El Calafate

The Ice Frontier

The five hour bus journey from the awe-filled Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile led across a stretch of Argentinean Patagonia. Flatlands of pampas fattening the famed Argentinean cattle herds, which at some point will find their way to a gaucho asado or on the hot grill of a parillada. Arriving in the glacial capital of Calafate, we gratefully received our warm (stuffily warm) room at the Hostel Calafate. Like the rest of Argentina, this frontier town possesses pride and passion for its culture and pioneering past. Low rise corrugated buildings of timber and coloured in pastels were laid out in calm regimented form, orderly yet relaxed, Calafate is genteel.

This is however, Gaucho country and our fortuitous timing coincided with a Gaucho fiesta attracting young and old casually decked out with sloppy hats, baggy bombachas (jodhpurs) and flashes of ornamental facóns or daggers. The size of the speakers promised to invade our sleep lest we joined them. The air was filled with the aroma of meat on parilla and lamb asados, simple peasant gourmet advertised on makeshift signs daubed with the most tempting offers of hunks of bread wrapping thick grilled chorizo (choripan), slices of bife or grassland reared chopped steak burgers. Obliging happily we scoffed on choripan and swigged from dark bottles of Quilmes beer.

Gaucho belt

We gaucho watched as they strutted in their baggy trousers tucked beneath their wide brown suede belts studded with silver letters spelling out the estancia of their belonging or family name. Oversized saggy berets hooded their brows as young boys furrowed their expressions in the way of their elders. Their pride in wearing traditional outfits and managing to carry off an ‘easy cool’ about them reminded me that England has long since packed up and mothballed much of its tradition or bred a mocking sneer in favour of cultivating a cosmopolitan outlook at the expense custom and history. We swayed back to our beds sniffing at sharp cool air still fresh with the scent of latent charcoal and to the sound of Gaucho folk bands performing to rapturous approval. The next day held a different Patagonian appeal, Perito Moreno one of South America’s only advancing glaciers.

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