News and Tribune

December 2, 2012

CUMMINS: If you’re ever stranded In Patagonia

Local columnist

— If you’re stranded in Ushuaia, Argentina, two days before Thanksgiving, chances are that you’ll miss the traditional family meal, where we always give thanks. Flights were canceled when workers went on strike. One should be thankful wherever one might be, even in Ushuaia, which is the southern-most town at the “end of the earth.” I offered thanks there, and will wherever I might be, because it might be too late, when your name is called up yonder.

I went down yonder to Patagonia for no other reason than I wanted to see it. To see as much of God’s beautiful world as I can, is a habit of mine. Why else did He put it here? I think He put Patagonia at the southern tip of South America to represent a little bit of what heaven might be. It’s a fantastic landscape, powerful and yet gentle, drawing you into what nature is meant to be.  

Our group of 15 hiked through a part of it, up toward snow-capped mountain peaks and down through lush, sun-drenched valleys. We walked through thick forests and along seashores.  We took boats to observe seal colonies and penguins, strutting around on rocky isles, as albatross’ darted about, and condors lazily soared high in the sky. We dodged icebergs in the lakes, some larger than tractor-trailers speeding down highways. We hiked to glaciers, frozen streams packed with blue ice, which have slowly crept down mountainsides for centuries. We hiked on one glacier, as if it were a stroll through soft white clouds against a pure blue sky.

It must have been very cold there with penguins splashing around the icebergs. No, it was springtime in the southern hemisphere and the warm sun began its inevitable greening of the valleys, its warmth drawing vivid wild flowers, springing up everywhere. And after those hard days at “work,” we ate the finest beef and lamb and drank the finest wine.

There is the nature God made for us to see, and the nature of human kind, which is essentially the same everywhere. That is, if you exclude those greedy ones seeking power, who are somehow “elected” or appoint or anoint themselves. We common folk speak the same “language,” desirous of the simple things, consideration for and appreciation of binding friendships, a prime path to happiness. Upon the initial meeting and greeting, our group began forming a mutual and stable bond, inherent in the emergence of a group of adventuresome people.

To cite a few of the fellow travelers, Jerry flew B-52s during the height of the Cold War. Most days, he flew north above Greenland, circling the area carrying nuclear weapons and prepared to drop them on the Soviets at a moment’s notice. Joe and his family escaped from East Germany and settled in Canada. One New Year’s Day, he watched the Rose Bowl parade in California. With two feet of snow on the ground in Montreal, he decided to move to sunny California. He did and taught chemistry near the Rose Bowl for 34 years. Chrissy is a meek and frail little 83-year old. On an early hike, she stumbled on the rocks and fell cutting both legs, one hand and her face, and briefly passed out. [The only mishap on the trip.] What do we do with her out in this wilderness? After her wounds were cleaned and dressed, she said, “I’m OK.” She jumped up, and with her two hiking sticks, never missed a step from then on. I consider myself a pretty-tough dude, but I’m not near as tough as Chrissy is. What an inspiration!

After the flight delay, Laura Sanchez, our beautiful, wonderful and knowledgeable 28-year-old Argentine guide, went to work re-scheduling flights. It’s three flights totaling 15 hours from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires to Atlanta to Louisville. Add the nine hours waiting in airports and you have a 28-hour day, but it took Charles Darwin about five years to get home when he hiked Patagonia in the 1830s.

It’s 12 noon on Thanksgiving Day and about 30 of my family are giving thanks at a huge table, miles away just as my plane touched down. They left one son to pick me up. Thanks a lot.

What do you do waiting five hours at the Atlanta airport on Thanksgiving morning? Giving thanks is about all you can do. As Chrissy would say after our strenuous hikes, “We’re here,” which is a way of saying it’s good to be anywhere.

— Contact Terry Cummins at