This week’s dream
Exploring Patagonia’s Southern Ice Fields
Nothing can prepare you for the song of a glacier, said Stanley Stewart in the Financial Times. Deep within Argentina’s Patagonia region, I crossed meadows flush with orchids to gaze at and listen for a full two hours to Ventisquero Perito Moreno, an azure monolith whose surface is scalloped as if it were a choppy blue sea with its waves frozen in motion. The massive glacier creaked, fizzed, popped, growled, and whined as it invisibly inched toward the lake below, creating an abstract symphony as eerie as a whale’s. “This was the sound of the Ice Age as it shaped the world, carving valleys, molding hills.”
Toward the end of his life, Charles Darwin said that of all the far-flung places he had seen on his voyages, Patagonia was the one that still haunted him. I could see why. As I drove through the shadows of the Andes, past blue valleys, red volcanic escarpments, and fields of wispy yellow grass, I felt as if I had the primordial landscape all to myself. Starting in El Chaltén, a small mountain village with access to some of the best hikes in South America, I trekked to Laguna de los Tres past waterfalls and a dark meltwater lake surrounded by soaring peaks. Another day, I hiked through ancient lenga forests littered with skeletal fallen trees.
To see the mighty Upsala Glacier, I ventured with other tourists to Estancia Cristina, a former cattle ranch that serves as a gateway to the Southern Ice Fields. Riding in an ATV, we ascended shelves of black rock embedded with spiral ammonite fossils left behind by the sea that once covered this rocky land. Buffeted by wind at the top of a high ridge, I saw the world open before me: Lago Argentino, the country’s largest lake, burned an intense blue, and sunlight sparkled on icebergs as big as cathedrals. The glacier snaked for miles inland, disappearing into clouds. “I felt I had come to the end of the world. Or to its beginning.”
Plan South America (plansouthamerica.com) offers a 10-night self-drive package for $9,625 that includes seven nights in deep Patagonia.