Part V of the “Our Big Bucket Cruise” blog series

Writing about Patagonia is one of those rites of passage for adventure travel writers.

Yet, Patagonia is not a specific region on the map. It has never been a separate country. Vast and vague, it is an undefined region that encompasses 900,000 square kilometers of southern Argentina and Chile. Some writers say that it can be effectively defined by its soil—made up of basalt pebbles left behind by glaciers—and its flora, a low bush called jarilla. Other writers, such as Bruce Chatwin, describe Patagonia by its climate, a wind that blows incessantly with terrific force from October to March “stripping men to the raw” and making small planes fly backward rather than forward. Paul Theroux simply refers to Patagonia as “travel book country,” the kind adventurers dream of because it combines wilderness, wide open spaces, and the grassy plains of the pampas with the majestic backdrop of the Andes. To summarize, Patagonia is all about light, space, and wind.

While the Veendam plows through the rough seas surrounding Tierra del Mundo, the end of the world, I read up on the inland areas that we will not see during this cruise. I have plenty of time, since both Günter and I are holed up in our cabin with terrific colds and coughs. I begin with Chatwin’s In Patagonia, and proceed to Simon Worrall’s River of Desire. To wrap it up, I read a novel on my Kindle called See Before You Die: Patagonia, by J.E.Leigh, whose heroine is a travel writer/photographer who takes a trip to—where else?—Patagonia.

Travelers from Darwin on have noted how the very bleakness of Patagonia seizes the imagination. In other words, nothingness supposedly forces the mind on itself. Well, here I can sit out on the balcony of our cabin here and view the nothingness of the sea. And while sailing Pacific Bliss, I remember the nothingness of days at sea, staring at blue on blue underneath the dome of the sky.  I can remember night after night underneath a canopy of stars.  Is nothingness on land any different?

In Patagonia, the writers say, the isolation makes it easy to exaggerate the person you are: the drinker drinks more; the believers pray more and become closer to God; and the lonely become even lonelier, and sometimes commit suicide.  And everywhere, these eccentric personalities with fantastic stories turn up. Anything can happen. It seems to me, they could just as well be describing life at sea!

Perhaps Patagonia is just an ocean passage for landlubbers, substituting a horse for a boat!

Chatwin describes a poet he met who went to Patagonia for a visit and stayed for forty years. He cried, “Patagonia, she is a hard mistress. She casts her spell. An enchantress! She folds you in her arms and never lets you go.”

I could say the same about the sea!

Okay, so now I’ve dutifully written about Patagonia. I doubt that I’ll do it again.

Advertisements