Bulletins From BA #12
28 marzo 2013
¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.
Photo Update Alert: www.picasaweb.google.com/rodger.french
“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 (www.ryanstravel.com.ar) 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 (www.elcalafate.gov.ar)
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 (www.kostenaike.com.ar) 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 (www.helsingfors.com.ar)
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.