Argentina – Patagonia

map_of_argentinaArgentina is a huge country divided into 8 geographic regions and 23 provinces (states). The Andes mountain range runs from north to south along the country’s western border, separating Argentina from Chili. The county’s national park system is huge, accessible and very well-managed.

We flew from Buenos Aires to the small city of El Calafate, gateway to Parque National Los Glaciares (Glacier National Park), picking up a rental car upon arrival. El Calafate reminds me of a ski resort city. Lots of shopping and restaurants along the main drag. But instead of ski gear, young people haul fully loaded backpacks. We stayed in a vacation rental, walking distance from the heart of town. Then again, most everything was within walking distance in El Calafate.

Conde and I stayed  in a this duplex, built by our proprietors who live across the street. They brought us a breakfast of fresh breads, jams and juices every morning.
Steve and Jody stayed a few blocks away in a small house built by their proprietors. It is next to their home with a bell mounted on the fence for summoning assistance. No issues with safety — it is a small town where everyone knows everything.

In El Calafate there are dogs roaming everywhere. Most seemed healthy enough. That didn’t stop me from wanting to take them all home for TLC and a visit to the vet for a quick fix job. The entire region is windy. Really windy. So windy the rental car company warned us about the danger of our car doors being damaged by gusts. The skies are huge, with magical light and unique cloud formations. And, great sunrises and sunsets. There is a wonderful bird sanctuary called Laguna Nimez Reserva Natural. It boasts a 1½ mile circular path around a lagoon with views of a glacial fed lake. The cost of entry is $10US with all proceeds going  to sanctuary preservation. Conde and I battened down our hatches and checked it out. Part way into the walk I was joined by a canine companion. Whenever I stopped to gander or take a photo, she would lay at my feet, jumping up when it was time to move on. Just before the end of the trail she silently disappeared in the bushes.

Flamingos. Natural inhabitants.
Crazy duck
The View
Tero Tero – a very loud bird prevalent throughout the country.

Jody, with her amazing nose for the finer things in life, tripped upon a hotel and wine bar while out for an evening stroll. Turned out they served excellent food and a heck of a mountain view with Largo Argentina (Lake Argentina) as a front drop. We took our time with dinner at Los Canelos, absorbing the 180 degree sunset views. My hunger and soul were sated.

Not an exaggeration!
The glacial fed lake is in front of the mountains.
The clouds changed constantly.

Glacier Perito Moreno is in the southern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and a 1½ hour drive from El Calafate. The roads are undivided two-lane highways with very little traffic. Cross winds are the biggest hazard. At the park entrance you have to get out of the car to pay. One person stays in the car snaking forward with the line, while another goes inside and pays the $20 per person entry fee. We parked in the lower north entrance lot. After a short walk, it was easy to set out along a complex series of steel catwalks running 2½ miles. One can access multiple views from both the glacier’s north and south sides.

Lago Argentino provides a beautiful view while driving. It is the country’s largest lake.
View of Glaciare Perito Moreno from the south side as we approached the park.
View from the glacier’s north face. Adding perspective, the glacier rises 240 feet from the water’s surface and drops 170 feet below the surface. It covers an area of 97 square miles across a 19 mile stretch. It is the world’s 3rd largest reserve of fresh water. And, it is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Walkway with a view from the north.
North glacier wall.
Close-up using my 300mm lens. The colors are true.

I managed to catch a calving in action. I heard the boom, zeroed in and set my shutter in motion. Note the clear blue surface after the face of the glacier has severed.


Before leaving the park, we needed a bite to eat. Heaven forbid 4 hours might pass without a meal. We popped into a restaurant at the north side with a spectacular view. A fair fixed-price lunch menu was offered. We had hearty lamb and lentil stews with dessert and coffee. It was enjoyed by all. The waitress even brought us a bucket of glacier ice for chilling our mineral waters. Talk about the lap of luxury!

Steve was enamoured. “A glass of 10 year old whiskey over 15,000 year old glacial ice.” That’s a conversation stopper.

On the way back to El Calafate we stopped at the oddest place. The Lonely Planet guide gave the Glaciarium a big fat one star. It is a museum showcasing glaciers. When we arrived in the parking lot, the wind was gusting so hard, I was pinned by the car door as I tried to get out. My shrieks for help were lost with the wind as I pushed with all my might to free myself. Success ensued. The Glaciarium is reputed to have an ice bar. No kidding. The bar is maintained below freezing and drinking glasses are molded from ice. Fur coats are provided. The bar wasn’t operational when we stopped. We pondered over whether to visit the exhibit anyway. The staff at the front desk was indifferent. We decided against the steep entry fee and made free use of the impeccable rest rooms. Tour buses were pulling into the parking lot as we battled our car doors against the wind before escaping.

A very odd place in the middle of nowhere.
As we exited on the Glaciarium’s steep dirt drive, a herd of running horses crossed in front of us. The area has wild horses, but we couldn’t figure out why these were running or even if they were wild.
Then, across the road we saw another group of horses being herded. The energy was high. A short distance further, we saw five horses huddled with their rears touching and noses facing out surrounded by four dogs, holding them at bay.
Steve & Jody

The next morning we loaded up the car for a 2 hour drive to the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We scheduled a stop for lunch in El Chaltan. From there it was a 30 minute drive along a dirt road to our hotel, El Pilar. Along the way (okay, maybe 30 minutes after we set off) we needed sustenance. Good thing we had leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Something about snarfing down food from the trunk while standing on the side of a deserted highway makes it special. Life is good!

Antipasta snack.
We entered the north park entrance.
p1120950 3
Our hotel for 2 nights — behind Conde is the view from our room and a focal point for our hike the next morning. The mountain appears and disappears behind rapid changing cloud formations.

El Pilar is run by Cristina and Guillermo. In Argentinian Spanish, the double “ll” is pronounced “jee” – can be a bit of a tongue twister. The hotel is wonderful and has great food. There are no wi-fi connections. Guests congregated for cocktails around the fireplace before dinner and chatted over coffee and breakfast in the mornings. There were folks from all over the world. Before we set out for our 10 mile trek, we were provided with a sack lunch. It was not raining, which is a great thing. The wind was driving little pellets of frozen ice, but it was intermittent. The snow-capped mountains with glaciers tucked in their crevices surrounded us. I loved it!

The hotel’s river powered generator shed. I wanted to set my cot up and move in next to the rushing water.

It’s impossible to capture the beauty and magnitude of this hike. We passed through groves of trees and wide-open areas with everything in between.  Sometimes we were in sunshine, at other times in the fog. The wind was intermittently intense. Here are a few  things we saw along the way.

Well marked and easy to follow path.
A very nice and well maintained trail.
Crystal clear water. Everyone insists it is totally safe to drink. I abstained.
Jody set the pace and I happily followed. Her red back-pack brought me an unexplained child-like joy.
It was easy to miss the diversity of flora with the huge mountains demanding attention.
The mountain formations varied in size and shape – The Andes!
Lot’s of glaciers – in the middle of summer.
My red beacon.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any prettier.
The sound of the roaring river accompanied parts of the hike.

The next morning we were greeted by rain and winds. Given the conditions, I passed on the opportunity for another hike. As we drove from the area, we moved into sunshine. Another lunch in El Chalten, then back to El Calafate for a good nights sleep and plane trip back to Buenos Aires. Steve and Jody returned to Washington DC. We hopped a ferry to Uruguay.

Next, Uruguay and then some more of BA. Stay tuned!

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Thanks for joining my adventures.  See you next time!

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!







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