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Argentina/Antarctica 2013 - Relaxing

sunny 62 °F

Enjoying my last day in El Calafate - went to the Glaciarium (glacier museum). It covers the icefields in Patagonia, including Perito Moreno which I discussed in my last post. The views from outside the museum were beautiful. The water really is that color!

Partial shot of the Glaciarium - they like their corrugated steel here
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Views from the Glaciarium
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Yesterday for my birthday, I enjoyed a hot stone massage followed by lots of good food. Thinking of making this an annual tradition :)

The day before, I checked out Laguna Nimez Reserve, a natural bird sanctuary that is on the edge of the lake in town. Really nice beach for the locals (and tourists) - very relaxing. Also found my first Argentinian agate!

Horses enjoying the wild grasses in the reserve
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One lone flamingo
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Beach with sand dunes
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Locals with their dogs - reminds me of my little Emma back at home
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My Argentinian agate!
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On the way back, I took a wrong turn and got a nice self-tour of the town garbage dump - sorry no pictures!

I board my last long-range bus tonight at 3 AM (I guess that's more like tomorrow morning?), heading for Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America. Won't get there until late tomorrow night. Hopefully I will have as much luck sleeping on the bus as I did last time. I will probably stay up until I leave for the bus station, so hopefully that in itself will induce sleep on the bus.

Ciao until next post!

Posted by BETHAU 14:55 Archived in Argentina Tagged el calafate Comments (0)

Argentina/Antarctica 2013 - Further South

sunny 71 °F

The bus ride to El Calafate was very scenic and the seats comfortable. I managed to sleep quite a bit, which was an unexpected surprise. The only uneasy surprise was the amount of police stops conducted within Argentina. I recall at least six police checkpoints and they boarded the bus on several of those to check Id's; a couple of people were also questioned. They were polite, it was just something I didn't expect to encounter.

From what I understand for my next bus trip to Ushuaia, I will pass into Chile then back into Argentina. I heard a story that you are given a receipt of some sort at the first border crossing that you must present at the the second crossing. In this story I heard, one woman lost her receipt while in route and was delayed in Chile for five days to get everything straightened out. Good thing I never toss anything!

Anyway, back to the trip scenery....I've provided several shots from my bus window - pretty much in order of my trip:

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My second town, El Calafate, is beautiful - great sunsets from my hostel on a small hill above town. Here are some lovely shots from and within the hostel:

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I've already had an eventful couple of days here in El Calafate. The big outing that everyone comes for was to Perito Moreno - the glacier I mentioned in my last post. Just stunning and saw lots of calving ice - even managed to get some videos, but won't be able to upload those until I'm home. In the meantime, I've shared some of the photos below:

This is a shot from the very top platform
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From the next platform down closer to the glacier
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Couldn't resist the self-portrait
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The piece of ice floating in the water is what I filmed coming down
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Is it just me or do they look like hands?
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Had to get a close-up of some of the colors
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I missed the big one of the day! Do you see the piece still barely hanging on?
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After my trip to the glacier, I was inspired to lookup some info about it. In terms of size, it's 3 miles wide, 558 feet tall (240 feet of that is exposed above the water), and has a length of 19 miles. It is a part of the Southern Patagonian icefield, which in its entirety has the world's 3rd largest reserve of fresh water, behind Antarctica and Greenland. Pretty impressive, at least to me.

Yesterday, I went on a lovely horseback ride in an estancia (Argentinian ranch) and the weather was perfect. We were surprised with another long range view of the Perito Moreno glacier. We had a parrilla (Argentinian barbeque) lunch and some Argentinian malbec (red wine). Here are some pics from the day:

Great scenic shot with Perito Moreno in the background
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Me, my horse, and Perito Moreno
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Other views along the way
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I loved these chaps!
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Other horses on the estancia that followed us for a bit
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Saying ciao (goodbye) to Imposter (my horse's name)
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So far I've managed to luck out on all of my excursions to have at least one English-speaking participant. With my glacier outing, I ran into another traveller from Australia I had bumped into in my last town Bariloche (this is not an uncommon experience down here as everyone takes similar routes). This traveller from Australia has Vietnamese heritage and is named Angus (which makes me think of Scotland). I wonder how many odd looks he gets when he introduces himself? I'm pretty sure I did as I picture a big burley guy with red hair and a kilt.

I've met about a dozen travellers from Australia at this point and they have all seemed rather adventurous and very friendly. Yesterday, I had two very sweet sisters from Australia on my horseback riding trip. Travelling like this (backpacking), is very common in their country. I didn't necessarily have Australia on my bucket list, but based on everyone I've met from there so far, I think I've now been persuaded otherwise.

The past few nights I've been rooming with a couple from Ireland at the hostel here. I love listening to their accents when they talk.

I have a few more days here and am looking forward to some relaxation time. I realized yesterday that I am only a week away from my trip to Antarctica! And now today, one more day down!

Posted by BETHAU 07:37 Archived in Argentina Comments (6)

Argentina/Antarctica 2013 - Venturing Out

sunny 73 °F

Travelling in Argentina has been a humbling experience. It stretches you outside of your typical comfort zone. There's nothing like dropping in somewhere you don't know with a language you also don't understand. Every day I'm on my toes, which honestly was part of the lure of travelling for me.

I've met so many people from all parts of the world on this trip and it's really interesting to hear about their travels, how long they're travelling, and where they're from. Surprisingly, I have one of the shortest trips of anyone I've met so far. Some are even travelling for six months, a year, or even longer! One new friend from Canada has been biking his way from Alaska all the way down through the Americas and is very close to his final destination! There are people out in the world today who still have a real adventurer's spirit. As far as nationalities, I've met folks from Holland, Sweden, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and the US. It's amazing to me how many people from all over the world know where Minnesota is.

I had a wonderful visit with a couple from South Africa a few days ago on an excursion to Mount Tronodor, which is one of the taller mountains in the area and is an extinct volcano. The guide explained that Argentina and Chile determined their border based on the highest mountain peaks. This particular mountain is one of those, with half falling in Argentina and the other in Chile. There are huge glaciers on the mountaintop and in the adjoining valley. In the pictures below, you can see the glacier melt run-off from the mountaintop glaciers of Mount Tronodor - just dozens of waterfalls.

Mountaintop Glaciers
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Glacial Melt Waterfalls
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The pictures below show the "black" glacier in the valley. The color of the water is unusual due to the sediment coming from the glacier. In the long range picture, I wanted to note that the glacier used to be at my feet in the early 1940's, and has receded that much in about 70 years!

Can You Spot the Glacier? (it's in the middle-left)
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Close-up of the Glacial Melt Pool
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Long Range Shot of the Glacier
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Later in my trip, I'll show you another glacier (Perito Moreno); one of the few that currently is not receding. It is near my next stop El Calafate.

A couple of days ago, I did a day hike with another new friend from Kansas City up one of the shorter mountains (more of a large hill really), but has a great view at the top with lakes and mountains all the way around. Apparently this view has been featured by National Geographic. There is a large, fancy hotel (Llao Llao) out in the middle of that picturesque scenery that everyone talks about here. I tried to get a close-up, but it's barely visible. It costs big bucks to stay there.

View from One Vantage Point
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View from Another Angle
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Hotel Llao Llao (circled)
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On the flip side, I've been enjoying my cozy hostel.

Living Room Vantage One
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Living Room Vantage Two
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Patio with a View
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It would be great if the US had hostels as they're really an affordable way to travel and you meet people from all over. Perhaps we do, and I'm just not aware.

In the morning, I will hop the bus to El Calafate. It's a long trip - about 28 hours, but the seating is similar to first class in an airplane. Hopefully a good way to see the countryside. I probably won't post again for a few days. Wishing you all well back at home!

Posted by BETHAU 07:22 Archived in Argentina Comments (4)

Argentina/Antarctica 2013 - I've Arrived

sunny 73 °F

Settling in here at my first stop in Argentina - Bariloche, after a slight delay in Buenos Aires. Beautiful area - reminds me a little of Colorado. Here's the view from my hostel:

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Misc observations so far:

-My Spanish so far is pretty dismal, but the Argentinians have been patient with me and I'm getting by fine. Will be attempting to approve a little every day.

-Argentinians are more reserved than we Midwesterners. I smile at them and there stare back almost confused. They're definitely not rude, just a cultural difference I guess. Or perhaps they're trying to figure out exactly where the heck I came from.

-I think all the taxi drivers here aspire to race car driving. Well, perhaps that's not unique to Argentina come to think of it. However, I don't recall quite as much tailgating or road lane markings being such a suggestion. Oh and I think I heard the word idious this morning which I interpreted as idiot- gave me a little early morning chuckle.

Here are a few pictures from my town (Bariloche) wanderings:

One of the town square buildings
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Very good chocolate shop
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Town mascots
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He posed just for me
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Oh and for your reading pleasure (I think....), some random musings from my weird brain as I leafed thru the South American airline magazine on my flight here:

This face jumped out at me - who knew he was a South American sex symbol?
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My kind of crystal light......
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Posted by BETHAU 07:08 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Argentina/Antarctica 2013 - Final Countdown to My Escape

After all the months of planning, I can hardly believe I will be on my way in a week’s time; traveling over a total of 39 days, two continents and over 20,000 miles. Additionally, I will cross all but one of the five major circles of latitude including the Tropic of Cancer, the Equator, the Tropic of Capricorn, and the Antarctic (Polar) Circle.

The genesis of this trip began during some random lunch break back in my Medica days, so more than five years ago. There was an article somewhere online on places to see before you die. The pictures of icebergs surrounding Antarctica were absolutely breathtaking to me, with all their various shapes, sizes, and colors. This started my fascination with ice. Every news story that covered the earth’s ice sheets and their current state of seeming demise captured my attention. Though I slightly diverge, most recently I developed a new fascination with Minnesota’s geology, which has been almost completely carved up by numerous ice ages - explaining the sandy nature of so much of our soil and our “10,000 lakes”. Over a year ago, I started thinking more seriously about taking a trip to see the ice, and spent considerable free time researching the possibility. The biggest question being whether I go to the Arctic polar region (think North Pole) with its polar bears, or the Antarctic polar region (think South Pole) with its penguins. The answer to that question is really both, but for this trip I ultimately settled on Antarctica. Antarctica is one of those trips of a lifetime destinations, and I’m in just that frame of mind.

Some general background information on Antarctica (for those of you who are interested):

- It is the highest, driest, windiest, emptiest, coldest continent on earth. Ice covers 98% of its surface about a mile deep; all this accounts for 90% of the world’s ice and 70% the world’s fresh water.

- Located in the Southern Ocean, it is an independent continent protected by international treaty from ownership by any one country. There are no permanent residents, though researchers do temporarily reside there on several bases scattered around the continent – approximately 4,000 people during the summer months and 1,000 who hunker down through the winter. Another 30,000-50,000 tourists visit the continent every year.

- The months of summer in Antarctica are the opposite of the northern hemisphere, with the most optimal conditions during December, January, and February; however the tourist travel season typically begins in November and ends in March. During this period, the pack ice surrounding parts of the continent breaks up, allowing not only tourist travel, but movement of researchers and their supplies. The high temperatures along the Antarctic Peninsula in this period average in the low to mid 30’s (Fahrenheit).

- Though there are exceptions, the majority of the wildlife in Antarctica is migratory in nature, coming for the summer months to feed and breed (except whales), and leaving over the winter months. Most popular include several species of penguins, whales, seals, and seabirds.

- Time difference between Minnesota and the Antarctic Peninsula is only three hours (Antarctica is ahead).

My Antarctic trip starts at the southern tip of South America, where I will hop a ship for a 12-day cruise. The boat will cross the Drake Passage and the Antarctic Convergence zone (where the cold waters of the Southern Ocean sink below the warmer waters of oceans to the north) to the Antarctic Peninsula, where we will explore in and around the islands off the western coast of the Peninsula. A good number of these Antarctic cruises have around a hundred passengers; reason being that one hundred is the maximum number of individuals from a single ship that can go ashore in Antarctica at any one time. To go ashore, we are split up into smaller groups to board a smaller rubber craft with an outboard motor, called a zodiac. We will go ashore in Antarctica 2-3 times a day. On shore, we will be able to view and photograph wildlife, and any other interesting scenery. The wildlife there, especially the penguins, are fairly tame; coming right up to you to investigate. Some highlights of Antarctica Peninsula shore excursions include:

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Given the long haul to reach Antarctica, I decided to make the most of it by expanding my trip to include the Patagonia region of southern South America, specifically following the Andes Mountain range down this area of the continent. The best in a nutshell description for Patagonia is outdoor recreation, and there’s pretty much a little bit of everything to do here. I’ve got a rough route planned out:

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First Stop – Bariloche – this town has a German/Swiss feel in its architecture as well as being in the mountains and situated on a large glacial lake. One of its specialties is chocolate – yum! Here, I plan to do some relaxing around the area lakes (the general vicinity of the town is located in what’s referred to as the “lakes region”), bumming around the local towns, day-hiking, as well as more adventurous activities such as paragliding and perhaps even whitewater rafting or zip-lining. Still toying with an optional side trip to Chile, but no final decision on that yet.

Second Stop – El Calafate/El Chalten – There are a couple of popular destinations in this area, one being the Perito Moreno glacier and the other the Fitz Roy (mountain range – more day-hikes so I’ll get my exercise :) ). There are other glaciers as well, with various ways to access them. The Perito Moreno is the most accessible, and if I’m lucky, I’ll see it calve some of its ice. Chile travel options available here too……

Third Stop – Ushuaia – Last stop before Antarctica. It is the capital city of Tierra del Fuego and is also referred to as the end of the world or the southern-most city in the world and is the southern terminus of the Pan-American Highway. Only here a few days, but plan to do some day-hikes and perhaps a 4x4 off-roading trip.

Last Stop – Mendoza and San Rafael (not technically part of Patagonia, but just to the north) – Last stop before home. This is the Argentinian wine region (malbec is the most popular variety). Surprising for most of you, my biggest planned activity is agate hunting (my latest fixation) – this area has several beautiful varieties. I’ve connected with a group in the area that take people out hunting. Time-permitting, I would like to squeeze in some sort of wine tour.

Hopefully at this point I haven’t rattled on enough to scare you completely away. Please bear with me as I am not usually one to write about myself, but a number of folks in my life expressed interest in what I’d be seeing and doing, and I thought this would be a good way to share. After this post, I’ll just have my smartphone, so I expect my descriptions will be fairly brief accompanied by pictures from my phone. Many of the areas I’ll be travelling will be fairly remote, and as such, I may not be posting every day. If you post comments/questions to my entries, which I welcome, I’ll do my best to follow-up.

Posted by BETHAU 18:20 Archived in USA Comments (11)

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