Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi National Park

San Carlos de Bariloche

San Carlos de Bariloche

Bariloche skies are clearer today and it’s warm and sunny, but people walking along the streets continue to wear face masks for protection from volcanic ash. Residents of Ensenada at the foot of the volcano abandoned their village last week after it was covered in thick soot and roofs collapsed from the weight of volcanic ash. Many of them lost everything. The Chilean government is now encouraging evacuation of other villages near Calbuco. They fear a potential flood of volcanic mud detected in a nearby river. Once it begins flowing, volcanic mud and debris can level anything in its path.

I hope there are no more eruptions from Volcano Calbuco. The heartbreaking devastation and misery caused by the earthquakes in Nepal is enough to cover the world’s natural disasters for the time being.

Stairway

Stairway

Indigenous Tree

Araucaria Pewen Endemic Tree

Perched on a hillside overlooking Nahuel Huapi Lake, Bariloche is a well located city inside the borders of Nahuel Huapi National Park. It’s known by many names including the City of Andean Lakes and the Switzerland of Argentina.

I spent the day admiring the city and learning the layout. There’s an ice skating rink in the middle of town and a series of steep terraced steps connecting each street to the next higher one – a good workout. The boardwalk along Nahuel Huapi Lake is glorious. Bought a pass for tourist buses that run daily and get you to interesting mountains and lakes in the Park.

Nahuel Huapi National Park covers 2,700 sq. miles and is the oldest Park in Argentina. Its Mapuche name means “Island of the Tiger”.  The Park has lush deep forests, islands, rivers, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, and 20 lakes! Its three Andean natural environments – High Andean rain forest, Patagonian forest, and Patagonian Steppe – have altitudes ranging from 2,000 to 12,000 ft. above sea level.

Nahuel Huapi National Park is also a wildlife sanctuary and home to the rarely seen Huillin (river otter), southern Andean huemul and small pudus (deer), foxes, cougars, guanacos, the endangered Austral spotted wildcat, and maras (rabbits). Birds in the park include woodpeckers, parakeets, parrots, geese, ducks, swans, cormorants, Chilean pigeons, the green backed firecrown hummingbird, and Andean condors.

Like other areas of Patagonia, Bariloche is a haven for enjoying just about any outdoor activity you desire, no matter what time of year. The streets are lined with sports shops featuring a vast amount of equipment and clothing. Some activities enjoyed include:

  • Trekking and Hiking – 300 miles of marked trails
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hang Gliding
  • Mountaineering and Camping
  • Skiing
  • Fly Fishing
  • Water Sports – scuba diving, kayaking, sailing, rafting, and windsurfing

The trees are unique. Before this visit I’d never seen Patagonian cypress, coihue, arrayane, and amancayes. Patagonian cypress trees are large, long-lived plants. Some reach 1,500 years of age. Some of the places on my must see list include Victoria Island, Port Blest, Huemul Island, and The Road of the Seven Lakes. Hoping Calbuco doesn’t erupt again so I can visit these and more incredible places before next Thursday when I leave for Buenos Aires.

Volcano Calbuco Bariloche, Argentina

Ash Fall Volcano Calbuco

Ash Fall Volcano Calbuco

Still in Bariloche where the skies continue to be clouded with volcanic ash – it looks like fog. I was out in the main part of town yesterday. People on the street are wearing face masks to keep from inhaling ash dust, and I bought one at the farmacia.

Am keeping posted on the latest but no one seems to know how much longer Volcano Calbuco will erupt or what other problems might occur – flooding from hot lava melting ice in the surrounding mountains. There have been two eruptions so far and apparently we are expecting a third.

The attached map shows the ash fall area. Bariloche is close but not as close as Puerto Montt and El Bolson. I was in Puerto Montt and Frutillar in late March, early April and can’t imagine how it is there now.

Confianza Total

Confianza Total

I rented a small apartment here in Bariloche for a week and will likely head to Buenos Aires next. Since I’m somewhat stranded wish I could at least see the spectacle – but visibility outside is very poor. The Bariloche airport is closed. I haven’t checked on buses yet. Meanwhile there is nothing to do but stay put and enjoy the adventure.

I’m getting to know some of my neighbors in the apartment complex in a great location right in the center of everything. Today will venture out again and explore. La Baita Theatro is about two blocks away from my apartment and I’m looking forward to attending a performance of Confianza Total (Total Confidence) on the 26th.

Bariloche is surrounded by beautiful lakes and forests. There are many hiking areas and it’s a popular ski resort area in the winter. I had hoped to hike and rent a car to tour the lakes, but now that’s not possible for at least a few days. This is a link providing some details on the eruption and ash fall.

Bariloche, Argentina and Volcano Calbuco

Bariloche

Bariloche

I arrived in Bariloche late yesterday after a long bus ride from El Chalten. My body is either getting used to long rides or much of the misery is in one’s attitude, it really wasn’t as uncomfortable as anticipated. I met many new people the last day in El Chalten and on the bus and enjoyed talking with them and listening to the interesting things they shared.

Bariloche

Bariloche

One man I met hiking was from Krakow, Poland but is now living in Berlin. He has relatives in Ukraine who have a hard life, especially his aunt and grandmother who live there on $50 a month. His life is considerably different from theirs as a mergers and acquisitions VP for Siemens. He plans to get his masters at Stanford. Since I lived in San Francisco for so long we chatted about the Bay Area.

While having coffee at a café in El Chalten, I met a handsome young French tourist who was taking a break from the financial world where he was involved with some companies being investigated by the French government. I guess you could say he’s on the lam for the time being! He was very fit and had spent time climbing some of the higher mountains in Patagonia and enjoying the Andes. He shared info about his life in the investment world :o( and how to exchange USD for ARS (Argentinian Pesos) on the black market.

Volcano Calbuco

Volcano Calbuco

The USD is devalued in Argentina and what you get from an ATM is really about half of the value. Since Argentinians pay for their real estate purchases in USD, the dollar has high value. If you know where to go to exchange dollars (other than the banks) you can get double for your money. I now have the details of where to go in Buenos Aires – we’ll see.

On the bus I met a woman from France who also travels throughout the world solo. She lives in Provence and enjoys adventure and long trips to foreign countries.  She has already passed through Buenos Aires, my next stop.

Volcano Calbuco

Volcano Calbuco

Today I checked into an apartment in Bariloche where I’m booked for a week – yeah the same bed for 7 days. During that time will decide if I want to stay here longer or go somewhere else. I plan to return to the US in June or July and during these last few months will spend more time in each place visited. Constant moving can make you a little crazy. I haven’t shared things like washing my jeans in the shower and using the hairdryer to dry them because I couldn’t find a laundromat or didn’t have time to send them to a laundry…. Being on the road for an extended period of time has many challenges. You learn to appreciate the more frivolous things of life – like the washer and dryer, Jacuzzi tub, espresso machine, and most of all your own kitchen and comfy bed!

Chilean Volcano Calbuco is erupting and Bariloche is on alert. As we were approaching Bariloche last night I commented on a cloud that looked like a mini Hiroshima – it was Volcano Calbuco! The sky is smoky looking today and the streets have a light coating of volcanic ash. At first when I looked out the window, thought it was fog, but it’s ash from the volcano.

More later!

Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy

Hiking today was mellow. The day started cold and windy but before noon the sun warmed things up and the frost disappeared. The trail behind my cabana is on a ridge overlooking Rio Fitz Roy. Of course the views of the two main mountain peaks – Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre – are inspiring and the interesting clouds in Patagonia make swirling patterns in the sky over the mountains!

The trails are easy to follow and even though I headed the wrong way a few times, the trail brought me back to the main route. Pictures attached….

El Chaltén, Argentina

El Chalten

El Chalten

Fitz Roy from Cabana

Fitz Roy from Cabana

El Chaltén in Santa Cruz Province is a sleepy Patagonian village surrounded by the Andes Mountains. Since I arrived we’ve had wind and rain at night, but beautiful crystal clear days. The daytime temperature is in the high 40s and at night it’s in the low 30s.

El Chalten

El Chalten

Magnificent Mt. Fitz Roy is the dominant peak on the skyline. At almost 12,000 feet it’s something! It was first climbed in 1952 by two French mountain climbers and is considered one of the world’s most difficult mountains to climb.

The European influence here is significant – French, Portuguese, Italian, and of course Spanish. Food in El Chaltén is fantastic – the best so far during this trip! On the other hand, the markets are sparse and offer only basic items – except for the wine choices, which are incredible.

My cabana is within a half block of hiking and it’s convenient not having to find transportation to the trailheads. I’m enjoying day hikes in sunshine and clean, fresh air. Three moderate hikes right outside the door are Mirador del Torre, Laguna Torre, and Mirador Maestri. Patagonian sunsets are among the most dramatic I’ve seen anywhere in the world – a vivid pink impossible to capture with my little camera.

El Chalten Fitz Roy in Background

El Chalten – Fitz Roy in Background

:Lake Nahuel Huapi

Lake Nahuel Huapi Bariloche

Leaving Wednesday for San Carlos de Bariloche in Río Negro Province. The city is on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi and surrounded by mountains and forests. The population in Bariloche is about 150,000.

The air fare between El Chaltén and Bariloche is ridiculously high, so I’m braving another long bus ride. Bus fares in Argentina are not cheap compared to Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. Argentinian buses are more comfy, serve meals, and have reclining or “cama” seats. The bus ride to Bariloche is about 24 hours (I know…) and passes by some magnificent scenery. Buses remain the primary means of long haul transportation in South America and for my type of travel they work. Generally they are about a fourth or less of air fare costs.

San Carlos De Bariloche

San Carlos De Bariloche

There are a few trains in Patagonia but mostly running south. I imagine the trains are even slower than the buses. The fascinating “Train to the End of the World” is a small tourist train that leaves from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego and tours the National Park. I decided not to travel to Tierra del Fuego because getting there and back is very expensive and at this time of the year it’s too cold for the clothes I packed.

If I like Bariloche am considering renting a small apartment and staying for a few weeks. Moving constantly is tiring but at this point I’ve almost grown accustomed to it. Bariloche is the first place I’ve found small short-term rentals available. It would be nice to be in a city and have a kitchen for a few days. Also, attending a live theater, music, or dance performance would be fabulous!

More later….

Argentina – El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno

Perito Moreno Glacier

Earlier this week I crossed the Chilean border into Argentina and have spent the past few days exploring El Calafate, a beautiful Patagonian town. El Calafate is surrounded by groves of towering alum trees turning a stunning autumn yellow. The town was named after Patagonia’s indigenous calafate bush. They say if you eat calafate berries you’re guaranteed to return to Patagonia.

Southern Beech Tree

Southern Beech Tree

El Calafate is one of the world’s most popular trekking and hiking locations and known as the “capital of the glaciers”. It’s a few miles from the National Park Los Glaciares which was given a ‘World Patrimony of Humanity‘ declaration by the United Nations. The Park covers almost 2,000 square miles with stunning glaciers descending into lakes Viedma and Argentino.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno

El Calafate has its share of high-end hotels, lodges, shops, and restaurants catering year round to tourists from all over the world. There are some impressive artisan shops in the main part of town. I found a reasonably priced accommodation and a fantastic restaurant – Isabel. It’s named after a famous Argentinian actress, Isabel Sarli. For parts of this trip it’s been difficult finding food I like.

Lenga Trees

Lenga Trees

The glaciers in the Park are all magnificent but Perito Moreno is especially fascinating. It’s a wall of ice over 200 vertical feet high – roughly the size of a 15-story building. The glacier goes back 3 miles and is 19 miles long! It descends from the Southern Patagonian Ice field in the Andes Mountains down into the water and warmer altitudes of Lago Argentino. Perito Moreno is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nearby on the north arm of Lake Argentino you can also see Upsala, Onelli, and Spegazzini glaciers.

Laguna Nimez El Calafate

Laguna Nimez El Calafate

Glaciers make cracking ice sounds 24 hours a day and when a front wall falls down, it’s supposed to be an unforgettable sight and sound! The colors and shapes of massive chunks of ice floating in Lake Argentino are another amazing sight. Perito Moreno is famous for periodically cutting off the major southern arm (known as Brazo Rico) of Lake Argentino. It advances across the lake to the opposite shoreline.

“The glacier’s grounded (not floating) ice tongue forms a natural dam. The ice dam prevents lake water circulating from one side to the other, which in turn causes muddier water to concentrate in Brazo Rico. Water flows down under the glacier from the mountains, not only carrying the mud into the lake but also helping lubricate the glacier’s downhill movement.” As an “advancing glacier” Perito Moreno is constantly changing, swelling, and growing – rather than receding – at a rate of up to 7 feet a day.

Lago Argentino

Lago Argentino

Calafate Bush

Calafate Bush

There are various ways to get close to Perito Moreno. I considered an ‘ice trekking’ tour walking inside Perito Moreno but decided to just spend the day hiking near the glacier. The hiking trail around the glacier is thoughtfully designed and gives you the opportunity to see Perito Moreno at eye level as well as from above and below.

Hiking trails also extend into forested areas beyond the glacier where you can see indigenous plants and dominant species such as southern beech and lenga trees. In autumn, the lenga trees turn a gorgeous deep crimson color filling the mountains with brilliant splotches of red.

Argentino Lake

Argentino Lake

Perito Moreno is one of the most beautiful natural wonders I’ve ever seen! It’s pure magic. The constant sound of the ice cracking and moving is eerie and definitely gets your attention. It sounds a bit like distance gun shots. I was hoping a wall would break apart during my hike – didn’t happen – but a large fractured piece of ice fell off into the water and watching it was exciting.

The force of falling chunks of ice and the pieces that get thrust into the air can be dangerous. One sign posted near the glacier says that from 1966 to 1988, 32 visitors standing too close when a chunk of the glacier fell off died from injuries after being hit by air-borne pieces of ice. I imagine there have been many visitor accidents caused by people who do not respect the glacier and get too close. Rangers patrol the hiking path reminding visitors to stay on the trail.

During the hike I noticed two bold photographs (they looked like professionals) getting very close to the glacier for some amazing shots. At the end of the day as I was hiking back to the main lodge I saw rangers escorting the photographers out of the park. Not sure exactly what they did but obviously they broke the rules.

Tomorrow I leave for a few days in nearby El Chaltén, a new town in Argentina popular with trekkers, climbers, mountaineers, and mountain lovers who come to the Andes.

Adios Puerto Natales, Chile

Main Square

Puerto Natales Main Square

Tomorrow morning is Puerto Natales departure day. After a week I’ve gotten to know some of the locals and found favorite restaurants and shops. Will miss this beautiful place and some of the little things are the fondest memories. Like the terrifying big wolf-like dog down the street that’s really a softie and carries a rock in his mouth to drop in front of you so you’ll throw it and play.

Then there’s the friendly German lady who runs the lavanderia, never forgets a customer, and always has your laundry done perfectly and on time. Also the small French restaurant that makes the best pasta and sauces in the world, and the Chilean ladies who create dried fruit like you’ve never tasted in your life. Most of all I’ll miss the brilliant sunrises and sunsets and breathtaking scenery, especially along Last Hope Sound where black swans and fishing boats pose in front of mountain peaks and glaciers!

Sculpting along Last Hope Sound

Sculpting Along Last Hope Sound

Puerto Natales is a happy community and they do things their way, including shutting down everything (except restaurants) for siesta from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. I’ve learned to be more patient and that little things can wait.

It’s beginning to get cold – the low 30s at night and 50s during the day – and people are winding down for “off season,” when most tourists are gone and they have some time for themselves and their families.

Tomorrow I head for El Calafate, then El Chaltén and San Carlos de Bariloche – on the Argentinian side of Patagonia – and eventually Buenos Aires. Hoping the border crossing goes smoothly. US citizens pay a “reciprocity fee” to enter Argentina and I did that on the Internet so should be OK.

More later from Argentina….