Way down south, in Chile’s least populous region, a river runs turquoise. Glaciers heave. There is a lake as blue and deep as desire.
We lived in tents in the backyard of a Chilean couple, thirty minutes from Valle Chacabuco on the Carretera Austral. The clear Rio Cochrane marked the boundary of their property. It is the breed of river that gives you the sensation of having the wind knocked out of you when you jump in, which we did, repeatedly.
In the valley, the back of my hands blistered open from wind and fluctuating temperature. Chloe’s sleeping bag bounced out of the truck, never to be found. The guanacos observed and kept their secrets.
Later, we took a boat through staggering fiords to a land of waist deep moss and infuriating weather. A slaughtered sheep in a canvas sack shared the boat’s cabin with us. One leg didn’t fit, so it delicately rested atop our personal gear, leaking blood for the seven hour ride. Filador played the accordion. Our captain sang along, steering and sipping his rum and coke. On arrival, they strung the sheep carcass up on the water tower.
The rain hindered our explorations, so we made up tasks for ourselves. A main objective was the calafate harvest, tart seedy berries of a Berberis. We would return to the refugio drenched, lips and hands stained the color of bruises.
One morning, I opened my tent and shouted an expletive. Sun illuminated a tongue of the southern ice field. Porpoises rose in the sound.
This is what Patagonia does to you. It offers glimpses. A frog the size of your pinky fingernail. The birth of a river from unfathomable folds of ice. Then it hands you a week festering in deluge and constant viento, trying to keep the fire stoked. Solace is found in bewilderment. The boom of glaciers calving is a lullaby. Aysen redefined remote.
How to exist in such a domineering landscape? Sip maté and whisper to yourself – Que vida ché