Friday, October 30, 2009

All cold things great and small

Glacier Perito Moreno in Glaciers National Park, El Calafate Argentina

A general theme of our trip through Argentinian Patagonia has been the cold: wearing every available layer of clothing to stay warm, huddling in our ECamper at night to hide from the winds, complaining about the cold, lusting after the heat wave that is currently baking Buenos Aires. Because of this cold though, we were able to see two really unique things. After leaving Ushuaia we spent two long days driving northwest to reach Glaciers National Park outside of El Calafate. Home to the world's third largest ice cap (Antarctica and Greenland are numbers one and two), this national park also boasts one of the world's most accessible glaciers, Perito Moreno. It's easy to get right next to this glacier without donning crampons or hiking any distance. We just drove our car up to the parking lot, walked about 100 yards on a well maintained board walk, and the glacier was staring right at us. I have never seen a glacier before and it blew me away. Towering more than 200 ft over Lake Argentina, deep aquamarine and cobalt blues radiated from inside the glacier's icy towers. Huge chunks of the glacier periodically calved off and crashed into the lake. The initial whip-crack of the ice breaking followed by huge chunks of ice cannonballing into the lake sounded like thunder rumbling from the surrounding mountains.



We watched the glacier calve for several hours before the approaching snowstorm and whipping winds drove us back into the warm comfort of Caballo. I think we did a little damage to our poor car's undercarriage on the next day's drive. Five hours of gravel roads separated us from paved highways. Because the scenery was so monotonous and the road completely empty we might have driven a little quickly. We tried to ignore the frequent sound of large stones ricocheting off whatever is under our car, some hitting the undercarriage so hard we could feel the impact through our feet on the car's floor. Miraculously we made the drive without any flat tires (and apparently without puncturing the gas tank or whatever other important things reside under the car) and gratefully pulled on to smooth Ruta 3. After two days hard driving along the coast we arrived at our next destination, Punta Tombo.

Magellenic Penguin stretching his wings at Punta Tombo Provincial Preserve

Punta Tombo is home to the world's second largest colony of Magellenic Penguins. Between September and April thousands of penguins arrive to lay eggs and hatch their young. The penguins dig nests in the gravelly dirt and protect their eggs as a couple, occasionally taking turns to waddle down to the water to fish. These little guys may be some of the cutest animals I have ever seen. They seem quite unperturbed by people walking next to their nests, and some will walk right by you like they don't even see you (kind of like being in high school). While penguins are awkward on land, flopping down on their white bellies to bask in the sun or slowly making their way up from the beach, once they hit the water they turn in to sweet swimming torpedos. We wandered among their nests for several hours before hitting the road again. As we get closer to our final destination of Buenos Aires, the long hours in the car seem to get more tiresome. We plan to relax in the beach resorts just south of Buenos Aires for a week or so before hitting the big city.

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