On the Argentine Side

Before the President of Chile closed the country’s borders to lessen the spread of the coronavirus, we traveled across Patagonia, to the Argentine side. Although Argentina is best known for its barbequed steaks and tango dancing, we came instead for its gargantuan glaciers and towering mountains.

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Guanaco in the Patagonian Grasslands of Argentina

The bus trip through Patagonia is a very long and tedious ride. Hour after hour, we passed vast treeless grasslands supporting large herds of sheep, smaller groups of llama-like camelids called guanacos, and fast-running flightless birds known as Darwin’s rheas.

Border cross

Crossing the Chile-Argentina Border

As one might expect in scrubby Patagonia, the border crossing consisted of a couple modest buildings on a dusty dirt road in the middle of nowhere. After waiting in line for an hour to get our passports stamped, we finally arrived at our destination of Los Glaciares National Park.

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Tour Boat on Lake Argentino

Los Glaciares is Argentina’s largest national park. Within the park, the monotonous Argentine grasslands give way to knife-edged mountain peaks, large turquoise-colored lakes, and the great glaciers of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.

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Panoramic View of Perito Moreno Glacier

After Antarctica and Greenland, the Southern Patagonia Ice Field is the third largest reserve of fresh water on the planet. From its source in the high Andes Mountains, this immense sheet of solid ice spawns dozens of broad valley glaciers advancing at a rate of more than 30 feet (9 m) per day.

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Face of Perito Moreno Glacier

Nowhere on the Southern Patagonia Ice Field is glacial movement easier to observe than at the Perito Moreno Glacier. Here, from a network of observation decks, we watched the blue-gray glacial ice crack and crumble before our very eyes. Each time a large chunk of ice calved from the glacier’s face, it plunged into azure Lake Argentino with a thunderous splash.

Chalten sunrise

Awaiting the Sunrise in the Village of El Chaltén

After our moving experience at Perito Moreno Glacier, we continued on to the other end of Los Glaciares National Park and the small mountain village of El Chaltén. Named Argentina’s Trekking Capital, El Chaltén exists solely to serve hikers and mountaineers from around the world.

Fitz Roy massif

Mount Fitz Roy Massif

Various trails originating in El Chaltén lead through alpine forests to crystalline lakes and soaring solid rock spires adorned with overhanging mountain glaciers. The crown jewel of El Chaltén’s scenic treasures and the highest peak in Los Glaciares National Park is the monumental massif of Mount Fitz Roy.

Fitz Roy lake

Mount Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres

Straddling the border of Chile and Argentina, Mount Fitz Roy is an arrangement of serrated granite pinnacles carved by glacial ice. Because of its inspiring and iconic form, the Patagonia Clothing brand selected the Fitz Roy massif for its familiar company logo. On our visit, we had the rare opportunity to admire this majestic monolith bathed in brilliant sunshine.

Fitz Roy from bus

Mount Fitz Roy Massif

In time, the coronavirus will be contained, international borders will re-open, and blue skies will assuredly return. In the meantime, we are grateful for the chance to cross the vast grasslands of Patagonia, and visit that gigantic grinding glacier and mighty mountain massif on the Argentine side.

There it goes!

Featured Image: Fun with Flags! From left to right: Province of Santa Cruz Flag, National Flag of Argentina, Flag of El Chaltén. Mount Fitz Roy in the background.

Blogger’s Note: Today, we completed our 14-day coronavirus quarantine without any symptoms. In the two weeks since we returned from South America, we have only left the house for a couple grocery runs and our long daily walks. We hope everyone is maintaining their good health and high spirits. Take good care!

36 thoughts on “On the Argentine Side

    • Thank you, Emily. I’m sure you know the feeling when you come across an incredible sight like a moving glacier or sun-drenched granite monolith. It was difficult to take my eyes off of them, and impossible to resist one more photo. Glad you liked my selections, but the pictures fail to do these places justice.

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    • Great to hear from you, Deb. The colors of these glacial lakes result from fine sediment called rock flour suspended in the water from the grinding of the rock by the glacier. Depending on the minerals in the rock flour, we saw lakes that were turquoise, aquamarine, emerald green, and milky blue-gray. Esther and I hope you and Jeff are doing well. We presume you are staying active and healthy in the Arizona sun. You are probably the least likely of our friends to remain stationary. Take good care!

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    • Very well said, Neil. Even though I called the Argentine grasslands tedious, I was still mesmerized by the shear scale of this landscape. Perhaps, a long voyage on the open ocean might be an apt analogy. After hundreds of miles of staring out the window, I was snapped out of my trance by the astonishing highlights like Perito Moreno Glacier and Mount Fitz Roy. Alas, it is impossible for me to find the adjectives to describe their awe-inspiring beauty. Hope all is well with you and yours in eastern PA.

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  1. Joe, I don’t have any experience with glaciers, so I can imagine that seeing them calve in person is spectacular. Really nice photos of Mt. Fitz Roy. It sounds like you guys sneaked through the immigration shutdown just in time. I’m sure it was a tricky and stressful time. I’m glad you made it home and hope that you are safe and staying healthy. ~James

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    • Thanks, James. Esther and I appreciate your well wishes, and trust that you and Terri are staying in good health and good cheer. Since I studied geology in Arizona and Texas, we never took field trips to see glaciers. I had read that the booming sound of a calving glacier was especially impressive. Our visit to Perito Moreno Glacier was more than I could have expected. Given the rate of its advancement, this huge glacier calves every few minutes. For me, it was very exciting to see geology in motion. Mount Fitz Roy was equally impressive. Although not in motion, seeing it on such a brilliant day was also an unforgettable experience. Take good care! ~Joe

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  2. Stunning landscapes… and that water… hard to believe it was really that color – wow! I’m glad that you have come through your 14-day quarantine OK and now you get to join the rest of us as we shelter in place (is there really a difference?). I remember watching the glaciers in Alaska calve… the incredible force of nature is a sight to behold.

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    • Thanks, Janis! As you know, watching a glacier calve is an unforgettable experience. It is so rare to see such a dynamic display of geology. You are right that it is a sensational example of the force of nature. The lakes that are filled by the glacial melt water are impressive in their own right. Each of the many glacial lakes that we saw had a different blend of blue, green and gray colors. One memorable lake was an opaque cobalt blue! We are happy to finish our 14-day quarantine. Now that we are sheltered in place, we have not changed our routine; but, we are relieved that we will not transmit the virus to anyone with whom we might make accidental contact. Be well!

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    • Thank you, Deepa. I hope that you and your family and friends are in good health and high spirits. We are very relieved that we didn’t contract the virus during our long, crowded, and tortuous trip home. Probably the most difficult thing for me is not knowing how long it will be until we get back to normal. Like many things in life, it is probably best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Take good care of yourself!

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    • Thank you, Ann! In this case, the long voyage was definitely worth the effort. I am one of those weird people that loves the window seat. Even though the scenery barely changed for five hours, I still couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Besides seeing the unusual guanacos and ostrich-like rheas, I also spotted high flying condors and brightly colored flamingos. It was so interesting to see these different species in the wild. We were obviously disappointed to cut our trip short, but are very fortunate to be safe and comfortable in our own home. I am already looking forward to resuming our trip, after we all get through this calamity. I hope all is well with you, your grandson, and all the rest of your family and friends.

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    • We are fortunate indeed, Amanda. Ever since I first studied a map of South America, I have wondered what it would be like to visit Patagonia. It really is a dry featureless landscape punctuated by some magnificent natural highlights. Thankfully, we had the opportunity and time to experience it all.

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      • A former boss, one of the best I have had, left my workplace and worked as a tour guide in this very region. I envied her these amazing vistas. But after a year or so, she returned to Scotland. Home is after all where the heart is, and she missed her family.

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    • It really was a thrilling sight, Christi. I’m glad you liked the video. When it comes to calving glaciers, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video would be worth a million. I must credit our Gen Z daughter Cassie for taking the video. If we had to rely on my videography skills, I probably would have dropped my phone into the lake like one of those big chunks of ice. We really appreciate your well wishes, and trust that you and your family and friends are also remaining healthy and in good cheer.

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    • Thanks, Dave. I know you are so impressed by all the famous mountains that I pretend to know. I must tell you that I recently ran into Admiral FitzRoy, who told me all about his adventures with Charles Darwin. Aren’t I a fancy-pants? Seriously though, we felt extremely lucky to have had the chance to see these outstanding sights under clear skies, before the virus sent us packing. Keep safe, well, and feeling chipper!

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    • Thank you, John! The most difficult thing about writing a travel blog is finding the adjectives and images to describe our beautiful planet. Try as I may, it remains an elusive task.

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  3. Joe, I can see that it was definitely worth the long bus journey, and queuing to get your passport stamped for a chance to have a look at these amazing National Park. The Los Glaciares NP really looks incredible, I have been wanting to visit Perito Moreno for a long time, but no chance of that now. I used the bus services to travel in Peru and found them to be super comfortable, what was this bus ride like? Did they serve any food? Stunning photos Joe, thank you for a great post.

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    • Hi Gilda, Hopefully, you will make it to Perito Moreno someday. From there, it is only three more hours by bus to El Chaltén and Mount Fitz Roy. These were two of the most impressive places I have ever visited. The buses were safe and comfortable. No food was served, but we did make a food and restroom stop on the longer six hour journey. I am currently researching Peru for a future trip. Due to accidents and banditry, I have read that it is best to use the better bus companies, and avoid night buses in the more remote areas. Besides Cusco, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu, can you recommend some of your favorite places in Peru?

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      • Joe, We loved Peru and could not recommend it more. There are some great buses in Peru, very comfortable for longer journeys. We used buses a lot but only travelled during the day because we really wanted to see the fabulous scenery. Besides Cusco, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, I totally recommend Arequipa, it is a beautiful place. But also from Arequipa do not miss out on doing the overnight trip to Colca Canyon to see the Condors and some amazing volcanos. We also loved hiking in Huaraz, particularly Laguna 69 and also a hike to visit the Glacier which is almost at the same altitude as Everest Base Camp. I am sure you will have a great time there.

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        • Thanks for the great suggestions, Gilda. This helps me focus my research. I am going to look deeper at Arequipa and Huaraz. It all sounds fascinating!

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    • I hope you can make it to Patagonia some day, Eilene. I haven’t seen the Alaskan glaciers, but I am sure they are equally spectacular. I don’t think I will soon forget the raw power of nature revealed in the calving of that massive river of ice. As you surmise, the Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno, for which the glacier is named, himself named Mount Fitz Roy after the heroic Beagle captain Robert FitzRoy.

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