This country is described by one word: wind. Everything here bows to it: trees, grass, dust, guanacos, people. Ocean does not, it is a domain of its own but it certainly shows its temper when the wind is reaching for the ocean’s domain – the interaction between the two forces is spectacular.
This is Patagonia – the tip of South America where the world travelers have now landed with a new project. We are in Punta Arenas, and there are things to do and places to explore ahead of us. As usual we are not tourists, we have work to do but in between we manage to explore as we always do, and sometimes the need to work makes us see things better than tourists do, in a way.
When the time is short you tend to notice more and value what you notice still more… and I think this applies not only to sight seeing.
When we landed in Punta Arenas the wind was not very strong, probably only 10 m/s. It is about the normal wind here and it goes up from that. Jumping ahead, on the second day after our arrival the weather turned really strange and we arrived at the airport in completely calm air, and discovered that the airplane was covered in frost – all of it! The wind sock was hanging limp and lifeless, and the low sun just barely warmed up the land with its morning rays. Since the Gulfstream can’t take off with frost on any surfaces we delayed the take off by an hour to let the sun come up and melt off the frost from the wings, tail and the fuselage. The Gulfstream sat on the ramp, lit by the rising sun, slowly dripping water from the wing trailing edges, as the science crew worked inside, preparing for a 11-hour flight.
It is difficult to stay put in a new place, so as soon as the time allowed I immediately drove to the North side of the Brunswick Peninsula, to the Otway Sound. There are penguin colonies up there but at this time of the year there is still no access to them, and the road is closed at the turn point. Nevertheless I took the road further Northwest and soon was on the shores of the Otway Sound.
The wind was relentless, and being here really showed that the air truly is a force of nature. Anyone who had witnessed storms and tornadoes will have due respect for the moving air but here it takes on another meaning. In a storm one can sometimes see the temporariness of it, and sometimes an end to the brutal onslaught of the wind. Here, you do not. The 20 m/s wind that was blowing over the Peninsula was everywhere – the endless ocean of air flows over this country from as far as an eye can see, to as far as it can see in the other direction, without pause, slowing or gusting. This is a massive, non-stopping flow of the wind that impressed me to no end. Opening the car door immediately teaches you that you either have to hold on to the door hard if you want it to stay with the car, or to push it hard to open and it will slam shut instantly once you let it go, depending on whether your car faces into the wind or away from it. You soon discover that you are fairly stable leaning into the wind a little bit, letting it take some of your weight – and it doesn’t let you down, it is always there to support you.
The endless gravel road was weaving along the coastline, and I took several stops and pullouts to get off the road and walk along the coast, taking photographs and just watching the three greatest domains of nature come together – the wind, the ocean and the snow capped mountains far away beyond the Sound, on the shores of Isla Riesco. The slopes of the mountains were gleaming with snow, so bright that it was hard to look at them, and so beautiful that it was impossible not to. A camera usually can’t pass along the feeling that the scene inspires, and this scene was no exception. The blinding sun glint off the ocean, the flares of the remote glaciers on the mountains and the sparkles of sunlight in the tears in your eyes from the wind – I couldn’t tell which made it most difficult to see into the distance that was looked onto through centuries by so many people who wanted to have nothing to do with commonality.
Several kilometers apart from each other small shacks stood on the shore, some having short chimneys from which smoke escaped, spreading a pleasant smell of burning firewood and food cooked, on occasion. At the mouth of a small river several abandoned boats were cast, capsized and broken. I stood there for a time, thinking of the people who are probably no longer here, who built those boats and launched them into the unrelenting wind, and of those other who watched them go every day, wishing for them to come back, not knowing if they will for sure. What life did they live? It probably was so hard by today’s standards that nobody today would ever even think of doing it. I wished on that shore that I could go back in time and look at these people, and sit by their fire and talk with them, and learn about how they lived on this remote coast under the howling cold wind.
I could stay there for many more hours but there is always that feeling of obligation that makes us turn around and go back to what we must do.
And so I left. But only for now.