We arrived in Buenos Aires early Saturday morning, February 3, after 2 flights and 10 hours of flight time. We allowed ourselves three days for roaming around Buenos Aires, checking out the craft beer explosion underway near our AirBnB loft apartment ($63/night) in the trendy Palermo Soho neighborhood (yum), visiting with our friend Gabi, learning about Argentine history at two museums (bicentennial and immigrant), and engaging in a seemingly endless campaign to maximize our wifi service and minimize our phone charges while we travel. All of the above were great fun, except for the phone project, for which I congratulate Bob for his tenacity and cheer for his eventual success. When he gets to the bottom of it, I hope he’ll write about it so we can all benefit from his suffering.
I’m glad we visited the two museums to provide a bit of historical context for the six weeks we’ll spend in Argentina. Like the United States, Argentina is often called a country of immigrants (sincere apologies to native Americans, north and south). Both countries sought to attract migrants at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s. We thought about how people decided where to flee to escape violence or extreme poverty at that time. Most immigrants to Argentina were Italians and Spaniards. My Norwegian great-grandparents and much of the rest of the Norwegian population fled crushing poverty, and Bob’s grandparents fled ethnic persecution in Ukraine and Belorus. That they and many more left home, and where they decided to go, has shaped many individual lives and the countries that received them. Lots of material for a separate blog, and something to think about as we continue our journeys.
We love the energy, creativity, and beauty of Buenos Aires. I am not much into cities lately but I found our neighborhood surprisingly pleasant, easy, and exciting. We enjoyed seeing so many people out and about, dressed in their summer clothes and hanging out at outdoor restaurants and microbreweries until all hours of the night. The restaurants don’t even open until 8pm, and the locals don’t tend to show up until about 10. This means a late start in the mornings…which if you have spent any time with me, you know that I am a congenital late sleeper and have suffered the taunts of others and tried the patience of my loved ones mightily over this predilection (one loved one in particular). It seems I fit right in here in Buenos Aires. Finally I have found my people!
This morning–if you can call it morning…it felt like night to me–we headed out for rugged adventure. Our cab came at 3:30am for our 4:55am flight to Patagonia. As we drove through city streets to the airport downtown, our cab driver regaled us with his views on the corruption of the previous Argentinian presidential administration, currency exchange manipulation, and other topics that my mind was not yet ready to handle. But we made our flight and snoozed a bit on the plane during the three-hour flight to El Calafate in Santa Cruz province.
The approach to the El Calafate airport is striking and about as unlike Buenos Aires as it could be. There is no sign of human habitation; the new airport is located 20 kilometers outside of the town. The landscape is vast, dry, and barren. With hours to kill before our 4pm bus south to Puerto Natales, we decided to visit the amazing Perito Moreno glacier a bit over an hour away. We didn’t have time to take a full tour, and found that every rental car in the city was already spoken for, so we hired a driver to take us to the glacier and back. (Cost: US$130, actually cheaper than renting a car for the day and driving ourselves.) Daniel met us at the airport and after quick stops at an ATM and a grocery store to pick up cheese, fruit, sausage, crackers, and water for a picnic lunch, we were on our way.
The 80km drive to Perito Moreno offers sweeping views of Lago Argentino (2nd largest lake in South America, after Lake Titicaca), the scrubby foothills and rocky snow-covered peaks of the Southern Andes cordillera, some “nearly wild” cows (per Daniel), and the Rio Mitre. As in Glacier and North Cascades National Parks in the U.S., the lakes are an amazing turquoise color due to minerals that glaciers have scraped from the neighboring mountains. Breathtaking!
Once we caught our first glimpse of Perito Moreno glacier, we understood why everyone said it was a must-see. I hear you can get up close to glaciers like this in Alaska but we’ve not been there yet, so we’ve never seen anything like Perito Moreno–its amazing blue color, jagged craginess, and sheer size (5km wide and over 70 meters [220 feet] high at one point. There is a nice network of boardwalks that allow you to view the “snout” of the glacier from various angles and elevations, and watch and listen for ice falling off the glacier (and the crowds oohing with approval). We could easily have spent more time there–you can take a boat ride to see the glacier from the water, looming high above you–but we felt reasonably happy with a bit over two hours. We read that you can also take a tour during which you can actually walk on a part of the glacier with crampons–hard to imagine since we didn’t see any level surfaces. It would be fabulous to have this experience but perhaps we can trample some other glacier in our future.
Interesting to note is that, unlike many glaciers, Perito Moreno is “in equilibrium.” In other words, it is neither shrinking nor growing. I’d like to learn more about that. Signs at the park advised us to visit glaciarium.com.
Even though our travel time seems abundant, we still always feel like we don’t have enough time to really see and know a place. I feel like I could stay months down here hiking and kayaking and taking in the feeling of being in one of the southernmost places in the world–wow! We will stay longer in various spots this year, but we may still feel like we just skimmed the surfaces.
We caught our 4pm bus to Puerto Natales (arriving at 9pm–yes, it’s a long day) and are now crossing on the open road in southern Patagonia with only an occasional passing car. The terrain reminds me of Nevada, or even parts of Wyoming and Montana. We’ll cross the border into Chile shortly, after we wolf down what’s left of our cheese, sausage, and fruit, since you can’t take these across the border. (Read: bellyache)
Every once in a while we have a misadventure, usually because I have lost something. Argh! So we have a little drama going right now because I can’t find the little box of medications that I keep in my purse. One of the meds is absolutely critical (thyroid hormone, since I had my thyroid removed in 2006). So, thanks to the free wifi in the El Calafate bus station, we have located a pharmacy in Puerto Natales, a short walk from our AirBnB, that stays open until 11pm. We’ll stop by tonight so, with any luck, I’ll persuade them to help me out so we can put an end to the drama (and my self-castigation) before we end the day.
It’s now the next morning, and I’ll spare you the suspense by sharing that we scored the meds, as well as some Chilean pesos, a pizza, a salad, two local beers and a glass of Chilean wine. Yay! This afternoon we start hiking “The W Circuit” at Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. For the first time since mid-December, we’ll break out the hiking poles and sleep outside again. The thyroid meds are squirreled away safely in my backpack, and now we have some in Bob’s backpack too (ha, ha). The wind is powerfully gusty but here we go, backpacks on backs.
We’re trying to post this blog from Puerto Natales, Chile before going off the grid into Torres del Paine National Park. We’re working from an iPad this year, and our wifi is sketchy at the moment, so we’re not able to add the pictures we had selected this time. Check them out instead on our website picture gallery. By the way, you can also find a few new slide shows from last year on the “scrapbook” page of our website.