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.

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