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The roar is louder now, and there are curtains of mist that float from the falls. I feel as if I’ve hiked into a sepia photograph. The air seems somehow silvered, as if overexposed.
Edith, slightly ahead, has attained an aura. The man with the sticker looks regal. Khaki rain hats give off an angelic glow.
Views grow softer, then sharper. We smell water. Then, all at once, the fog unfurls to show that, only footsteps ahead, our trail is finished. We see a stab of sunlight and hammering, exploding falls.
Edith presents the view. “The water is much more in winter,” she says. But I do not listen.
I have a brand-new feeling about this Patagonia park. One that falls on me like a mist. One that roars in my ears like thunder.
Animals are everywhere, I sense, although I may not see them. Pudú are grazing on the warm, wet grass. A zorro sniffs at a nalca, just behind us. The kingfisher dives and splashes, strikes and catches, slightly out of view.
When I try telling Edith about my suspicion, she just laughs. “No, no,” she says, while pouring out some cups of trail mix. “Not so.” I have a crazy thought. Maybe Edith wants the area to stay the country’s least populated region.
Just then, I notice a shadow that is crouching behind the trunk of a tree. A shadow with triangular ears. A guiña?
The shadow stretches. It stares: two yellow eyes.
I am just about to shout, when Edith puts a finger to her lips. “Not normal,” she whispers, just to me. “Not normal.” The shadow tenses. I hear a rush of grass.
I turn to try and spot it. There. A blur.
I see … a bag of trail mix. Edith is approaching.
The curtains of mist are back. No yellow eyes. No bird, no animal, no snake.
This is Patagonia.
My guiña is gone.
Peter Mandel of Providence, R.I., is an author of books for children, including the new “Zoo Ah-Choooo” from Holiday House.