Diary/Photo Journal

Week of March 20, 2005 

I have been talking about glaciers and I completely forgot to explain what makes a glacier...

Glacier:  A glacier is a large body of ice and snow, moving slowly down a valley or spreading outward across a land surface.  Glacial ice is formed by the accumulation of many snowfalls which, due to the heavy weight of the accumulated snow, crushes the snow crystals first into pellets, and then into a dense mass which gradually acquires greater transparency and hardness.  Great snowfalls, low temperatures and hundreds and hundreds of years create the necessary conditions. 

(If you want to learn more about glaciers, read on...)

The heart of a glacier is the accumulation area, on which snow falls, and as the weight increased, compacts to ice.  This extra weight forces the glacier to move.  As it pushes along, the melted ice on the bottom mixes with rock and soil., grinding it up and creating a kind of lubricant that helps the glacier keep pushing along.  All that movement in turn causes cracks and deformities in the ice, or crevasses.  At the same time, debris of the crushed rock is pushed to the sides of the glacier, creating moraines.  Where the glacier melts is called the ablation area.  When there is more accumulation than melting at the ablation area, the glacier advances; however, when there is more melting or evaporation, the glacier recedes. 

What makes a glacier blue?  Areas of the glacier that are not compacted have air bubbles into which the long wavelengths of white light are absorbed, thus we see simply white (remember, when we see a color, that actually is the light that is not being reflected back to us - we actually see the colors that are being absorbed).  In the areas where the ice becomes more compact, due to the weight on the top pushing ice particles together, blue light (short wavelengths) is transmitted.  The more compact the ice, the longer the path the light has to travel and the bluer the ice appears.  Where the glacier melts and calves into lakes, it dumps with it glacier "flour" of the ground-up rock, giving the water a milky, gray color.  This same sediment remains unsettled in some lakes and diffracts the sun's light, creating the stunning turquoise, pale-mint and azure colors that speckle the glacial regions. 

There will be a test at the end of the page...

After our excellent week with the glaciers. we started this week off heading east for the "pampas", the Atlantic side of the Andes and into Argentina.  We replaced cold, rainy days with crisp, sunny and windy days.  

We left the Pacific for a small town called Coyhaique (Coy-high-key) and had planned to stay for a day or two.  Fortunately, we looked ahead to a necessary crossing of a lake via ferry and inquired as to the cost, availability and the all-important schedule.  Lo and behold, the next available ferry was six days away, unless we could make the seven o'clock ferry that evening.  At that time, it was 4 p.m. and it was a 2+ hour drive.  Gerson and I looked at each other and raced each other for the door.  The road conditions were in our favor as we made the ferry launch with five minutes to spare.

Coming into Coyhaique

the surrounding landscape

The Lago General Carrera (Chile's name for the lake) or Lago Buenas Aires (Argentina's name for their side of the lake *rolling eyes*) is an expansive, barren-landscape-surrounded lake that is the deepest lake in all of South America.  The water is turquoise and has wind-whipped waves of several feet.  I was suspicious of what to expect during our crossing when they lashed Cindy down to the deck.  Wave spray actually went over Cindy and it was quite the two-hour ride.  Unfortunately, a certain person that will remain unnamed, accidentally deleted the pictures of the beautiful lake and its spectacular sunset.

Moonrise over guanacos



It is a harsh life
in the Andes of

Ok, let me say this here and now - Chile and Argentina are none too happy with the border drawn through Patagonia and it is a source of constant political and personal bickering between the countries.  Hence the different names for the same lake as well as some other areas.  Can't we all just get along?

Obviously, someone, somewhere
had their last cigarette near a propane
storage facility so there is a need
to warn people
Moonrise over Los Antiguos

We landed in Chile Chico and that was our launching point into Argentina.  Now, some of you know that we spent quite a long time in the United States and Cindy was stored in Santiago (or as we recently learned its nickname, "Smoggy-ago").  During this time, Cindy's visa expired and several times, we spoke to the aduanas (customs) concerning the procedure to pay a fine (if any) and extend Cindy's visa. 

Within 48 hours of reuniting with Cindy and upon the more believable instructions given by the aduanas (there were several "versions"), we went to the closest border with Argentina and tried to straighten out the visa.  The agents were not "authorized" to assist us beyond writing a letter to their "boss" on our behalf and our waiting for a "Resolution Letter" to be sent to an address of our choosing.  Let me see, you can send the letter to: Cindy, at on the road in Patagonia, out in the middle of nowhere, Chile...Well, we did use Luis' address so that was not so much of a problem. 

Two weeks later, the letter arrived at Luis' and he scanned the letter and emailed it to us.  We printed it off and the letter said all was resolved and Cindy had a 90 day extension.  Of course, as we have seen over and over and over and over again in Chile, nothing works that smoothly.

We got to the border about noon and the first thing we were asked for was our letter.  We gave the aduanas a copy of the letter the other agents wrote on our behalf and a copy of the resolution letter.  The two agents look at us as if there were more and they finally ask "Where is the bill for you to pay?"  We knew nothing of a bill as were told over the telephone that our fine was waived.

Well, neither of the two agents has the authority to waive the fee and "the rule books says"......soooooo, we were told that we have to wait for the three-part bill to be sent to an address and take the original to the bank for the payment of the fine, which was at that time still unknown.  To shorten this story, six hours later and multiple calls, conversations and explanations, we were vindicated.  Apparently, the man that wrote the resolution letter forgot to include the bill and when this was discovered (IE: we were totally in the right), the man paid the fine (about $30) in his own office and just told us to send him the money when we can.

Seeing as we are not comfortable with being dishonest, we went directly to a Chile Express (like Western Union) and wired the money to the payee (of course, after we received our clearance papers from the aduanas).  Within minutes, Cindy was sprung from her Chilean prison and into Argentina we thankfully ventured. 

Argentina....or what we called AHHHHrgentina.  We were quite relieved to finally be out of Chile, albeit for a week or so.  From the enthusiastic and good-spirited border aduanas personnel  to the other people we interacted with thus far, we had a great impression of the Argentineans. 

Just another glorious sunset
Our view from our Perito
Moreno camp
Some of the many "wild" horses

and one young one racing to his

One thing that I have not mentioned as of yet, was that we damaged a tire driving on the Carretera Austral.  The tire did not go flat; however, it did develop a telltale bulge which means it was ready to go.  Since this meant using our last 10 ply (heavy duty) spare tire, we started to look for replacement tires.  Our search began in Puerto Aysen and ended in Chile Chico - to find out our size tires do not exist in the entire country of Chile. 

So, looking forward to Argentina, we resumed our search in Perito Moreno and again found that our size of tire does not exist (yet) in Argentina.  For those of you that are tire savvy, we have an 8.75R/16.5LT and it was the 16.5 rim diameter that was the problem (with the 8.75 being the tire width).  After several attempts by very helpful Argentineans to locate the tires, we took the matter into our own hands and called to a Goodyear distributor.  Fortunately, we were connected to a very sympathetic woman named Carmen and she was to search for the tires and have them shipped to a city included within our near future travels.

Leaving Perito Moreno meant traveling approximately 600 km (about 450 miles) on a rock/gravel/dirt road that is known to eat many a tire.  Well, not being ones to be left out, we also had a tire (one of our last two 10 ply, heavy duty) succumb to the road's bite.  Seeing as our front tires were much newer (having been replaced in Panama), we switched the front to the back flat and set the older spare up front.  Limping to a way-station of sorts, we sat out the high winds and contemplated our very slow and careful drive the next day.  Why are we risking being stranded in Patagonia?  Heck, people can be in the middle of a crowded, big city and feel as though they are stranded...we just happen to have no one around.

Yep, the exact place where
we wanted to have a flat tire
Somewhere between here
and there, and in the middle
of nowhere
The saving grace for the anxiety-
ridden day - a brilliant moonrise
just out our back window

We tip-toed a whole 120 km (about 90 miles) in five hours the following day and ended up at an oasis of sorts called La Siberia.  Appropriate name as this camping area was the only sign of human existence for many, many miles.  The owners were wonderful and the food was equally good. 

Again, our drive to La Siberia and the evening at the camp provided my camera with fantastic displays painted by the clouds.

Where else could you
run across a Nandu (an
Emu-like bird) and
then a Guanacos
(llama-like) herd

Lago Cardiel and its turquoise water
Gerson braving the brisk wind

The clouds were remarkable

Breaking news!  UFO spotted over
Patagonia disguised as a cloud

Traveling at a snail's pace, we made it to El Chalten, a small and rather quaint town that serves as a base-camp for mountaineers and other crazy people.  I say crazy because the winds are fierce, the cold is chilling, the mountains are unforgiving and yet these crazy people enthusiastically march around for days, even weeks in this environment.  Uh uh, not me.  Ok, maybe for one day...

El Chalten is the archway for the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and it is a very young town.  It was hastily thrown into place in 1985 so that Argentina could claim the land before Chile did, hence creating another confusing border twist in Patagonia.  In the summer, over 25,000 mountaineers, hikers and climbers descend upon this small hamlet of 140 - 400 people (depending on the season).  Fortunately, it still retains its quaint and welcoming atmosphere.

I really wish this turned out better
The cloud was infused with iridescent blues,
greens, oranges, yellows, pinks...totally
More Nandus crossing our path
way in the background was Tres Lagos,
the only town for 200 km
Fantastic geologic formations

We found an excellent camp and we tucked into a corner of two buildings so we could be protected by the winds.  Now, it may sound all adventurous to say we parked out in the open land, under starry skies, but when you are enduring 20 - 50 mph winds all day and night, you forgo the romantic notion and look for any sort of wind-break you can find.  We are renaming Patagonia, "Vientogonia" (viento is spanish for wind).  The winds are incessant! and damn cold!

El Chalten landscape - behind me
is seemingly barren land and in front of me,
mountainous peaks and glaciers
Cerro Grande towering

Cerro Fitz Roy dominating the
surrounding jagged peaks
(named for the Capitan of Darwin's
expedition up the Rio Santa Cruz
in 1834)


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