On the road with COVID-19

What does the word quarantinemean? It changes every day.

Glaciar Cagliero from Rio Electrico, by Carol L. Douglas, 11X14, available.
Yesterday I outlined the problems we will have if we break quarantine to head back to the airport. These were reinforced by an email from the US State Department, which told us to comply with local authorities. However, just as the United States is suffering a lack of toilet paper, rural Argentina has a lack of information.
When we left, I asked Jane Chapin what the word quarantine meant. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk; I just wanted to know what was expected of us. It turns out to have been a prescient question, because the meaning of our quarantine has shifted over time. In the beginning it was enough that we traveled in a self-contained group. Now it means we stay in place, and strictly so.
Our host Cristina managed to talk with someone at the US embassy in Buenos Aires. Later, Guillermo suggested that we fill our cars against a possible gas shortage. (They happen here, coronavirus or not.) We duly drove the washed-out, rutted gravel road to El Chaltén’s single gas pump to top up. Although short in mileage, the trip took two hours.

When we returned, Cristina sadly informed us that—by the newest rules—we had broken quarantine. We were required to file documents and copies of our passports and are now confined to the immediate area of the hosteria. From now on, only Guillermo can go to town for supplies.

Painting with Lynn Mehtain front of Cerro Fitz Roy.

Yesterday, the town of El Calafate announced its first confirmed case of coronavirus, in a French tourist. We wince; it was not our intention to bring plague to the Southern Hemisphere. But we Americans in El Chaltén remain resolutely symptom-free. We have sufficient toilet paper, although this is a cash-based economy and we will certainly run out of greenbacks before we’re allowed to leave.

Meanwhile, the Argentines, having no work or school to go to, have decided to use this time for vacation. Despite quarantine, the streets of El Chaltén are full of young people skateboarding, trekkers huffing dutifully towards the mountains, and bicyclists. To counter this, the government is closing down all internal flights as of tomorrow.

Natalia Andreevadrew this wonderful portrait of me in front of the fire. You’d almost think I talk a lot.

This is a relief. Gone are the endless discussions of what we should do. There is nothing we can do except paint. This morning I shall gather up some hiking poles and head toward the mountains with some of the others. Apparently, there is a point along the river where we can get close to a glacier face. My husband, who is less enamored of glaciers than me, will try to do a few hours of paid work.