Monday, April 30, 2012

Perito Moreno Glacier

Argentineans call Perito Moreno Glacier the "8th Wonder of the World.” In addition to its enormous beauty, it is the planet's third largest reserve of fresh water and one of the continent's last advancing glaciers. Located about 50 miles (80 kms) from EL Calafate and veiled by towering mountains, the glacier epitomizes the natural beauty and splendor of Argentina as it slowly pours in crackling celestial blue, from the granite spires of the Chilean Paine Mountains into Argentina's Los Glaciares National Park. After leaving El Calafate, we followed Lake Argentino around Bay Redonda giving us the opportunity to appreciate the milky blue glacial waters reflecting a background of snow-capped mountains. After about 35 miles at the Curva de Los Suspiros mirador, we got our first panoramic view of Glacier Perito Moreno. Even at this distance the glacier is massive. We lose sight of it as we enter the park and follow the road as it meanders around the surrounding mountains. At the end of the road, we are directed to the lower parking lot where shuttle buses take visitors to the upper viewing areas. This is also where we will stay for the night. Whilst giving Winston a walk, we can hear the glacier. The glacier is a kinetic attraction, emitting sonic booms as it calves icebergs into the lake. It creaks and moans and the sounds echo off the nearby mountains giving the area an ethereal quality. These sounds continue as we climb the steep road to the upper parking area and the connection of interlinking walkways that provide easy access to the glacier’s best viewing points. As we wander slowly towards the “fall zone”, we are struck as to the similarity between the walkways designed here and those which we encountered at IguaƧu Falls. We have to commend the Argentineans on the work. The manner in which they build accessibility walkways through their national parks giving easy access to most people including those with disabilities while still maintaining the beauty, aesthetics and integrity of the area is a lesson to be learned by other countries. And then, we are confronted by the renowned Perito Moreno Glacier. Unique in many ways, including its size, scientific significance and accessibility, the glacier is magnificent. At first sight, the sheer magnitude of Perito Moreno, one of the largest in South America is simply astounding. Its walls tower over two-hundred vertical feet (forty meters) from the ground, where the ice meets Lago Argentino. At this height, equivalent to that of a fifteen-story building, the glacier maintains a commanding presence as it forms an imposing panoramic wall, stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction. The most notable feature about the Perito Moreno Glacier is its dynamic and ever-changing facade. Unlike nearly every other glacier on the planet, which recede and dwindle in size over time, the Perito Moreno formation actually swells with each passing day. Deemed an "advancing glacier," the ice is continually growing and expanding outward, gradually occupying more and more territory. While the glacier is said to move outward at a pace of up to seven feet each day, large chunks of ice falling from the walls make this growth a bit more subtle. This phenomenon also makes viewing the glacier all the more unpredictable and exciting. The show is never-ending. You can watch the detachment of ice blocks of different sizes from a short distance, hear the roaring they produce, and then watch them turned into wonderful floating icebergs. We spent hours exploring its wonders and taking in the breathtaking vistas, at the picturesque sight which lies before us. It was mesmerizing. We walked from one end to the other, enthralled with watching chunks fall from it into the waters below, some almost at water level but others crashing from amazing heights. We stayed so long, we missed the last shuttle and had to wait for some workers to finish up and give us a ride down to our RV in their pickup. We walked Winston and prepared a simple dinner of soup and sandwiches. Throughout the night, we were awakened often by the moans and booms of crashing icebergs falling from the glacier. Very cool. The next day, we took a boat ride to get even closer. As the boat maneuvered closer to the glacier, it was even more amazing watching from water level, the chunks of ice falling and splashing ahead of us, some large enough to cause waves which made the boat rock. We took tons of photos and, whilst the glacier lacked the vibrant colors and spiked formations of Grey Glacier probably due to its constant movement, the sheer enormity of Perito Moreno is phenomenal and we could understand how it became known as the 8th wonder of the world.

Monday, April 9, 2012

El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park

Leaving Puerto Natales for El Calafate involves yet another border crossing, this time from Chile back into Argentina which is usually a little easier. The border crossings are really easy for us by now and we just follow the same routine. Immigration, Aduana (Customs) for the motorhomes temporary import permit and then we mention Winston. Sometimes they don’t care, some check the paperwork we have and with varying degrees of thoroughness. Until now Argentina had barely given his paperwork a glance. These officials went through it carefully, even asking to see the entrance and exit stamps for Chile and the previous ones for Argentina. We showed the Chilean stamps and then explained that until now Argentina had not cared about the pet’s entry. It seems Argentina has no set policy in place and it just depends on the border. They examined all the paperwork we have, his USDA permit, Interstate permit, rabies and vaccination certificates. Winston then received another stamp on his USDA form, it is getting crowded and they had to use the back. Leaving the border, we picked up our “hitchhiker-du-jour”. Michael, a young German fellow has just finished his Mathematics degree and is trying to find out what he really wants to do with his life, which right now is exploring Patagonia. El Calafate is about a 4 hour drive so we all settle in and Michael actually dozes in the comfortable captain’s chair whilst I check out the scenery and Tom, who is driving battles the ever-increasing wind that seems to ravage Patagonia and periodically the motorhome rocks as a crosswind threatens to move the RV into another lane. We drop Michael off in town and go to find our campground. Luis, a fellow RVer had told us about an AMSA campground. This is a municipal campground affiliated with the police dept. which is located right across the street. The campsite is perfect with electricity and hot water showers and is within walking distance of the town center. Anyone who wants to see this side of Los Glaciares National Park and Perito Merino Glacier passes through El Calafate. Situated on Lago Argentino, its name is derived from a small bush of the same name which has bright yellow flowers and dark blue berries. Similar to a blueberry, Calafate berries are used to make preserves and a type of liqueur that is drank after dinner and is quite sweet but very tasty. The village is also reminiscent of the upscale tourist spots of the Rockies like Banff, Lake Louise or Vail, with stylish shops, souvenir stores, trendy restaurants and travel agencies advertising a variety of treks and tours designed with you, the tourist in mind. Even though it is autumn and really between seasons, it is still a busy place. The village is surrounded by the snow-capped mountains peaks of the Andes and between it and Chile is the southern end of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Declared a World Heritage site in 1981, Los Glaciares is the second largest in Argentina and 30% of it is covered in ice, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. It is really divided into two parts for visitors, both sections corresponding to the two elongated glacial lakes at each end. Lago Argentino, which is in the south, is the largest lake in Argentina and Lago Viedma in the north. The southern end has the famous Perito Merino Glacier and the northern end in addition to Viedma glacier which feeds into Lake Viedma is most famous for being the gateway to the famous and popular climbing mountains, Monte Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. Between these two lakes is a non touristic center of mountains known as the Zona Centro. Tomorrow our goal is to go to the glacier but we are happy to browse through the town and enjoy the bustle of people and do some window shopping.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Our final few days in Puerto Natales and the loss of a dear friend

Our return to Puerto Natales involved numerous stops to refill the radiator, so much so, that we went through about 25 gallons of water. And again, we are grateful for our 40 gallon water tank. To say the owners of the campsite were surprised to see us (again) was putting it mildly. Tom told them that the repair did not hold and there was much talk as to what to do next. They bring yet another mechanic to the motorhome and after he examines the radiator and hoses, tells us he can help. Tom is skeptical but what are the options. We give the go-ahead for the work and they tell us they will be back the next day. Tom still wants to see Torres Del Paine a little more so we decide to rent a car and he will go for the day, while I stay with the RV and Winston in town. Early Sunday, Tom took off for the park and I cleaned the RV and walked Winston. There is a very pretty small church in the town square and so I went to mass also. It was in the afternoon that we received some very sad news. I had went into the hostel to call the kids and check emails. As I was getting on line with Skype, Tom’s sister called me and we chatted for a while and I got brought up to date on the family and our numerous nieces activities and lives. Just as I was in the process of calling Danny (our son) and I began to read emails. One was from our friends in Buenos Aires whom we had spent such a wonderful time with only a few weeks ago. After we left, they were going to China and Japan for vacation before Pablo went back to work. Apparently after their vacation, they decided to go to the Caribbean islands off Colombia for a few days just to relax. There was a terrible accident and due to lack of hospital facilities on the island, Pablo had lost his life. Needless to say, Cesar is devastated and I just could not believe what I was reading. I read the email to Danny and signed off. Pablo was only 40 and so full of life. He loved to travel and they had so many plans for the future including visiting with us in the States. It was hard to comprehend what could have gone so terribly wrong. About half hour later, Tom got back and one look at me told him something was up. I told him about Pablo. The truth had trouble sinking in with him also. We will contact Cesar soon and give him our condolences but we know nothing we can say will express how we feel. It is really a reminder of how precious life really is and how every moment should be reveled in because we never know when it can be taken away. We honor Pablo’s life in our own way. Pablo loved champagne and we had drunk a few bottles with him and Cesar. So, we opened a bottle and toasted his life and remembered the good. We pulled up photos that we had taken of the four of us. Of the day we went to the Tigre Delta and another time spent sightseeing in Capital Federal and of course the numerous days we had just relaxed by the pool and ate dinners on the patio. Vaya con Dios, mi amigo. (Pablo Gatti. RIP March 15th, 2012).