Tuesday the 25th of March 2003- Day 35.
Spent my second night in Puerto Madryn. After seeing Penguins yesterday and knowing I will be seeing more down south, decided not to stay an extra day and go to go to Punta Tombs where approx. 200,000 penguins are located. This is the second biggest colony outside Antartica. You can actually walk around them (as in the middle of) as they don’t mind humans. Anyway because I am not a penguin nut, I decided to miss them. Therefore last night after returning home from the tour, I booked a bus ticket to Rio Gallegos, which is down south. Another 18 hour bus journey, friends. The bus is to leave at 3.34pm and arrive at 7.10am tomorrow morning. Taking the journey with TAM and the cost is 61 P. Anyway last night, the town was dead as usual at 10.00pm, had a quick meal – Lomito solo sandwich, chips and beer for 10P. Nice place. Did nothing today except surf the net, eat and walk around town. Had lunch at Mittos (de Mayo/ Julio). Had the same as last night excluding the beer but including a big mug of black coffee and water for 13P.
The bus was meant to leave at 15.45 but was late and did not go until 16.45. It was a TAC bus, not great at all – cramped, smelly and I was put beside a mother and two small kids. I could feel a nightmare journey coming up. Thankfully she left at the next stop 20 minutes on. After that during 18 hours of bus time, and only 1 stop later we arrived in Rio Galleges. Nothing bus bleakness on the trip. No trees, no animals, no mountains. Pure flat land with yellow, blueish grass. In fairness I have heard some of the farms here are 50,000 – 60,000 hectares big. Therefore, you will not see houses etc. There were no cars on the highway, just buses or trucks. We got our dinner and breakfast on the bus because there was no where to stop.
The general character of the Argentine portion of Patagonia is for the most part a region of vast steppe-like plains, rising in a succession of abrupt terraces about 100 meters (330 feet) at a time, and covered with an enormous bed of shingle almost bare of vegetation. In the hollows of the plains are ponds or lakes of brackish and fresh water. Towards the Andes the shingle gives place to porphyry, granite, and basalt lavas, animal life becomes more abundant and vegetation more luxuriant, acquiring the characteristics of the flora of the western coast, and consisting principally of southern beech and conifers.
Lots of information on Patagonia can be found here.
As you can see from the map the town is on the coast with access to the Andes.
Wednesday the 26th of March 2003- Day 36.
Arrived in Rio Gallegos at 8.35am. I was tempted to hitch to Ushuaia because the only bus service goes through Chile, a 12-14 trip while trucks take a more direct southern route. Still beause we arrived an hour late, all the trucks had left and I decided to buy an airline ticket for Ushusia for Monday the 31st of March, and take a few days in El Calafate. I took the bus from the station (either number 1 or 12 will do) to get to the town centre. Very much an industrial town – petro, coal etc, and pretty ugly all round. I walked around a few hours and booked a one way ticket from here to Ushuaia for 95 P (tourist rate). Natives only pay about one third of that price. The tourist rate is official and there is no point in shopping around. Spent a few hours walking around and got breakfast and coffee. Went back to the station and booked the TAQSA bus from Rio to El Calafate for 30 P. This is a five hour trip.
The PARQUE NACIONAL LOS GLACIARES park is the second largest in Argentina, extending some 170 km along the Chilean frontier and covering some 660,000 hectares. Some 40% of the park is covered by giant ice fields, with 47 major glaciers of which 13 flow east descending into the park to feed the two big lakes, Lake Viedma in the north and Lago Argentino in the south. There are also about 190 smaller glaciers that are not connected to the ice fields.
Just east of the ice fields are areas of southern beech forest and further east still the Patagonia steppe with shrub vegetation. There are over a hundred species of birds inhabiting the forest and steppe.
Los Glaciares (Spanish for “the glaciers”) is a national park in the Santa Cruz Province, in the Argentinian part of Patagonia. It comprises an area of about 6000 km2. In 1981 it was accepted as World Heritage by the UNESCO.
The major part of the national park consists of three greater glaciers (Perito Moreno Glacier, Upsala Glacier and Viedma Glacier) and a number of smaller ones. These flow into two lakes, the Lago Argentino and the Lago Viedma, both of which are only partially within the national park.
Los Glaciares is a major attraction for international tourists. Starting point of tours is the village of El Calafate at the Lago Argentino. The Fitzroy Massif in the northern part of the park is frequented by mountaineers and trekking tourists.
Adjoining to Los Glaciares at the Chilean side of the border is the national park Torres del Paine.
Arrived at 7.00pm and the hostel buses were waiting at the bus station. The roads are been redone so the journey was bumpy. Stayed athe popular Abenjunge de Glaciers hostel for 18P per ight. Four person dorm. Two Dutch guys and a local. Booked the Moreno Glacier (Alternative Tour) with the hostel for 65P and went to bed early after getting a few sandwich rolls from the supermarket for the trip. The hostel tour was recommended because its bilingual (unusual) and takes in a 1.5 hour hike as well. It also tries to keep away from the tour bus honey pots.
The town itself is Northern Exposure personified. Has about 400 pernament residents but many more seem to work during the summer tourist season (winter is now beginning here),. The town was quiet and there were more dogs than people. The hostel staff were friendly and approachable. There were lockers in the room but no power outlets so I had to give my battery charger to reception. Went to bed early (around 11.00pm) as I was tired.
As you can see from the map, Calafate and Chatlen are within easy distance of each other (Calafate is 319km from Rio Gallegos).
Thursday the 27th of March 2003- Day 37.
Had the staff wake me at 7.30am. (have yet to buy an alarm clock) and the hostel bus duely collected us at 8.00am. 27 places on the bus… 27 people on the tour.. it is popular … so put your name down a day or two before. A bumpy 2 hour journey to the national park. Stopped a few times so that our guide could explain the geology, history, animals, birds of the area. The place was teeming with eagles. It is 80km to the park, 50km paved, the last 30km are within the Los Glaciares National Park. Upon leaving El Calafate we saw Redonda Bay. The guide said the grass is so yellow beacuse it is called Broom Sedge. This is what I have been seeing since Buenos Aires. The area is too dry and too windy. Therefore all you get is small thorny bushes, tough bunch grasses.Once you reach the National Park, the grass gets green and trees appear.You have to pay 20 P (tourist rate) extra to get into the park.
The climate is this region is cool temperate with no marked dry season. The mean average temperature is 7.5 oc averaging in winter at 0.6 oc and summer at 13.4oc. East of the Andes the sharp drop off in preciptation is due to the rain shadow produced by the mountains.
Some valleys here are still occupied by vast lakes with glaciers. The water is glacier melt with a milky turquoise colour. Tis is from the minute poewdered particles which are held in suspension
We stopped many times to look at Condors flying all around the place (dozens of thrm), and buzzards-eagles, kestrels. We also saw deer and foxes.
In the Park, declared by the UNESCO as Natural World Heritage Site iand constituted by the lakes Viedma, Argentino and their surroundings, an ice field from which descend the glaciers Moreno, Onelli, Agassiz and Uspala. With a front of 5 Km., the most astonishing is the glacier Perito Moreno that descends to the Argentino lake. In its advance it crosses the Canal de los Témpanos (Channel of the Floes) , obstructs the drainage of the Rico arm and it elevates the level of their waters up to 19 m on the normal height. Approximately every three years, the waters newly contained in the arm Rico can exercise the necessary pressure to break the wall of ice of more than 60 m of height and to spill out in the lake. The ice glacier increases 2m per day but 2m of the oldest frontage of the glacier breaks off and falls into the lake with a massive roar of thunder and splash. Here are some of the pictures I took.