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  • Pru Warren

Fjord!


Saturday, Nov. 6—8:57


I’ve spent the morning attempting to recreate some of the iPhone wizardry that the photographers dropped on me yesterday. Astonishingly, at least some of it sunk in. I’ve been underexposing images to emphasize the grey and rainy morning. We’re scudding along between hills that plunge into the sea—duh, Pru; that’s the reason they’re called fjords—and the atmosphere is teddibleh Nat Geo, doncha no. Of COURSE we’re all going out into the drizzle; we aren’t on vacation. We are on an EXPEDITION.


I had breakfast with a guy named Craig (he looks just like Lura’s neighbor Lou) (I met his extremely vigorous wife Jenn later in the library; she was delighted to meet me but wouldn’t stop pacing. She was EXERCISING.) as well as the Scottish couple, Bryan and Rachel. Bryan and Rachel were in “group A” with me yesterday in Lucho’s Zodiak and Bryan had sort of annoyed me by trying to persuade us all to shout and point as if we’d seen a whale to torment the other Zodiaks (laff riot? Oh, please)—but he totally made up for it this morning by looking out the window and saying that the weather was “dreech,” said with a Scottish accent so the “ch” sound was far more…you know. Scottish.


Oh, you have redeemed yourself. Good word.


Rachel was a delight. I shall bond with her immediately and be her bestie forever.


I escaped breakfast by saying I was going to sit in the library and try out iPhone photography. Rachel and Bryan appeared to do the same thing mere moments after I got there, so perhaps my love affair is two-sided. We compared notes on uploading photos to ANYTHING; apparently the internet will refuse anything over 25kb, so that could explain why I’m not having any luck getting photos from the iPhone to the laptop. And then Rachel and I decided where we would build our millionaire stilt houses.


Now I’m in my cabin, waiting for the 45 minutes until we get to where we’re going to Zodiak ourselves to a landing and a walk to a glacier. I asked Lucho yesterday if there was a Spanish word for fjord; he said it was “sena” and then—confusingly—announced that sena was the Spanish word for breast.


A lot of things can be envisioned to be breast-like. A lot of them. But I am utterly at a loss to understand how anyone could look at the broken teeth of a fjord or the water flowing over what is surely a tremendous valley. You’d really have to be hard up to see a woman’s breast in this scenario.


Never mind. Mine is not to question; mine is to underexpose my iPhone photography to dramatically emphasize my artistic skills. Lucho just came on the loudspeaker to say that our “hike” to the Bernal Glacier will include a dry landing; no need for the Mickey Mouse boots. Sha—that’s excellent! My Mickey Mouse boots are perfectly enormous so they can fit around my oversized calves, so I have a particularly Herman Muenster-like grace when I’m wearing them. So—sneakers are a go today. Huzzah! He said it’s about a mile and a half round-trip on easy terrain; this is MY kind of hiking.


Saturday, Nov. 6—12:21


Like the penguin, I appear to be more in danger of overheating than freezing. The air in Patagonia, even on this rainy, windy day, must be in the high 40s. It feels mild and pleasant; I’m assured that this is pretty normal for this time of year.


In my innocence, I overdressed. I know; I can here you saying it from 7,000 miles south of you. You’re saying “No, no, Pru—LAYERS are the way to go!” And I say “Pipe down, jeesh. I can hear you in Patagonia.” I know about layers. I had layers down…but the peeling off of layers was problematic.


Thick wool socks tucked inside the Mickey Mouse boots. (Yes, Lucho said we didn’t need them, but once he took off in the Zodiak to check the landing, Alex came on the radio and said “There’s lots of swell today in the fjord; make sure EVERYTHING is waterproof.” And I only brought one pair of shoes. So I sat there waiting to be invited to come to the mud room and fussed myself into changing into Mickey’s footgear.


Then—the silk long underwear (which feels great) and Lycra leggings, followed by the super-baggy waterproof trousers, which are SUCH a fashion statement; I can’t even tell you.


The upper decks were similarly warm. Silk long underwear shirt. Polar fleece shirt. Rusty’s Lands End jacket.


And a cap, with my name badge pinned jauntily over my right eyebrow.


So it’s drizzling and I’m hot. What’s the plan, you who say layers? Plop myself down on the stones and start peeling off the waterproof stuff to get to the lower layer? Take off the jacket and let the polar fleece get soggy? Oh, shut up. You don’t know what to do, either. I think that if the weather is similar tomorrow, I’ll leave off the long underwear and take it from there.


(Actually, tomorrow may be either a hike through Torres del Paine or a bus ride, and I’m a bus kind of girl—so temperature regulation should be much easier.)


The glacier stroll was fantastic. So other-worldly. And it began when Lucho greeted our Zodiak at the landing. “Listen to me,” he said sternly. “This is how you’re going to get out. One foot here, one foot here, one foot on the pontoon, and then down. If you don’t step on the pontoon…” He paused dramatically and I piped up. “An angel will die?”


“No,” he said. “A FAIRY will die.”


And that gave me a delighted jolt. I KNEW there were fairies in Patagonia!


So I wandered up this enchanting path having two entirely different conversations in my mind. First was—no surprise—about fairies or elves or other mystical creatures. Would they be angry at this flock of heavy-footed orange creatures stomping along and stopping every ten feet to photograph moss and lichen? We came to glacial run-off lakes in an impossible shade of pale, crystalline blue. THIS is why people paint their swimming pools that color. It is IRRESISTABLE. Surely fairies lived here.


The second train of thought was significantly more bloodthirsty. Whenever we leave the ship, we scan our key cards, which mark us as absent; when we get back, we check in. No one gets left behind—right? Well, what about if a man wanted to off his wife? C’mon, honey—lets go with everyone else to look at the glacier. He entices her behind a boulder the size of a cottage, pops her one on the head, takes her key card, and wanders back to the Zodiak. Once back on board, he quietly scans her in, too. Three days later he announces that his wife has fallen overboard—help! Help! Her body, of course, can’t be found, since it’s not floating down the Straits of Magellan but instead serving as the buffet for a fairy bacchanale back in the Sena de Montañas, by Bernal Glacier.


But once we got off the Zodiak and onto land proper (a highly graceless maneuver involving at least six Expedition staff members stretched up the rocky shore to pull the lard-assed and ancient patrons up the beach—for which I was very grateful), the seventh crew member stood by three laundry bins. “Please put your life vests here.” Whaaaat? I’ve just gotten mine adjusted to my bulk and height. “Yes, please,” he insisted. “So we know that everyone is back.”


Damn. There goes my bump-off-the-wife plan. Maybe I could distract the seventh crew member, hide a life vest under my bulky outerwear, and leave it draped over the dead body of my wife…??


Of the two plots, the fairies was a nicer story. Or maybe not. Fairies can be plenty mean. I was wondering if they spoke Spanish or some indigenous Patagonian language when I came around the corner and was confronted by the glacier. Oh. Of course. They speak ice. And since you can’t have one mythical species without another, there must also be very large ice ogres to go with the ice fairies. Damn.


So always step on the pontoons, darling. We don’t want angry ice fairies because some moron skipped the pontoon step.


A glacier is overwhelming. They are just so damned big. I think the mountains in this fjord we’re in now are actually two rows of mountains. No, I’m thinking. Maybe ONE huge mountain that a glacier has carved into two peaks. Like drawing a fork through the top of the mashed potatos. And sometimes the butter melting at the top has forced its way down the side, relentlessly carving a gap in the mountain wall. Water is so very destructive; you get water in your house and you’re doomed to huge bills. But if you get water in your mountain—the landscape is going to be altered.


And down come these glaciers. White, of course—but also dirty grey around the edges—not from pollution but from the gradual, relentless erosion of the mountain. And in the cracks and crevasses, an LSD shade of blue. Like a tween girl came along and dolloped blue decorative icing onto the top of a white birthday cake. A relentless birthday cake on the march. A grinding, creaking, groaning birthday cake forcing its way through expansion and calving (which sounds like thunder) to the sea.


Mashed potatoes and birthday cake. From metaphors, you’d never know that I’ve been eating rather well. And that’s important, because I’ve learned that Lindblad is inclined to offer small portions. No doubt because they have all these aged and ancient passengers, all of whom have eyes larger than their stomachs. You can ask for more and they’ll bring more without any noticeable eye-rolling… but when the breakfast menu offers a bagel with smoked salmon and you only get half a bagel, it gives one pause. So the answer is—take the bread when the overeager breadbasket boy comes around. Have the dessert. Try a second bowl of the soup. I think the first three days, I’ve been running on a steady, low-grade tension, and it’s exhausting. And I find I’m hungry.


Wait. What was my point? I can’t remember. I’m writing in the observation lounge with my feet up and I get distracted by the landscape passing by. The mountains—where not interrupted by the gaps of current or former glaciers—are slate gray rocks. Beech trees have grown in every possible cranny, and where the trees can’t grow, scrub bushes and grasses add a furze of yellowish green. But everywhere, the rocks poke through. Water from the snow at the top has carved rivulets; vertical scratched pathways in the stone. From window frame to window frame here in the observation lounge, I can see dozens of vigorous, chuckling waterfalls dashing madly from top to bottom. Sometimes they disappear into gouges in the stone too deep to see into, only to reappear hundreds of feel farther down. There is no doubt in my mind that fairies live here.


I asked one of the naturalists; who lives here? He said birds. No mountain goats? Rabbits? Antarctic foxes? You’ve got no clever burrowing mice? He shrugged. A lot of birds.


And fairies. Lucho and I know.

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