A special thanks to my brother Jonathan and my buddy Rafal who came down for parts of December and January to spend some time with me and check out some very beautiful areas in Argentina. Thanks, fellas!
The Best Patagonia Photos Ever!
So here is a little summary of the things that went down in Patagonia. Some good stories here, folks...Good story about Perito Moreno Glacier, El Chaltén, Torres del Paine, and some of the jokers that we met along the way.
So here we go...sit back, relax, and strap on your seat belt because you have never been on a ride like this before...
Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world. This gigantic body of ice is over 30km long, 10km wide, 15 stories tall above the water line and is over 100 meters deep below the water line. There is so much force pushing this glacier that it advances at the rate of about 2 meters per day. Quite a few ice cubes. The lake's natural minerals give it a very cloudy greenish and grayish color with just a little bit of blue mixed in. The glacier is situated between two mountains, all of the accumulated snow that is compressed by the weight of itself year-round pushes it down the mountain and creates pressure on the glacier. This creates a glacier that constantly calves.
We booked our full day excursion through our hostel and began our day at around 8am with a drive along Route 40 towards Glacier National Park. Driving through portions of Patagonia is a lot like driving through parts of Nebraska...there are a coupla animals grazing and there is just a lot of wide open spaces with not a whole lot of stuff out there. Except there really are not too many places in Nebraska where you can drive an hour to see a glacier.
Our first stop was at a lookout point towards the south face of the glacier. We were still pretty far from it so we took some goofy perspective pictures that made it look like we were carrying the glacier on our back. I initially thought I had overdressed when i brought my long sleeve shirts and two jackets because I was sweating a ton on the bus. Thank goodness that I didn't under dress because we were greeted by the famous strong Patagonian wind that blew all the body heat from us as we stepped out of the bus. Welcome to Patagonia, where the wind always blows. After snapping a few fotos we hopped back on the bus and then went to the trail head and began our hike along the lake shore towards the glacier's north face. The place we started was kinda neat because the more you walked along the shoreline the glacier would appear and get larger and larger. There were two large icebergs that were floating in the lake there were pretty darn large and must have been quite large when they broke off. A little teaser before we saw where they came from. A little piece of cake before we got to have the entire cake. Hiked for about another 10 minutes and came upon the glacier in its enormity. Yaowza! The right side of the glacier appeared first while walking along the shore line. The more you walked the larger and greater this natural marvel became. Snap, snap, goes the camera. More pictures. We took some silly pictures and some pictures that are gonna go up on the wall back at home. Our hike was great because we had four or five different places to view the glacier and each was equally impressive. Since my little digital camera doesn't have the advance wide angle lens, I tried to capture the entire size of the glacier by taking a series of pictures and will either use a little Photoshop and stitch them together or just print them out and place them side by side in a foto frame to recreate the glacier.
Creak! Crack! Snap! Groan! Boom! Woosh! These are the only sounds that interrupted the quietness of Glacier National Park. Watching these giant bodies of ice calve was an event! And watching the people watching the glacier was an event, too. The tourists (myself included) all suffered from a mild case of Pavlovian Conditioning. Everybody was there to get the perfect shot of the glacier calving and would salivate at any sound coming from the glacier. Determining where the sounds came from was difficult because the massive glacier and the rock walls on the tourist side created a natural amphitheater where sounds bounced off everything. The incredible whiteness of the glacier also made it tough to figure out where exactly these ice portions where falling from. Like everything in South America, it was an exercise in patience. As my ol' Boy Scout leader once said "James, patience is a virtue." And getting a good picture just took a little patience.
It was getting near lunch time when Rafal and I sat down on one of the benches on the glacier platform and enjoyed some sandwiches along with the the view. The quite mutter of the tourists and the glacier calving was great. What was not was that little kid who kept begging for his mom's attention. I can remember kinda being like that kid when our fam visited the Grand Caynon. You are old enough to remember the event but you really dont appreciate it like you would if you were older. Anywho, the kid wasn't that bothersome.
After lunch we had some really good luck and saw a portion of the glacier about the size of a medium house slowly groan, creak, and slide into the water with a gigantic splash. All the tourists on the platforms clapped after taking their pictures and hung around chit chatting about whatnot and whatever.
Next time you are passing through Patagonia, stop by and pay the glacier a visit. As they say in Spanish "¡Vale la pena!" or "It's worth it." Seguramente, el glacier Perito Moreno vale la pena...
We returned from the glacer at about 6 or 7pm and prepared our stuff for the bus ride to El Chaltén. El Chaltén is famous for its massive granite towers that stand above all the other mountains like tall gringos in South America. The day we arrived was perfect conditions to view Fitz Roy and Cerro de Torres from Route 40. We stopped a coupla kilometers from El Chaltén to take some fotos but the only problem was that I had my camera in my large backpack and that was checked in and somewhere under the bus. Dratz...however, Rafal had his camera and got some excellent fotos. Those fotos are keepers.
We checked into our hostel and took a little nap before taking a quick two hour hike to Lago Capri. Lago Capri is a base camp for folks who wanna get a little closer to Fitz Roy than the average tourist. What really made the experience great was the evening sunshine hitting Fitz Roy and the reflection off a perfectly calm Lago Capri. The mirror image was peaceful and the time to sit and enjoy the view was refreshing.
One thing that about Patagonia in many parts is the absence of water pollution. The delicious water in Chaltén was perfectly potable and you could drink right out of any stream or lake and not worry too much about getting sick. The water must be good because its been over two weeks and Im not sick, yet.
We snapped a coupla fotos and headed back to the hostel before the 1045pm sunset. Made a little pasta dinner before we retired to the dorm. Next day was a big day. Slept pretty well that day but was awoken by a German alarm clock. Actually, it was a German guy who doubled as an alarm clock because he was taking fotos of the sunrise at 530ish in the morning.
Its quite possible his camera had sounds for just about everything. A sound for turing it on, prefocus, snapping the foto, erasing the foto, turning off the camera...Rafal commented there should have been a sound that would complement the guy for snapping a foto. "Gee, Franz, thats a great foto...why not take a few more and wake up the whole hostel." I gotta get me one of dem German alarm clocks, but Im not too sure that he could fit in my backpack and make it through customs. Dratz...
Since Franz woke us up we decided to get ready for the big hike a little bit earlier and get some coffee and breakfast to add a little gas to the tank. I was feelin good after a breakfast of granola bars and coffee. Our group was pretty tiny. Just six folks and a guide. We hiked a good three hours and and downhill until we came to a base camp. We rested for a little bit and ate a few cookies, tea, and coffee. The base camp is where we were fitted for our harness and picked up a pair of crampons. We hiked another 1.5 hours to get to the glacier. The hike around Lago Torres was nice and the river crossing via zip line was a little treat we all enjoyed. Horizontal zip lines are pretty fun until you lose all your momentum and hafta pull your self the rest of the way. My first zip line crossing was great. Hike a little bit more after the zip line and then hit ice. We strapped on the crampons after getting on the glacier and had a quick lesson before continuing. Walking with crampons is basically walking flatfooted with just a little bend in your step. The type that we used strapped onto the bottom of your boot and kinda got to be uncomfortable after wearing them for about two hours.
Glaciers are made from snow but the snow is compacted into a very hard ice and can be as rough as asphalt if you fall down. Gloves were a must to prevent any hand scrapings. Glacier Torres is a maze of icy hills and valleys with really deep pools of crystal clear water that slowly faded from clear to a deep baby blue the more profound the hole was. An the best part was that you could just dip your bottle into the water and you had fresh water to drink. Walking for a little while longer brought us to an area with a 60 foot wall of vertical ice. Our guides disappeared for a little bit and reappeared up top where they prepared an ice anchor. Looks like were were gonna do some ice climbing, folks. Ice climbing turned out to be pretty fun. Our group received some quick instructions. One instruction was to use your legs. Your legs should carry about 85 or 90 percent of your body weight. Your arms are there to advance position and for equilibrium, but not to hold your body weight. The other instructions were a set of four steps. Steps one and two are to drive each of the ice pics up and into the ice. First, one hand and then the other. Steps three and four are to position your legs by kicking the crampon directly into the ice so your boot is perpendicular with the ice. Wash, rinse and repeat as you climb up the glacier. Quite a bit of fun and quite a bit of exercise...It was tough and im in pretty good shape, for the shape that Im in, i guess.
That was loads of fun. We returned to base camp to drop our gear off and rest a bit. Then it was back to El Chaltén. We arrived 12 hours after we left and it was time for a beer or two. We ate in the hostel, had one drink, stretched out and went to bed.
Slept right through the German alarm clock the next day. The next day was more rest and recovery than anything. The sore muscles needed to relax a little bit. Now we were sore but not as sore as this Dutch girl that we met, Olga. Remember Norm from Cheers back in the day? Norm was the guy that never really seemed to move and drank lots off beer. Well, the only difference between Norm and Olga was that she wasn't drinking beer but was eating something every time we saw her. The hike she had done the day before left her with sore and tight muscles and she didn't wanna move all day. So she didn't. When we left for a hike in the morning to move our muscles a bit she was there eating some eggs and toast. We returned about two hours later and she hadn't moved and was now eating some lemon meringue pie. About an hour after that she was eating a different piece of pie with her friend. We talked and joked around with her since we had met the first day we were there and she told us about here stationary plan. Well, she was true to her word. But what was kinda ironic about the situation was that she was eating all this expensive hostel food and had a South American on a Shoestring book next too her. Either she had some incredibly long shoestrings or had nothing else to do that day except eat. Ever since meeting her, Rafal and I get a little laugh when he added the Homer Simpson eating sound effect. The sound effect goes something like, "Chomp, Schomp, mmmmgulp.....more! more! more!"
There were a coupla more stories about some jokers we met in the kitchen while cooking but I think not mentioning this kid will prevent us from being just a little bit dumber. He was that out there. That's all I got for El Chaltén.
Torres del Paine was an exquisite hike into the Chilean forest. Getting there was the only Paine...Rafal and I were seated right behind a couple that was prolly 20 or so that were getting all snuggly wuggly. We had a great view, especially when they put their seat back and got all lovey dovey for three or four hours. Rafal spelled out the word B-A-R-F!! on the back of the seat and I agreed with that. bla...
We passed through customs on the way to Chile without any problems and arrived in Puerto Natales. The sharks were waitin for us and encouraging us to use their hostel by the handful. Rafal and I looked at one that seemed alright. We walked to the place to find that we would be the only ones in the hostel, this kinda struck us as weird because this was high season and nothing is empty in high season. We got a weird vibe from the place and then moved on to a place called Hostel Paulette. This was a decent place that had travelers in it so we rested their and planned our next day. It also had a great breakfast that was more than toast and jam.
The next day began with a two hour bus ride to Torres del Paine National Park and then with a shuttle ride to the trail head. During the shuttle ride Rafal and I met pretty some stoners who had started smoking in high school and haven't passed up an opportunity to smoke. And these folks were pushing mid-forties! Pretty sure these three folks never listed to Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No!" campaign against the drugs. Whoa...these folks need to be videotaped and replayed in every D.A.R.E seminar possible.
After spending the quick three mile ride with Jeff Spicoli & Co, I was surprised he didnt light up and smoke didn't come out of the van doors when we disembarked. Aloha, Jeff, wherever you are.
The hike to Torres del Paine was good exercise. The first hour was nearly all uphill and the next two were up and down but not too bad. We were about 30 minutes from the top when the trail turned from dirt to rocks to granite boulders. The trail to the top was marked with red dots for the hikers to follow so they wouldnt get lost. From the bottom of the boulder area we could see the tips of the three towers and slowly but surely we made our way to the top and the towers grew and grew. We took a break once we reached the top, had some lunch, and put on some layers. The view was well worth the three hours of hiking. The three gigantic granite pillars were reaching for the sky with snow glaciers sitting at their bases and small waterfalls feeding a bowl shaped canyon full of white and tan boulders and a greenish and grayish lake that feed the river where we pulled our water from.
Rafal and I had quite a bit of luck since we saw the Torres del Paine in their full beauty without any clouds to block the view. The only bad part was that we couldnt spend too much time there because the bus back to the hostel was leaving in four hours. So we spent just a little time there and snapped a few fotos before heading back to civilazation. One of the really cool things about the Torres del Paine National Park as well as Glacier National Park is that you can do camping and trekking anywhere from one day to five to a nine day circuit around the Torres del Paine. You can tell the people who have been on the trail for a while...just use your nose. Those guys stink but are getting to do something that Rafal and I wanna do. I really wanna head back to Fitz Roy and Torres del Paine and experience the some really good treking.
We made our way back to civilization and got to the shuttle bus stop about 30 minutes before it arrived and made our way back to Puerto Natales. And that is where our luck ran out, at around 10pm. We got back to the hostel and got cleaned up and then went out to get some food. The only problem was EVERYTHING was closing early. Rafal and I look at each other and do a collective, "huh!?" It was a Saturday night, we were exhausted from hiking and every restaurant we went to told us that they had to close up shop. Elections were tomorrow and any establishment that serves alcohol had to close up shop and go home. After bemoaning a little bit we found a gas station and had hot doggs. B-A-R-F!! You can read about the rest of our adventure in my Planes, Trains, and Automobile entry.
After getting to Ushuaia we had a little bad luck but a little good luck. The bad luck was the hostel had goofed on our reservation. Instead of booking the days we desired for January they had booked them for February for a James Teters. At least they had the days right. Maybe we were just a month early. But the nice thing is that the hostel called other hostels and found us a place to stay for the same price and same quality.
Ushuaia is a nice little town at the bottom of the world. Rafal and I kinda relaxed after the hectic day of traveling and ate lunch with an English/Spanish photographer that we had met on the flight from Puerto Areanas to Ushuaia.
The next day we booked a little trip on a sail boat to the Beagle Channel and saw sea lions and other marine wild life and learned about Ushuaia. After that we took a tour of the famous prison. What struck me as odd was that the guards lived, ate, and supervised all the inmates. Both of them were in prison, except they just wore different uniforms. That had to be a pretty rough life when you are sentenced to the end of the world.
We saw other portions of Ushuaia, including Tierra del Fuego National Park. We initially thought it was gonna be rainy but it turned out to be really nice weather and just a little bit muddy.
I am noticing my descriptions are getting shorter and shorter the longer and longer I am typing. When I get some more energy Ill write in some more details.
laters - - - jp