by Toffler



Patagonia, Part 2: Ushuaia and El Calafate

December 21, 2007, by TofflerN, category Tourism, Traveling, Uncategorized

After arriving off the ship to snowfall in Ushuaia, we picked up our rental car as planned and despite the snow, headed off to Tierra del Fuego National Park. Tierra del Fuego is a stunning Nat’l Park of snow topped mountains dropping down into the ocean; there’s also regional moss covered (nire) pine trees and lots of wildlife. We drove around the park, jumping out quickly (because it was so cold) to take pictures and look at the view. We saw the train that goes into the park as well as black-headed geese, beaver dams and a peat bog. A few hours at the park was sufficient time given that the snowfall inhibited much hiking so after that we headed off to lunch.

After lunch, we went up to Glacier Martial that’s on a mountainside behind Ushuaia, really an urban glacier if there such a thing, that is actively retreating. When we bought our tickets for the cable car up the glacier it was sunny and beautiful weather, however, after two minutes on the cable car, it started snowing (again) and blowing in at us sideways. The weather had been like this the whole day: 20minutes of snow, 10minutes of sun, then snow again, then sun again. I couldn’t figure it out. I also couldn’t figure out how it was still snowing along the coast in late spring (summer doesn’t officially start until Dec 21). Well, so they say, in Patagonia there are four seasons in one day. I guess so! I just wish I hadn’t sent all my warm Antarctic clothes off to be washed that morning.

Later that evening, Mom and I had our final dinner together for this part of the trip and went to bed early (by Argentine standards) in preparation for her 7:30am bus back to Punta Arenas the next morning. Following Mom’s departure I wondered around the town some more and went to the Museum El Fin Del Mundo, which was a good overview of the local history though not nearly as interesting or detailed as the Presidio Museum. Later that afternoon I flew to El Calafate, in about the middle of Argentine Patagonia.

Both nights in Ushuaia, we stayed in La Casa de Alba, which was a very nice bed and breakfast, very clean, helpful owners, good breakfast, fluffy towels, and the best smelling laundry I’ve had since leaving the States! Also, rest assured, I bought my penguin necklace. 🙂

El Calafate
By the time I’d arrived in Calafate I’d still not found a hostel to stay in. All those that I’d called or tried to book online were full, which was a bit nerve-racking. Eeeek! There’s a shuttle service from the airport to town run by Ves Patagonia! for 13pesos (about US$4) which conveniently dropped me off at the bus station, which doubles as the tourism office. So I asked the tourism office to suggest some hostels and while the service was absolute rubbish, eventually it worked out (having a cell phone by which to call the places was a huge asset) and I was on my way to a hostel with beds for 25pesos/night, the cheapest I paid in Argentina.

After I settled into my hostel (Alburgue Mochilero-good location, clean, but nothing else to recommend it), I went to book my excursions to Glaciers National Park. Eventually I ended up booking through a company called Always Glaciers because they offered me a discount if I booked two excursions with them.

The following day while on my first glacier excursion, I’d learn a little more about El Calafate. Calafate is the most expensive city in Patagonia; I’d definitely agree. It wasn’t possible to get a restaurant meal for less than 27pesos, more than I was paying for my hostel! Also, internet was 6pesos ($2) per hour at its cheapest. El Calafate is in the middle of extensive grasslands. These grasslands were given away by the government to anyone who would settle on them for a number of years as a means of populating this area. The settlers used them as ranches, known as estancias in Spanish, to raise sheep. However the very, very dry and very windy conditions in Patagonia are not conducive to creating ground fertile enough to even graze sheep on. So the estancias were not very successful and now most have been converted to tourism businesses, taking advantage of the gorgeous landscape.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Glaciers, Glaciers, Galore
As if I didn’t see enough ice in Antarctica, I signed up for two day trips out to see glaciers in Glaciar National Park. The first day took me to Perito Moreno Glacier, the most famous glacier in the area. This glacier, unlike the one in Ushuaia is neither advancing nor retreating. The unique thing about this glacier is that is fills an entire lake and bisects it into two sections. It also has an incredibly long and high face on the lake and regularly calves into the lake with a large crack. Therefore any visitor to the glacier should stay for a few hours to listen for the momentous sound of the glacier calving. I was fortunate enough to see it happen twice: thunder followed by a big splash! Wow!

The second day I did a boat tour on Lake Argentina of a number of other glaciers which worked out very well because it happened to be raining that day–a much better day to be inside a boat than standing outside looking at glaciers in the rain. The boat took us to Glacier Spegazzini and Glacier Seco (Dry) first. After that we went to Glacier Upsala, the longest glacier in South America despite the fact its retreating very quickly. For lunch we got off the boat and took a short walk across a small island where we found another lake and three more glaciers, namely Agassiz, Bolado, and Onelli. During the 8-hour trip around Lake Argentina we passed a other minor glaciers as well. Even with all the glaciers I’ve seen, I’d say Perito Moreno is justifiably famous as it is the most impressive.

Lake Argentina

After 9 glaciers in 4days, I’d had my fill of ice and was ready for some warmth and it was time to head north, to Buenos Aires.  Photos of Ushuaia & Calafate

So, what do you think ?