagonia someday..

    followed you.

  12. You are such a great writer. I often wish your posts had photos, but really you don't need them. You paint a picture with your words. Glad you had a lovely time.