Journey to Patagonia: Part 1

April 13, 2018

Arrival in Buenos Aires.

I just traveled for an entire day to get here. Uber from Cascais to Lisbon, three hour flight from Lisbon to Frankfurt, and a 14 hour non-stop flight from Frankfurt to Buenos Aires. Then the taxi ride from the airport to my Airbnb in Palermo took so long that I had to ask the driver to stop for a bathroom break. There was an accident on the main road, so we took a detour. So did everyone else. A few more detours later and we were on a road that was only partially paved, and surrounded by trash heaps.

Even after all that, I’m a little surprised to actually be here. I almost cancelled this entire trip to South America. It sounded fun, but too disruptive. There’s too much going on in my life. Work is busy! I need to get back to DC. All the usual excuses. Plus, this was supposed to be the year to slow down a bit, travel a little less, and spend more time in one place. Instead, I’ve been to five continents in five months.

April 14, 2018

Buenos Aires, Argentina

It’s all starting to come back to me now. The bakeries on every corner, each one stocked full with rows of handsome cakes and piles of sticky, flaky pastries waiting to be devoured. And the grand cafes that adorn Buenos Aires’ wide boulevards. Marble tables, waiters in uniforms, and the nonstop clinking of cups, spoons, and saucers. Like I imagine Paris in the old days. The cafes here still serve as living rooms for their respective neighborhoods. Gathering places for students, suits, young families, and everyone else. I love watching the regal, older ladies who put on their finest and meet in the cafes in the late afternoons. Hours are spent over coffees and medialunas.

 

April 15, 2018

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I forgot about the buses here. Each one is decorated like a parade float. The names, directions, and numbers of the routes painted in bright colors. A source of local pride perhaps?  

I enjoy the integration of nature into the city. Tree-lined streets and massive parks, especially around the Palermo neighborhood where I am staying.

 

April 16, 2018

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I saw a post on Facebook today about avoiding the news. It reminded me that I have been on a “low news diet” for about one month now. I enjoy keeping up with current events and knowing what’s going on in the world, but checking the news has become a source of anxiety, rather than knowledge.

 

April 17, 2018

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Flying from Buenos Aires to el Calafate in Patagonia.

I’m sitting next to a couple on the plane. I couldn’t help but notice they are speaking English to one another, but with accents that are strong enough for me to know it is neither his nor her first language. Listening in and studying their accents bit more, I’m pretty sure she is from Taiwan or Mainland China and he is from Japan.

It makes sense that English would be their common language, but I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised. As if there should be some secret Asian lingua franca. I remember having the same feeling when traveling in Asia too. Listening to Chinese tourists attempting to talk to Thai people in English. Of course, when I’m in Europe and I hear a German and a Frenchman speaking English together, I’m somehow less surprised. 

 

April 18, 2018

el Calafate, Argentina

I woke up to a totally unexpected and breathtaking view from our hostel. The windows look out to shimmering Lago Argentino, with golden-green trees sticking straight up out of the scrubby land in the foreground and the sun rising over the mountains in the distance. 

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful, I noticed a rainbow form on the horizon. Magical.

 

April 19, 2018

el Calafate, Argentina

Woke up early and took a bus about one hour and a half from our hostel to Los Glaciares National Park. Our first stop was the balconies looking out at the front edge of the glacier from across the lake. We watched as chunks of ice the size of houses calved off of the massive, blue glacier in front of us.

The glacier is constantly rumbling. Each time a piece calves off, there is a sound like a branch breaking off of a big tree, followed by a sudden rushing sound, and then a very loud ripping sound, like the one made by those colorless fireworks that explode into scattered circles in the sky.

We’re far enough away from the glacier that there is a noticeable delay between the action and the sound reaching us. With each loud crack, everyone on the balconies turns, frantically scanning the face of the glacier, but it’s too late. The ice has already hit the water by the time they find it. The whole process repeats every few minutes.

From this view, it’s hard to comprehend just how large Perito Moreno glacier really is. The footprint of the glacier is 250 km2 (almost 100 square miles), larger than the entire city of Buenos Aires. The glacier face in front of us is 74 meters (240 ft) above the surface of the water.

 

Back in the bus for a short trip from the balconies to the dock. Then a boat trip across the lake to the edge of the glacier itself. We hiked on land for about an hour, passing under a gigantic, roaring waterfall along the way. I remarked that seeing a waterfall like that would be the “payoff” for a multi-day hike in most parts of the world. Here it’s just a little sight along the way.

We stopped to gear up — harnesses and crampons — before hitting the ice. Then we hiked for about three and half hours on the ice, with a break in the middle to eat our packed lunches near a grotto-like ice formation, carved into the glacier by a waterfall.

The ice below us is hundreds of meters thick. From afar, the surface of the glacier looks gently rippled. Up close, it is much more dramatic. Hills of ice cover the surface closer to the water, where we started our hike. Further in, as the glacier reaches up into the mountains, the ice hills give way to jagged ice peaks. Throughout, there are rivers of meltwater and deep, cerulean crevasses that cut through the surface of the ice.

We finished our hike and retraced our journey back across the ice, stopping in an ice cave on the way, then hiked back down to the water’s edge, sailed back across the lake, found our bus, and arrived back at our hostel twelve hours or so after we left.