On route to Antarctica across the Drake passage

Well we’ve been on our way for close to 20 hours now just skirting around a hurricane force storm in the Southern Ocean and riding along in 6 to 8 meter swells. Woohoo, never been on a rollercoaster before. From the cabin window can see alternatingly water then sky. Food here is good and, yes, I am still eating. There is actually sun out but the air temperature is well below 10 degrees not taking account any wind-chill.

We have done the lifeboat drill where we had a chance to sit inside the fully enclosed lifeboats that hold up to 51 people including supplies and they have a motor. Listened to our first lecture on Penguins, and I must admit I did catch up on some sleep then. Room was dark and warm, rocking of the ship, I was gone for a bit. Now we have just been called to attend a mandatory bio security briefing with our gear that we intend to take with us for any landings in the Zodiacs to get it vacuumed to prevent any foreign contamination.

Over and out. Internet is slow and expensive, had to drop the resolution of the photos and reduce numbers. Sorry.



From the end of the Earth further on

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go, I’m standing here beside the door
Cause I’m leaving on a boat, I know when I’ll be back again – Sorry about that, felt paraphrasing John Denver

Had the morning free for another random amble. Was heading for the Martial glacier north of Ushuaia in the hills when I got side tracked into following a marked track that headed east. Was wonderful just walking among the Lenga (Beech) forest, which was very reminiscent of walking in Tasmania, boggy tracks and all. Took a couple of shortcuts to get back to the road. No idea where I went really due to lack of a map.The dust on my boots is well and truly gone. Had to have a quick at the bottom station of the chairlift to the top, which unfortunately was not running. It would be about another 3 hour return trip to the glacier itself and I could see low cloud at the top. Along with the earlier rain I decided just to go up to the second station for a look and photos of course and head back to Ushuaia for the 3.30 departure time.

Ushuaia is interesting as it is surrounded by Mountains and itself is quite hilly. Buildings have therefore tended to go up instead of out and it is quite easy to walk around as it is quite compact. I have noticed there are actually cleaners that go around with little trolleys, broom and shovel to clean up the streets in the morning. Unfortunately the graffiti on the walls in certain areas is harder to deal with I guess. This surprised me seeing this here. Another surprise is the music I hear being played here. Along with some traditional Spanish influenced and Tango style music (we are in Argentina, land of the Tango), you here lots of Abba, Pink Floyd, Dylan etc.

Anyway, time to get a wriggle on, we will see how future posts go due to the uncertainty of internet access and quality.



Calafate to Ushuaia the end of the Earth, Fin de Mundo

A morning walk in Calafate to take photos of flamingos was not my aim when I came to Argentina, but they are here and so I was left with no choice. I walked down the hill from Hosteria La Esteppa, which by the way has beds more comfortable than my own at home, to the Lago Argentino where I saw a handful of the pink, long legged birds.

I crossed the road and suddenly found myself accompanied by the 2 dogs form the Hosteria. I love dogs, but while I am trying to take pictures of birds? Maybe not. One of the dogs was a black Newfoundland. Never really did see his eyes. He wasn’t as fond of water as his mate was who looked a bit like a Kelpie Border Collie sort of. They accompanied me for my entire 3 km walk and probably would have followed me into town. I did not do this because of them and the resident strays. The black fellow was good company and stuck by my side mostly, whereas the other one kept on looking for stuff weather on land or in water. The only benefit of that and the shallow water was I got a picture of some flying Flamingos.

Then it was time to catch a taxi and a plane to head south a few more degrees to Ushuaia where I was greeted by a typical summer’s day of some cloud and a balmy 15 degrees.



From Glaciers and El Chalten back to Calafate

Went on a trip to Viedma Glacier today. Actually onto the glacier. Been a long time since I felt ice under my feet and it felt good. Mind you it was a bit tamed down for the average tourist. But most of them had their adrenalin levels raised significantly. It involved having a set of basic crampons strapped to your boots and following the guide if front of you in a line, with two other guides on the sides making sure we did not stray into a crevasse or something. This was highly unlikely unless you fell over at a crucial spot as one lady did. Luckily for her she slid into her husband who stopped her just by his presence.

For some reason a guide stayed with her after that, unlike me who they sort of gave up on to a degree, and probably were hoping that I’d drop of a serac. I was making numerous photo stops, then catching up again. Towards the end I could pretty much wander around a bit without being herded back into line by the guides.

The rock near the glacier face is amazingly sculpted by the power of the ice. You could see the grooves gouges out by the tons of ice as it moved over the rock. A lot of it was an oxidized reddish color due to the iron in the volcanic rhyolite. The mountains I was looking at in the past few days are granite intrusions into this stone. A couple of mountains have so far retained the sedimentary layer over that, so you see a huge grey stripe of granite between the darker layers. In the rubble left by the glaciers’ moraines you get a jumbled mixture of these rock types.

Back in Chalten again I was a bit peckish and had a bowl of a local stew called Locra and a beer of course. More traditional venue and more traditional ingredients, lots of beans and vegies, beef and I think I recognized tripe. Then there was a piece of something round with a hole in the middle. Sort of like a bit of cored out carrot, except not vegetable in nature. Don’t think it was a part of the gastrointestinal tract and I couldn’t tell what part of the snout to tail philosophy it was.

After that hearty lunch I walked back up to the Mirrador (Lookout) El Torres to get a better view of Cerro Torre which had eluded me till now. It was well worth the 8km roundtrip.

On the way back to the hotel I roamed the back streets to get a better feel and pictures of El Chalten before my departure to Calafate.



The Fitz Roy Massif Amble – also known as the Laguna de Los Tres walk

Went for an amble in the countryside today. It started with being picked up to get a short ride up the Rio de Lass Vueltes to the Hosteria El Pilar, which looked a delightful place to stay away from the hustle and bustle of El Chalten. The walk started form there onwards and at first very gradually upwards following the Rio Blanco.

The stands of Lenga trees were continuously amazing and old. Hundreds of years. It is a Nothofagus species, members of which are also found in Southern Australia and New Zealand, along with fossil remnants in Antarctica. All evidence that all continents were once part of Gondwanaland. Older trees signs of the Magellan Woodpecker’s activities, No sign of the bird itself though with the male and his bright red head.

Our first break was opposite Laguna Piedra Blanco. The view of Fitz Roy was getting better all the time with the cloud lifting its veil off the mountains. The trek, it being a chore not to stop all the time for photos of the trees, valley and mountains. Eventually we crossed the Rio on a simple bridge after passing through a small tent city of trekkers and climbers. The bridge across the Rio was half disappointment and half relief as the fast flowing glacial water would have been freezing to wade through. On the other side were Niri, a smaller shrub like beech.

And then we started climbing up towards the old climber’s camp. There is a wonderful refuge hut that seems entirely build with mortice, tennon and peg joints construction, with the upright wall timber slabs almost sewn on with wire.

After that it only took an hour of climbing. First though the last of the forest, then they surrendered to scrub at about 1000 meters altitude just as the track really steepened up. There were a few other hikers climbing their way up to the lookout over Laguna de Las Tres and the picture postcard Monte Fitz Roy. You didn’t see any of these as you scramble your way up the track for the last five minutes. Then, suddenly, the track flattens out and winds its way to the right around the shoulder of the mountain. It all comes into view pretty much all at once. It leaves you breathless if you weren’t so already from the climb. More picture postcard stuff.

But wait, there is more. If you head a few hundred meters to the northwest down and then up a little knoll Lago Succia comes into view and the picture is complete. Catch your breath and eat your lunch while you drink in the view.

The scale of this location is deceptive without any point of reference. Lago Succio is 300 meters below Lago de Los Tres, and Fitz Roy towers almost 2300 meters over the lunch spot on the knoll.

It is time to return to the valley taking memories and pictures that do not do them justice. After an hour you are back at the rustic shelter and your knees thankyou that the worst of the descent is over, even though there is still about 9 kilometers to go. You come to a wonderful walkway 2 logs wide that has been constructed by the local Parks Service out of trees cut in half lengthwise. This crosses a Wetland area, which is another green and wet surprise this track produces for you. Just after that you arrive at Laguna Capri where you can sit on a pebble strewn beach.

From here it is a leisurely stroll of just one and half hours to the outskirts of El Chalten and the call of a cold, well deserved, Cerveza at the nearby Beer Garden

Next stop El Chalten, Climbers Mecca in Santa Cruz province Argentina

From Calafate to El Chalten. And I thought Calafate was frontier. El Chalten is currently a frontier boom town not driven by gold as such, but by its extraordinary position in the Los Glaciaros National Park and proximity to Cerro Torre and Fitzroy drawing climbers and trekkers and tourist in ever increasing numbers. One figure was expecting a 45% increase in Visitors in just one year.

I can see why, on a clear day the scenery is stunning. And the walks range from very short and easy to hard multiday Treks or Hikes or tramps. But you can see the mountains without exerting yourself. Just sit at one of the many roadside cafes and indulge in a Cerveza (or two) and watch life going by whilst taking an occasional glance at the mountains people come here for. Being a climbing mecca with some of the hardest and longest rock routes in the world on Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre some of the life is quite eclectic. As with most South American towns the street life includes dogs. Most are strays but the collared variety mixes in with them quite happily. No class distinction here. Same with the humans. As it should be.

Did I mention the mountains?

A small truck, bonnet replaced by a small tarp, just drove by dragging a bunch of concrete reinforcing rods along the road just hooked over the tow ball. Closely followed by a double decker Luxury Tourist coach.

Did I mention the moutains?



El Calafate – Argentina

El Calafate, a new town, a frontier town, a Tourist town. It is all of these

Officially founded only in 1927 the area was formerly a meeting place to exchange goods like wool for transit to other places. It is in the throes of reinventing itself to cater to the ever increasing hordes of tourists. There is a new airport, newly redeveloped streets, foreshore to Lago Argentino and a new Tourist Information center on top of the hill. There are many shops in the main street that provider everything from Cerveza to postcards. The Antares Honey beer is very nice and the Red dangerous.

The backstreets are a little less civilized with many new houses and the streets often not quite finished. Then there are the horses that pretty much roam at will feeding off the surrounding Steppe, but they are owned and look well kept. No idea how they are found when they are wanted. There is still a strong Gaucho culture in the country, which would have never been developed or wrenched away from the indigenous Tehuelche Indians without horses. But now Cars and Utes in various states of repair are the preferred modes of transport.

By the way, the numerous speed limit signs just seem to be taken as a rough advisory by many, or just plain ignored totally. Or even taken as a challenge maybe. I am sure one of the transfers I was on was doing about 160 in a 60 zone, me being able to see the speedo dial.

Back to the frontier town. Down the main street drives a Ute with a shopping trolley in the back. Said trolley was half full of Antares Red beer. But the trolley was not tied down, which was alright as the gentleman sitting on the edge of the Ute tray seemed to have it well under control, so all good. And no I did not take a picture.



The Perito Morena Glacier and Lake Argentino

It has a life of its own. It groans, bangs, pops and grinds its way through and down the Mountains. It even has calves. Or at least it calves bits of itself into the western branch of the Lago Argentino, the largest lake wholly within Argentina. More about it later as we started of with the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the largest feeding off the Patagonian icecap. The cap itself is the third largest reserve of the World’s freshwater. The terminal face of the glacier is about 5km wide as it bumps into the Magellan Peninsula in the lake. It moves forward and an amazing pace of about 2 meters a day so there are numerous calvings a day. When a 50 meter tall chunk of blue ice breaks off and falls into the Lago it is spectacular and loud. Due to the scale and distances involved by the time you hear it and see it is almost over often.

The lake itself is vast, over 1400 square kilometers in area and up to 500 meters deep. I don’t know how many Sydney Harbours that is, which seems to be a common Australian measurement of water bodies. Anyway it is fed by glacial runoff so has that amazing grey-green colour that you get due to the suspended glacial flour in it, superfine ground up rocks and mountains. So fine it does not settle out for a long time.

Being a lake it has all the usual water birds like ducks, swans, geese and flamingos. The last one was a surprise to me. I knew they had them way further north in Venezuela and Africa of course, but not at the southern end. A land full of surprises.



Chile to Argentina

A new month a new country. Leaving the now familiar surroundings of Las Torres after another hearty breakfast and the thrills of a grey fox outside my bedroom window plus horses cantering through the hotel front yard, we headed off towards Argentina and Calafate. 1 hour to the border, 3 hours to get through from Chile to Argentina, and another 3 1/2 to get to today’s goal.

The countryside once again is reminiscent of Australia, this time an undulating Saltbush country look alike replete with the occasional sheep and windmill, which are outnumbered by guanacos. And on the western horizon ever present the snowcapped Patagonian Mountains, the southern extreme of the mighty Andes.

Then with 50 kilometers to go the road dips away into the Rio Santa Cruz valley and the Fitzroy Massif appears on the northern horizon. Something else to look forward to.

There is a map J




Chilean Patagonia

And what a day it was. What a couple of days it was actually, or was it three? Or maybe more? You could certainly spend more time here. Even though the fires in 2009 and 2011 had an impact on the countryside, with numerous skeletal remains of less fire resistant beech trees bearing silent witness to those events, it has added an additional element to the views which already had many facets. There are still many unburnt areas especially higher on the mountains of the Las Torres area, where you are rewarded by tall, shady Lenga forests. These are Beech trees related to the Beech found in some parts of Southern Australia and New Zealand, and represented by fossils in Antarctica. All part of Gondwanaland eons ago.

Exploring from my base at the Las Torres Hotel both alone and on guided tours, I explored towards Lago Nordenskjöld and around Laguna Inge up towards the Ascencio Valley to about a third of the way towards the Towers of Paine. There was also a boat trip up Lago Grey to get a close up view of the grey glacier, all topped off by a 12 hour road, boat and amble up towards and into the French Valley. The weather was startlingly good with many a wonderful could formation to accompany the photos. Much better than a boring blue sky. There was also the famed wind to help the cool blowing of the Patagonian icecap, especially at Lago Grey. One new hat was the cost of that.

And Guanacos seem to be everywhere with the occasional Condor visible soaring on the thermals. No Pumas though.

Anyway, next stop Argentina and El Calafate.