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But our luck was bad. We waited through three days of foul weather and whitecaps. The fourth morning we awakened in the tree-dripping darkness and listened to the wind. Surf still pounded on the pebble beach and the old innkeeper shook his head. "Mucho viento y may peligroso," he said, pointing to the waves and staring out into the gloomy dark. "Maybe another year," Zwirz said.
During our last week in Patagonia we were camped on the salmon-rich currents of the lower Traful. The river below our tents trickled with springs that dripped their lacy pattern through beds of flowers and ferns. The salmon pools were swift and smooth over trailing weeds and golden gravel. Across the river from our camp, basalt monoliths towered 300 feet above the water, casting ocher reflections in the current.
Hundreds of salmon hovered over the bottom gravel. They studied our flies and when they took them some bolted while others writhed and spun, berserk, into the air.
We were invited to share a farewell lunch with the Argentine ranchers who owned the headwaters. The simple streamside meal they promised was an extensive asado with whole sheep roasting on iron rods, bottles of river-chilled Riesling, and a splendid salad garnished with truffles that were dug from our hosts' orchard.
The women and children had gathered michay berries for dessert and we sampled their juices with fresh cream. "Legend holds that michay is like mat�," explained our hosts, "and now that you have eaten michay you will return to our Patagonia." We sprawled under the trees and talked of salmon until it was time to leave for Bariloche, where an old cargo DC-3 would take us to Tierra del Fuego.
Darwin was the explorer who made Tierra del Fuego famous, but it was Magellan who named it the Land of Fire. Sailing the forbidding palisades of Patagonia, Magellan had tacked his fragile Vittoria into the wild strait that bears his name. He and his men wondered at the aboriginal fires on the headJands and beaches and named that windy waste Tierra del Fuego.
Nine hours below Buenos Aires, we circled Rio Gallegos and descended to refuel. Our lumbering DC-3 was already committed to its landing roll when the air was suddenly filled with geese. Both the aircraft and the geese miraculously escaped disaster. The pilot came back grinning and cursing. "Kaikanes" he casually explained. "Kaikanes were bunched up all over the runway." We looked weakly at each other and unbuckled our seat belts.
There were no field lights on the tiny runway at R�o Gallegos, and the Patagonian geese had returned to surround the aircraft. "Between those kaikanes and no field lights," we asked the pilot, "what happens down here when you run out of daylight?"
The man frowned and looked down at his feet. "You make your Act of Contrition," he answered, "and then you make your landing."
At last Tierra del Fuego was ahead, barren and olive-colored and lost in line squalls. Our twilight landing at Rio Grande was made in a 50-knot cross-wind that held the ragged windsock as tight as a sausage. All night the wind howled over the village and the kelp-stained tidal beaches. Morning squalls drummed sleet on the roof of the oil company mess hall where we had breakfast. Gusts of wind rattled pebbles on the windows; some buildings had wooden wind-fences to break its force. We were told that it was a normal midsummer morning.