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  Field Notes From
Patagonia



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From Author

Simon Worrall



Patagonia On Assignment

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From Photographer

Peter Essick



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Andrés Salinero (top) and Peter Essick


 

Patagonia

Field Notes From Author
Simon Worrall

Best Worst Quirkiest
    With the help of some local guides, I retraced Darwin's footsteps 20 miles (44 kilometers) up the Río Deseado. It was a really beautiful run. Sometimes I would just lie down in the front of the boat and look up the river as we sped along, taking in the raw, breathtaking landscape.
    The wildlife was spectacular, especially the cormorants with their bright reddish-orange beaks and scarlet feet. I also saw a colony of sea lions that reminded me of something the British naturalist Gerald Durrell said: If he could come back in another life, it would be as a sea lion so he could have a beautiful sea lion wife. With honey-colored fur, large eyes, and long lashes, they surely are the sensuous creatures he described.
    But probably the most magical moment was when I spotted a pod of Commerson's dolphins. They started swimming around our boat, so we turned off the engine and sat idle for ten minutes or so. The sun was shining brilliantly on the milky, emerald green water as these black-and-white dolphins leapt around us. It was absolutely remarkable. Patagonia is a truly powerful place.


    My wife and I were heading from Argentina to Chile's Torres Del Paine National Park when we ran into some problems at the customs house near the border. After we drove six hours down a remote gravel road, soldiers manning the station prevented us from passing. They kept us waiting for the rest of the afternoon before finally telling us that we couldn't take our jeep out of Argentina. Apparently our rental company hadn't given me the proper paperwork. 
    By this time it was getting dark, and we needed somewhere to stay. Earlier in the day we passed a shabby, lime green hotel that looked like the kind of place you'd never leave alive. We actually got desperate enough to go there, but it was full.
    I checked another place that was 20 miles (30 kilometers) away, but no luck there either. It was completely empty except for eight chained-up dogs, which was a little spooky. At that point our only option was to travel to a grim, rundown coal-mining town five hours away. It was 3 a.m. before we finally got there. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see a hotel with vacancies.


    We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant off a side street in Puerto Natales. It was a delightful place, decorated with all sorts of antiques and theatrical posters. Opera music played in the background. I almost felt as if I was in a Parisian café instead of a restaurant in a small Chilean fishing village.
    But what was really extraordinary was the menu. It was in Spanish with some English translations, and at first glance I noticed it was a bit off. But as we started reading, each translation became more bizarre. There was "Chilean abalone, red Indian dwarf, garlic, and onion" and "the meat to wrap oneself, ham, cheese, and sauce of tomatoes." For dessert they offered "rosary bead of juice." We roared with laughter.
    To this day I can't figure out if the translations were intentional, to match the eccentric nature of the place, or if the owner got distracted while flipping through a dictionary. I paid him five thousand pesos (eight dollars) for the menu, which was a little more than the restaurant's best main course. He couldn't understand why I wanted it, but I thought it would be a great souvenir.


   


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