Saturday, February 21

Patagonia 5

Farther south, Argentine tourists are rare. Prices rise substantially, and in general those that you meet are European or North American. The bus that I caught to go farther south along the Andes was an example of this, as although the bus was full, there were only two Argentines on it. This was a major change from where I'd been, as January being Argentine summer, the buses and hostels had been packed with tourists from within the country.

The stretch of road going from Perito Moreno to El Chalten, the next village down, is the most desolate of a very desolate route. During the 500 km. trip, there's only one sign of civilization, a collection of about 6 houses that's called Baja Caracoles. And as luck would have it, the bus broke down in this hamlet. I say that with only a little sarcasm, as it would have been much worse had it broken down anywhere outside that area. At least we had a cafe to sit in, where we could drink overpriced beer and soft drinks and play cards till the replacement bus arrived.

The next couple of stops were some of the most beautiful sites in the Andes. El Chalten is a newly established village, built mostly as a supply station for people hiking the nearby trails. I ended up doing the hikes there with five people that I met on the bus, which turned out to be quite an international group. With one person each from America, Israel, Scotland, Belgium, and Germany, there was quite a variety.

The hike itself was spectacular, with mountains towering over lakes and valleys, and amazing views that went on for many miles. Often it seemed that the summit of a mountain was only a few kilometers away, when in fact it would have been several days hiking to get there.

A few of us stuck together afterwards and went farther down the country to El Calefate, which is mostly known for the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the last in the world which is still growing. The entire glacier is in water, forming a huge rectangular block of which pieces fall off every couple of minutes. The sound of the cracking cutting through the air makes it hard to believe that you're standing half a kilometer away, and the waves produced by the falling blocks of ice hitting the water ripple for minutes afterwards.

After stopping for a few days in the industrial city of Rio Gallegos, which is in many ways capital of the Pategonia, I continued to the southern-most province, the island of Tierra del Fuego.

Rio Grande, the largest city on the island, is quite wealthy due to oil in the region, but in many ways one of the harshest environments I've seen. The land is so flat and the wind so strong and frequent that there are no trees and very few birds. It's not uncommon to have winds in excess of 150 km an hour, and often times emergency warnings are issued to stay home to avoid flying objects. While there, I stayed with Cristian and Clara, who gave me tours of the region and explained a lot of the history.


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