Debbie & Alby in Argentina

Moreno Glacier, ARGENTINA

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DECEMBER 27, 2000 -- (9.30am) We exit Puerto Montt heading north a little way and turn eastward to the Argentine border, crossing land covered in forests of Pine and Southern Beech; a very nice way to cross a land border.

Our bus drops us off at the station of San Carlos de Bariloche, and we commence a 3km walk to the centre of town to find a place to change travellers cheques. Bariloche is a holiday resort centre sitting on the southern edge of Nahuel Huapi Lake with snow-capped mountains to the west - very picturesque. As picture-perfect Bariloche is, so too are the image-conscious people that visit here. Colorful name-brands worn by tall, lean, mostly young and well-off Argentine students on vacation.

A short walk uphill from the centre to scout for accommodation offering camping options. We find it at the private residence of a good-hearted lady who had transformed her backyard into a fully-equipped hostal/campground. It was perfect. Happy New Year!!

JANUARY 10, 2001 -- After a couple of weeks of sunshine, occasional rain, and the odd windstorm, we leave on a long haul south to Rio Gallegos, involving a 17 hour wait at Comodoro Rivadavia for the connecting bus at midnight. A couple of young Canadians happened to be heading in the same general direction, so we hooked up with them for some good conversation. All Canadian travellers we have been fortunate enough to meet on this journey of ours, possess such genuine friendliness towards everyone and a concern for the natural environment to a passion that one could offer nothing but admiration.

It's been 1 year and 11 months since we entered Mexico and today we capture sight of the Atlantic Ocean for the 1st time. Not really a climactic moment for us. Actually, it was more of a relief knowing that soon we will be heading in a northward direction for a change. But first, we must visit a few places in southern Patagonia and Ushuaia...

JANUARY 12, 2001 -- (11.30am) Arrival at Rio Gallegos and then straight on yet another bus heading back inland NW towards the mountains to the base of Lago Argentino where another tourist centre lies - El Calafate. Good services, good campgrounds and central for access to the Cordillera national parks that provide unlimited trekking, climbing and cycling opportunities in the region.

It's a small world after all. Our couple from France that we had met on the train from Bolivia a month ago walked past our tent one night looking for a place to pitch their's. And so, follows a night of pizza and drinks along with exchange of information; they were heading to New Zealand from Buenos Aires, and we were going to Ushuaia via Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.

JANUARY 17, 2001 -- A bus picks us up from the campsite and takes us on a road of loose rock (78kms west) to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares - in particular the Glaciar Perito Moreno, with beautiful views Lago Argentino on the way. After paying national park entry fees we get dropped off at a free campsite, 8 kms away from the famous glacier and quickly find a good spot by the river. A very popular place for holiday makers here because, during the holiday season, it's the only free campsite in the peninsula.

Unfortunately, for what seemed, at first, to be a nice quiet spot by a river in beautiful forest setting, turned into somewhat like an overcrowded, noisy backyard. Local holiday-makers whether large families or young city campers have a certain disregard to the preservation of a natural environment. Within 3 days since we arrived, the whole area around us had been transformed. The trail paths around the river and directly around our tent was littered with toilet paper. Park rangers and volunteers do drop by every day which was rather interesting for us. They would politely point out to everybody the do's and don't's - in particular the "...don't take wood branches directly from the trees, only the fallen ones if building a fire." Once they leave, we would see people, especially children from large family groups, armed with hatchets running around chopping - it's hilarious. We expected this sort of behaviour in developing countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru etc.. to survive the Andean climate but not Argentina.

8kms from our campsite is the spectacular Moreno Glacier - one of nearly 50 major glaciers fed by the southern Patagonian ice-field, and is also one of the world's few still advancing. Changes in global temperatures have dramatically changed all that.

Long ago before the Americas were colonised by humans, the landscape of southern Patagonia (Fuego-Patagonia) was affected by repeated glacier advances that shaped the water-filled basins and major river channels that exist today. During each glacier advance, rock debris was carried by ice and meltwater to the glacier snout and this material was pushed into piled ridges called moraines. El Calafate, the tourist town, is currently sitting on one. So from these belts of morainic deposits, scientists can determine the former limits of each of the past glacial advances (Last Glacial Maximum ice limits occurred around 19 000 to 21 000 years ago). From that time forward the glaciers slowly receded in response to rising global temperatures, resulting in rising sea levels and the recovery of land surface to its former altitude (5000 - 6000 years ago).

We walked along the gravel road, passing great views of the lake and the distant glacier itself while watching out for speeding traffic at the same time. Arrival at 4 pm just as large tour buses were leaving gave us some excellent photo opportunities of glacier and the iceberg channel. A perfect day for capturing large pieces of ice falling off the face and violently entering the lake waters.

JANUARY 21, 2001 -- We flag down a bus heading back to El Calafate and prepare for our entrance back into Chile.

Photos and Text Copyright © 1999-2001 Gardner-Berg. All rights reserved.

Sources of Further Reading-

Falkner, Thomas. "Description of Patagonia and the Adjoining Parts of South America" 1978

Hatcher, John B. "Bone Hunters in Patagonia: Narrative of the Expedition" 1985.

Hudson, W.H. "Idle Days in Patagonia" 1968.

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