Monday, November 24, 2008

Glaciers, Mountains, Waterfalls and Whales - Part 4 of 4: Whales

It was nice to get to the coast

Pics 'n stuff: (pics for this post, 43, including a random pic of me in the internet cafe while I make this very post!) (all my albums)

Videos: (No new additions)

We had heard plenty about the whales in Puerto Madryn, but something about being so close to such an enormous makes you feel like you never knew what a 'whale' was in the first place. It felt like we had been transported back in time or to another world. Because whales are things that everyone knows about and sees on TV, they become lumped into that category of those animals you hear about but never (or rarely, as a splash of water a mile away from some big ocean liner) see. Even other exotic animals like lions, elephants, and sharks can be seen in zoos and aquariums. Seeing the whales close-up though gave me that hard-to-describe feeling not completely different from seeing Iguazu falls at night – the sights and sounds are incredible, but there's that element of unknown that can't be revealed.

Leon and I got off the 18+ hour bus ride in Puerto Madryn a little achy, but not too tired, as the 160' reclining seats were quite comfortable to sleep in. Despite the loser in front of me that stole my headphones while I was sleeping (and gave them back when I asked for them in the morning), and the absolutely revolting bus food (you thought airline food was bad...), the bus ride was actually enjoyable.

We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do, which was: see the whales, dive with the seals, and chill with the penguins. We were able to do all of them more less (due to strong northerly winds, visibility was about 12 inches underwater, so we snorkeled instead of diving with the seals).

Seeing the Whales:

Southern Right Whale - so named because they were the 'right' whale to hunt because they were slow and floated when killed

We hopped on the early bus to Peninsula Valdez so that we could be one of the first boats out in the harbor. The whales come up to the bay to reproduce, as it is a protected environment from the open ocean. It was late in the season, so the calves were already huge and getting ready to leave with their moms. It didn't take long to find a mom-calf that were hanging out, so the captain of the boat killed the engine, and sure enough the whales came right up close. In the not-so-far distance it was easy to see huge whale flukes rise out of the water, as well as many whales doing that move where they rush straight up from underwater like they're trying to jump up out of the water, but are too fat so they only make it about half-way and come crashing down on their side. I guess the consensus is that it's some type of long-range communication.

Kinda looks like she's smiling, no?

The tour bus took us almost around the entire circumference of the peninsula, so we were able to see some seals, sea lions (I finally learned the difference!), and a few penguins. The peninsula itself was...not very exciting – it's considered a 'semi-desert', getting 300mm of rainfall a year.

The not so exciting land-fauna of the peninsula...sheep

Snorkeling with Seals:

Can't help but wonder what goes through these guys' heads... (note this pic was taken during the dolphin-watching. pics of us w/the seals will be up next week)

Despite the frustrating monopoly of dive-shops that banded together to keep prices way high, Leon and I gave in and paid the 450 pesos for the opportunity to snorkel with some seals. It was only an Israeli girl, Leon & me, and the guide, so we were looking forward to having plenty of seals to ourselves. Francisco, our guide, waited until we were already under way to mention that it was possible no seals would play with us, and 'ALSO GUYS (writing in caps because he always seemed to half speak/yell), IF THE MALES SHOW AGGRESSION I WILL TELL YOU TO GET OUT OF THE WATER' – nerves acting up a bit and a tad seasick, my expectations dropped and worries rose. However, my mood quickly changed when we pulled up and killed the engine, because we could see a dozen or so seals split off from the huge group on the beach and come head straight for us.

Seals are probably the most hilarious animal I've ever seen – they swim around with their huge adorable eyes looking right at you, then pop their head up and let out a surprisingly loud burp-gargle-scream-howl (don't really know how else to describe it) either right at you, back to the group on the beach, or just at nothing.

We hopped in the water and they were not reserved at all. They came right up in your face, nibbled on your hands or flippers in a similar way that dogs do (but seeing their 2+” canines was quite unsettling), and bumped up against you (one actually went underwater and held my knees together for a few seconds with its flippers which I found hilarious). They seemed to enjoy being tickled and scratched, but not held, for understandable reasons. Leon and I picked up a 27 exposure underwater camera and used all the shots during the swim – I really hope a few came out well. I will develop, scan and upload them later this week.

At one point a MASSIVE male seal came out to join us, and despite it being terrifying at first, it became clear it just wanted to play rather than tear us limb from limb (which it could have done very very easily).

Chilling with Penguins:

Human thinks 'what a weird creature'
Penguin thinks ' what a weird creature'

Penguins probably take a close 2nd to seals when it comes to hilarious animals. Punta Tombo, about 3 hours south of Puerto Madryn, is a large penguin breeding colony where half a million penguins come every year when it's warm (kind of like penguin spring break – but instead of getting drunk off of margaritas, they just eat tons of anchovies). Apparently the males come first and return to the same nest they made the previous year and make it all tidy and nice, then the females come a week later to either find the same male as before (if their baby penguins survived from the year before), or find a new male (if they didn't).

Nap-time in the sun for the happy couple

On the way to Punta Tombo, we stopped halfway to do a dolphin-watching tour. It was fun and we saw a good number of small white+black dolphins (kind of looked like mini killer whales), but it paled in comparison to the whale watching.

If you had asked me if I would support building a tourist facility in the penguin breeding grounds, and creating paths through it, I probably would have said no way, but I must admit they put a lot of effort into not intruding on the penguins. The breeding ground is absolutely massive (everywhere you look there are little holes in the ground, maybe a few square feet in size, that each house a couple penguins and their chicks. This place was unique in that while there were some fences keeping people confined to a large area, we were able to roam around freely with the penguins. However, we were warned to not to try to touch them, as their sharp hooked beak (that is strong enough to pierce fingernail) usually houses decaying fish flesh that is guaranteed to give you a horrible infection.

Look closely and you'll see a guanaco and penguin facing off at the high point

Our driver (it was a small group – just a middle aged couple, leon&me, and the driver) recently graduated from some sort of tourism school in Puerto Madryn and this was his first season running his own tours. He was young – maybe 25 – and said he worked 7 days a week, frequently from 6am to 2am. Lets just say it showed, as he was clearly very tired driving us back from Punta Tombo. When he mentioned something about the weather, I tried to continue the conversation for a while to keep him up.

Puerto Madryn:

In general, it's a cool little city. The beach is nice and things are calm. The two big things it's got going for it are tourism and a huge aluminum factory which together employ the city's 60k people. Leon and I took a couple bike rides – one to the EcoCentro, which had a lot of information about the flora and fauna of Peninsula Valdez, and one longer less pleasant (hot sun, gravel roads, strong winds against us, and an overwhelming makes-you-not-want-to-breath fish-stench from the nearby fishery) ride up north where we found a really nice bluff away from the fishery over the ocean that we had all to ourselves (not many people venture out of the city without guides, and this place was pretty remote). The restaurants, hostels, and people were all quite nice, and I would recommend it if you have some free time in the area. If only it didn't require such a long bus ride to get there.

There's something I like about tall bluffs in front of the ocean

Back in BA:

I've got some time to kill now. I leave tomorrow night to go to LA for a bit, and I will update on future plans (Up next: Peru!) when they become more clear. I hope everyone has been well.

Again – comments, questions and suggestions are encouraged!



Saturday, November 22, 2008

Glaciers, Mountains, Waterfalls and Whales - Part 3 of 4: Waterfalls

Me enjoying a nice shower

Ok so I've got a lot to catch up on here...

Photo Albums: (31 pics, all new) (all other albums, no new pics)

New: VIDEOS! Ok...Video, singular. Uploading to youtube takes hours because it has to upload the entire file (6mb/second thanks to my high-res camera), then shrink it, so don't expect a lot of these. I will try to get a few more up soon though. This is on Day 1 of Ian & My trek in TDP. If you have decent internet, I recommend clicking the 'watch in high quality' link to the bottom right of the video.

So on only a few hours of sleep we headed off to the airport to catch our flight to Iguazu! The flight was over quickly, as I snoozed right through it, and after a short shuttle ride we arrived at our awesome, awesome hostel:

A converted casino, our hostel was more like a resort

We had more time to play with than most people do in the area, so we relaxed that whole afternoon and headed for the falls that evening to parttake in the 'full-moon tour' of the falls, which sounded like an awesome way to see the falls. We hurridly cooked up some dinner and then caught the shuttle to the falls by 8pm. Unfortunately, when we got there we found out the tour was cancelled due to overcast skies. We grumpily made our way back, but later realized it was for the best, as it thunderstormed for the rest of the night.

The next day on the way to the falls we met up with an Australian girl Alex who had been traveling on her own, so she joined us for the rest of the day touring the falls. I must say I really liked the organization of the boardwalks and tours of the falls. Although they clearly rip off tourists (60 pesos for us, versus 20 for ARG citizens), the place is clean, well kept, and is easy to navigate.
Leon, me, Ian, and Alex. Now if only you could see the falls behind us...

We bought a boat tour that everyone said was a must-do (but again, a rip off at 150 pesos for about 20 minutes of fun). It took us in a inflateable speedboat right up to the falls - the mist absolutely drenched us and the sound was overwhelming. Of course we couldn't actually go into the falls themselves, or else we would have been demolished. It was a fun ride nonetheless, and we spent the rest of the day covering just about every inch of the Argentine side of the falls.

Hard to believe that this is only part of the whole falls area

That evening we again hurridly cooked up dinner and headed out for the full-moon tour. This time we met up with a former exxon-mobile contract negotiator (I withheld judgment...) named Jimmy who was actually a pretty cool guy. He was laid-back and also backpacking, but only for a couple weeks, as he had to get back to DC for work.

The falls were incredible to see at night - because we had the early-evening full-moon tour, we saw them just as the moon was rising, so the reflection of the moon across the river and falls was really spectacular. The pictures, of course, don't do it justice (it was night, after all), but being out at 'the devil's throat' with only moonlight was amazing.

Ian and I cautiously approaching Macuco falls

Over the next couple days we spent more time doing side excursions: 1) to a nearby Christian mission/sanctuary that housed students that couldn't afford the hostel which was a neat place, and also had a path down to the Iguazu river that finally allowed us to see the jungle and river away from other tourists, 2)to Macuco falls, which is down a long path through the jungle near the other falls - highlights include swimming under the falls and seeing wild monkeys on the way there, and 3)to Guiraoga bird sanctuary, where hundreds of amazing exotic birds and animals are housed when they are injured. Our guide, Fernando, was born in Argentina but had served in the US military. He lived off of payments from the US government from when he was injured in the service, and now spends his time riding his motorcycle, being with his family, and volunteering at Guiraoga. He mentioned that Puerto Madryn was beautiful and that he wanted to move there, so Leon and I got excited for our upcoming trip there.

The meeting area for the Christian Sanctuary. I like how they let the vegetation grow into it

Finally a nice area away from other tourists, by the river Iguazu

We caught a flight back on Saturday, and did not have much time to clean up the apartment for checkout on Sunday. This is not particularly blog-worthy, but we had a long frustrating argument with our landlord on the way out about the leg of our dining-room table that had fallen off a couple weeks beforehand. I don't blame them for thinking we had put excessive wear&tear on it (we are 3 guys just out of college, after all), but the fact was that we didn't do anything, it just fell off during dinner, and now they could rip us off for US$600 which is what they claimed the table was worth. We will see how this turns out in the days to come...

That evening, Leon and I caught our 18-hour bus ride to Puerto Madryn - to be continued in chapter 4! Will update it tomorrow (Sunday Nov 23). Comments questions and criticisms encouraged!

Hope you're ready for whales, seals, and penguins! lots of penguins...


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Glaciers, Mountains, Waterfalls and Whales - Part 2 of 4: Mountains

Sorry this post might be a bit messy - it's late though and I need to get a bit of sleep before my flight!

Beautiful vistas everywhere you look (weather permitting...)

Once again - links to pics with descriptions of any new additions: (8 new pictures at the end of Colonia) (no new since last post, tons of other great pictures relating to this post though)

So, on to part 2 - a description of the 4 night/5 day trek Ian and I took in Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile.

Last I left off I had taken the bus across the border and into Puerto Natales, Chile. The bus ride itself was fine - comfy seats, bathroom, ipod, etc. The scenery wasn't much to look at...just empty fields, but as we got closer we could tell mountains in the distance were approaching.

The border was a little annoying, we had bought some fruit to bring on the trek but it wasn't allowed into Chile, so Ian and I devoured some bananas and threw away the rest. As has been a theme in Argentina, everything is made too complicated and burdensome. Instead of having one place to deal with immigration, there were two separate buildings, way too many lines, and way too few staff. Anyways, it wasn't a big deal and an hour later we were in Puerto Natales.

I had no idea what to expect or how to get around - all we had was a card for the hostel that was recommended to us by our hostel in Calafate - so we proceeded to get ripped off by a taxi, but made it to the hostel without much trouble. The town itself was not very impressive, mostly run-down touristy shops, a couple supermarkets and restaurants, and a big statue of a giant sloth that lived there some thousands of years ago that they're very proud of.
Gotta love the hostel sense of humor

The hostel (Erratic Rock - the name for a rock picked up by a glacier and deposited far away in a foreign area), while not particularly impressive in furnishings, had an awesome vibe and was filled with friendly people. The owner, Bill from Oregon, was a late 30's early 40's guy who had been living in the hostel for the last TEN YEARS! The thought of that makes me cringe, but he seemed to be fine with it and is one of the most outgoing friendly and helpful guys I've met in a long time. He gave a short briefing (which he has done almost every day for the last ten years) at 3 PM about what to bring and how to go about doing various treks through the park which was critical. After stocking up on food, talking with some of the other trekkers, and getting some sleep, we hopped on the bus to Torres Del Paine and began our journey around noon on Monday.
Our route, the "W" starts at Refugio Pehoe, goes up to Glacier Grey, back down and over and up to Valle Frances, back down and over and up to Base Torres, then down to Hosteria Las Torres.

Day One
This sums up a fair amount of how the trek went

The group of other trekkers also beginning their hike maybe amounted to a dozen people. The high season doesn't really start until December, so we were glad to have more of the trail to ourselves. After a short catamaran ride through a huge glacial lake (which was actually really choppy thanks to strong winds - waves in a glacier lake were not something I was expecting), we got to our launching point at refugio Pehoe. Unfortunately, I realized I had forgotten my hat at the hostel, so I went inside to see if I could buy a hat off anyone. I found some employees eating lunch and asked them in broken spanish if any of them had a hat I could buy. It took a minute, but one sent a friend to go fetch one. My bargaining skills are clearly flawless, because when he asked me how much I wanted to pay for it, he accepted my first offer without hesitation (for C$14,000, about US$20 - I definitely overpaid for what I realized later was probably a hat from the lost&found). Donning my new hat, we started hiking up the western-most valley up to Glacier Grey, where we would spend night one.

We were greeted with brutally strong ice-cold winds that came from over the glacier, freezing rain, and hail. While this sounds pretty awful, because we were finally out in the park and starting our trek, we viewed it as part of the fun (our outlook would soon change). About five hours later we reached Refugio Grey, which had a paid camping site right next to it. We had heard the best place to camp was up past the refugio though, in a spot overlooking the glacier, so we decided to push on a bit, despite our soaked gear and sinking spirits. Well, all we eventually ran into was an enormous waterfall and a disassembled bridge needed to cross it, so we turned back around and sucked it up and set up camp next to the refugio. It turned out not to be such a bad thing to be near the refugio though, because we desperately needed to go warm up for a bit and maybe try to dry some equipment out.

Ian and I had been getting grumpy due to the weather and our ice-cold fingers (our gloves SUCKED) so we hadn't been in the most talkative mood. When we sat down in front of the wood-stove Ian broke the silence, asking me if my socks were dry. I responded simply 'nope', and after a few seconds passed, we were both hysterically laughing for a few minutes. No reason in particular, I guess you had to be there, but I think we both realized that this kind of pain and discomfort was one of the reasons why we came in the first place, and even though it sucked, we might as well laugh about it and press on. As we were getting ready to go back outside to run to our tent, a guy we had been sharing our crackers and dulce de leche with looked at me, looked outside, looked at me again, and just burst into laughter. I smiled and laughed with him a bit, as it was pretty ridiculous that we were being so stubborn as to insist on camping through the crap weather when we could shell out the US$30 for a bed in the refugio. Our pride won though, and we made it through the night in cold, wet sleeping bags. If it had been maybe 15% colder, I probably would have thrown in the towel rather than risk hypothermia, but I could tell we'd be ok - just uncomfortable (very uncomfortable) - so we decided to tough it out.Pasta with a can of tuna did wonders for our spirits

Day Two

Waking up in freezing weather in a wet sleeping bag is probably one of the worst feelings ever. You know that you are cold and miserable right then, but if you get out of your sleeping bag to pack up your camp, it's going to mean 15-20 minutes of even colder conditions. Well, around 8 AM we finally went for it and packed up as quickly as possible. Thankfully we had the drill down from setting up and taking down camp before at the hostel to practice, so we were efficient about it, and back on the trail not long after.
So happy to have made it through the night - morning by the glacial river

Nicer weather on the way back down the valley, glacier grey in the background

We backtracked and made our way east to Campamento Italiano, in the middle valley of the W. The weather was great and we warmed up very quickly once we started moving, so our spirits and bodies were rejuvinated. After we set up camp we got really cold again, so we boiled some water and made some cocoa which we shared with a German guy we met who was trekking on his own, Max. He reciprocated by giving us some dried fruit which was a nice treat, and after chatting with him for a bit we quickly fell asleep by 9PM, just as it was starting to get dark. As we were falling asleep we heard a really loud rumble - it sounded like fierce thunder, but it lasted for 10, 20, 30 seconds. We eventually realized it was an avalanche, and I must admit for a brief moment I thought "oh shit, what if it's a huge friggin avalanche and it comes and buries us right here in 5 seconds", but thinking about where we were located (nowhere even near a slope or snow), my worries dissapeared. The avalanches continued, and I soon learned to enjoy the sound of them as they put me to sleep.

Our camp at Italiano - note the hanging sleeping bags, trying to get them dry

At some point Ian or I crushed my sunglasses which I had foolishly left outside on the ground, which was a bummer. I blame Ian.

Day ThreeDay-hiking up and back to the lookout point in Valle Frances

Panorama from near the top of Valle Frances

Day three definitely had the best weather and views of the whole trip. We left our camp up and took our day packs up to the lookout point of the valley we had began to enter the day before, Valle Frances. At one point hiking up, I saw the towers (torres del paine) off to the east (they separated the valley we were in at the time from the next valley we were headed to), and it was a great sight. I made sure to get some pictures of them then, because we knew the weather might change and we could be unable to see them from the other side. Four hours and dozens of pictures later, we were back at the campsite dissasembling, preparing to head east about half-way to the next and last valley.

Ian on the right - on the way up Valle Frances

On the way out of Valle Frances

There's always time for a quick boulder break

On the way there we came upon a really beautiful beach by the big glacial lake and we decided to take a break there. It was there our friend Felicia (from the hostel) crossed paths with us (she was going the opposite direction, east to west) and let us knew Obama had won! Ian and I celebrated briefly by throwing a couple stones in the lake in his honor (don't really know why). After hanging out there for upwards of two hours we continued on to our 3rd campsite "Camping Los Cuernos". It was here I set the alarm on my clock for 2AM so I could try to spend a bit of time stargazing, but when I awoke it was freezing cold, and a quick look out the zipper of the tent showed completely overcast skies. I grumbled something tiredly to myself, half annoyed because I couldn't see any stars, and half because it was bad news for the weather the following day.

Ian and I taking a break by the glacial beach

Day Four
At last! Our last campsite is in the background under the tree cover

We were up early and hiking by 9AM, and sure enough the weather only held out until late morning, when some light rain started. Even though we knew the rain might dissapear quickly, we had to take a break to put on our rain gear, because our stuff would otherwise get wet. We made it up into the last valley, and after a delicious ramen lunch we pushed on to our last campsite, "Campamento Torres". The weather had improved, and after we set up camp we pushed on the extra hour to make it to the final lookout "Base Torres". It was a tough climb over steep rocks, and by the point we could see the top, a few snowflakes started to fall. I shouted back an overly dramatic "NOOOOOOOOO" back to Ian, and sure enough, by the time we got to the top the entire area was grey and the snow was pouring down.

The view was still actually really nice, but the torres were completely shrouded in snow and clouds. I wasn't really bummed, it was a great feeling just making it up there, and I also knew that maybe the next morning would be better (we had been suggested to get up before dawn and hike up again to catch the sunrise in front of the Torres). So, we made the slippery descent back to camp and cooked up some dinner in a little shelter.
Do you see the 3 big beautiful majestic Torres in the background? Neither did we. Oh well.

It was during dinner we met two interesting duo's. One was a American guy and a French guy, both early twenties, who were in light jogging sneakers. When I first saw them I could barely hold back from laughing, because we had been through such awful cold that the thought of trekking through mud slush and snow in those shoes was incomprehensible. Sure enough, they had just started their trek with massive packs full of food, but no rain gear, and no boots. They were really nice guys and fun to talk with, but there is no way they lasted more than a day or two before giving up. His plan, he said, was to sleep in dry socks and hike in wet ones, which is a great equation for destroying and mangling one's feet beyond recognition. They openly admitted that they had dont no prep for the trek and were just trying to 'wing it'. I wished them the best of luck.

The other couple was an Israeli guy and girl, also low 20's, that were better prepared, but seemed miserable. They had just started the W, going east to west. They were very nice and fun to talk with, and I felt bad for them when I saw them back at the lodge the next day on the bus back to Puerto Natales.

That night Ian, the sneaky bastard, talked up my sleeping bag a lot and convinced me to lend him my sleeping pad for the night, because he hadn't got one because he didn't think he'd need it. As soon as he had it, I realized my mistake - the sleeping bag did nothing to prevent the ice-cold ground from sucking the warmth out of you at all points of contact. I was surprised he hadn't said something earlier in the trek, because damn, that night sucked. I considered trying to steal it back from him during the night, but decided a)I guess it was fair that I had a turn without the sleeping pad and b)things would have gotten ugly, so I tried to tough it out. I had the alarm set for 4:30 so if the weather was better I could catch the sunrise over the Torres, but it felt like an absolute eternity before that alarm finally went off. I'm not sure if I slept more than a half hour due to constant shifting and attempts to warm myself up.

Day Five

To drop my morale even more, the weather was even worse at 4:30, so I tried to go back to sleep and eventually we got up around 6, both of us freezing our asses off. I guess his sleeping bag was indeed worse than mine, because in the morning we were both writhing around in our sleeping bags trying to warm up. I eventually said "fuck it lets do this" and we both got up as fast as possible and took down the tent. The snow in the campsite wasn't too deep because we had a thick tree canopy sheltering us, but by the time we got outside of it we saw just how much had come down. Despite being cold and sleepless, it was nice being out in the silent snow-covered mountains before anyone else had woken up, making fresh tracks for our return to the lodge.
Lots of snow (compare with the picture taken from the same location the day before, posted above)

On our way out, we made our way through many wooded portions where as the sun melted the snow on the canopy, it would give way and snow would come crashing down onto us. I chuckled to myself thinking that this was the mountain's attempt to keep us from leaving. When we exited the wooded area, the weather drastically improved, again almost as if the mountain was trying to sucker us back into turning around for one more attempt at seeing the Torres. We continued on through the awful steep muddy trails that were impossible not to slip on. At one point I heard Ian behind me let out a curse and I asked him if he was alright. He responded "Yeah, I'm just so fucking pissed". I looked away quickly before bursting into laughter. Again, I guess you had to be there... Soon after though I lost my balance and fell backwards into a massive mud pile - karma I guess.

After four or five hours we got to Hosteria Las Torres. After a MUCH needed hot shower and change of clothes (gross and hilarious factoid - during the whole five days, my long underwear top+bottom, long sleeve shirt, and fleece, had NEVER come off my body), we celebrated with a beef sandwich and hot cocoa with Bailey's.
So. Delicious.

We caught the bus back to Puerto Natales, stuffed ourselves at our favorite restaurant "Afrigonia" (worst stomach ache EVER afterwards), watched Cliffhanger in the hostel with some buddies, and treasured our sleep in our bunks which felt like heavenly clouds. We caught an early bus back to Calafate, and a flight later on the same day to Buenos Aires.

Since then we have been taking it easy mostly - Ian and I took a short trip to Colonia, Uruguay today which was pleasant, and in...5 hours we are leaving for the airport to head to Iguazu Falls where part 3 will take place - so I should get some sleep.

Hope you enjoyed, comments encouraged, see you guys later!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Glaciers, Mountains, Waterfalls and Whales - Part 1 of 4: Glaciers

Ian and I take a seat on Perito Moreno

First things first - since my South America album has been getting cluttered with too many pics, I will make separate albums for each excursion. You can reach any of them by navigating from any of them, by clicking on something like "Noah" in the upper left corner. Here are the direct links: (2 new pictures at the end) (New album, 131 pictures)

This and the next 3 posts will describe some excursions I am doing in the area. Last week Ian and I checked out a huge glacier "Perito Moreno", and went on a 5-day trek in Chilean Patagonia. On Wednesday, Ian Leon and I leave for Iguazu falls for 3 nights - then on Sunday or Monday Leon and I head to Puerto Madryn to scuba with seals, kayak with whales, and chill with some penguins (Ian is heading to Bariloche for that time)! I will post Part 2 (Torres Del Paine National Park) later tonight or tomorrow. Part 3 I will do this weekend, and Part 4 will be the following weekend.

Ahh the warmth back in Buenos Aires is very welcoming! Hard to believe just a few days ago Ian and I were huddled in our sleeping bags frantically trying warm ourselves up in the bitter cold.

Last I left off, we (Leon, Ian, Daniel, Caitlin, and I) were treating ourselves to a delicious 13 (maybe 14?) course tasting menu at a small restaurant in San Telmo, Buenos Aires. 4 Bottles of wine and dessert wine, about US$65 and 4.5 hours later, we were stuffed and ready to log some sleep hours before the next day, where we knew we would be staying up all night to catch our 5:45 AM flight to El Calafate, Argentina. I know all of you already know where El Calafate is on the world map because it's such an overwhelmingly famous place, but in case you have forgotten, it is here:

El Calafate, Argentina

We arrived in the mid morning and were immediatly caught off guard by how cold it was. That, and the murky wet weather was a bit intimidating. We made our way from the 1-airstrip airport to our hostel and quickly signed up for that morning's glacier tour. Unfortunately the bus was already full, but we were able to call our cab driver back and hire him for the day to shuttle us around (Leo, a Buenos Aires native, moved to Calafate 8 years ago to get away from the city. It made me curious to think about how and why he made the move. When he got here, there were 3,000 residents. Now there are about 25,000). When he told us that Torres Del Paine (where we were headed the next day) was colder than Calafate, we were not happy.

Disembarking the boat to the glacier

We caught the short boat-ride over to the glacier "Perito Moreno" (not what you may think translated as 'little brown dog' but instead named after the explorer Francisco Moreno. 'Perito' means 'Expert') and started the 'minitrek' after getting fitted with crampons. Walking up to the glacier it was hard not to marvel at it. It seemed alive, and you could actually hear how dynamic it was. I would say it sounded like a disorderly construction site: there would be a loud crack a big crash, a few minutes of silence, and then another crash. Seeing huge chunks fall off the end of the glacier and into the turquoise glacier water was amazing, and the sound had such a bold texture to it. A ripple was created each time through the water, and there were signs warning us not to get too close or else the wave could hit us (or worse, knock us over - instant hypothermia!). It's hard to convey just how massive this thing is

The short hike on the glacier was a lot of fun and very humbling thinking about just how massive this glacier is. When we were shown a map of the glacier and the enormous ice shelf behind it, it made the glacier look like the size of a thumb, where the ice shelf was the rest of a body - truly amazing.
My first time wearing crampons

Cool thing about this ice shelf is that it is one of the few places you can see trees by a glacier. Because of it's abundant water supply coming from offshore near antarctica, it can survive in such low altitudes. It also is one of the few glaciers in the world that is not receding, due to that same supply of wind+water.

We met a Canadian couple that was finishing up their RTW trip and it was fun getting their perspective on it. While I had been thinking my trip was a bit too hectic and fast-paced, theirs made mine look like a turtle's (they did something like 20 European countries in 2 months). Ian and I talked with them for a bit while we had lunch in a little lodge to the side of the glacier, but I got up and went outside on my own and had some one-on-one time with the glacier! Since everyone else was inside, it was a cool feeling being outside in the cold in front of the glacier on my own.

Soon enough we were boarding the boat to head back, and Leo was there waiting for us to take us to the boardwalk (a raised platform in front of the glacier that provided great views. It gave us a new perspective on the glacier, seeing it from above, and made it easier to comprehend the size of it. We could also see how the front of the glacier was approaching (at 3 meters every day!) the land in front of it. Once it makes contact, it acts as a dam and the water rises on one side of the glacier. After enough water pressure builds up, the glacier breaks and it is supposed to be an amazing event. Leo explained to me that the last two times it happened (2002 and 2004, I think), he had come every day for a week before it happened, but had missed it each time by a few hours. That sucks.

We made it back to the hostel in time for their BBQ, where we met some other travellers and booked our hostel and bus tickets for the following day to go to our launching point for Torres Del Paine National Park - Puerto Natales, Chile! We got up pretty early, had a quick bite to eat, and boarded the 5-hour bus.
Stretching my legs at a rest stop

Next up - The greatest hostel ever, Ian and my 5-day trek where we endured some serious brutality from the weather, and some funny anecdotes.

Comments encouraged, talk to you guys soon!