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The Wind in Patagonia

We left paradise at the Explora in Chile and arrived 6 hours later at a bleak motel in Argentina. When I tried to freshen up, the water was shut off. We decided on a short hike to a lookout not far from the motel to get some exercise and to give them a chance to fix the water system.

After thirty minutes of steady climbing, I saw a flat top mountain to the left. The trail went down and then up a considerable distance.

"Hey, Geoff. The lookout isn't over there, is it?"

"No, I don't think so,' he answered. We were both wrong.

When we reached the plateau and headed for the viewing spot, a headwind got more powerful with every step. By the time we got to the concrete platform with a diagram of the distant peaks, I couldn't stand there long enough to enjoy the view for fear of being blown over.

On the descent, we realized we had the benefit of a tailwind going up and a headwind to ease us down the slope. We learned never to underestimate the distance, gradient, or wind.

In the morning, we drove only 30 minutes on a well-maintained dirt road to the world heritage site of the Cueva de Manos, Cave of Hands. We were greeted by the park ranger. In broken English, he told us, 'The hike is difficult. It is 1000 ft down into a canyon and then 1000 ft back up.'

He was accurate, but he should have mentioned the hike was also as good as it gets. The canyon was magnificent, and the 9,000-year-old handprints at the top of the opposite side told a fascinating story of the early people in the region. They roamed this area and used the outlines of their hands to tell when they came, who they traveled with, and what they saw. Coming and going, we enjoyed the spectacular scenery, unbelievable sheer, impossibly straight rock walls, and a cool shady stream halfway through the journey. To finish the hike, we climbed 210 double-steep steps up. The wind was kind to us, and the sun gentle; still, the four-hour hike was a killer.

When we returned to our shabby motel, a dust hurricane blew us through the front door. An apologetic receptionist greeted us.

"This is not normal," she said.

Thankful to be inside, our once shabby motel now appeared to be a luxurious hotel. We enjoyed the furious dust from the calm, serene interior. Later, a guide told us dust storms were not unusual.

On a morning hike a few days further south, our guide told us we would go through a windy trail section. The guide explained the walk was always planned for the morning when the winds were calm; still, we should take care. If we heard the wind, and we would hear it before it came, we should crouch down and put our back to the wind. Sometimes a cloud of dirt with slithers of rock comes with the gusts, and they hurt. We didn't see any extreme wind burst that morning, but I did a few days later.

While Geoff was on a group trek, I took a solo hike up to the top of a ridge near our lodge in the late afternoon. As I climbed higher and higher, the wind blew harder and harder. I stopped five yards from the top because I feared the wind would blow me over the ridge.

Going down the steep mountainside was no problem because the uphill wind reduced the pull of gravity. Once down and quite proud of myself, I began my hike back. A few trucks and vans passed, but they were careful to slow down and not stir up too much dust. The wind started to pick up. I noticed dust devils forming in the road. The closer I got to our lodge, the stronger the wind and the larger the dust devils became.

I heard a loud gust of wind and saw an approaching brown ball. I crouched down, but the dirt blasted my face. When I saw the next rock dust-filled cloud approach. I squatted as far as possible and turned my back on the wind. That gust almost blew over me but didn't hurt. I picked up my pace, and the wind picked up as well. In the distance, I could see water being blown off the lake's surface. Then I remembered the warning to hike in the morning to avoid the ever-increasing force of the late afternoon wind.

Luckily, I came to a No Etrada sign on a dirt road to the right. I turned and hoped it would take me to our hotel. Within a minute, I was shielded by a small hill and made it back to the safety of the Explora Lodge.


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