March 13, 2010

Web Photo Albums Now Available

The first draft of photo selections from my Patagonia trip are now being posted at Picasa. Though some of them need a little work and I will post more later, these are the most representative selections, at least as I see it now.

Rio Grey to Puerto Natales

March 12. This post was to have been titled something else, maybe just “Puerto Natales,” but the logistics continued their slide from last night. We gathered for breakfast, expecting the boat at 10:30. By a little after 10, we learned that the boat wasn't coming – all day – due to mechanical problems. Apparently there was more than the weather involved last night and repairs could not be made overnight. By today, they realized that parts would be needed – parts which would have to come from Punta Arenas. I seriously doubt that the boat will run tomorrow, either.

So, we saddled up once more, carrying our hiking and “extra” gear, and headed south, over a ridge and onto the Rio Grey (the outlet of yesterday's glacier) and thence to the nearest road, where our bus would be waiting.

The weather continued last night's wind and rain, so it was not much of a scenery walk (though this walk, especially up-valley, would be excellent in sunny weather). There was wind and this area is a designated windy area, so it was good that it was at our backs all day. It was strong enough to knock you off balance (and it did me several times), even from behind.

The walking was easy, once we were over the ridge and into the valley, because this is a huge glacial outwash valley, five kilometers wide. Most of the walking was on smooth trail, with little grade, through grassy fields. You could see the old river channels braiding back and forth across our path.

There was plenty of traffic on the trail, as we weren't the only refugee party stranded by the lack of a boat across Lago Pehoe. And, as we approached the end, and the administrative center for the Chilean government agency responsible for the park, we met a flow of people headed in, too – brought in by the afternoon bus. They had a harder time of it – no good views and a strong headwind.

After four and a half hours, we saw our bus and trudged the last hundred meters to its side and bundled ourselves in for the drive to Puerto Natales, skipping the planned sightseeing. Our hotel, the Francis Drake, is comfortable (hot showers, reasonably-sized rooms, and Internet, though no wireless), so comfortable, that no one wanted to leave. The wind wasn't as strong as in Rio Grey, but it still qualifies as blustery, and the rain is harder. While we have an hour or two before dinner to wander, no one has taken the opportunity.

Most of us had dinner at Ultima Esperanza, a seafood restaurant a few blocks away. Norm's Spanish came in handy to get an idea of the menu, but they had English-version menus and the waitress had enough English to make it work. The menu had a nice selection of seafood, mostly local, and the usual meat selections. The star of the menu was the Abalone. I had a taste and it was excellent. I had a good scallops dish, two pisco sours, and a Calafate mousse, all for less than $25. I like this town.

Grey Glacier

March 11. Today was our last hike, the one reserved for poorer weather, since clouds won't obscure the views as easily. We were headed up the large, Lago Grey to the Grey Glacier, a huge glacier that rolls directly out of the South Patagonian Ice Field.

Breakfast was cafeteria style, but with the usual ingredients – toast, jam, cold cuts, juice, instant coffee – and a couple of new things, like poorly scrambled eggs. Still, its pretty amazing how they can feed so many people in so little time.

While yesterday started calm and developed wind, today was different. It was windy and rainy all night, but the day dawned clear – and windy. We set out a little after 9:00 and began a climb through “Windy Canyon.” (This may be a local name; it's not on any maps. It's not hard to see where the name came from.) It was windy this morning and very windy this afternoon, on the return trip.

We passed out of Windy Canyon and entered another windy place, undulating over ridges of rock left by the glaciers, overlooking a small lake and then, after an hour or so, Lago Grey. This lake is very large and hosts many icebergs, most of which tend to gather at the south end, pushed by the prevailing winds. About two hours up, we reached the first viewpoint, from which you can see both sides of the glacier's snout, the peaks flanking it, and – in better weather – onto the great Ice Field itself.

Half of the group turned around there, and the rest of us hiked up more undulating ground to Refugio Grey and its viewpoint. While the first viewpoint is better for the big picture, this one gets you closer to the snout of the glacier. It was worth the trip, but we didn't want to miss the boat back to our first camp on Lago Pehoe, so we took our pictures and turned around quickly.

The return trip was even windier. So windy, in fact, that the boat that was to take us back to our first camp didn't arrive. It had turned back due to the winds. Juan says that this is the first time in five years. So, we're back in these tents, here, at Paine Grande.

A great day, a fitting end to the hiking portion, and a bit of excitement, between the wind and the boat.

Valle del Frances

March 10. This morning dawned perfectly clear, offering views of the top of Paine Grande for the first time. We got to sleep in a bit, because we're taking a boat across Lago Pehoe, where our camp is, and it doesn't sail until 9:30. Breakfast was the usual flatbreads, cereal, and coffee. We loaded our stuff for two hikes and one night across the lake and embarked on a nice catamaran for a 30 minute crossing to Refugio Paine Grande, one of the gateways to the Paine Circuit.

The refugio is quite large, with lots of tent camping (our home for the night), a big dining hall (our meals), and a couple of dozen rooms (not our style). Trails lead east, west, and south from here. Today's trail heads east, toward the Val del Frances (named for a Frenchman who homesteaded the valley long ago). We left Lago Peho and skirted Lago Nordenskjold to the entrance to the valley. We climbed a bit and then crossed the river, on a suspension bridge, to Campomento Italiano, another station along the Paine Circuit. It looked a bit cold to me.

From there, we climbed up the valley, around layer and layer of moraine, to an initial viewpoint, which shows Paine Grande in its snowy glory. Its top, a serrated comb of rock, was frosted in ice, and its flanks are carved by a series of glaciers on benches that actively fall down the cliffs onto the next bench's glacier. While we watched, at least a dozen avalanches poured down the cliffs.

Later, we climbed up another, bigger moraine to an even better viewpoint. It showed Paine Grande, even closer, but also all of the other peaks further up the valley: Fortress, Sword, Leaf, Mask, and the North and Principle Horns.

All this time, we had sun and calm (very non-Patagonian weather). Coming down, the clouds formed and the winds kicked up, rivaling yesterday's. Spindrift was tossed on the lakes, the trees bent, and even the birds stayed put. By the time we got to the Refugio, it was plain windy, but showing signs of a precipitation enhancement. By dinner, in the dining hall, it had started to rain. By bedtime, it was raining. It still is.

Dinner, by the way, was fixed and served cafeteria style, made for about a hundred people. There was juice, asparagus soup, a salad with corn, beans, and an artichoke heart, pot roast and mashed potatoes. And apricots for dessert. Not bad for “free.”

Time to turn in: the wind is blowing and the rain is pelting, but I'm warm inside this tent. Another hike tomorrow!

Rio Ascencion

March 9 . Today's hike was up the Rio Ascencion, on the east of the Paine range. It forms the right-hand side of the “W,” which is the big hike here in the Torres del Paine National Park. Getting there was an interesting process.

We left our camp at 8:30 and drove most of an hour over undulating terrain to the east. Along the way, we saw a couple of condors and a number of guanácos. At a lot overlooking a river crossing we switched to a smaller van, as our usual bus doesn't fit across the 50-year-old, steel, suspension bridge over the river. And that's no exaggeration. There wasn't more than two inches on either side of the van, side view mirrors retracted. From there, it was another 30 minutes over bone-jarring roads, roads as bad as the Dug Bar road in northeastern Oregon.

We unloaded at a huge resort, the Torre Hotel, with rooms from $1200 a night. While El Chaltén is more of a small business-style entrepreneurial town, this place was more of an estancia-style development. It's the trailhead, though, so we unloaded and headed out.

The trail works up around the canyon protecting the entrance to the valley, climbing up to the entrance and then traversing along the slope before dropping down, crossing the river, and coming to a refugio and campground.

Did I mention the wind? It was windy all day yesterday and calm this morning (though not mountain silhouette calm), but it was windy by the time we started hiking. And entering the valley was an education in windy – walking into it, of course.

From the refugio, we climbed along the river, crossed it again, and climbed away from it into the woods. The trail continued to the base of a tall moraine, which was our route into the basin below the towers. We made the steep climb up the margin and finally out onto the big rock pile, until we topped out and were blown away.

In the basin, was a cold-looking lake. Around the lake: a smooth wall of granite, rising almost vertically to a steeply-sloping bench of more granite. And rising from that bench, from left to right: The bulk of Almirante Nieto, the three sheer towers – north, middle, and south, – and the ragged black top of the Condor's Nest. The view was absolutely amazing, thrilling, and unparalleled.

And the wind was punishing. If anything, it rose as we left, so that the exit from the valley was even most unsettling with the wind at our backs. Back at the hotel, we boarded our van, made the river crossing, reboarded our bus, and drove back to camp. The wind was so strong that it was good-sized waves were crashing onto shores with 200 meters of fetch. Swirls of spindrift were rising and running across the lakes. And, yet, tomorrow's boat was out on the lake as we returned. I don't know if that's good or bad.

Upon our return, many of us were ready for showers. And we weren't disappointed by the facilities. I, for one, am glad.

Dinner was good, accented by the stupendous view (though there are more clouds tonight). Everyone was tired and are now in bed. Time for me, too.

Torres del Paine National Park

March 8. This morning, we arose early again (better weather, less grumbling), ate breakfast, our new driver, Javier, and hit the road by 7:15. We drove out of the canyon of El Chaltén and onto the steppes of Patagonia. We drove out along Lao Viedma, crossed the river Leona, which drains Viedma into Lago Argentino, stopped at La Leona roadhouse (where I bought a café medio), again in Esmerelda for gas, and then turned west for Chile and Torres del Paine National Park.

We got a little surprise when we turned off the highway (well, two lanes of pavement, the fabled Ruta 40) and onto a gravel road (a lane and a half wide). This was our road for the next couple of hours. After a while, we stopped at the Argentina border post, then at the Chilean border post, about 20 minutes down the road. Chile's interested in preventing problems with their fruit production, so they were interested in whether we were importing fresh fruit. Since we'd been warned, we were good. We had a substantial lunch at the roadhouse a block from the customs house, where we also changed our money for Chilean pesos (500 to the dollar).

Our new guide, Juan, met us at the Chilean border house. (We wondered how he got there, out in the middle of not much at all as it is.) He's friendly, communicative, and knowledgeable. Paola is still with us, too.

Although the restaurant was only a block away, we got in the bus and drove there. The wind was so strong that the restaurant was shuddering with it during lunch and the trip out of and back into the bus was more adventure than it should have been. The wind has been strong all day (as it was yesterday). If anything, it is worse today, with gusts strong enough to set road gravel in flight and to make it difficult to keep your footing. During the first few days, we were repeatedly told that the sunny and calm weather we had was unusual. I think we're back to normal. It's been warm, into the high 70's, but quite windy and with puffy clouds overhead and with looming clouds over the mountains.

Along the way, we saw guanácos, rheas, crested caracaras, a hare, and lots of cows and sheep. As we neared the park – still on gravel, with lots of bus traffic – we stopped for photos in a spot with fifty or so guanácos. They're quite graceful and gracious to allow us to gawk at them.

The camp is beautifully situated, on a peninsula in Lago Pehoe, which is fed by glaciers. There are a lot of camping shelters, a restaurant with a stupendous view of the mountains, two wash houses, and access to our bus. We're back in tents, though, so no wireless or electricity.

Dinner was the usual three courses (as was lunch), starting with soup, followed by spaghetti with meat sauce, and finished with either flan or mousse for dessert. In spite of hiking or walking every day, I wouldn't be surprised if I gain weight on this trip.

March 7, 2010

Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

March 7. Today's hike was up a ridge named for the “ recumbent fold” in the rock along its length. To the summit, at 1500+m (4950+'), it's 12.5 mi. round-trip from the national park guard station. Add to that the walk the length of town, at least a kilometer, and we have almost 15 miles and over 1000 m elevation gain, both the most yet, and also our high elevation point of the trip.

The day started quite unpromising. The famous Patagonian wind that everyone talks about (and the evidence of which you can see in every tree) finally arrived yesterday afternoon. By this morning, it was very steady and accompanied by rain. As I write this, it's howling still, even to shaking this rather substantial building I'm staying in. Add to that an early start – breakfast at 6:30, hiking start at 7:00, and still dark for both – and you had some mild grumbling.

The wind was at our backs to get us to the trailhead. As we looked ahead, to the south and east, the skies were clear. As we looked behind us, to the north and west, the clouds were low on the mountains and rain was falling in the upland valleys. Still, it was warm enough.

The trail runs up a canyon to a bench, through some mixed woods and meadows, onto a ridge. It then climbs through forest and onto the ridge at treeline. From there, you're exposed to whatever views and weather are there for you and your party. For us, there were dramatic views of the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre ranges, mostly engulfed in whipping clouds, and serious wind. Probably a steady 25 mph, with gusts of up to 10 mph more. As we climbed, the views expanded, the wind became a greater factor, and the terrain became almost entirely rocks.

There were some low plants and a few birds, but the most common, visible, animals were fossil ammonites. For stretch, there were quite a few of them, seen by just looking for a while.

We stopped most of the way up, had a snack, and separated the party, as some people didn't want the extra climb to the top. By the time we did start the final, 30 minute climb, only one person elected to go down. This is a good group.

The top was spectacular: fully 360° views, with the peaks to the south of Cerro Torre now in view, along with another huge glacier, footed by a glacial lake, and drained by a broad, braided river, the Rio Túnel. To the north of that, the Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy groups shrouded in clouds. To the north, the Valle Rio de las Vueltas and the peaks at its end. To the south, the huge Lago Viedma and peaks further south. A huge panorama of clouds, rock, trees, and lakes, all formed by glacial action.

All this time, of course, the wind was howling from the northwest. And, by the time we reached town, it was raining. At this point, we bade farewell to Martin, our excellent guide. Our path back to the hotel was straight upwind, into that rain, and at least as difficult as some of the trail sections of the day.

We finished the day at the restaurant Patagonicus, a pizza-focused menu, with some variety. We had a pretty good time, with beer and wine being shared around the table.

Tomorrow: Chile!

March 6, 2010

Back to El Chaltén

March 6. The morning dawned like it ended, with clear skies overhead and clouds covering Cerro Torre. For those who awoke before dawn and walked to a viewpoint, Cerro Torre wasn't hidden. There was one of us who told that story, but she didn't have her camera... Still, we believed her.

We left camp at the usual time, headed down the Rio Fitz Roy's interesting valley toward El Chaltén, where we'll spend the next two nights (showers! Internet!). From the camp, the trail rolls over a series of moraines, more than I could count, until we reach the last one, which is anchored near the current course of the river by a huge, stubborn block of rock. Beyond that, the trail steepens downhill, though not seriously, and enters a canyon, with cliffs and benches reminiscent of eastern Oregon. Throughout the hike, we were treated to wonderful views, as Cerro Torre continued to tease us, while the rest of its neighbors went in and out of view. Further along, Fitz Roy began to appear over the ridge to the north– cloudless, as is usual, I understand, compared to Cerro Torre. Just before we overtopped the last ridge before the canyon – our last chance – Cerro Torre gave us a view of its summit, though not the whole length.

We reached El Chalt é n and the Pudu Lodge at mid-day. The lodge is new and quite big, even architecturally interesting. It's built with very nice fixtures and good materials, but poor craftmanship. The best thing, though, was the clean clothing in our suitcases, the showers in the room, and the promise of a cold beer at the cerveseria down a few blocks.

John and I cruised the town for an hour or so, checking out the new construction, the restaurants, the Internet cafes, and the hosterias. We found the trailhead for tomorrow's hike, over the river by the National Park building. The building had a fine set of the usual national park exhibits, but including all of the climbing routes up the many peaks in the area, with their first ascents. One of the exhibits was about the huemul (sp?), the local, small, and endangered deer species.

We had dinner with Paola at La Tapera, a nice little restaurant on this side of town. Martin dropped in with his daughter for a beer. He smiled a lot more in that 30 minutes than he had in three days, I think.

There was a lot of talk about coming back down here for another trip amongst the group on the walk back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, we meet early for a hike up to a viewpoint above town for one last attempt at Cerro Torre (just the view, thank you).

Cerro Torre

March 5. The high clouds that rolled in yesterday over the ice field were engulfing the tops of Fitz Roy this morning. That left us with a warm morning and, of course, a suggestion of rain. Breakfast was the usual little toasts and toppings, coffee, cocoa, milk, and sugar powder with hot water, and mixed cereal. Following that, we bade farewell to our kitchen staff and the camp at Laguna Capri and headed north, around the ridge behind the lake. Our route took us up a bit and then around the ridge, where we headed south, by Lagunas Madre and Hija, which are in a slowly rising basin, ending in a ridge that rises up the peaks south of Fitz Roy. These lakes don't have outlets, but drain by filtration through the gravelly soil. They also support amphibians, at least, as Paola, our guide, found a small frog called “four eyes.” I also saw a couple of diving ducks in the other lake, so there must be something to eat.

Our route took us down into the Rio Fitz Roy valley, over rolling ridges (old moraines?), through pretty meadows, and forests of increasingly large deciduous beeches, called “linga,” or “tall deciduous beech.” These trees are everywhere here, constituting the only species of tree here (except for an occasional partner of the same genus, the “antarctic deciduous beech” or “nida.”) Some of them hug the ground, others make up the woody brush, and the big ones make up the forest. There are no other tree species here. They are never very tall, but they are clearly tough and can live to 250 years of age.

The biggest linga so far are around this camp, Campo Fitz Roy, near the last terminal moraine of the Grande Glacier, which flows down from the back side of Fitz Roy and around Cerro Torre. We dropped our stuff and immediately headed up onto the moraine, because cloudy though it was, the forecast is for more weather tomorrow. Today is our best chance for the views.

We followed the moraine – a very tall one and the one closest to the glacier, but not the only one – up to a view point high on the north side of the valley, near the present terminus of the glacier. Enclosed in the moraine is a large lake, into which the snout of the glacier projects. And above that, the glacier rises up through an ice fall, to the left over another cliff and on to the south, and to the right, carving the slopes of Cerro Torre, its neighbors, and Fitz Roy and its neighbors. The latter lobe of the glacier is carrying a huge quantity of material scraped off the slopes, so much so that it's hard to see the ice at all.

Sadly, while the lake, and the view down-valley of row after row of moraine and glacier-shaped walls, and the dramatic and multi-colored glacier – even the tiny climbers making their way across the complex glacier-scape – were excellent and interesting sights, we were unable to see Cerro Torre, as the clouds that were obscuring the top of Fitz Roy earlier in the morning were also covering the upper slopes of Cerro Torre – and all of its neighbors. Martin, our guide, had warned us that Cerro Torre, less than a kilometer from Fitz Roy, but that much further west, closer to the ice field, had poorer weather.

None of us complained, however, as the views were extraordinary. We all knew how lucky we'd been with the weather, so far. And, while cloudy, it was warm and dry. To ask for more? Too much.

With that, we returned to camp, worked out our tent assignments, and lounged. Except that Glen and I made a run over to the outlet of the glacier's lake to look at the Tylorean Traverse set up for climbers to cross the river for access to the glacier (which is not possible on the other side, the side we used to get to our view, the Maestri Mirador, because at the viewpoint, a huge slide ends reasonable traverses of the slope). Along the moraine, a fine Caracara presented himself for our enjoyment.

After a fine dinner of pumpkin soup, a stew of chicken, rice, and vegetables, and pudding for dessert, we called it a day. Still warm, still dry.

Cerro Fitz Roy

March 4. We were so enthused by the sunset last night, that we all resolved to see the sun rise on Fitz Roy, the gorgeous and dramatic peak looming over our camp. The morning dawned clear, with only a little high cloud to the south and east (perfect for the sun rise) and we shoot a couple of hundred photos.

After another good breakfast, we headed out on an easy, undulating trail, through a trough running parallel to the range to the edge of the slope. Our route from there took us up and over a ridge in front of the lake and glacier at the base of Fitz Roy. I was warm going, steep and dry, over very good trail, to an amazing view of Fitz Roy and its companions. Srunning.

\We had lunch at the lake at the base of the glacier, staring at the peak a good part of the time, and then we walked up a hump to the south, from which we could see another glacier, carving the southern neighbors of Fitz Roy and pouring into a deep cirque, with a big river running out.

If nothing else comes of this trip, it has been worth it.

We extended the trip to the north, once we returned to the level trough, in which our Laguna Capri sits, to a couple of viewpoints that show off the Piedras Blanca glacier that carves the northern slopes of the Fitz Roy massif. It's a big, broken glacier, spilling hundreds of feet down a cliff into a lake. The lake itself is enclosed by moraines hundreds of feet high. Originally, the glacier filled the valley and formed a huge terminal moraine. As the glacier receded, a lake filled the space behind the moraine. At some point, the gravelly dam failed and unleashed the lake and washed out a channel through the moraine.

One highlight of the afternoon was the arrival of the llamas with our dinner and a dozen or more beers. Another was a nice, cooling dip of the feet into the laguna. And the last was the changing of the weather. That high overcast that made the sunset work gradually increased through the day, so that the peaks have some clouds over them – Fitz Roty's summit was obscured a few minutes ago. No one seems too worried, and it's still quite warm, but we might miss out on views of Cerro Torre tomorrow. We'll see.

The group solidified today, our first real test. Everyone did well, no real laggarts, no real problems.

El Chaltén

March 3. Today we loaded up the trailer and boarded our bus for the trip out around Lago Argentino then north to the north shore of Lago Viendma, another giant glacial lake collecting melt from the eastern slopes of the Andes. Our destination: The trekking center of El Chaltén, situated at the feet of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres. Compared to the small town on Calafate (which has about 18,000 people), El Chaltén is a village, home to a few hundred people, including our guides. It only has a summer season, however, so many of its residents migrate out for work. It's a new town, founded in 1985 to support Argentina's claim to this area, which was under dispute with Chile, and has found its life as a trekking center. It's growing as fast as Calafate.

Along the way, we stopped at a roadhouse that, long ago, hosted Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid. As we approached and drove along Lago Viedma, we were treated to increasingly excellent views of our destination, helped by a day of perfect weather – warm, calm, and clear. (Everyone mentions repeatedly that this is very unusual. We saw Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre and their minions. We saw the Glacier Viedma flowing into the lake. Each view was closer and more exciting.

We also saw some of the classic Patagonian wildlife: several condor, including one that flew right over us into the sun; a number of guanáco, in small groups; a pair Magellanic woodpeckers, like our pileated with a full red head; and a trio of Rheas, the local version of an ostrich.

After meeting our new guide (Paola is staying with us), Martin, and stashing our suitcases in the outfitter's office, we hit the trail. We took our time (it was warm, even hot), eating lunch on the trail and stopping for increasingly stunning views of Fitz Roy (Cerro Torre is out of site for the next couple of days), and arriving in early afternoon at Laguna Capri, where we will camp for two nights. The campomento has a kitchen tent, a dining tent, a couple of guide tents – all of these are classic wall tents – and a number of mountaineering tents with plenty of room for double occupancy.

We were free to wander the lake and its environs for the afternoon. I walked up to the ridge to the south, opposite Fitz Roy, where I got some nice views over the lake. Dinner was served at 7:00, comprising pumpkin soup with little toasts to dip, a savory goulash and mashed potatoes, and a tasty pudding with cocoa for dessert. Since we're outside, it started getting dark right after dinner, so we all scattered to various points for some sunset photos and made plans for sunrise photos tomorrow morning.

March 2, 2010

Perito Moreno Glacier

March 2. Hosteria Hainen has a nice breakfast, with very robust coffee. We left at 8:00 in a bus, with a local tour guide, for the Perito Moreno glacier. The guide explained much of the lifestyle in the area, the various creatures we might see – the big ones – none of which we did see, except the Caracara, which is pretty ubiquitous. We drove to the end of a peninsula, surrounded by two legs of Lago Argentino, where the Perito Moreno glacier descends from the South Patagonia Ice Field, serving both arms of the lake.

Every couple of year, lately, the glacier strikes the end of the peninsula, cutting off the southern arm from the northern, and its outlet. Over time, the southern arm builds up water and eventually breaks through the ice dam to reunite the lakes. Today, the glacier has a remnant on the peninsula, with a channel about 30 meters wide between land and ice, and a good flow between, from south to north.

The weather was fine as we drove up, but there were clouds over the ice field. We spent a couple of hours walking the trails below the visitor center to view the many perspectives on the ice and watch for calving on the glacier's front. Small ice falls were common.

The park is very well developed and organized. The trails are amazing. All of the old soil and concrete trails are closed and are being replaced by catwalks and stairs with railings. This keeps the foliage (almost all deciduous, with the trees being kinds of beeches) and the soil safe. It also prevents fools from danger. A sign along the way informed us that between 1968 and 1988, over 30 people were killed by falling ice. As frequent as the ice falling was and as foolish as people can be, I don't doubt it.

By the time we were ready to leave, a storm had rolled down the glacier and treated us to a short, but fierce, rainstorm. While it cleared up soon enough, it was a timely reminder of how the weather can change here.

Upon returning to town, I walked out along the lake again, to confirm the black-fronted? Ibises I'd seen yesterday (photo pending) and the get another look at the flamingos feeding in the shallow water west of town. The wind, the famous Patagonian wind, turned me around after about 30 minutes, so I wandered in town for the rest of the afternoon.

After a nice dinner (soup, steak, and a fine Malbec), I called it a day. Tomorrow, we hit the road for El Chaltén, about three hours north, and then the trail, for real.

March 1, 2010


March 1. This morning we awoke early (was it still dark?) and boarded a bus for the airport to fly south to El Calafate, in Patagonia. The airport was pretty quiet that time of morning, so we were able to grab a bite and the amount of caffeine necessary to the day. The flight was delayed about an hour, so there was lots of sitting around time. Other than that, it was airport time – not much else to say.

The flight passed over the coast for part of the trip, over water when there was a bay and over land at the points, before plunging over land – the grand altiplano – which is pretty rugged, even badlandy. El Calfate is situated on a huge glacier lake, Lago Argentino, and shows signs of age, growth, and money, though it's still quite rustic. Our place, Hostel Hainen is nice, new, rough, and rustic itself. It will be a comfortable place for the next couple of days.

The weather is good. It was cooler and dryer than in Buenos Aires, though it has warmed up this afternoon. A nice breeze keeps it comfortable. We wandered down the hill to town and bought some lunch and some more for tomorrow.

The town is situated on hills above the lake, and stays away from the shores, mostly. There might be issues with water levels in the spring. Along the shore, especially to the west, they've built a street and boardwalk, some ten feet above the broad margin, right now above water. There are a lot of birds on the western lagoon, just out of town. I'm out of my depth for identifications, but the flamingos are easy.

We had dinner with Paula, the local host's representative, and got organized. Tomorrow is an excursion to the Perito Moreno glacier, which rolls off the South Patagonian Ice Field into a huge glacial lake, like Lago Argentino down the hill.

A Day in Buenos Aires

February 28. Our day in Buenos Aires started with a good breakfast in hotel, following which we boarded a medium-sized tour bus for a four hour tour of the town. It was a good mixture of history, culture, rich neighborhoods, and poor. There seemed to be more enthusiasm for La Boca, actually. At least half of the tour was spent there, including more time on the streets than anywhere else. At least two people told me that La Boca was sketchy, but the tour took us there, dropped us in the streets for 45 minutes, and suggested that we return, if we left by 6:00 PM. There was certainly a big tourist focus there, and some very interesting buildings and museums. I'll return (if before 6).

We had our usual chaotic, waiter-crushing lunch at the Libertad Cafe on Santa Fe at Libertad. After that, we went our several ways. Four of us went to MALBA (Museo Arte de Latinamericano Buenos Aires), a very fine modern art museum. It's organized by decades, with a few European greats and a log of Latin Americans (including Diego and Frida) near greats. There was a lot of powerful and intriguing pieces. I regret that I can't remember any names, now, for there were some real beauties.

After that, Mike and I walked to the Museo de Belles Artes, which is a pretty comprehensive fine arts museum, with representation from European paintings and sculpture from the fifteen through the twentieth centuries, by which century the representation broadens. Overall, it is a very good collection, not great, but if this was your museum, you could learn a lot about fine arts by studying its collection. The greats were represented by minor works, but there were some very good paintings, contemporaneous to the greats, from painters I'd never heard of.

By that time, the day was ending, so Mike and I walked back to the hotel, slowed somewhat by my making a wrong turn, which caused us to have to backtrack several blocks. Mike was gracious about it.

We had dinner up the street at Torre Paris, where several of us insisted on steak (which was very good, and inexpensive), before we hit the sack for a very early morning the next day.

A full day, warm and muggy.