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.


Just call me 'A' said...

lovely colors...vibrant twon. i love the colors of the roofs.

Raghav said...

I'm glad you took these pictures and wrote in your journal. Lazy me would have no memories but for that.....

3rdEyeMuse said...

wow! this sounds soooo fantastic! and I love the painted fences ... hmmm ... if I were to put one up, I'd have to do the same.

looking forward to the funny stray dog post. :)

pink dogwood said...

more, more, more - write more :)

can't wait to read about the dogs.

Chandan said...

South America!.... been on my wish list for ever now...looking forward to more!

Jude said...

Can't wait for next post, I guzzle them up, looking at every single link,word, photo... It's a wonderful place, so colourful. Did you see much craft work happening?

meb said...

Gorgeous, colorful photos bindu. I enjoyed this post. It boggles the mind that there are so many places with so many people whom you'll never meet, yet for a brief moment, you feel connected.

Thanks for bringing me on this tour.

Vamsee said...

Very nice pictures - beautiful colors. Thanks for sharing - this is not how I would have imagined El Calafate to be!!

Please....please post pictures of perito morino and other glaciers. I have been waiting with baited breath...visiting your blog every now and then looking for those pictures!!

Btw....I cannot tell you how much I love your writing.

Chris said...

This place looks so beautiful, and peaceful despite the winds. The homes are charming with all the fragrant roses in bloom.

ArtSparker said...

See also under Burano for colorful houses, I also hoped that the stray dogs I saw on the Venetian islands were not strays for long, because where could they get lost? & the ones you saw as well I hope. Thanks for the lovely post.

Blu said...

As ever a pleasure to read, and excellent pictures to look at too. I am looking forward to the next wishes Blu

Leslie said...

I will be back to read this lovely post, but in the meantime, you have won an award, come on over and pick it up.


~vagabond~ said...

El Calafate looks like such a quaint, pretty town. Loved the photos of the roses.
Oooh...cant wait to read the next post! :)

~vagabond~ said...

Oh, and you've been tagged. ;)

bindu said...

Thanks, everyone. It's useful for me to put down my thoughts in small pieces through this blog while the experience is fresh. And it does help to have your encouragement as I go along.

Jude - I did see some craft work, but mostly in galleries for tourists than by the artisans themselves. I bought a painting about which I want to do a little research before posting.

Meb - you are right. When on a break I like to people-watch and wonder how similar and different their lives are to mine.

Vamsee - your encouragement means a lot. :)

Leslie - thanks! I'll go over and take a look.

Vagabond - uh oh! ;)

Anonymous said...

I adore Argentina :)
I love your travel stories...but I think I may have told you that before...several times :) LOL

painter girl said...

Oh the fences and the roofs and all the roses. Beautiful. The hostel looked like so much fun. Can't wait for the post about the dogs.

Barbara Martin said...

Your rendition about travels in Patagonia is wonderful, accompanied by beautiful photos.

Final_Transit said...

Hi Bindu,
It is SO RARE to see Indian backpackers! I love your travelog. Do you have a central page for all blog-posts related to this journey? I'd be nice to have one. Example here
cheers, Priyank.