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
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
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
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.