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At the End of the World

de (21-4-2013)
1 ecou

Translation by Nitza From

Patagonia, PA-TA-GO-NIA? I knew from the beginning, it didn’t exist.

I imagined it: tall people, with silver goatees, with a blue gaze, lean and bony, with long legs, jumping over small purple lakes, staring at high raising orangey mountains encircling a grey landscape; scraggy, unraveled men like Don Quixote, lost in a desert of ice, where the penguins stagger with difficulty and the sharp mountain tops emanate magical fumes.

Finally, after six hours flight from Santiago de Chile, the enclosed city by the Andes Mountains, forever buried in snow, I get to the real Patagonia, the one on the map or outside of it, the Chilean Antarctic, the farthest point of the Southern Hemisphere.

Austere, barren and monotonous surfaces, that’s the way it looks at the first glance. The first contact with Punta Arenas, Capital of The Fire Country, is a small town in which hurried tourists rush through the Parks and the National Reservations; a junction where planes, busses, oceans and people, meet.

Inevitably, any visitor in Patagonia in search of the spectacle of nature will have to go through Punta Arenas and all will conclude: „There’s nothing there”. When we are promised the „exceptional”, we are not willing to accept any „normality”.

Before we got to Punta Arenas I saw a lot of disappointment in the people demeanor when I asked „Were you in Patagonia?”, „Did you fly to Punta Arenas?”

Women faces would assume a condescending and ironic smile: „Yes. It’s no big deal. Just dreadful winds. Actually, there’s nothing to see there”.

In this „nothing to see” for some, in Punta Arenas, in only a few hours, the seasons collide with one another, the Straits of Magellan sparkle, blinking in the November sun (it’s the beginning of spring in the Southern Hemisphere). Icy snow flakes hit the strained faces looking for adventure, the trees carved to look like the heads from Easter Island bend by the wind. Layers of colored lights penetrate through thick clouds suspended in their heavy formations, the vast areas are monumental, the horizon line it’s farther. An oppressive silence, but at the same time a serene one, like the people, gives way to a purified silence similar to the stillness of the icebergs, a silence that you find at the end of the world, without tension, without tragedy; assumed, understood, accepted; a tonic silence in which the expectations loose their ambitions, irritability, the tumultuous impatience, preparing you for the big journey to the place where the earth really ends – The Icebergs from The Chilean Antarctica.

It’s strange that people are born, get old and die there, it’s strange that aside from the few tourists, there are people that live there, also in transit, looking for elsewhere. Punta Arenas is truly a place of transition, from the real to the magic, from the ocean to the ocean, from the imaginary to the fantastic.

The way to Puerto Natale it’s just a delicate preamble of things to come. Distorted and bare trees, all bent by winds in the same direction, bushes and clusters of shrubbery, pastures enclosed in wooden fences or ghostly forests in which you can see only contorted tree stumps, like an agglomeration of odd sculptures abandoned unfinished by the artists disillusioned by the intricate forms born out of the ever changing climate.

In Patagonia, in only one day you can go through all four seasons, the natives are telling us again and again filled with pride. The women understand best and smile with

Satisfaction: „How beautiful!” Mountains emerge with their crests covered in snow, the ocean is gray, the roofs of the houses are in vivid colors under the fluffy clouds. The dominant blue filters through the sky warning us about the explosions caused by the icebergs’ haughtiness. Behind fences of yellow and red blossomed bushes, the road continues with waterfalls, lagoons with bitter water, pastures with herds of lamas, flocks of condors and, finally the snow covered peak of the Torres del Paine Mountains with their orangey and violet reflections in a clear spring day. We are lucky that we can see it, the guide explains, there are tourists that wait for days for the fog to dissipate.

Life jackets, warm protective outfits against the cold, rain and winds. We are hurried in small boats to the ship anchored in the bay. After navigating only for half an hour we are confronted with a boundless block of ice, – The Old Iceberg Grey. It surpasses everybody’s expectations. It is blue with green reflections, immense, spectacular, Patagonian, from which ice pieces fall from time to time to the amazement and delight of the tourists.

At their breaking point the falling ice slices have a more intense color, a gentian blue. Even the Chilean semi precious gem, lapis lazuli, has the color of the icebergs, an intense and compact blue. An entire world built on blue.

Patagonia has the power to purify your impressions and make your memories indispensable. When you get really there, at the end of the world (I don’t know why I associate it with the END), the things start to fissile out, they become simpler, clearer, a war of supremacy starts between the things that will last and the ones that will be eliminated by the memory, the perception, the sensory receptors.

At the end of the world the waters decant, then, they unify for a moment, the same way the Pacific and the Atlantic become one in The Magellan Strait, after which the Nature synthesizes its forms – the icy waters of the oceans pull together to form another blue Iceberg, which after a few hundred years will melt and will disappear in the same oceans and in other worlds.

I imagine what will remain after the melting of an iceberg, how many mysteries, how many objects from past worlds, will surface. I see sliding down the mountains morsels of petrified civilizations, minute proof of past lives, banal, that left behind only a kernel, a little bone, a deformed little stone, that some will pick up to add it to their collection of stones and shells gathered from all the beaches of the world.

Antarctica is like the lightness of the last exhaled breath, when finally you are convinced that exists, you calm down, content that you personally verified the miraculous place. Patagonia has the quality to heal any suspicion, to make null and void the absolute end, and to bring instead the proof of continues transformation.

We sleep at night in the only hut from Puerto Natale, in small rooms with bunk beds, warming up at a wood burning fireplace, located in a narrow hallway, with the sentiment that we are in no man’s land, in full adventure.

Next day its pouring rain. The icy drops stick to our frozen faces hit by the strong winds, „we’re not going to see anything”, we tell each other, still obsessed „to see” the top of the Torres del Paine, the surrealist scenery, promised by the touristic guides, the fantastic images from the commercial postcards and documentary films.

We dress in heavy waterproof overalls and boots; overnight, winter returned to Chilean Antarctica. We will be lowered in an inflatable rubber boat in the Straits of Magellan to see the icebergs Selano and Balmaceda. There is no other way to return from here except to navigate six hours down the stream.

There is no boat in sight. At the shore is a shabby tent used probably for the time being by a Chilean fisherman. The rain and the wind are horrendous. We are the only tourists in the zone, but this feeling is shared by every body arrived in Patagonia. Everyone feels that he or she is alone at the end of the world, or that he or she are the only ones that got there.

It rains and rains and it’s no boat in sight. The door is open so we take shelter in the austere tent of the presumed Chilean fisherman. Desperate, we start singing, totally out of tune, silly revolutionary-patriotic songs from a forgotten world.

The boat arrives. Again we are the recipients of very complicated gear that layered over the already heavy cloths that we wear, makes us look like some weird cosmonauts that were thrown at random on this unknown planet. The rain is devastating. We are lowered at high speed on the Serrano Stream, in fabulous scenery, waterfalls, parallel streams with multicolored water, mountains covered by the fallen snow from the night before, stoned icebergs.

The wind is menacing and the threatening waves throws our little boat violently, I am scared, I am looking in the Captain’s eyes, that stair forward straining a faint smile. My feeble spirit of adventure disappears altogether. I am horrified. I find it really stupid to get into a little boat in Patagonia and to let you at nature’s will. I can see a small obituary: „Firan disappears in the Straits of Magellan”. I can feel in my stomach all the gigantic bounces the boat makes. I scream, to everybody’s amusement, however, they get some relief because they are probably as scared as I am.

We hear from the peak of an iceberg a terrifying boom, the guide smiles at us calmly: „It’s nothing. Here you hear this all the time. The iceberg is breaking, but nothing happens”.

Finally we see land. We get to shore where is a buss waiting. I still have the picture taken on the boat with my face disfigured by horror.

The Fire Country parades back in time lavishly in front of our eyes used already to the unusual. The route draws together all of Patagonia – pastures with contorted tree stumps, devote of any foliage, bare, a lost ostrich, lights in superposed layers at the very edge of the world. Endless surfaces covered in white, from where again and again one of my fingers slips out.


  • Camelia Lica: (24-5-2013 la 09:34)

    Mi-a placut mult atat articolul cat si traducerea lui. Caut un traducator de lucrari literare din limba romana in engleza. Imi puteti, va rog, da informatia de contact a doamnei Nitza care a facut aceasta traducere?

    Cu multumiri,

    Camelia Lica

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