A few years ago, I wanted to see Antarctica and my husband wanted to see Patagonia, so we compromised and took a pre-trip to Bariloche on our way to Antarctica. We loved Antarctica and liked Bariloche very much. Our primary take-away: we want to see more of Patagonia.
That’s what prompted us to sign up for an OAT Patagonia trip––that, and the fact that OAT offered a special price to fill the last couple of spots on a March tour. Here are just a few reasons why we are happy we made the decision to go.
El Calafate: This outpost in Argentina Patagonia, close to Chile, is a small-but-growing, laid-back city with super-friendly people and 6000 well-fed and friendly dogs. But 6,000? Perhaps too many even for the locals. El Calafate has started neutering stray “community” dogs as a public service.
We had a good dinner at La Zorra, a craft beer taproom, where a tail-wagging dog came through the door every time someone entered. I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of one young woman physically pushing the seated dog, scooting him along the floor and out the door. When he followed the next person in, another patron lured the dog out by holding his hand as if he had food to offer. Of course, the dog was back in a few minutes, and after a bit, settled down for a nap beneath our table.
Glaciers: I had never even heard of the Patagonian Ice Fields, but they are huge and generate a lot of glaciers. Southern Ice Field as seen from outer space.
We walked through the rain for a close-up view of Pia Glacier
and hiked the windy terminal moraine of Grey Glacier,
past Grey Lake, and up to a lookout for a beautiful view.
We saw dozens of glaciers from the ship, including those of Glacier Alley in the Beagle Channel. But the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, within driving distance from El Calafate, is not to be missed.
We saw it on a rare perfect day––blue sky, no wind––only ten days a year are not cloudy, and the mountains in the background get snow most every day. The top of the glacier is jagged due to a disruption of flow. As the glacier moves over rocks, it breaks, similar to the action of rapids in a river. The views are the kind of “spectacular” that are hard to capture in a photo (sort of like the Grand Canyon).
National Parks: Every park that we’ve seen in Argentina and Chile has been beautiful. We love Tierra del Fuego and I’ve written about that before, but the mountains of Torres del Paine are downright stunning. Similar in geology to our Yosemite, the park is filled with great photo ops and nice hikes.
Signs of life: Not many people live in Patagonia, but there are frequent signs of life.
We saw condors––too far for me to get a good photo––and many southern crested caracara.
We hiked near guanaco, a Patagonia native in the camelid family. Like all the native animals, they are protected by law.
But we didn’t get too close––if threatened, they spit regurgitated grass. Not nice.
Vast Nothing-ness: This was my favorite thing about Patagonia, which hosts less than one person per square kilometer. Estancias (ranches) might be 12,000 acres, or they might be more than 200,000 acres. Ranchers pay a profit tax, but no real estate tax. We are told that 5000 head of sheep can be managed by two men, three horses, and eight dogs, with extra hands hired for shearing, and that one dog can do the work of twenty men. We do see some dogs in action: they love to “herd.”
Our bus traveled miles and miles on a lonely road bordering ranches of hundreds of thousands of acres––beautiful in a stark way––while our tour guides entertained us with Chilean and Argentinian history, telling of corrupt administrations, military takeovers, and egotistical dictators who ruined the country by privatizing everything. “We’re not in any way referring to the government of the U.S.,” they would say again and again, allowing our group of twenty-one to remain friendly with one another.
We enjoyed a special treat as we drove through the wide open land: One of our fellow travelers entertained us by singing opera, which was all the more impressive knowing the words are not his native language (he grew up in Korea). He took up Italian opera as a way to exercise his mind in retirement. Snippet of a serenade in Patagonia. Another serenade in Patagonia. Impressive, don’t you think?
I loved, most of all, the vastness of Patagonia. It is not for the weak, but if you are physically up to the trip, you will love it too.
If you have chance, opt for freshly-barbequed lamb at an estancia. You’ll love that, too.
Travel date: March 2018