Wednesday, August 11, 2010

El Calafate, Argentina

 I told you. I warned you in my first entry about my blogging history and how my motivation wanes over time. Everything changes here in Chile, constantly, quickly, and often without notice. Keeping track of these changes can be difficult, but I will try to do much better. One change in my life, better described as an addition, is my boyfriend Greg. We met at orientation in Santiago during our first days in Chile. He might agree that I should be held responsible for this relationship, but it's not entirely my fault that he is so wonderful. He lives in Punta Arenas, a larger city three hours by bus. By Chilean geographical standards, we residents of Patagonia are lucky to be so close. Greg and I grew to know one another over the first few months of teaching and living, and we decided with great faith that traveling together for Winter Break might be possible. We were right. It was fantastic. I couldn't have asked for a better person to have by my side for three weeks straight, no exceptions. 


If you haven't already guessed, Winter Break is meant to divide the two semesters of the school year and allow the kids of Patagonia to either travel north of the rigid weather or at least eliminate their one reason for ever going outside. We chose to escape it. Greg and I visited eight locations, all possessing a different flavor.

To avoid jamming everything about our vacation into one single post, I prefer to recount each city on its own beginning with Calafate.

We headed our list with Calafate for a few attractive reasons. A solar eclipse was opportunely expected for the first day of our vacation, and we had been told that Calafate would host the best view. Secondly, we were planning to fly directly to Buenos Aires while somehow avoiding Argentina’s reciprocity fee of $131 for US citizens. After a bit of research we found that the fee is only charged to people arriving on international flights. There is only one international airport, and flying from within the country (from Calafate, for instance) wouldn’t require us to pay. We had crossed the border to Argentina by bus weeks before which proved to be uncomplicated and cheap. In the end, it didn't matter. We went all the way to Calafate only to fly directly into Uruguay.

So we decided to return to the adorable Calafate, a small town made famous by a gigantic glacier located in the nearest national park. Although it sorely disappoints Greg, I consider Calafate one of my favorite locations we visited during our break. Not because it was already familiar. Not because we missed the solar eclipse completely because we failed to research its exact time of passing. Not because we spent the better part of an afternon watching the final game of the World Cup. Instead, I will never forget the first time I was able to ice skate on a frozen lake.

We went for a walk along a long newly built brown boardwalk away from town’s center, and we could see in the distance an open white field with tiny black ants gliding along the surface. As we got closer, we passed parents and children full of exhaustion, hand in hand, skates tied and slung over their shoulders. One of us remarked how unfortunate we were not to own skates like most of the local kids obviously do. Interestingly, they all seemed to have the same color and design. Que raro. On the top of a hill, further away than one would have expected, we saw a building with a line that stretched down the exterior stairs and wrapped along the side. We walked to the building. There was a sign that notified all customers to return their skates by 5:00 pm. Bummer. It was almost… wait! They wanted everyone to return them so that they could prepare for Night Skating! We waited, drank coffee, and waited some more.

I was terrified. It was a lake, for crying out loud. Has there ever been a movie in history that involved someone skating on a frozen lake or pond and not falling through the ice? With every crack, I cringed and shrieked a little. Greg laughed and tried not to make me feel bad about my fear that I quickly overcame when I realized that had I fallen, at least one thousand people would be there to witness and help.

It was incredible. The ice was patchy and uneven. Someone had encircled a large area of the lake with tiki torches. There was a bond fire and a barbeque happening on the very edge of the shore. The sky was cloudless, and the stars made me forget all about the solar eclipse that I never saw. Cold feet, red noses, and all. Thank you Calafate for showing me just how beautiful winter can be. 


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