Friday, March 29, 2013

Bulletins From BA #13

Bulletins From BA #13
30 marzo 2013

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:
“El Calafate” "Helsingfors” “Lago Argentino” ”Perito Moreno”

[Continued from Bulletins From BA #12]

Día 4 - Return to El Calafate

Our ride from Helsingfors back to El Calafate wasn’t due until 14h00, and we planned to just hang out and recover from our previous exertions, maybe get in a gentle stroll. But when our guide offered to escort us to scenic “Windy Point” for one last view of the glacier, we said OK… why the heck not.

The hike was longer than we expected, though not extreme. But the wind… el viento en la Patagonia can be muy fuerte (fierce). It originates over the Océano Pacífico and races unimpeded over Andean ice for many kilometers, ultimately arriving at Helsingfors. Whereupon it kicks your ass and takes your name. It was decidedly not a stroll, but this last outing perfectly culminated our visit to this enchanting place.

[Shameless Musical Sidebar - I took the liberty of donating to the Helsingfors music library a copy of my CD. I’m pleased to report that it was a hit and immediately placed into heavy rotation.]

We eventually returned in El Calafate in good order, checked in to el Hotel Kosten Aike once more, and promptly went out for pizza.

Día 5 - Lago Argentino Cruise / Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

During my stint in the Navy, sea duty was the one thing that made the tedium of military life tolerable. I loved being a sailor - the open water, the sea spray, the whole nine yards. So when Anne suggested that we book a daylong crucero (cruise) on a small boat, I readily concurred. We were conveyed to “La Soledad,” berth of the good ship Leal, a 20 m vessel with a complement of ten passengers and three crew. Also, a guide. And a chef.

The Leal set out across Lago Argentino into a cold Patagonian headwind. After motoring amongst the icebergs at Glaciar Upsala, we cruised to Glaciar Spegazzini, where we were fêted with a superb five-course gourmet lunch (almuerzo). After dining, we took a side trip to Puesto de las Vacas (“Post of the Cows”), where we disembarked and strolled (Sí, strolled) to the deserted outpost of a once gran estancia. Finally, back to port, where we left our hosts with a fond farewell and a generous gratuity. This crucero was our great indulgence of the week. At least.

Día 6 - Perito Moreno Glacier 

Glaciar Perito Moreno is the principle atracción turística in the area. It is located some 78 km from El Calafate and is named in honour of Francisco Moreno (, a prominent explorer, anthropologist, archaeologist, and academic (“Perito” is a title meaning “expert”), who was instrumental in incorporating large swaths of Patagonia into Argentina. Glaciar Perito Moreno has become a tourist mecca because it is easy to reach and, unlike many glaciers in this current epoch of global warming, actually advancing.

There are three options for viewing el glaciar: (1) from the crowded deck of a big-ass tour boat (in a 40 knot wind? Sign me up), (2) from the excellent system of shoreline catwalks (Strolling? Sí), and (3) from the actual surface of the glacier, clad in rented crampons (Another time, perhaps). It was a gray, wet, and windy day, but that did not detract from la magnificencia de la vista panorámica. I have never seen anything like it and hope one day to have an opportunity to return. It. Was. Awesome.

Día 7 - El Calafate to BA

Our final day in El Calafate was muy tranquilo. Since the flight to BA was not scheduled to depart until 19h30, we had plenty of time to pack, have lunch, do some small souvenir shopping, and take a stroll (¡Sí!) through Laguna Nimez Reserva Municipal, a nearby expanse of wetlands on Lago Argentino. It is a lovely place, home to a variety of bird life (including flamingos!) and other critters, and the perfect coda for this aventura Patagónica.

So now, having sorted through hundreds of emails and several loads of laundry, we’re back into our Buenos Aires expat urban groove, cognizant of the fact that we are fortunate indeed to still have the ability and the means to engage in periodic viajes excelentes. This is something to be cherished and on no account taken for granted. Thanks for letting me share with you.

Bonus Posting Exclusive: Pope Update - Many of you have inquired as to my take on the selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, as the new Pope, Francis I. From my perspective as an avowed heathen, this can only mean that Argentina now has a lock on the entire Holy Trinity: Father (Papa Francisco Primero), Son (Lionel Messi), and Holy Spirit (Diego Maradona). Amen.



Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bulletins From BA #12

Bulletins From BA #12
28 marzo 2013

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:
“El Calafate” "Helsingfors” “Lago Argentino” ”Perito Moreno”

Anne and I have recently returned from a más excelente journey to western Patagonia, where we spent a week seeing the sights. It was a great experience and so action-packed that it will require not one, but two Postings (at no additional charge) to document passably. ¡Vamos!

We elected to book this viaje (trip) with our amigo Ricardo, since he and his agency ( did such a fine job with the trip (viaje) to Puerto Madryn last noviembre (Bulletins From BA #08). As we expected, he incorporated our suggestions and attended to all the details, including transportation, lodging, tours, and transfers. Ricardo and his representatives took very good care of us.

Día 1 - BA to El Calafate (

It’s a short taxi ride from our place to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, the domestic airline terminal in Buenos Aires. After three hours on a Boeing 737 (”The Cattle Car of the Skies”), we touched down at El Calafate International Airport, 23 km from the actual town of El Calafate, which is situated on the southern shore of Lago Argentino (el lago más grande de Argentina) and serves as the gateway to el Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and Glaciar Perito Moreno. (Much more concerning glaciers presently.)

El Calafate, named in honor of a small bush with dark blue berries (used to make a yummy jam), is lousy with all manner of turistas; many young people with large backpacks, of course, but also families as well as older adults. Like us. We opted to stay at el Hotel Kosten Aike ( near the center of town, where dining and shopping opportunities abound. After settling in, we repaired to a high-end parilla (steakhouse) and consumed mucho lamb, beef, y vino. A good start.

Día 2 - El Calafate to Helsingfors (

Helsingfors is located 180 km north of El Calafate, with the last 70 km via a gravel road. It is not a place one casually stumbles across. The drive was quite pleasant and the closer we came to our destination, the more Tolkienesque the scenery. Helsingfors is located on Lago Viedma and was founded by Alfred Ramstrom, who named his estancia after the capital of his native country, Finland. (Seriously, read the whole story; it’s fascinating.) Anyway, the joint is very comfortable, though not luxurious, and the staff is muy amable. After stashing our belongings, we set out with our guide for a 90-minute walk around the grounds before dinner; a little “starter hike,” if you will. Later, Anne and I went out and gazed at the stars. The Milky Way shown in all its brilliance and we were filled with wonder at our great good fortune. (Lyricism is absolutely inescapable here.)

Día 3 - Helsingfors

The next morning dawned clear and cool, with an agreeable breeze; in short, a perfect day for an expedition to Laguna Azul, a glacial pool some several hours up and around… and up the mountain. Our options were: (1) Hike over two hours (mostly up), then an additional hour and a half (seriously up) or (2) transit the first part of the journey on horseback then hike the rest. Seriously up. We elected opción número dos.

[Large Mammal Sidebar - I have a problem with horses: They simply do not acknowledge or respect my authority - not that I blame them. I have ridden a grand total of four times in my whole life and lack the experience and confidence necessary to affect equine command.]

Fortunately, the horses of Helsingfors are a pretty easy-going bunch; they basically have free run of the range until they’re needed. So our gaucho guide corralled them and the next thing you know, we were saddled up and off on our gran aventura. The ride was a bit harrowing for this tenderfoot, but our steeds needed little guidance from us, so we were soon able to relax and enjoy the stunning scenery. When we had ridden as far as possible, we tied off the horses in a shady spot and continued on foot.

The hike up the mountain was long. It was difficult. It was exhausting. And it was so worth it. We had our lunch at Laguna Azul at the foot of a small glacier. We watched Andean Condors circling above. We took photos and left footprints. It was magical.

The hike back down the mountain, being gravity-assisted, was somewhat less arduous. Still, I have never been so glad to get on a horse in my entire life. As we rode back to the estancia, the infamous Patagonian wind finally began to pick up a bit, a portend of things to come; but, no worries. It had been an altogether remarkable day.

Más pronto.