What an amazing few weeks we have just had in Patagonia, the land at the end of the world.
Words fail me to describe some of the landscapes that we have been very privileged to enjoy, including: the wondrous lakes surrounded by some of Argentina’s highest mountains in and around Bariloche:
and the majestic Chilean national parks of Tierra del Fuego and Torres del Paine:
and the bleakness of Cape Horn at the junction of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans where, it is estimated, some 800 ships have sunk trying to traverse some of the world’s wildest seas and winds:
On top of all this there have been ice fields and glaciers. First in El Calafate and from then on for most of the rest of our time in Patagonia – I guess befitting its latitudes. Having seen a glacier from afar in The Swiss Alps, I thought I knew what glaciers were about.
Oh what a lesson I got at Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier – the only advancing glacier in the world (so we were told). It is blue, not white. You know when people talk about things moving at “glacial speed”? It is actually moving forward at the rate of 2-3m per day(!) and is only held “in equilibrium” by the actions of Lake Argentina in the persistent battle of irresistible force meets immoveable object. We could hear the loud groans and cracking it makes at it moves forward and as bits crashed into the lake.
We were able to climb onto it and see the wonderful shapes made by the action of the wind, and see the deep, deep blue of the pools of water and crevices on top – some almost as deep as the glacier itself (160m from bottom to top). We were able to see this repeated again and again at every glacier we saw – and we saw a few!
And icebergs that were easily as big as houses above the water (and 9 times bigger under water) were amazing – until we saw some the size of football pitches.
Getting onto the water in a rubber inflatable boat and getting amongst the glaciers… Wow, humbling.
Standing on the shore of Lago Grey in Chile as huge icebergs were being blown ashore and being able just to pick up bits of the clearest ice from them? I am running out of adjectives. And we heard the other day that an iceberg the size of MANHATTAN is drifting in the Antarctic. What can I say? Nature/Power v humans – no contest there.
Or is there?
It is December 2011 and an Israeli guy is hiking through the beautiful woods in a Torres del Paine when he is “taken short” and “nature calls”. Being a seasoned and thoughtful hiker he knows not to leave paper in the national park, but he doesn’t want to carry used tissue with him. Solution? Burn it of course. Add some wind and what happens? A fire that goes out of control and blows on to destroy 16,000 hectares of the park. ( http://www.thetravelword.com/2012/02/06/irresponsible-tourism-and-the-forest-fire-in-torres-del-paine-national-park-chile-2/ ) Now, despite the government of Israel pledging to sponsor a tree planting scheme, large areas of the park appear almost macabre and haunted. It will recover as it has done before, but it will take many decades to make good that carelessness.
So what of the birds and animals? There have been condors, hawks, penguins, albatrosses, rheas, geese (to name just a few of the larger birds) all doing their own thing keeping the delicate balance of nature in check (well mostly); there have been guanacos, mara, foxes, beavers, wild horses, feral cows and pigs. We have seen sea lions and dolphins but no whales (yet!). We ate king crab and black hake – delicious – and more Patagonian lamb (the slow cooked local delicacy) than was probably strictly good for us.
Patagonia has been a land of extremes – just how I like things I guess – and it has been an education. Trust me when I say that I do not expect this to be my one and only time in this part of the world!