Dear nearest and dearest,
So far my visit to Patagonia has been exceptionally unpleasant. I write this from my hot airless bedroom at Bahia Blanca. There isn’t even a window, only a door out to an unbearably hot glassed-in courtyard. I did not sleep at all last night because of the insufferable heat.
My feet are aching after a day of walking. This morning I took a bus through the desert to a small Patagonian village by the Rio Negro. The weather is dry and dusty and even the wind is hot. Ragged clouds skim the sky and the seemingly endless layer of grey-green thornscrub and streaming white dust remind me of a desert ocean. But unlike an ocean everything here (or maybe this was just my lack of sleep) seemed to melt into a boiling pot entirely absent of color.
My fellow bus passengers were a heavyset Indian woman and her son. The Indian woman reeked of the garlic she was chewing, while she maneuvered her many parcels and heavy body around. As she and her son stepped off the bus I could see fear in the little boy’s eyes.
The village seemed poor, disorganized, and mainly a dispiriting place to live. The more fortunate villagers lived in sturdy brick houses with black chimneys and tangles of wires criss-crossing the sky. Toward the edges of the village I approached the Indian housing. I was sad to see the ramshackle abodes made up of sheet plastic and sacking.
The people also made me sad. A man walking out of the village toward the countryside looked lonely and hardened by life, with his hat pulled down low. A small group of children tormented a little lamb. A blaring radio and the hiss and sizzle of cooking fat could be heard from the huts. As I passed one of the huts a lumpy arm reached out and threw an emaciated dog a bone. The people here didn’t seem very friendly or cheerful. I got a very gloomy impression of the village.
Outside the village I opted for a more colorful excursion and toured some orchards and plantations lining the river. Indians were busy at work cutting slender branches and releasing fresh white shoots and pungent-smelling sap. I walked along the river up a path toward the top of a sheer cliff. The river ran swiftly with surplus ice water from the melting peaks of the Andes. At the top of the cliff the river, like a glittering ribbon, snaked through the emerald and ivory landscape of cliffs, farmland, and dry thorny desert. Everything was silent except for the strong wind that keeled over the cliff and rustled the thorns and dead grass. The only signs of life were a hawk swinging through the sky and a beetle crawling across the ground.
I miss home. This place is desolate, uncomfortable, and dismal but there is a timeless beauty to the land though, and I understand why the Indians have made it their home for generations. Nonetheless, soon I’ll be home and this dry adventure will be over.