IT was only a far-off dream for a young Filipino boy to travel 16,000 kilometers from home to witness the ever-changing landscapes of renowned Patagonia. But through a single image, this dream wasn't far off anymore, it was close — it was real.
It was a 60-hour transit from the bay of Manila to the southernmost city of this planet. The end of the world as they call it. Ushuaia is a cold port city of large shipping fleets and seagulls gliding through the freezing winds of the Beagle Channel. This is the gateway to the frigid continent of Antarctica. Snow-capped mountains of the Cordillera Martial surround this quaint city where snow and rain drizzle from the clouds despite its being summer.
In this part of the world, there is no guessing what the weather will be like, rain for an hour, snow in a minute, sunny in a second; everything changing so rapidly, and so volatile the landscapes have been shaped by the great forces of time and weather. As I slowly adapted to the frigid temperatures of which our tropical country never prepared me, I began my journey to the mountains of Cordillera Martial, encountering breathtaking lakes, peatlands, wetlands and of course none other than what I came to witness — the blue and daunting glaciers of Patagonia.
Glaciar Vinciguerra, a wetland of international importance, was my first encounter with this blue and white sentinel. It took a four-hour hike across Lenga trees and yellow flower fields to climb to this mountain where Glaciar Vinciguerra sits surrounded by a turquoise lake and a snow-covered valley. Reaching the turquoise lake, also known as Laguna de los Tempanos, I stood there, staring at this massive glacier before me as sounds of calving ice and melting snows whispered in my ear, inviting me to closely witness this grand marvel of nature. I picked up my ice axe and crampons, climbing my way to this barren field where gusts and winds so brutal made one's spine shiver. As I got closer and closer to the glacial peak, I encountered a cavern that my eyes beheld, as the blue reflection of this frozen solid ice under me, trapped over many years of formation with the passing seasons. It felt like time stopped within the cave as the winds ceased to blow, and only the sound of falling droplets of water from the melting glacier echoed within its hollow chamber. Glaciar Vinciguerra is a living testament to how something as mundane as frozen ice and soil entrapped for years can be the most amazing thing one's eyes can gaze upon. And that was when reality struck, given the fact that this sentinel, no matter how massive it may seem, is still the most vulnerable as climate change and temperatures heighten. Indeed, even the greatest can fall down sometimes.
Not long after, the journey pressed on for hours in buses and terminals, crossing the border of Argentina and passing through the cities of Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales in Chile, all the way to the city of El Chalten where the famed Perito Moreno Glacier closely sits by. A local bus was needed to go to the Los Glaciares Park where this colossal field of glaciers can be seen within arm's reach, and as I got closer to this frozen mass, there was nothing I could do but stare. Stare at this 70-meter wall of solid glaciated ice in front of me. Face to face with this mammoth, hundreds of acres across, frozen and tucked away beneath Southern Patagonia. The Perito Moreno Glacier has not moved for centuries but continuously melts within and out. I was witnessing a part of the glacier calve crashing in the blue water as sounds so loud and intense like thunder came so near. It was the most dramatic scene one could ever imagine, the exact moment seeing and hearing a part of the glacier calve, a great reminder of the immense power and vulnerability of nature faced against climate change and humans.
Venturing further north, the journey then continued to the scenic mountain town of El Chalten, where the prominent Fitz Roy rises gloriously, seen long before the dusty and deserted roads of Patagonia. Clouds loom over the skies covering the shark-tooth summits of this mountain range, that a clear starry night can be so rare in one's short visit, but if determined to see in all its glory, the blessing of dawn can paint Fitz Roy in fiery hues of red as the first rays of the sun touch the distant peak over the horizon. This beauty of the wetlands and mountains of Patagonia fosters the teeming wildlife in every corner one seems to end up in, from woodpeckers bustling among the trees and condors soaring high above the sky, to Grey foxes crawling on rocky valleys and Guanacos grazing on barren hills. The wetlands of Patagonia are home to the most diverse avian species, migrating from different corners of this planet, settling in its untouched environment.
Last but not least, the journey carried on to the notorious and picturesque Torres del Paine of Chile, a hundred-plus-kilometer circuit around the whole mountain range where the "cuernos" and "torreses" rise above, freshly covered in last night's snowfall and slowly swept away by the summer winds. A steep and rolling hike usually done in eight to nine days I was forced to do it in just six, encountering the most pristine and otherworldly trees and glaciers of Patagonia's ever-changing landscapes.
Change is the only constant in Patagonia as stories were shared of glaciers receding faster than ever recorded in the past 10 years, to the flow of rivers changing caused by invasive species of beaver brought by humans not so long ago. Though not the same change as the ones shaped over the centuries by the forces of nature, one can see and know that the most beautiful places of our planet are indeed changing for the worst. But in the whole entirety of Patagonia there is still hope; just like the photograph of a landscape that changed the life of this young Filipino boy.
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