At the end of April, while our Aussie guests were here, we all flew together down to the far south of Chile. We were heading into the pampas – the thousands on thousands of rolling kilometers of open southern grasslands, going to Puerto Natales and the Torres del Paine.
We were going tower hunting.
We ate a lunch of peanut-butter-and-olive-paste sandwiches (try it before you knock it!) on a bench at a refugio (hiking camp) on the shore of one of those fantastic long blue lakes.
The electric water was spun into a chop by a wind- a tremendous, bloody-minded wind. It vacillated between gale-force and merely ferocious and it never, ever ceased. It was harsh enough to rush you off your feet, knock over the lip of a hanging valley, shake the car like a Christmas toy with all five of us inside it.
Snugged up against the feet of the Torres is one more long lake- Lago Grey, (although like the other lakes in the park, it runs to electric blue - and there's a scientific explanation for that) and at the end of the lake is the Grey Glacier (equally electric.) Lago Grey is bounded on the south by a wide sandbar that runs into a craggy island.
When the glacier calves, icebergs float down the lake to the sandbar, where they beach themselves and lie upturned with their bellies in the air, and dissolve slowly in the sun.
It’s an ice-elephant graveyard.
We walked along the shore of Lago Grey out to the sandbar, but that terrible wind was too strong for us. Little Laurie cried as ice crystals sliced his cheeks. The wind whipped around the edges of the Torres and raced down the length of the lake to wrap its fingers underneath us to pry us off the sand and lift us off our feet –
For a family holiday, it all felt entirely gratuitous. So we walked back down the lake to where we’d parked the car and we drove to the Hotel Grey and sat in its viewing lounge with the wind on the other side of plate glass windows. We had a lovely view twenty-six kilometers straight up the lake to the glacier, and we enjoyed it over cups of hot chocolate and coffee.
That is the civilized way of doing glaciers.
Laurie had an accident with his milk carton and had to be carried back to the car wrapped in Miles’ wind jacket. If you’re inclined to think that we were taking our holiday too soft – you imagine hiking a glacier with a two-year old in your backpack. And thank your lucky stars for plate glass windows.