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Liz's Lines: PATAGONIA
by Liz Jackson

In April, I took a trip to Argentina. By now you may have noticed a pattern that I am returning over and over to South America to discover more about it. That’s not to say that I have forsaken traveling to the rest of the world. In 2007, I went to the Czech Republic and Austria on a Backroads Bicycle trip (see my January, 2008 newsletter) and was in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for a golf vacation (next newsletter!)

However, I am making a concerted effort to explore and visit many of the worthy and loved destinations in South and Central America. In my travels in the last few years, I have been to Argentina, Brazil, Chile and this year, back to Argentina to see more of it. Next year, I am going to Peru. Additionally, I have been to Costa Rica twice and to Guatemala. I have more of Central America to learn about for sure. And I feel very comfortable advising you about interior and Colonial Mexico (a number of which towns and cities I have visited) as well as the coastal resorts. One thing to keep in mind is that you really get a lot of bang for your buck in South and Central America. The dollar goes much further there than it does in most of the world. This is an important consideration in these economic times and a good reason to consider re-adjusting your travel sights.

This spring’s trip was to Patagonia with a very short stay in Buenos Aires at both ends since you must fly into and out of Buenos Aires. It was good.

Patagonia is everything you have heard about it. The southernmost end of the American continent in both Chile and Argentina conjures up ideas of the myths and legends of the vast expanse of land incorporating lakes, volcanoes, glaciers, and untamed wilderness. Whether it is the magical island of Chiloe in Chile, the Torres del Paine National Park, the rivers, fjords, rainforests, mountains, views of hundreds of glaciers cascading into the sea, the Tierra del Fuego with Cape Horn, the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel or the southernmost city of the world, Ushuaia, you know and feel that you are in Patagonia. It is truly unique.

Last year in Chile, I was in the northern portion of Chilean Patagonia.
This year in Argentina I explored several parts of Patagonia. It is an area that invites exploration by a variety of means. The distances are vast and your activities can include winter sports, sport fishing, hiking, nature exploration, kayaking and tourism.

You’ll want some details. We flew from Buenos Aires to El Califate which is a 3+ hour flight south of the capital. Califate is the gateway to the Parque los Glacieres (Glacier Park) it is a very pleasant town of just about 17,000 and a good place to stay if you want to combine outdoors adventure with the convenience and cultural opportunities of a town.

There are a number of quite nice hotels right in the town and nearby that are excellent options for you to enjoy depending on your interests, your time and your budget. All have really nice spas and workout facilities as well as attractive and good restaurants. You can stay in a traditional Spanish colonial style hotel right in the center of town or one of several hotels at the edges of town that are more modern with great views of the vast lands around you including the lake (Lago Argentino).. Another possibility is the new deluxe boutique hotel with a fabulous restaurant owned by Cristina Kirschner, the President of Argentina.

Outside of town about 20 minutes is a delightful estancia with amazing views of the mountains and steppes of the Andes. We spent one night even further out at an all inclusive luxury lodge facing the Perito Moreno Glacier which was pretty impressive. A more budget-savvy option is to stay in more simple refugios (simple lodges) in the park. Day trips from any of these options would work to sample what you want to do and see. Keep in mind that the distances in Patagonia are great and you will have to travel several hours to reach various destinations. The roads are quite good however.

Any of these locations and hotels would be a good choice. You are right there in the center of the area that you have come to Patagonia to visit. You can do almost any kind of excursion, depending on your interest and fitness level from minitreking, walking on the glaciers, catamaran trips, hiking to the highlands around you and onto the glaciers. There are boat trips onto the lakes to get closer to the glaciers. There are networks of walkways and platforms to take you out almost onto the glacier with fabulous views

You are in the Glacier National Park. You can see Perito Moreno Glacier, Cerro Torre, Uppsala Glacier, Fitzroy Glacier, and Viedma Glacier. It all depends on how far you are willing to travel. The region is huge just like in the American west. You are in Argentina but only 20 miles from Chile and 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean as that far south the continent is so narrow. To give you a better idea of your location, the famous Torres del Paine in Chile is south of Calafate about 40 kilometers, but about two hundred miles via land because of the circuitous route you would have to take due to the mountains, glaciers and lakes

How to describe the glaciers? Wow!!! I had seen only old tired glaciers before such as some in the Canadian Rockies and Chamonix in France. These are amazing. Huge multi-story blue towers of ice (the less oxygen and more hydrogen the more blue a glacier is). They are surrounded by brown barren steppes punctured by high mountains. It is a completely glacier landscape void of trees and littered with a few rocks. I saw that not all glaciers are the same and you can see a difference among them, but all appear awesome.

There are huge icebergs as well. The icebergs are spectacular, scary and immense as you sail among them on a boat near a glacier. They are incredibly blue and the silence around you is deafening! To me, the glaciers and the icebergs were the top stars of Patagonia by far.

We also traveled out past the famous historic lodge of La Leona in Santa Cruz on our way out to El Chalten, a tiny Andean town on the Viedma Lake. This town is called the National Trekking city and is growing quite rapidly. Right now it is a sleepy little town that is changing overnight into a boom town. Spending time out here gives you the chance to see more glaciers and to do lots of hiking and trekking if that is your passion. We stayed at a comfortable deluxe rustic lodge that put us right across from the glaciers. This is about a three hour drive away. Unless you are interested in seeing all of this up close and personal and in doing a lot of hiking and trekking I don’t think you need to go this far into the park..

Our next destination was the bottom of the earth, to Tierra del Fuego, actually an island. We flew to Ushuaia (a 1 hour flight), the southernmost city in the world located on the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan. The name of the town means Bay to the West and it is the only city in Argentina WEST of the Andes.

Founded in 1884 by a military expedition to fight English and Chilean settlements, from 1910 until 1947 it was a prison to which criminals were sent, like Australia was for Britain a long time ago. Juan Peron closed the prison for humanitarian reasons but the city stagnated for years because people thought of it as a prison-city. However in recent years it has grown rapidly from about 5,000 to over 60,000 people because of a huge increase in tourism in Patagonia and also because it serves as a jumping off point for Antarctica and Falkland Island tourism. There is a very interesting tour of the former prison (a la Alcatraz) along with its excellent maritime and art museum. The town has many tourist shops but the most interesting are the gem and rock stores with good sculptures and art.

Hotel choices here are quite varied as well and I have several I can recommend all of which have great views of the mountains or Beagle Channel

There is a large variation in climate in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego has a much colder, windier and rainier climate. I was there in late April (like late October here) and our visit to Penguin Island had to be cancelled due to ice and snow in the mountains. I would choose to go to this area during their summer!

Your options for adventure ar