Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The best drink in the world

I don’t want to sound like an ass, but you haven’t lived until you’ve had some whiskey on ice from the glacier you’re standing on. It doesn’t even need to be good whiskey. It can be Famous Grouse, and it will still leave you with a weird and wonderful feeling of chilliness, warmth and delirium.

Zizou* and I arrived in El Calafate in southern Patagonia bleary-eyed and dog-tired. We’d stayed up all night drinking with new friends before getting on a 5 a.m. flight, which was unfortunately dominated by a very loud and boisterous group of French tourists. Despite being half-awake, with only one eye open, I distinctly remember hearing one of them say, “J’ai peur! J’ai peur!” (“I’m afraid! I’m afraid!”) as the pilot went for a second try at landing around the giant lake. I was especially surprised that I understood what he was saying, because I don't understand spoken French.

But we somehow managed to haul ourselves to our hostel, America del Sur, and to book ourselves for a “mini-trekking” trip on the glacier the next day from Hielo y Aventura.

We approached the ice by boat on water that was a milky blue from the sediment in the glacier. Marco, our guide, was waiting for us. As Zizou said, “Good God! You get off the boat and there’s a handsome Argentine waiting for you on the dock!” There is mucho eye candy in this country, mucho.

The guides tied crampons, giant metal teeth, onto our boots, and we soon marched onto the ice in groups of ten. The crampons felt fantastic—we could walk up steep slopes like we had been given Spidey powers. Our group was the “English-speaking group,” though it was mainly Germans and French people, which meant we got to hear Marco say in his very flat and funny way, “Now we go hi-gher,” with a hard “g.”

We marched up, we marched down, in a quiet single file, too awed by what we were seeing to say much. We walked around pools of water and looked down deep blue holes. We cupped water into our mouths, and I surreptitiously crunched on ice. The glacier, as smooth as the ice looked from far away, was made up of tiny little bits of ice, so that we were walking on a path of crunchy glass shards. We were told to wear gloves, despite it being a warm day, because if we fell, we could cut our hands.

There is so much more texture and color and variation in a glacier than I’d ever imagined. I had learned, from a book, that glaciers move, but nothing could have prepared me for the sense of movement beneath my feet. From the viewing balconies, the peaks had looked like giant teeth crowded and pushed against each other. Up close, there were also soft, undulating waves that reminded me of Gaudi.

Near the end, we marched up one last slope and found a little tableau, like a movie set, two small tables with glasses, a bucket, and a few bottles of whiskey. We stood around, finally laughing, while Marco poured drinks and we ate alfajores, the national sandwich cookie.

The whiskey tasted sweeter than any whiskey I’d had before. I could feel happiness spreading through me. It was the best drink I have ever had.

*My friend has asked me to identify her as "Zizou" to protect her privacy. I, unfortunately, am not a traveling companion of the great Zinedine Zidane.


Lina said...

This is so beautiful.

Anna said...

So that's why the glaciers are disappearing...

Similarly, I've heard it said that one hasn't lived until one has drunk whisky delicately comingled with the crystalline waters of the Hetch Hetchy.

Can't wait for your visit!