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Patagonia Winds

Patagonia, for most of us is an idyllic and imaginary land, we can think of visiting only in our dreams. But thanks to Abbie’s Travelogue we are transported to this land of unutterable beauty and charm.

Yovan Chioinard has an internationally well-known company, Patagonia, and he has spent much of his life in this region of the world. He is able to capture the spirit of this magical place by writing, “To most people, Patagonia is a name like Timbuktu or Shangri-la. Far-off, interesting, not quite on the map, Patagonia brings to mind romantic versions of glaciers tumbling into fjords, jagged windswept peaks, gauchos and condors.” Arriving in Patagonia almost two months ago I have found this description to be accurate; except for one missing detail. What this quote by Yovan does not mention, most likely intentionally, are the gusting winds. Winds that you will read about below but until you have experienced them one can never truly know. 

My first introduction to the winds of Patagonia was on a boat tour in Glacier National Park. One day after arriving in El Calafate, which is a native berry in southern Patagonia that the town was named after, I signed up for a well-known boat tour. What wasn’t shared with me nor roughly the 100 other passengers was that on windy days the boat ride would be turbulent. After 8 hours on Lago Argentina over 60 percent of the people on the 3-decker boat spent the entire day throwing up. Fortunately for me, I have a strong stomach and spent the day on the top deck outside, mostly alone, taking in one of the most stunning sceneries the planet has to offer.

After El Calfate and the infamous boat ride, I made my way to the tiny mountain town of El Chalten. What I thought would be a two-week trip turned into a month-long love affair that only ended because there is no bank in town and one ATM that unfortunately does not have cash. El Chalten is known as the trekking capital of Patagonia as it sits at the base of the pristine, jetting peaks of mountains beckoning you to come and play. There are endless hikes, and the best part is you don’t need any transportation except for your own legs to access almost all of the trails. On my fourth day in town the weather conditions were right to take off and head to Laguna de Los Tres, which is roughly an 8-hour, moderate hike to the lake below the famous Fitz Roy Mountain. Through the woods, past rivers pouring out of waterfalls from melting glaciers I arrived. Yet, I didn’t just arrive physically. I arrived somehow feeling changed, with a new sense of peace and contentment. As I sat basking in the sun’s warm glow, I noticed a faint path off to the left of the lake so of course I followed it. One disclaimer about myself is that I still have the curiosity of a 4-year-old. This aspect of my character both serves me and can also lead to chaos. So it is that I followed this path past the lake as the winds continued to pick up throughout that afternoon. I was finding it hard to hold my body up even with poles because the wind is not consistent. It will suddenly begin and end as quickly as it started which makes it near impossible to hike in a straight line. Off to the left I approached a steep cliff next to a waterfall that was gushing into another lake about 10 floors below. This tiny alpine lake I now know is called Lago Sucia, the dirty lake, and was being fed by over 12 different waterfalls from glaciers which made its color seemingly piercing turquoise blue. Yes, it seems odd that the most beautiful lake I have ever seen with my own eyes is called the dirty lake but so it is. At that moment I began to cry. I cried because over a year ago I had a dream about this lake, except there were also whales in it. I thought to myself I want to stay here forever but the winds were becoming so strong and chilly I knew I had to leave. I took my tiny backpack off and held it between my knees so I could grab my puffy winter coat for the walk back. The winds picked up and as I was fumbling around to get the coat on, I know this is hard to imagine, but my backpack ripped out from my knees and tumbled down the cliff to Lago Sucia. I was in complete shock, mouth wide open, eyes big, looking around to see if anyone else had seen what happened. My brain immediately started taking stock of what was inside the backpack. A pair of bright orange Alpaca gloves I had bought in Peru, a beautiful knit purple hat from a friend and my passport. Yes, my passport tumbled off the edge of a cliff. I looked to the heavens and said I wanted to stay here forever but not like this! I frantically searched the cliff line to see if I could see the backpack, but the winds were so strong I had to hold onto the rocks and the sun was beginning to set. A four hour walk back into town was enough time for me to talk to myself about what we were going to do. How we would need to get to Buenos Aires, a 4-hour flight, to the United States Embassy. That evening I arrived at my hostel and told Gaston, the owner, what happened. He informed me that there is a backcountry trail along Lago Sucia that I should hike the following day to see if I could find it. It might be impossible, but it was worth another 8-hour hike and scouring the side of this lake just in case, because the price of a passport, or at least a USA passport, is priceless. The next two days brought torrential rain, so I held off on the quest trying not to let the fact that I lost my passport bother me. On day two I was sitting at a restaurant with a friend, telling her the story of the wind and the passport when the doors flew open. Gaston, soaking wet with searching eyes appeared. He said, “I’ve been looking for you, they found your passport and it is at the police station!” I know readers, I was as astonished as you. Apparently, two men had found the backpack down by Lago Sucia and were deeply concerned that something terrible had happened to me. They brought everything, including the passport and large sum of money to the local police station. The police, this part is wild to me, posted it on Facebook with the photo of me and all my information. Gaston saw the post and came looking for me. Thus, the winds took the passport, but it was found and for the next 2 weeks everyone who saw me in town knew me as the woman who had lost her passport.

That experience in El Chalten only further grew my love for the place. It isn’t often the wind takes your passport and then two men randomly find it and return it. On my last day there, before I HAD to leave, I decided to do the backcountry hike to Lago Sucia to say thank you and goodbye. The trail was difficult and there were several signs that said, Dangerous Do Not Pass, in Spanish of course. Yet, I made it back to the lake of my dreams and it was more stunning than I remembered. Sitting next to the lake eating an empanada I was trying to take some selfies, which I am terrible at. A handsome man further off noticed and approached me offering to take photos of me. I was thrilled because why yes, I did need someone else to take photos of me and capture this place. Passing my phone to him he looked at me, eyes locked and said, “Una rosa de los vientos,” translated as A Rose of the Wind. Quiet and dismayed, I didn't say anything. He introduced himself as Agustine and held my left arm and pointed to my tiny, faded tattoo that never gets noticed and again said A Rose of the Wind. I learned that day that a compass in Spanish is called a rose of the wind. Thus, in this story I am the Rose of the Wind of Patagonia. 

~Abbie Stirling

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