Entering Patagonia through El Calafate

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As expected, I won't be able to blog about my journey every day, but I've been jotting my thoughts and experiences down in my journal to share later. Having left the urban metropolis of Buenos Aires, I now find myself with spotty Internet and phone connections, but luckily the surrounding landscape over here makes up for it! 

 

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On the second day of my trip (Dec 7), I flew into El Calafate, which is in the Patagonia region. I didn't expect much of the airport, but the cleanliness, modernity, and spectacular view of Lago Argentina on landing was an awesome welcome into the town.

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For some reason, I imagined El Calafate to be a small town, with maybe 10 blocks of buildings; yes, a silly and unfounded assumption. While the downtown was maybe that size, the extended area was quite large, with locals' homes spread across a patch on the foothills of the surrounding mountains. Beside the western part of town, the Patagonian Andes grew from the pale aqua of Lago Argentina. I don't think I've ever seen such a color in nature; it wasn't just any blue or teal, but a pristine, opaque aqua that, in my westernized first world mind, most closely resembles that little blue box from Tiffany's. I guess that color, in both cases, represents beauty, rarity, luxury, and serenity.

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I spent a good portion of my afternoon and evening exploring the town. The days here are SO long, and it's messing with my internal food and sleep schedule! When I began walking back to my hostel, I hadn't even realized the time was 9 pm already because it was still completely light out! I had started my afternoon walking up and down the main street, Av de Liberatador, several times, in search of a cheap pair of sunglasses, which I absentmindedly forgot to pack, and a good place to get food.

The results of my first mission? I found a great tacky pair of shades that I hope will make a future reappearance in a Halloween costume. As for the latter objective, I found a great supermarket and a couple nice restaurants. I'll write a separate post later for anyone who's interested in my recommendations; they're probably a little boring for anyone not traveling here in the near future.

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The day was pretty uneventful other than my exploring and eating. Other than tours to the Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate isn't known for much; it's mainly a hub to access other parts of Patagonia, and I definitely see the town more as a passing-through location as opposed to a primary destination. Although, I did see this awesome monument, dedicated to those who died fighting for the Malvinas (i.e. the Faulklands) a couple decades ago. I love that the statue depicts a strong, brave, heroic woman instead of a man.

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Since there isn't much else to write about, I guess I'll share some of the many thoughts I've had time to indulge in. I knew, before leaving San Francisco, that the one factor with the highest probability of detracting from my trip was money. I'm not a total cheapskate, but the frugal Asian gene is undoubtedly woven in my DNA (and my case of stingy-itis somehow more extreme than that of my parents). So, I knew, going into this trip, that for my own safety and enjoyment while I'm here, I need to be more okay with spending (more) money - a mentality that I should also try to carry on, at least to some extent, when I return home.

Why I mention this? Yesterday I had to spend almost all my cash yesterday to pay for the buses and activities I had booked in advance, which left me with a lighter wallet and a slight feeling of frustration and anxiety for the rest of the day. It's not that I hadn't expected to incur those costs, but seeing most of my money leave my pocket all at once definitely put me in a slightly worse mood. It reminded me of the intertemporal choices and marginal propensity to consume theories I studied in economics - basically explaining how people send money over time.

I just have to continue repeating to myself a few important reminders: 

  1. YOLO
  2. YOLO
  3. YOLO

In other words: This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'm here now and don't know when I'll be back. I'll make this money up when I start my (more corporate) job where I'm in a cubicle all day. I have money to spare and I'm won't irresponsibly spend it. Hell, I could die tomorrow and not actually be alive to enjoy my savings, the alternate fate for any money I spend here. I do wholeheartedly believe all that, so I hope I can maintain that perspective for the rest of my trip. It's just hard to remember sometimes, especially when my spending is exponentially higher than the my (on hiatus) income! (In economics, this is described as hyperbolic discountig. Nerd alert!)

I've been alone for a few days, but outside of a few short conversations on bus rides and at breakfast, I still haven't felt a strong desire to socialize. I've always considered myself both introverted and extraverted, but I'm definitely leaning towards the former on this trip. I feel a bit lame and hermetic, but I am really enjoying operating on my own time and immersing myself in thoughts rather than small talk. My hostels so far have been full of other travelers, but because I've only stayed one night in each place, I've excused myself from attempting to bond with other travelers. 

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I do plan on being more outgoing when I am in Torres del Paine and El Chalten. In a couple days, I think I'll be craving more shared experiences (which my mom sees as a major part of life). I'm excited to play a few card games over wine and meet people from all over the world. Most people I've met so far have been or are planning on traveling for more than half a year, and the stories I've heard so far make me envious of their open time frames. On my walking tour in Buenos Aires, I met a man who quit his computer programming job at a financial services company to do some soul-searching and see as much of the world as he could. He said,

I’ve found that when you travel, you’re not really checking things off a list. You just end up adding more to your list, making it longer than when you started.

So very true.