Where are my Gabriel Garcia Marquez fans at? I don’t actually remember what cholera had to do with that book, but coronavirus has everything to do with the Patagonia Chronicles Week 3.
Who knows if there might even be a week 4? Things have changed drastically over the last few days, and what has felt like a distant problem has quickly become a very present thing. A palpable taste of uncertainty is in the fresh mountain air of El Chalten. Hopefully, uncertainty is the only thing in the air here.
I’m holed up in my hostel in El Chalten after a few incredible days of being in the great outdoors. Last night, my Quarantine Qrew and I were holed up outside a bar sipping on happy hour mulled wines and planning the next of our grand adventures. Today was supposed to be the day when we voyaged up to El Chalten’s most famous view, Laguna de los Tres at the base of the iconic and the majestic Cerro Fitz Roy.
Our post-hike bar hopping had become part of our routine here in El Chalten, and I was becoming more and more content with having to wait out the apocalypse here. I mean, who can complain about a life spent hiking and drinking with friends? And a bar where you can get a glass of mulled wine for $1.20? Seriously, who could complain?
Following the mulled wine, we trudged our way to our last bar of the night. The only nightclub in El Chalten had closed two days earlier due to coronavirus fears. Up until this point, its closure had been all that impacted this secluded town deep in the Patagonian wilderness. A few gin and tonics had us dancing to the electronic beats of a bar that would have been otherwise empty had it not been for the Quarantine Qrew.
We slowly made our ways back to our respective hostels. I was thankful that I’d somehow managed to convince everyone that our go-to hangout spot would be the bar literally right across from my hostel. Sneaky, sneaky. The 10-second walk home was lengthened only by the three monstrous mountain dogs that deserved all of the cuddles from boozed-up Eli.
How quickly things can change.
After my ten second walk home, I checked my Instagram messages before bed. My friends who had somehow made it home before me sent me a message saying that all the national parks in Argentina were now closed. The coronavirus, and its ensuing hysteria, has hit hard and has hit fast. In a matter of days, coronavirus went from being an afterthought in Argentina to being very real and very present.
My fellow travelers throughout the country have even told me that travelers are getting turned back from hostels and removed from buses if their travel history might even suggest that they had been in contact with anyone with the coronavirus. I remember thinking when I arrived to my hostel that it was quite empty and devoid of travelers. Turns out, everyone was just always out hiking during the day. The closure of the national parks has turned the common areas of the hostel into a prison, cramped with travelers glued to their phones with a clear look of anxiety and uncertainty on their faces.
I was in Sri Lanka last year during the terrorist attacks, and I remember the feeling very well. My friends and I were staying at a hostel in a small town glued to the TVs. The children of the hostel owners were running around and playing, blissfully ignorant to the violence that shocked the country. The shared silence of the adults in the room said more than any words could. It feels quite similar to that right now in this hostel. Everyone has a lot to say, yet few words can really encapsulate what everyone is feeling. There is very clearly something else on everyone’s mind, and the usual small talk seems like an insufficient distraction for the concerns that are truly weighing on everyone’s minds.
If the craziness has extended to small town in Argentina with a population of just under 2,000, I can only imagine the hysteria being faced by the world’s largest cities and travel hubs. The Wi-Fi in El Chalten has been abysmal, maybe a blessing in disguise that has kept me even more blissfully unaware of the current situation. Reading numbers, statistics, and stories often feel a lot less real than watching the videos and seeing the images of how coronavirus has gripped the world.
It does suck, though. Just a few days ago, I was pulling into the town of El Chalten at sunrise. The golden and pinkish glow of the rising sun almost put me to tears as they basked over the iconic Cerro Fitz Roy. It had been a place that I had dreamed of visiting for years and it was finally becoming a reality. I was so excited that I forgot one of my backpacks (mostly empty, thankfully) on the bus and started a 6-hour hike immediately after dropping my things off at my hostel. Remember part one of the Patagonia Chronicles when I lamented that I could no longer hop off an overnight bus the way I used to? Turns out, I still could if mountains were involved. The adrenaline and the excitement was so real. And in a span of few days, I can’t even remember a time when coronavirus wasn’t the all-consuming topic of my life.
And yet, I am one of those hardly affected. There is a huge sense of uncertainty and anxiety in my life, one that my fellow travelers could definitely relate to. I am thousands and thousands of miles from home, with no idea what to do and not even the slightest premonition of the things to come. This feels like the early stages of one of those apocalyptic thriller movies, but one that isn’t a movie at all. It’s hard to keep things business-as-usual when things are so far from business-as-usual.
Best of luck to my fellow travelers and my fellow humans out there. Stay safe, stay sanitary, and hopefully we can all weather the storm.