Argentina Feb/March 1996 – Fireland, Lago Argentino, Cordoba

We flew in from Nevis via St. Maarten to Miami and then by midnight clipper to Buenos Aires, staying a couple of days visiting with friends and shopping.

One morning, we took a direct Aerolinas Argentinas flight to Ushuaia. We stayed at the luxurious Hotel Las Hayas, a bit outside the town and at some altitude above the southernmost city of the world and situated in a nice forested area.

From Ushuaia, we boarded a comfortable catamaran to explore the Beagle channel to Mackinlay Island, where the Magellan penguins nest and we saw sea lions, king cormorants, penguins and many other birds.
We also visited the Museo Fin de Mundo and you must at one time eat the famous crab and mussel dish (centolla spoken sentoscha). We also took trips to the Beaver damaged regions, the Garibaldi Pass from where we steeply descended to the lake where there are three types of trout. Lago Yehuin. Lunch at Hosteria Petrel, excellent fish.

We liked Ushuaia quite a bit and were quite certain we would one day return, namely at the time we would take a cruise to the Antarctica.

That southernmost part of Argentina is called Terra del Fuego (Fireland). The name has nothing to do with volcanic fires. The local Indios were constantly lighting fires near the shores where they lived for warmth because they did not have cloth and were walking virtually naked all the time. Magellan and his sailors believed the fires were from volcanic eruptions. This area is so vast yet still natural and uninhabited and it really seems like the end of the world. Terra del Fuego is an island really as the Magellan straits separates it from the continent proper. The Chilean Port of Punta Arenas, however, still lies on the South American continent itself.

From Ushuaia, we took a flight back to Rio Gallegos on the continent proper. From there, a 4 hours trip in a minivan over flat and straight land took us to El Calafate as the air service to the glacier area had been stopped. There, we took an old prearranged Peugeot 505 taxi to the Hotel Los Notros (this is the name of a bush with red blossoms). The driver quite deliberately killed a number of hares that ran across the carretera in the darkening night, and I saw what I believed was a sailboat on the opposite shore of Lago Argentino. This beautiful lake is a bit bigger than Lake Geneva. When some time later I spotted another sailboat, I turned to the driver asking him where the heck that boat was sailing to as there had been no dwellings visible for hours. Which sailboat?, the driver asked, those shapes are icebergs!!!

The next day, we were driven to Puerta Bandera where we boarded a new and well appointed Catamaran. It took us through the Boca del Diablo to the Uppsala Glacier. We stopped at the Onelli (Spanish for O’Neill) Bay, and we have been walking through Patagonian rain forest, from where we could see the glaciers Onelli, Bolados and Agassiz who all flow together there. Then we continued to the Spegazzini glacier, wonderful and enormous walls of sheer ice. And the flora there: like on Swiss Alps but this is on 300 meters altitude. The area is full of parrots and other tropical fauna and flora. The area is full of parrots and other tropical fauna and flora. A memory that will stay forever (though perhaps one day we might go back?).

One day, we took the hotel bus to the nearby Perito Moreno glacier whose noise we heard all through the nights: forever-falling huge ice masses. We were alone for 2 hours, and then took a small boat that brought us to within 50 meters of the towering walls. That glacier is roughly 3 miles wide, and the height of the ice is 100 meters. Some years ago, there were several thousand visitors waiting for the stowed waters to burst the ice dam, it must have been a wonderful sight if you could wait the many weeks for it to happen.

A Belgian man who is a world traveler and had just been 3 weeks on the Chilean side of the Cordillera (El Teine) commented that the sights there were so much more gigantic and interesting than on the Argentine side. We made a promise to go there, and it will finally come true in March of 2009!

Patagonia is so huge; I believe it is bigger than France. You can spend a lot of time and still feel having been absolutely nowhere. The area of the Lago Argentina in the Patagonian Cordilleras is just one small part of that huge expanse of territory, but for someone who knows the immense vastness of the U.S. West, it may seem less so.

I might write some more at a later date about our 2 week stint in the hilly area outside Cordoba, the second biggest city of Argentina, 1000 km northwest of Buenos Aires. I had a problem with my stomach and had to take it easy for a while. It was a very nice place to take a rest before returning north.

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