3.01.2011

DRIVING PATAGONIA

We've spent the last week driving around Patagonia with Mike's parents, Joe and Ruth. It has been fabulous seeing familiar faces, talking about things from back home and getting resupplied with various bike and clothing items that we've worn out and needed before the next leg of our trip. It has been interesting traveling by vehicle instead of bicycle. When on a bike, you expect the world to go by slowly while in a car you expect the miles to fly by quickly. But we've found it to be the exact opposite, seemingly taking forever to drive the “short” distances we rode each day. We've watched hundreds of miles that we pedaled go by in reverse order as we drove back to some of Patagonia's National Parks, vividly recalling what each day of riding was like, from the weather to our moods to the people we met and places we camped. It has been fun sharing those details with Joe and Ruth, allowing them to put a visual along with our stories and really get a feel for how we have been living for the past 4 months.

Our first destination was Torres del Paine National Park. Day one was a flop in terms of scenery as it was rainy and the clouds blocked all of our views of the mountains. We awoke on day two to more clouds surrounding the peaks, but bright blue skies off in the distance giving us hope that they'd burn off and allow us to see the views we were all anxiously anticipating. It turned out to be our lucky day, the weather warm and unusually calm, in fact not hardly a breeze could be felt which is unheard of in Patagonia, and around lunch time the clouds suddenly began to lift and bit by bit the towering, jagged, snow-covered granite peaks emerged. Before long we were slack-jawed, in awe of the magnificent 360-degree view of mountains, glacial lakes, rolling desert pampa and the distant glaring white spread of the massive Campo de Hielo Sur (the Southern Patagonian Ice Field). We spent the entire day driving virtually every road in the park, stopped at all of the landmarks, took hundreds of pictures, capturing the park from every possible angle and never once grew tired of the unfathomable natural beauty that surrounded us.
Paine Grande in Torres del Paine National Park. 

The three towers in Torres del Paine National Park. 

Iceberg on Lago Grey.  Torres del Paine.

After Torres del Paine we hadn't planned on driving all the way to El Chalten in one day, but off in the distance we could see the monstrous granite spire of the famous Mt. Fitz Roy peaking over the horizon and we knew it could potentially be our only chance of seeing it, so we drove on. On our bikes, Mike and I spent 3 days in Chalten hoping to see the mountains of Fitz Roy and Torre but all we got were low-hanging clouds, rain and news that most people who visit there never actually see them because the weather is almost always bad. We pulled into town late in the day without a cloud in the sky, but the sun was on the wrong side of the mountains, giving them a faded and washed out look. Our second day in Chalten was just as we had expected, dreary and drizzly and even though our view of the mountains the day before wasn't perfect, we were thrilled that we were able to get a glimpse of it at all. Much to our amazement, we awoke on day 3 to an unbelievably calm and clear day with superb lighting on the peaks with the giant Cerro Fitz Roy in the foreground towering over the town of Chalten and the steep, jagged spires of Cerro Torre in the background offering us yet another awesome and breathtaking view of Patagonia's landscapes.
Glaciers National Park.

 Mt Fitz Roy.  Glaciers National Park.

Mt Torre.  Glaciers National Park.

Our final major place we wanted to visit on our week-long drive was the Perito Moreno Glacier outside of El Calafate. It is of 48 glaciers on the Campo de Hielo Sur, covers 97 square miles, is 19 miles long and is growing rather than receding. One thing that makes this glacier so incredible is that the distance between its icy face and the point to which people can drive is nothing but a narrow waterway connecting the two lakes it feeds into, which allows you to see the glacier up close and spend as much time watching it as you please without having to take a time-limited boat tour.

We were the first to arrive at the glacier, just as the sun was rising and though none of us expected to be completely “wowed” by a massive chunk of ice, we were all immediately mesmerized. We walked along the maze of steel paths offering views of the glacier from all angles, chose a platform and succumbed to the incredible, living natural phenomenon that lay before our eyes. In front of us was a beautiful mountain setting, an ice field spreading over the terrain with it's glacial arm extending for miles, snaking down through the valley, reaching out to grab us with its cold and spiny hand where we stood watching on the other side of the waterway. The face of the glacier was a sheer cliff of ice extending 3 miles across, white in some places, subtle shades of turquoise in others and midnight blue where chunks of ice had recently fallen. The surface was jagged with tremendous spikes of ice reaching nearly 200 feet above the water with deep blue crevasses reaching down between them.
First glimpse of the Perito Moreno Glacier. 

Perrito Moreno Glacier.

We were fortunate to be there on a calm day and arrived before the crowds which allowed us to hear the voice of the glacier without being drowned out by the wind or people's shouts of excitement. Though its movements are minute, the sounds a glacier produces are incredible and surprisingly variable. There were the short, crisp “pops” that sounded like a gun firing when small pieces of the glacier broke off and crashed into the water below. There was the rumble from deep within that reverberated throughout the glacier which sounded like a good Midwestern thunderstorm and sent chills down to your core. There were the “pings” that sounded like a tapping on a metal pipe and a tearing sound as giant chunks of ice slowly broke away from the mass, similar to the sound you'd hear when ripping a piece of bark off of the trunk of a huge tree.

I don't know how much action people get to see on a typical visit to Perito Moreno, but over the course of the day we witnessed incredible amounts of ice give way to the force pushing it from behind and the gravity pulling it from below. You anticipate where the next fall will occur based on the amount of small pieces dislodging themselves from the mass and the increase in noises coming from that area. You can see the spire of ice gradually being pushed outward and though you have no idea whether it will be enough to make it fall in the next hour or whether it will take a day more, there is something so captivating about seeing this action that you simply cannot pull your eyes away. Once it does break away, everything turns to slow motion. The creaking and cracking echoes in your ears, it seems to take forever for the ice to tumble into the water and create a thunderous crashing wave outward and every time your soul is filled with genuine excitement and awe as you watch and realize there couldn't be a much more spectacular event to witness. I never would have imagined that we could sit and contently stare at a mass of ice for as long as we did. But 5 and-a-half hours flew by and we would have easily stayed for the rest of the day had it not been for the rumble in our tummies reminding us that we hadn't eaten anything for nearly 18 hours.
 Perito Moreno Glacier.

Our week of driving around Patagonia has been unbelievably perfect and I don't think we could have gotten any luckier than we did. This region is notorious for its bad weather (in terms of sight-seeing) with its frequent cold, cloudy, rainy and unbearably windy days. Somehow we ended up with only a couple of rainy days and the wind decided not to show its ferociousness for the entire week. After all of my and Mike's talk of horrible Patagonian wind I'm afraid Joe and Ruth are going to return home thinking it's never windy here and that we're full of bologna.

3 comments:

Mom said...

We are back, safe and sound. Our two weeks were the highlight of the year; leaving was terribly hard. You two have accomplished so much and we can not thank you enough for the overwhelming experience in Patagonia.
Love you bunches!!

roxanamarrufo said...

the photos are breathtaking. i wish i can go there sometime in my life.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike and Cari it's Matt Thornton. The pictures you guys took are really amazing, keep following the dream and have fun!