Traveling around Patagonia
Where the heck is Patagonia, anyway?
As promised a few months back, though a bit delayed, I must admit, it finally came off the press:
Traveling around Patagonia.
Patagonia is a vast region that has an area of about one third of the total surface of Argentina, at the very tip of the continent, namely the southern third of the country.
It comprises 5 provinces, which are Neuquen, Rio Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego, all with similar weather and soil conditions.
The prevailing feature is lack of humidity, hence the semi-desertic plains, and the fact that it is mostly a plateau of around 200 to 300 meters above sea level.
The general landscape is softly curved plains, with very low hills scattered throughout the region, as can be observed in the photo, actually looking quite boring. You can see this same landscape for miles on end and still be in the middle of nowhere. However, it certainly has its charm!
When you're traveling... - The first thing you need is a travel guide, yep!
There's lots to trek around in Patagonia, El ChaltÃ©n has piles of trekking itineraries!
Southern Patagonia is full of ice... but is so beautiful!
A good guide will prevent you from getting lost. All the same, talk to the people who live where you are visiting. They know the place inside and out.
Argentina is so vast, you'd need at least three months to see it all (and remember what is what)
Walking, biking or traveling by coach, the scenery is marvellous. You'll find it amazingly interesting to hitch-hike as well.
Not all is semidesertic plain in Patagonia
There's much more than that to see!
The mountain area, that is, the Andes Mountains, are very special in Northern and Central Patagonia. Take San Carlos de Bariloche, for example. The climate is very humid, creating fertile valleys and even mountain slopes. The tops are usually snow-capped all year round.
The land is excellent for cultivating berries, as well as other vegetables, but berries are best in this part of Patagonia. All along the mountain range, from Bariloche to Esquel and even further South, There are berry producing establishments that export their produce, mainly to European countries. Cherries are also a great asset in most of Patagonia, being an important source of income for the region. We hardly get to taste these delicious fruits, since 90 per cent of them all goes to other parts of the world, unless, of course, we produce them ourselves...
Good, sturdy gear is essential when traveling around Patagonia... - ...especially having so much nature to explore.
Keeping your feet warm and dry is more than half the battle.
A cool look for the ladies, as well as physical protection.
k-k-keep the c-c-cold out with s-s-some good thermal underwear.
The ladies deserve the same attention, too!
One thing about Patagonia:
If there is one thing Patagonia never lacks, it's wind. Oh, my gosh, there are some special places that are well-known for their windy climate, usually in Summer.
I used to live in Puerto Madryn around the year 1995 and I remember the wind arising in September that year and calming down only by february, the following year. 35 to 40 mph is quite common, with peaks of 60 mph.
In some places there is wind all the year round, "modelling" most of the trees of the area, like the one in the photo.
This means that even in mid-summer you have to put on a wind-blocker in order to have a comfortable stroll out in the open.
Rio Gallegos, for example, is a very windswept place, at the tip of the continent, receiving the Southeast winds from the South Atlantic and the Southern and Southwestern polar winds that come in from the Magellan Strait.
The usual advice: Never go out without a windblocker and warm clothes underneath or the icy winds will cut into your bones!
This is the reason many people won't have anything to do with Patagonia, because they can't stand the wind, and yet, there is so much to be done in all the region.
Little by little "Ole Pat" as I call it, is beginning to acquire a more civilized aspect and way of life, that the original locals, people who came around the middle of the 19th Century and whose families still live here, still reject. They want things to be as peaceful (and as lonely) as it was a century or more ago.
Essential for traveling around in Patagonia - A good wind-blocker
It can be used under a thicker jacket or even as tops, with three layers under it, like T-shirts or a thin micropolar.
Good to keep wind out and life within, as well as keeping comfortable and agile. It does not restrain movements!
One of the milestones of Patagonia
It's not exactly the wildlife
Nope, it's oil. There are great oil deposits underground and the landscape is full of oil pumps that can be seen from the road as you pass along.
The city of Caleta Olivia, one of the most important oil centres, even has a monument honoring the sturdy, rough, sacrificed oil worker, out in the bitter cold of Patagonia, building or maintaining the oil pumps. I took this photo when traveling through and every time I pass by I take one or two more, to try to get a better one each time.
The next module shows the landscape as you leave the city, with scores of oil pumps literally everywhere!
The Pearl of Southern Patagonia
Continental Patagonia, that is...
El Calafate is a small town of about 20,000 inhabitants, growing to about 35 thousand in full season. This is due to the fact that lots of youngsters come to work during the summer months and at the end of the season they go back home. The following season brings new people, but the numbers are approximately those.
The town is the center of all tourism going to visit the glaciers, especially the Perito Moreno, the only glacier in the whole world that is in advance, due to the steep slopes it lies on. Its location is 50 miles from the town and is about 20 miles long, right on the border with Chile.
Every 4 years, the glacier advances towards the mountain it is viewed from, and forms a mass of ice that blocks the flow of water through the stream that can be seen in the photo. The level of water in the lake behind rises around 6 yards and begins to bore a hole through the ice, until it reaches the other side and produces a strong flow of water, In about 4 days, this flow enlarges the hole, to leave a narrow strip of ice, some kind of bridge, between the Glacier and the mountain. Next, the pressure of the mass of ice behind the strip makes it crack and suddenly come roaring down, plunging into the water and being captured by thousands of cameras from all over the world.
Even after the strip falls, there are countless masses of ice breaking off and falling down to the water. You can just wait a few minutes mounting guard with your camera on stand-by and film or take pics of the ice coming down with a crash... It hapens every five or ten minutes, so you can take quite a few and then make your choice!
I'd say, the ideal camera is this one:the nikon coolpix l820 reviewed . Just drop by and look into it.
These are a few of my pics, but you can come along and take your own. - An experience you won't regret!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Caleta Olivia and its oil pumps - This is just one of the many oil fields in Patagonia
So much for the traveling...
...but what to do besides sightseeing and taking scores of pics?
Besides the typical excursions to visit the Patagonian milestones, like penguin colonies in Puerto Madryn, the Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, or kayaking through a maze of icebergs near the glaciers, there are other activities you can do, on your own or with a guide. One of them is climbing hills or low mountains hunting for fossils. Among other things, you can find petrified shark teeth, of about 25 million years back, oysters, crab pincers and ammonites.
Or, with some basic equipment and a bit of info, you can do some gold panning in the mountain creeks. As I mention in my lens How to Search for Gold the Andes Mountains have tons of gold hiding down under that come out dragged by spring water and accumulate in little basins of bedrock.
A nugget could be a beautiful souvenir from an adventure hike in Patagonia, right?