Friday, January 30, 2009

A tag and more Painted Mirrors

I've been tagged by Megha to do the Meme of Sixes. She has an imaginative and artistic blog where she posts her interesting creations, so do go over and take a look.

For this I had to post the 6th picture from my 6th folder. I have some weird and silly pictures in my set, so was a little apprehensive as to which one would pop up ... but I was so happy to find that it was this picture -

How cute is that?! This is Cheyenne, my niece's cat. We had her company for almost a month between this past Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we watched her for my niece who was out of town. It was very interesting, for we already have two cats - big boys who found petite and pretty Cheyenne to be very interesting company. It was highly entertaining to watch their love/hate relationship play out over the month. Here Cheyenne basks in the sun, lying on the bed.

I'd like to pass this tag along to 6 others who I know love to take photographs:

Blu of Blucamels in Brittany,
Vagabond of Through the Lens of a Vagabond,
Vamsee of Lets go for a vacation,
Pink Dogwood of Wandering Mind,
Jude of Cariad in Crete, and
Om of Om Chaya Chitralay.

Here are the rules:
1.pick the 6th picture from your 6th photo folder.
2.tell the story around it.
3.pass it onto 6 other people.

It's been really busy, so I haven't been able to find enough time to paint, though I've started one regular painting, and another mirror frame. Will hopefully finish them some time soon. Here are two that I finished before the last year ended ... the blue one inspired by Warli tribal art from India.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Glacier Trek on the Perito Moreno

The best way to experience the spellbinding beauty of the Perito Moreno glacier is to sign up for a glacier trek.

There is just one company in El Calafate that offers this experience: Helio y Aventura. After visiting the view point for a panoramic view of the glacier, and admiring it from all angles walking along the wooden walkway that I described in my previous post, we settled back with excitement for the drive to the shores of Lake Argentino. For there we would be met by the boat that would take us to the glacier itself!

The sun was high in the bright blue sky, and the colors of the mountains and lake so beautifully blended together in hues of green and blue that I wished I could just sit for a few days in a warm bubble there and paint what I saw before me!

As the boat swiftly approached the glacier, our entire group huddled on the open deck above, taking in the view though the wind was bitterly cold.

Once we landed close to the glacier, we quickly ate the sandwiches and fruits that we had packed for lunch, and were ready for the trek. As we waited for the guides, we sat by the windows of the refuge and took in the scenery. The landscape was so stunningly beautiful!

The silvery blue waters of Lake Argentino were kissed by the sun, and the glacier was glowing as it towered over the lake.

Soon we set off. The guides fitted us with crampons and led us on to the glacier in single file. The wind was quite fierce, and it blew dusty snow on to my face. I wondered what we looked like from above - tiny dots crawling in a corner of this gigantic, living mass of ice!

The angles and planes of the ice formations, and the shades of gray that the dust from the land made on the fringes of the glacier made the landscape look very pretty, like a watercolor painting!

With the sun shining brightly down on them, ice crystals were glistening and shimmering on the surface of the glacier. There were fantastic ice formations all around us, glowing as if lit from within. I tried to take photographs - but mine don't do justice to the beauty I saw around me.

We slowly made our way around small glacial streams and shallow pools reflecting the brilliant blue of the sky.

There were ice caves, and small crevasses - we were on very stable ice on solid rock, so the crevasses were not too deep. Still, we could hear the movement of the glacier, and the tricking water below us as the sun melted it and fed it to Lake Argentino.

The hour and a half passed too quickly, and before we knew it, we were done. The guides led us to a small clearing on the ice, where we got to toast this experience with delicious Argentine chocolate and whiskey on fresh ice from the Perito Moreno!

Before we left, we walked up to the very front of the glacier and took one last look. And then we left it reluctantly behind and walked back to land.

At the start of the trail back to the refuge, someone had carved these faces on a dead tree trunk.

All along the trail we had views of the glacier to our left.

And then it was time to head back. The boat was very quiet on the way back, with everyone watching the quickly receding glacier, lost in their thoughts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Perito Moreno Glacier

When I first learned about glaciers in school, I imagined this river of ice that slowly grinds its way down the valley between mountains, advancing so slowly that the human eye cannot detect its movement. Since then I have seen many glaciers, all of them on mountains, and none of them matched that initial image my mind had conjured up as a kid learning geography.

When I saw the Perito Moreno glacier though, it was as if that first geography lesson had come alive before me. This was exactly how I had imagined a glacier would be!

Glaciar Perito Moreno is located in the southern sector of Los Glaciares National Park, about 80 km by road from El Calafate. Several buses take visitors from the town to the national park, and we booked ourselves on one of those.

The road runs along Lake Argentino for the most part, so we had pleasant views of the beautiful lake throughout. Primarily fed by meltwater from the glacier, this lake's milky turquoise blue coloration is very unique.

We had a guide on the bus, and at a bend in the road she announced with a flourish, "ladies and gentlemen, here is Glacier Perito Moreno." And this is what we saw!

Glacier Perito Moreno is named after Francisco Moreno, an Argentine explorer who led several expeditions into the Patagonian region in the late 1800s.

This massive glacier has an area of 250 km2 (97 sq mi), and extends 30 km (19 mi) in length. The ice field is the world's third largest reserve of fresh water, and Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers in the world that is still advancing. Its immense size and power is hard to describe in words.

There is a well-constructed walkway about 300m from the edge of the glacier, from where one can have excellent views of its expanse. The walkway is like a loop trail that takes about an hour to finish.

The front edge of the Perito Moreno Glacier is 5 km wide, and it towers 60 m (197 ft) above the surface of the water. The walkway starts high up near the road, from where we can have a great view of the expanse of the glacier. But as it descends lower, we can really get a feel for how massive the glacier is.

Even from this distance, we can hear periodic loud cracks, like sharp claps of thunder, followed by huge splashes, as giant chunks of ice break off and crash into the lake.

The constant grinding and rumbling of the glacier also makes it seem like a living thing, slowly moving forward in this enchanted landscape.

There are a couple of interesting-looking ice tunnels at the base of the glacier. The walkway leading to a closer view of these tunnels was closed, so we had to be content with a distant view.

The red blossoms of Chilean Fire Bush add a splash of color to the beautiful landscape. Note how tiny the boat is in comparison with the glacier!

We were so thankful to have a clear and beautiful day for our visit. We walked around there for close to two hours, trying hard to soak in the sights and sounds of this marvel of nature, for recollection later. Is there a limit to how much a brain can retain? Mine was stretched to its limits, trying to capture and store all the information from this visit.

If one is not content with viewing the glacier from afar, there is one company that offers glacier treks. This is an opportunity to get an intimate feel for the glacier and experience it from up close. We got to go on one of these. More about that in the next post.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

two awards and some weirdness

Over the past few months I've got to know many very creative and expressive people through this blog world, and it has been really interesting and inspiring.

It is so encouraging to receive your comments and feedback to my writing, photography, and art. It really does make me strive to do better in each of these activities.

Leslie of Flowers of Life has passed along to me the Kreativ Blogger Award. Thank you, Leslie! You should check her blog out - she participates in the Chemo Angels program, using her art to bring some joy to those who need it most. It's a great initiative.

The rules ... State 6 things you love, and pass the award on to 7 others.

I love: animals, the wilderness, adventure, the ocean, mountains and my family/friends.

Do all good things come in pairs? Well, Barbara Martin, who has an interesting blog with historic tidbits, and details about the lovely hikes she goes on, has passed on to me this award. Thank you, Barbara!

The award "Premio Dardos" is for the appreciation of merits—culturally, literary and individually—of every blogger who expresses him/herself on his/her blog. The rules:

1. be tickled pink ;)
2. copy and paste the award picture to your blog;
3. write down the regulations;
4. link the blog who bestowed you the Award;
5. and finally nominate 15 blogs for the Award.

I always have a hard time nominating others to receive these awards. Each blog I read regularly is interesting in its own way, and each is pretty unique too, so it's hard to compare them and choose. So I will cheat ... and pass these awards on to all my readers, whose encouragement inspires me to write/paint more and take better pictures.

You will find the list of the blogs I like to read, in my profile page (until I figure out how to add them on the main page :)). Please visit them.

I've also been tagged by Vagabond to reveal 8 weird things about me ... I guess I cannot get away with saying there's absolutely nothing weird about me? ;)

1) I don't eat in restaurants that serve food in disposable (especially Styrofoam) plates and use plastic spoons and forks. If I do go to one of these, I carry my own spoon and plate from home. :)
2) I find the small details of ancient history utterly fascinating.
3) Once I commit to doing something, I cannot leave it incomplete, however hard or inconvenient the task may be.
4) I have been peed on by squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and a wild chimpanzee.
5) I lose interest in anything that becomes predictable.
6) My biggest fear is to have lived a life without meaning.
7) I am a pisces, but cannot swim. :(
8) I used to eat chalk when I was little - never colored chalk though - just white.

All done!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Goofy dogs and Laguna Nimez in El Calafate

There are a lot of dogs on the streets of El Calafate. They are cute and goofy, and not at all scraggly or ill-fed, as you would imagine strays to be. They look healthy, well-fed and have an enviable air of contentment about them.

What is distinctly different about these dogs is that all of them have an aura of importance about them, and run about with such an intense look of purpose on their faces, that I was tempted many times to follow them and see what exactly their important mission was!

They weren't your usual mutts. They looked like pedigree breeds, and came in all shapes and sizes. What I suspect is that while some of them are strays, others have homes (those that wear collars), but are allowed to roam free, so they all get together and have a party all day long.

If you even nodded at one, he would instantly adopt you and start trotting at your heel as if you were family. We were thus adopted by several of them whom we couldn't shake off, and so I had to stop talking to or making eye contact with many of the extremely cute mutts that we passed.

There is a market on the main street, where we stopped often to buy fruits, yogurt and bread. There were always dogs outside this market, lying patiently at the entrance, and looking at the shoppers going in and out with hope.

This cute little fellow sat still and watched us go by. I don't think he was a stray, but he made such a pretty picture against the pink walls of this house!

There is a bird refuge in El Calafate: The Laguna Nimez Reserve, which has about 70 species of birds frequenting its peaceful environment. It is a treat to birders, but the trick for them would be to get there without attracting canine company!

We took a walk there one evening. On our way there, we were promptly adopted by one girl doggie. As the three of us were walking towards the refuge, we saw one other traveler coming away from it, with two dogs in tow. Seeing the three of us, those two dogs instantly left her side and hopped over to us with a look of "ok, we're here, what are we doing now?" !

This would be bad news to birders, but we were just there for a little walk, so we were ok with their company. As we slowly walked along the narrow trail in the refuge, the three dogs stayed by our side. There was a pleasant breeze (not the gale force winds of the previous day), and the pink stalks of grass in the refuge were moving as if to a symphony.

The girl doggie stayed by our side for most of the walk, but the two boys ran loose with wild looks in their eyes. They were bursting with joy, and were in doggie heaven! There was a peaceful band of birds near the water's edge, and before we knew it, the two boys were charging at them, causing the birds to simultaneously take off in flight.

They came back to us looking very proud of what they had done. I hope they aren't damaging the environment for the birds, or hunting them ... stray dogs aren't allowed into the more fragile national parks in Patagonia for this reason. But they definitely looked like they had been to this refuge many times before.

It was also quite clear that the two male dogs were trying to impress the girl by our side - they were trying to outdo each other to see who could roll more in the slush, and come back looking more like a total clown. The girl didn't look too impressed though, and stayed very close to us even as the two wild boys kept running off, looking more and more dirty.

Without their company, this walk would have been just another pleasant stroll with beautiful scenery and birds to watch ( and not bad at all!). But with them by our side, the walk was charged with the joy of being alive!

When we turned back, they left us to adopt another man who was walking further into the refuge. These dogs love their life - it was plain to see. In their goofy grins, wild eyes and generously friendly nature there was an infectious quality, so that they left us with wide smiles on our faces too.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Onward to Patagonia!

One way to get to the Patagonian region from Buenos Aires is to fly into El Calafate, a little village located in the southwest part of Santa Cruz Province. It is named after a little bush with yellow flowers that one sees all over Patagonia, which has small, blue berries called the calafate.

From El Calafate, one can access the gigantic Perito Moreno Glacier, or take a bus over to El Chalten, from where all the hiking trails in the Los Glaciares National Park can be accessed. And this is just what we did.

As our plane approached El Calafate, I excitedly peeped out the window, expecting to see snow-capped mountains, giacial streams and greenery below me. I was a little taken aback to see a rocky desert landscape, littered with small clumps of pale brown grass. Was this really Patagonia?!

At that point, those sitting on the other side started excitedly taking photos, and when I craned over to see what they were looking at, I saw the milky, turquoise blue waters of Lake Argentino shining in the sun like a jewel amidst the brown tones of the rocky desert landscape. I couldn't get a picture, since I was on the wrong side of the plane for that.

Here is a beautiful image from NASA, showing Lake Argentino (max width 20 km, and surface area 1,466 km²!). It is a freshwater lake fed by melt water from several glacial rivers, giving it its rich turquoise color.

El Calafate is a dusty and windy place. When we got off at our hostel America del Sur and stepped in, there was a sign asking us to please leave our hiking boots at the entrance so that we wouldn't trail the sand into the hostel! Here's a picture of the hostel entrance - Lake Argentino is visible to the right.

America del Sur is a very friendly hostel, with a clean kitchen and helpful young staff. This was the common area at hostel where we had some very interesting chats with other travelers - most notably a Dutch naturalist who leads annual cruises to both the Arctic and the Antarctic - what a career!

We shared a dorm room with two women from Poland. The lovely lake was visible from our window too.

Before heading out to explore, we quickly made some lunch (Maggie noodles that we'd taken along) in the hostel's kitchen, and ate it at a table by the huge windows, with a view of Lake Argentina in the distance.

In the early 1900s, El Calafate was just a place of shelter for wool traders. It was officially founded in 1927 by the government of Argentina to promote an increase in its population. Once the Los Glaciares National Park was founded, this little town became much more popular, with increasing numbers of trekkers and travelers arriving here each year.

I will remember El Calafate as the town of roses and goofy stray dogs. Huge and colorful roses were in bloom in every yard, the stalks bending over with the weight of some of the larger flowers. Here are some pictures from around town.

Colorful roofs and fence posts, along with the flowers make this town really cheerful and charming.

The girls at the hostel told us that there are flamingos on Lake Argentina, just a short walk away. So we set out to look for them. What we didn't count on was the wind! Patagonia is a very windy place, and as we got closer to the lake, the wind was so strong that I was afraid to even move! We were being pushed in directions we didn't want to go, and eventually we just gave up and walked back to the hostel.

The stray dogs of El Calafate are silly, adorable, and the happiest dogs I have ever seen. They deserve their own post ... next time.