Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 14 • Summer 2005 • Fiction

Fruits at the Border

Lucy Jane Bledsoe

Pat negotiated a great deal for the car in Punta Arenas, with the only hitch being that if we took it into Argentina, we'd pay a huge daily tariff. Not a big problem since our destination was Lago Blanco, the biggest body of water in Chilean Tierra del Fuego. Of more immediate concern was the condition of the car itself: the tires were toy-sized, the body was trimmed in rust, and the windshield was a spider web of cracks. The rental car agent, Miriam, who wore tight black pants with flared legs and spike heels, stepped carefully around the wreck parked on the dirt and stone lot, telling us that the busted windshield was our good fortune since she wouldn't charge us anything at all if we completely shattered what remained of the glass. We carefully documented with Miriam the dents, gouges, and scraped paint all over the body of the car, took the keys, and spent an hour trying to find our way out of town.

I had expected the port town of Punta Arenas to be small and driven by a fishing economy. In fact, the place reminded me of Paris. The people, dressed in up-to-the-minute styles, were coolly friendly to tourists, and the streets bustled with commerce. We were eager to leave the city behind and see the endlessly horizontal Patagonian pampas and their counterpart, the astonishingly vertical Andes. We had plenty of time, there was no reason to not see everything, and so we decided to delay our visit to Lago Blanco and first drive north to visit a couple of national parks before heading down to Tierra del Fuego.

The car performed very well on the dirt roads leading to Torres del Paine, a Chilean national park in the Andes, never mind that we only took her up to about 25 kilometers an hour. The hours of driving were worth it: the park's trails and lakes and mountains were extraordinary. We saw a Fueguian fox, the Patagonian grey fox, the lovely and strange black-necked, white-bodied swans, giant rheas with flocks of enormous chicks, and guanacos, lots of munching guanacos.

Getting used to camping in Chile, however, was a little more challenging. The word "camping" seemed to be synonymous with the word "party." If, for example, a couple had a choice of where to erect their tent, say on the other side of a grassy meadow from ours, or directly next to ours, they would choose the latter. One German couple put up their tent so that our doors were about six inches apart. If they'd left it there, we would have had to take turns getting in and out of the tents. We ended up arguing with them, making them move, and then feeling sheepish about being American bullies who are spoiled by great expanses of space and lots of privacy.

And yet, talk about space! The Andes and the surrounding steppes are mountains of such magnitude and glory that the word "space" loses all meaning. The peaks are stone pillars rising out of beech forests swirling in clouds. Not your ordinary puffy cumulus clouds! Ventricular clouds, elliptical and edged with eerie rings of pink and green, looking exactly like big space ships, hover over the basalt mountains. Enormous lakes rest at their bases. Lago Argentina, an exquisite aqua, the deepest imaginable aqua, reflected up on the ever-present Patagonian clouds, turning them aqua as well. Over the next couple of weeks, we camped next to a Lago Grey. We drove by several Lago Azuls. The campground at Lago Verde was stunning. I began to wonder if Lago Blanco would actually be white.

Those weeks in the Andes, we hiked farther than we thought we were capable, through downpours, toward views we assumed we would never see, but then, time and again, miraculously, when we reached the cirque at the base of the peaks, the clouds swirled, gathered, swept one way, and then away altogether, revealing the stone massifs like a home of gods.

Or ghosts. Whichever, gods or ghosts, we were drawn in, enchanted even, by the howling winds, the herds of wild horses, manes flying, that would stampede through our campsite at dawn, the herd parting to flow around out tent. We were terrified of being hoofed to death, or even of the big rubbery, whiskery horse lips and hot, steamy horse nostrils that paused to nibble and sniff at our camp before galloping on. This was a power beyond the erotic, these towers, these beasts, this wind. We were drawn further north. We wanted more mountains.

So we decided to forego Lago Blanco another week and headed for the Argentinean border. Deeper and higher into the Andes.

The border was hot and dusty, as so many borders seem to be, with only another dirt road to lead the way. As we approached, checking and rechecking our car papers, hoping they didn't expressly prohibit us from entering Argentina, we had to stop for a herd of cattle getting driven across the border by gauchos on horseback. A wooden bar, nothing more, blocked the road, and so we parked in front of it and went inside the small building.

A woman and her little girl sat behind a desk. Pat charmed the woman and winked at her little girl. We showed them all kinds of papers, although she never once asked to see my passport. There are times when being two women traveling together is an advantage. In most cultures, women are perceived as less threatening than men, or as being inconsequential altogether, which allows us to slip across different kinds of borders, not just international ones. This, however, was simply the line between Chile and Argentina. The woman nodded at Pat's charm, walked around to the other side of her desk, out of the building, and lifted the wooden bar. We drove through, into Argentina, and headed straight back up into the mountains.

For hours we drove with the legendary Fitzroy Massif and Cerro Torre, mountains that don't show their faces for months at a time, that day brilliant against the blue sky, beckoning us in the distance.

"What about Lago Blanco?" I asked Pat.

"Oh, we're going there."

"Eventually," I said.

"Eventually," she agreed.

I pulled out the map to look again at the lake. Far south of the Straits of Magellan and tucked under Bahia Inútil, the big lake was at the end of the last dirt road in Chile. Lago Blanco. The name was languid, sexy, a big watery spot on the map, sitting alone, miles from any town, like the heart of Tierra del Fuego.

I placed my finger on Lago Blanco and pointed out, "We are heading in the opposite direction."

"We have a month."

"How long do you think it'll take us to drive there?"

"To Lago Blanco?" Pat liked to say the name, too.


"A day. Maybe day and a half."

I looked again at the map. Most tourists who wanted to visit the end of the world drove down the Argentinean side of Tierra del Fuego to the big town of Ushuaia. There was even a paved road part of the way there. No pavement on the way to Lago Blanco, though. We'd only just started our trip, but we should have already known that ten kilometers on these Patagonian roads -- that often resembled dry riverbeds -- could take half a day. I didn't ask Pat if she thought the tiny tin can we were driving could even make it to Lago Blanco. That was a topic we didn't discuss the entire month in Patagonia.

As we approached the small town of El Chaltén, we came upon a small tourist bus parked, if you can use that word, in the middle of the dirt road. All that was left of the bus was a charred frame. The dirt and rocks beneath the vehicle were blackened as well. The bus had obviously burst into flames, quite recently, and burned to just a husk. Where the tourists had gone to was anyone's guess.

Patagonia is haunted. You see it everywhere. In the wind, the endless space, the abandoned estancias. Wild horses tearing across the countryside. Winds that knock you over. Towers of rock. But for a couple of girls traveling on their own, this is a strange comfort, the hauntedness. I had long ago accepted that life is not as it first presents itself, and there's relief in being in a place that starts with that premise. Traveling in the presence of mystery is so much more honest than traveling somewhere, like Texas, for example, where the surface story is presented with emphatic insistence. We embraced the presence of ghosts. At least at first.

One night we'd traveled too far along a boulder-strewn, ditch-ridden dirt road to get back to the closest town before dark, and it had started to drizzle, so we began looking for a place to camp. We passed a campground but it was full, and so was the next one we passed. Finally, we came to a hand-painted sign with an arrow, signaling us off the road toward an estancia. The sign said simply, "Camping."

We arrived at a lovely meadow, thick with clover, without a single human in sight. Wondering why the other two campgrounds we had passed were full and this one was deserted, we shut off the car's engine and got out. I've learned in my travels that once you enter private property, you only have to wait a moment for someone to appear.

The man's stride was extraordinary. He was walking, but his speed would be much faster than my run. He wore the Patagonian beret and spoke no English. In our best Spanish, we negotiated camping for three dollars. Then he gave us a tour.

First he pointed to a big basin he'd installed in the meadow attached by a hose to a barrel of water. A hand-painted sign nailed at an angle to an adjacent tree read, "Agua Potable," the declaration itself making me doubtful. The proprietor was particularly proud of the shower. This consisted of two oil barrels, one stacked on top of the other. The top barrel was filled with water, perhaps agua potable. He'd cut a door into the side of the bottom barrel and inside there was a pile of dry grass. The idea was to light a fire with the grasses, so that the heat in that barrel would warm the water in the upper barrel. A "showerhead" drizzled the warmed water onto your body if you were willing to stand naked in the middle of the man's meadow. The toilets, in a shack next to the shower, were the stand-up kind. Nearby was another hand-built shack, which was locked, but looking in the windows I saw a couple of tables with chairs, a wooden bar, and a sign offering roast lamb and Coca Cola. I had no doubt that for the price of your dinner, you would get to help butcher the lamb. There was one very bright electric bulb hanging from the middle of the shack and this he left on all night long.

That night, terrifying winds blew through the camp, and neither Pat nor I slept at all. With the absence of other campers, the eerily lit shack, the hand-painted signs, the erratic but hellacious winds, we dubbed the place "The Haunted Campground." In the morning, our host arrived again, and busied himself yanking up handfuls of grass which he tossed into the bottom barrel of the shower, encouraging us to make use of it.

We asked him about the terrific winds in the night, and he claimed that they were normal, nothing unusual at all. And yet, driving out on the road later that morning, under a now startling blue sky and Fitzroy Massif towering right above us, we came upon three places where entire swaths of the forest, trees fifty feet tall, had been knocked down. We were grateful that the trees in our campground had remained rooted to the ground.

Slowly we were learning what was possible in Patagonia. Only about a tenth of the roads were paved. Hotels were rare, and grocery stores rarer still. We bought provisions where we could, ate most meals off the camp stove, and stayed most nights in our tent.

Perhaps, we thought, we'd best head south to our original destination: Lago Blanco. After all, we'd already racked up far too many days in Argentina, and our car bill was mounting correspondingly. Still, we couldn't resist driving across the continent, which after all was very narrow down there, to the Atlantic Coast for a quick look before heading south and back into Chile. Maybe we could actually find a hotel room in Rio Gallegas, which by the size of the type on our map, might be a decent-sized town.

Rio Gallegas did indeed have a lovely hotel, where we stayed, and a well-stocked supermarket where we bought a bag of big, glossy, green apples. After a diet of granola and noodles for the last couple of weeks, our bag of apples were manna. We even considered staying a few nights in Rio Gallegas, because of its comfort, but were eager to push on to Lago Blanco. So we headed south to the Chilean border, which was just before the ferry crossing of the Straits of Magellan.

Pat's charm was less effective with the armed male guards at this particular border. The guns muddled my brain immediately, so that when a scrappy pair of kids, a boy and girl, approached us and asked in good English if they might ride across the border with us, I started to say yes.

Pat pulled me aside to remind me that we were, in fact, two lesbians traveling by ourselves in a place reported to be not particularly dyke-friendly. Granted, as middle-aged women, we were quite invisible in that culture, but wanted to remain that way for the most part. Never mind, we knew nothing at all about these two kids with backpacks. I thought she was being a bit of a spoil sport. They seemed sweet and it'd be fun to chat with them, but I agreed that our being lesbians did add an additional layer of risk that we didn't need to play with. We did not need to be taking strangers across international borders.

I told her she was right, and then I nodded at the enormous sign saying that no fresh fruit or vegetables could be taken into Chile. "What about our apples?"

"They're okay," Pat said in her don't-talk-about-it voice. Like me, she'd become addicted to manjar, a thick, creamy caramel that Chileans eat with most meals, and we liked it on apple slices.

"Hello?" I said to her unhearing ears. "What about two dykes traveling on our own in unfriendly Chile?" Now I nodded toward the two guys, who looked to be about twelve years old, holding rifles.

Her eyes glossed over. She really wanted those apples. I could tell I was on my own. Her lecture about being vulnerable as lesbians traveling across international borders still freshly convincing in my mind, I determined to disclose our fruit.

We shuffled into the building and began talking to different soldiers in what appeared to be a random fashion. We did as we were told, migrating from one desk to another when one of them pointed a finger, and answering the questions to the best of our abilities.

"Where are you headed?"

"Lago Blanco."

"You mean Ushuaia?"

"No, Lago Blanco."

Blank stares. No one goes to Lago Blanco. All tourists go to Ushuaia.

"Yes," I finally said. "Ushuaia."

Thamp! He stamped our papers and gestured toward the door and the border.

But he had kept our sheath of car papers, which I was sure we needed. I argued to get them back. Technically, we would not be entering Argentina again, so we probably didn't really need them. But what if we did want to go back into Argentina? And anyway, if I've learned anything from my travels, it's to hold onto your papers. Nevertheless, he finally convinced us that we really didn't need these particular papers anymore, and we acquiesced.

We turned to go, at last, as he thought to ask, "Any fruits or vegetables?"

You'd think this would be easy. After all, I'd already created a minor scene about the car papers. And Pat's point about us being a couple of lesbians at a very remote border crossing in South America was still quite valid. Besides, what's a bagful of green apples? But they were irresistibly big, lustrous, sour-juicy apples. We hadn't had much fresh food. And there was the issue of the unfinished tub of manjar. I had to struggle hard to tell the truth. Pat remained utterly silent and I knew that her choice would be to smuggle the apples into Chile. But my risk-taking side succumbed, after a quick skirmish with my cautious side, and I nodded a little tiny nod, as if we had only itty bitty, inconsequential apples.

The guard raised an eyebrow.

I muttered, "Manzanas."

He shook his head. While Pat waited with the guard, I went out to the car and got the bag of apples, which I conspicuously handed to the couple looking for a ride across the border, who seemed surprised that I would offer the gift of big juicy apples but not a ride.

Finally, Pat and I crossed the border back into Chile.

Borders, like airports, are just not good places to experiment with challenging authority. So while we were aware of our sexual orientation at international boundaries, most other places in Patagonia we traveled quite uninhibited and without hassle. In fact, by the end of the trip we'd racked up four or five "girlfriends," women who took a particular interest in us. Granted, in this environment, it didn't take much for a woman to achieve "girlfriend" status for us. There was the woman who sent us free drinks across the restaurant. The woman who invited us to a tango show in her husband's restaurant and conspicuously kissed us both in front of all the guests. The hostel owner who spent hours helping us plan a hiking trip, which we had to cancel at the last minute, and who still kissed us both when we left her place. There were, in fact, a handful of women who recognized something in us they liked. Maybe our independence. Maybe our comfort in being different from other travelers, other Americans. I'm not sure what it was, but now and then women would offer incredibly generous help, far beyond their duties as waitress or border agent, and we called them our girlfriends.

There had been no girlfriends at the border where we lost our green apples, however, and we were eager to push on to Lago Blanco. At least that was the plan. But those apples turned out to be more important than we had thought. We had told the guards we were going to Ushuaia, which put the idea in our heads. Besides, we still had lots of time and, well, I thought it'd be great to see the Beagle Channel, about which I'd read so much, and Pat, being a sea story aficionado, couldn't resist getting as close as possible to Cape Horn. This meant, of course, crossing the border back into Argentina, racking up more daily tariffs on the car, but, we argued, when would we ever get back to Patagonia? As for Lago Blanco, we found on the map the southernmost border-crossing in Patagonia, which would take us directly over to Lago Blanco from a place not that far north of Ushuaia. We could still spend our last few days at Lago Blanco before heading back to Punta Arenas to fly home. Besides, we reasoned, in Ushuaia, we'd be able to get information about Lago Blanco, like whether there is a campground or any place at all to stay. We were learning that with the enormous distances, one best figures out the next meals and beds in advance. There was another reason Ushuaia beckoned: it was the only town south of the Straits of Magellan, and there we could buy more apples. Which, we realized, we'd need along with other food if we were going to go to the uninhabited Lago Blanco.

That night, not wanting to cross the border back into Argentina so late in the day, we stayed in San Sebastian, a few yards from the border, at the only building in the "town," other than a police outpost, a motel owned by Ernesto. The room was dank, and while there was a heater, and it was a cold, rainy night, Ernesto said he would not turn it on. Nor would there be any hot water until morning. We had a couple of pisco sours in his restaurant. My steak was actually pretty good, but Pat's "pizza" was a slice of bread with cheese melted on it. We crawled into the twin beds in our room, the only occupied one in the motel, and fell asleep. Until the two women with screaming children showed up at two in the morning. With Ernesto shouting to be heard above the children, it took the group at least an hour and a half to settle in and quiet down. I never did get back to sleep. An hour later, a couple of drunk guys checked in to a room next to ours and continued their party until they passed out sometime around five o'clock. The place was a bit spooky.

The morning's promised agua caliente was tepid at best, and the inclusivo breakfast was plastic tubes of Nescafe, more tepid water, and stale, packaged cookies. The other guests had fresh bread, butter and jam, and we could only suppose they'd somehow paid for the upgraded breakfast. We wanted to get out of the haunted motel and across the haunted border as quickly as possible and did indeed have an uneventful crossing this time.

Our campsite high on a hillside overlooking the town of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel more than made up for the bad night at Ernesto's. In fact, it was too amazing to leave. We stayed four nights. By now we were used to party camping, and we almost enjoyed rubbing shoulders with other campers, most of them Chilean and Argentinean. The campground had a shared café where you could buy bottles of wine and use the kitchen. Each night many of the campers pooled their money to buy massive hunks of meat in town, whole animal parts, which they roasted over the kitchen's open fire. After eating our noodles early -- we had trouble adjusting to the eleven PM dining hour in Chile and Argentina -- we sometimes drank wine in the log cabin cafe, looked at the view out the windows, and watched the fat drip off the shoulder or leg or side of lamb onto the flames as the other campers took turns rotating the roast. On the last night in the cafe, we totted up our total days in Argentina, which we realized were more than our days in Chile. Miriam, the rental car agent, would be charging us well over $600 extra.

It was time to move on to Chile, and Lago Blanco.

We had been only partially successful in getting information in Ushuaia about our true destination. Another girlfriend, however, came through with the goods just before we left town. Though she owned a tour company that sold high-priced voyages to Antarctica, among other packages, she had no problem in sitting us down in her office and freely giving us all the information about Lago Blanco that she had. First of all, the border crossing we had planned on using required fording a river. She said she knew people who did it, depending on the season, in their four-wheel drive vehicles, but she wouldn't in any kind of vehicle. What kind of car did we have? she wanted to know.

That border was as compelling to me as the apples. I wanted to try it. I knew that getting into trouble while traveling was never as bad as getting into trouble at home. There were always people ready and even enthusiastic to help you. Trouble never lasted that long.

"Let's try fording the creek!" I told Pat.

"River," she corrected.

"Only in the wet season."

"Which it is."

"We should at least go see."

"We don't have a four-wheel drive," Pat said. Our girlfriend pursed her lips, clucked, and shook her head in agreement with Pat, who finished up by saying, "Have you looked at our car recently?"

I knew better than to point out how well it had done on all the crazy roads so far. I conceded Pat's point, and listened to our girlfriend's suggestion. Which was that we go all the way back north, cross the haunted border, and then head south from there. But she had even better information. She personally knew the man who owned a lodge at Lago Blanco! She said he was a very nice man, and if we talked to him personally, he would surely allow us to camp somewhere out of sight on the lake's shore. Then she told us the town where he lived, and also served as mayor, and suggested we go find him and present our case.

Now we couldn't not go to Lago Blanco.

We stocked up on groceries in Ushuaia, this time harvesting from the supermarket more green apples, fresh tomatoes, and a couple of avocadoes. And a big, shiny red bell pepper. Driving back toward the haunted border, Pat talked about that red bell pepper as if it were gold. We would roast it over an open fire at Lago Blanco. Or, if the mayor didn't allow open fires, we'd chop it into our pasta that we cooked on the camp stove. The red pepper was a fine specimen, deeply crimson and voluptuously curved.

We were, in short, obsessed with our fruit. You might even say enchanted past reason. Because we stupidly forgot about getting all that produce back into Chile. The problem was, there would be no place to buy food once we crossed, and if we were to eat at Lago Blanco, we had to smuggle in our food. There was, apparently, this lodge, but it would be some rustic affair, and who knew if it had a restaurant.

I lied to the armed guards. I did not tell the border agents who once again looked far too young to be wielding weapons about our apples, tomatoes, avocadoes, and glowing red pepper. I answered "No" to the question about whether or not we had any fruits in the car. The agent's face remained impassive as he stamped our papers and then accompanied us out to our car. My heart was pounding. What was the punishment for lying about fruit at the border? His eyes grazed our car and then he disappeared back into the station. We sat in the car, waiting at the wooden bar that separated Argentina from Chile, telling each other to look relaxed, bored even, to reveal nothing on our faces.

Another man finally sauntered out of the building. He walked to the wooden bar and raised it. We drove through. It took an hour before I was convinced that they wouldn't come after us for our red bell pepper.

Staying another night at the border's haunted motel was out of the question, but it was a day's drive to the owner of Lago Blanco's town, and another half day to the lake itself. Our flight out of Punta Arenas left in three days.

I yearned for Lago Blanco. This was our last chance. I was convinced that it was stunningly beautiful, perhaps surrounded by mountain peaks with hanging glaciers. I'd made that last part up, the map showing no geological features surrounding the lake and our guidebooks not mentioning it at all. Still, I needed to see the elusive Lago Blanco. I needed to eat our fruit on its banks.

And yet, despite these yearnings, reality began to ooze its way across the pampas into our travel-slowed brains. Several times we measured the mileage to Lago Blanco on the map, counted our days, considered the reliability of our tiny car on the boulder-strewn roads. Travel is all about calculating risk. Was this red bell pepper worth lying to a Chilean guard with a big gun? The answer to that one had been yes. But was it worth trying to get to Lago Blanco in this tin can? What would happen if it broke down? With our flight out of Punta Arenas in three days, and work obligations that couldn't be pushed back a week, we didn't have much wiggle room. With a lot of regret, we located another much closer lake and decided to go there instead.

But when we arrived at this alternative destination, the place looked like a bomb had been dropped there. The small motel was being used by squatters and all the windows were busted. The lake itself was all that we could have hoped for, complete with the ring of mountains and hanging glaciers, but the feeling that a riot had just blown through made the place less than relaxing, and we drove on to a nondescript campsite down the road. That night we cut open the red pepper to find it rotted in the middle.

A couple of days later, Miriam met us at the car rental office, where we hoped we hadn't accrued any more extra charges than the $600 Argentina tariffs.

"So you had a good time?" Miriam asked in perfect English.

"Si, si, si," we answered in the repetitive affirmation that everyone used.

"You went to the national parks in Chile?" she said with a small Mona Lisa smile.

"Si, si, si!" I replied enthusiastically, warming up to Miriam. "And to the national park in Argentina, too, and Ushuaia." The moment the words were out of my mouth, I realized that she had just offered us an opportunity. A $600 opportunity. Which I had just blown.

"Follow me," Miriam said. "I must check the car."

She walked around the car, kicking each tire with the point of her stiletto heels. I tried to tell her how wonderful the car had been, and Pat started to fill her in on the highlights of our trip, again mentioning our days in Argentina. When Miriam slid behind the wheel to check the dashboard, for what I didn't know, I pulled Pat aside. I whispered, "I think she had offered us an opportunity, and now we've both bragged about our days in Argentina."

Pat looked at me with doubt. It did seem impossible that a rental car company would just let go of $600 profit to two American women. Miriam had told us before we left that she'd check how many days we'd been in Argentina by looking at our passports upon our return. And anyway, why would this beautiful Chilean woman in stilettos impart favors on a couple of obvious American lesbians?

Back in the office, we sat down with the paperwork. I expected Miriam to now ask for our passports. Instead, she named the excellent price Pat had negotiated -- not counting the Argentina tariffs. "Inclusivo," she verified, that small smile still playing on her lips, and slid the papers to us.

"Si, si, si," we agreed and signed.

We walked out, declaring Miriam our very favorite Patagonian girlfriend, marveling that there still existed a place where profit doesn't necessarily rule, where some subversive and unspoken understanding between women held power.

Soon we were in a cab on the way to the airport, enjoying our ability to understand much of the Spanish blaring on the radio, regretting that we'd probably forget it all by the time we returned to another Spanish-speaking country. We were pulling into the Departing Flights lane when I distinctly thought I heard the words, "Lago Blanco," on the radio. They weren't spoken in the languorous manner in which Pat and I spoke the words; they were being punched out, ballyhooed. "Lago Blanco!" the man shouted, as if advertising a circus. "La enchilada todo!" At Lago Blanco, he announced, one could fly fish, eat sumptuous meals, drink fine wines, get massages, rent boats. It was the whole enchilada. Then the man rattled off a phone number and repeated the entire ad again. We were stunned. Our elusive Lago Blanco, the most remote spot in Tierra del Fuego, the mountain lake that kept slipping from our grasp, was in fact being advertised like a Club Med on the cab's radio. Lago Blanco where you could have the whole enchilada. Thank god we never made it there!

We sat back and laughed, pleased to realize how serendipity had once again guided us through another extraordinary trip. There always has to be a pursuit, a Lago Blanco, and there always have to be obstacles, fruits at the border, but neither ever defines the trip in the end. Spaceship clouds and stunning rock towers, rhea chicks and two-toned swans, campsites overlooking the Beagle Channel and beside lagos verdes, grey, and azul, and yes, the generosity of beautiful women -- these were the true fruits of the trip, tossed from the tree as random kismet.

Lucy Jane Bledsoe is the author of the novels This Wild Silence, winner of a California Arts Council Fellowship in Literature, and Working Parts, winner of the American Library Association LGBT Award for Literature, and the forthcoming collection of narrative nonfiction, The Breath of Seals: adventures in fear and grace. She is a two-time winner of the National Science Foundation's Artists & Writers in Antarctica award.

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