A Travellerspoint blog

December 2013

The Perito Moreno glacier


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Merry Christmas everyone!

I know I know I am now quite late behind with the blog... So I will try to catch up as fast as I can in the next days, maybe writing condensed articles with less pictures, but I have been saying this now for a while so I would better not make any promises! :)

After Mendoza and Bariloche, I arrived 28 hours later in El Calafate and with new friends met on the bus. Already the prices for accommodation and food were higher but apparently it is common knowledge that Patagonia is a lot more expensive than the rest of Argentina. Yes you read correctly, I had finally reached Patagonia, the last region on my list in South America! I didn't count all the hours spent in buses but it would be interesting to make some statistics. However Patagonia is a big region, encompassing both Argentina and Chile so a little bit more to go still...

Anyway, in El Calafate the main attraction is the majestic Perito Moreno, a huge glacier which unlike others, is still growing and advancing. I didn't know much about glaciers before seeing one, so I will just provide a bit of information for those who want to know more about this nature wonder.

Basically a glacier is a large accumulation of snow, which forms ice over years and years. The main thing for a glacier to form and grow is that the glacier has to grow larger in winter than it is receding during the summer time (ablation). And finally, because of the gravity, the glacier will slowly move downwards like water and due to the effects of pressure, some parts of the glacier at the front will fall regularly, creating small icebergs and huge cracking sounds.

That's for the very very simplified explanation of what is a glacier and on the right is a diagram showing the different glacier parts.

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The Perito Moreno is quite spectacular and a famous tourist attraction as it is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, after just a short ride in bus, it is indeed possible to admire it and to be right in front of it. And the difference with this glacier is that the accumulation stage is more important than the melting and evaporation stage happening at the front so that's why the glacier is still growing, by sometimes up to 2 metres a day! And after a bit of thinking, we decided to squeeze some extra dollars in and do a guided tour on the glacier itself, with crampons. I have to say that the money was really worth the trip as you can judge by the few pictures below...

The right side of the glacier

The right side of the glacier


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Lago Argentino

Lago Argentino


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A bit far away, but I managed that day to capture the ice falling from the glacier

A bit far away, but I managed that day to capture the ice falling from the glacier


You feel very little in front of this wonder of the nature...

You feel very little in front of this wonder of the nature...


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The glacier from the "inside"

The glacier from the "inside"


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Our expedition

Our expedition


Matt and myself celebrating our day with a glass of whisky to warm us up... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Matt and myself celebrating our day with a glass of whisky to warm us up... ;)


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Posted by manolo84 20:15 Archived in Argentina Tagged glaciers english Comments (0)

From Salta to Bariloche

via Mendoza


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After San Pedro de Atacama I decided to cross straight away the border to end up in Argentina, in Salta more precisely. Salta is one of the biggest towns in the north of Argentina and located at the foothill of the Andes, also surrounded by the desert. The architecture is nice, with a colonial style, but I don't know why I wasn't feeling a good vibe there. My mind was probably already thinking of Patagonia and therefore after just a day, I took another bus (22 hours...) to reach Mendoza...

And I think Mendoza is probably a more familiar name as this town (and region) is the centre of the Argentinian wine industry, for which it is world renowned. It is also located near the Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas, just a few hours away by car (or bus....). The weather is good, not too hot (at least when I was there) and it seems to be a lively city where it is good to live in. And there are a few things to do when you come to Mendoza, the first one being to visit as many bodegas as you can! :) Be careful though, sun + good wine (+ food) is a lethal combination which can send you to bed by mid-afternoon! It definitely felt like being in the South of France....

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View to the Andes from the vineyards

View to the Andes from the vineyards


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The next day, I packed my small backpack and took the bus in direction of the Aconcagua National Park. We were the 14th of November and the park officially opens the 15th of November for the summer season so I couldn't get very close or even reach the first base camp of this enormous mountain (almost 7000 meters) but it was enough to have a glance at it and to tell myself that I would come back one day and make it to the top! I also had the chance to meet a nice french couple who offered me a ride back to Mendoza (and thus avoid waiting hours for the bus) and on the way we couldn't resist but to stop in a typical Argentinian restaurant to eat the local parrilla (meat grill). I think I easily ate at least 500g of meat that day...

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Condors circling in the national park

Condors circling in the national park


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bridge formed by thermal waters and minerals near the Aconcagua national park

bridge formed by thermal waters and minerals near the Aconcagua national park


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But time was running short once again and once back in Mendoza I decided to take a bus for my next stop in Argentina, Bariloche.
The bus ride was quite long (22 hours) and the landscape changes drastically between the two cities, but for the best I should say. Bariloche is a little jewel of a town which reminds a lot of several ski resorts in France. The main reason why people stop there I think is the amazing landscape as the town is located on the shores of the lake Nahuel Lapi and inside the National Park of the same name. There are a lot of outdoors activities available like hiking, horse riding, biking, kite-surfing, etc.. and I really felt it was a good place to relax and spend a few days...

Lake Nahuel Lapi

Lake Nahuel Lapi


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Stream inside the Nahuel Lapi national park

Stream inside the Nahuel Lapi national park


View from the Refugio Frey

View from the Refugio Frey


A weird shaped tree

A weird shaped tree


More waterfalls...

More waterfalls...

Posted by manolo84 00:58 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains lakes cities wine english treks Comments (0)

The desert of San Pedro de Atacama

sunny 40 °C
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After a few days spent in the Salar de Uyuni and the desert around, in Bolivia, we ended our 4WD (4x4) tour by crossing the Chilean border to arrive in San Pedro de Atacama. This little oasis village, located in the centre of one of the driest deserts, with its narrow dirt streets and attractive adobe houses, has transformed itself, since the 1990s, into the tourism centre of Chile. Sitting at an altitude of 2400m between the desert and the altiplano, or puna (the high basin connecting the two branches of the cordillera), this has been an important settlement since pre-Hispanic times, originally as a major stop on the trading route connecting the llama herders of these highlands with the fishing communities of the Pacific.

But because of its proximity with Bolivia and Argentina, and the amazing landscapes the desert nearby has to offer, this little town was literally full of Chilean tourists and gringos, and prices for accommodation and food come quite as a shock, overpriced and with poor quality.

But anyway, as I wasn't going to stay too long, I booked in the cheapest place I could find (about 14$ US...) and went to admire the Moon Valley and the sunset in the desert, as well as going to an observatory to look at the stars, the desert being one of the best places to watch them as there are no clouds and very few city lights.

After this, I spent some time struggling with my guidebook trying to establish an itinerary which would take me to Ushuaia by doing some kind of zigzag between Argentina and Chile, whilst seeing the more I could, all that in one month. Basically what I needed to do was to follow the Andes but with looooong bus journeys...

Salt caves in the desert

Salt caves in the desert


El Valle de la luna (the moon valley)

El Valle de la luna (the moon valley)


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View of the Licancabur Volcano (5916 m) from the Valley of the Moon

View of the Licancabur Volcano (5916 m) from the Valley of the Moon


Salt rock formation, "Las 3 Marias"

Salt rock formation, "Las 3 Marias"


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The Valley of the Death

The Valley of the Death


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With the stars...

With the stars...


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Posted by manolo84 13:09 Archived in Chile Tagged desert english stars Comments (2)

Salar de Uyuni


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Following Potosí, I decided to head off straight away for the south again, skipping cities such as Sucre or Santa Cruz (once again, this will be for another journey...) and ended up in Uyuni, which only purpose or so it seems is to serve as a springboard for tourists who want to explore the legendary salt flat Salar de Uyuni and the amazing landscapes the desert nearby has to offer.

Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat with 10,582 square kilometres and at an elevation of 3,656 meters. The Salar was apparently formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes and is covered by a few meters of salt crust. The best way to visit it is to book a 4WD tour for 3 days and to end up in Chile, in San Pedro de Atacama, after having crossed another national park full of coloured lakes, flamingos, alcapas, volcanoes, geysers, etc... I am not going to talk about it for ages but instead will let you admire the different pictures I took during these 3 days. A truly amazing tour...

As we were leaving Uyuni, a small sand tornado appeared...

As we were leaving Uyuni, a small sand tornado appeared...


A graveyard of trains near Uyuni

A graveyard of trains near Uyuni


Actually the next edition of the Dakar is planned to come here too

Actually the next edition of the Dakar is planned to come here too


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Our vehicle for the next 3 days

Our vehicle for the next 3 days


The salt crust can be seen clearly

The salt crust can be seen clearly


The Salar allows for funny pictures... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

The Salar allows for funny pictures... :)


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Picture taken from the Incahuasi island in the middle of the desert

Picture taken from the Incahuasi island in the middle of the desert


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So flat...

So flat...


Sunset on the Salar

Sunset on the Salar


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Funny thing, the hostel were we would sleep was entirely made in salt, from the floor to the walls, beds, tables, etc...

Funny thing, the hostel were we would sleep was entirely made in salt, from the floor to the walls, beds, tables, etc...


Leaving the desert, we would arrive in the National Park Eduardo Avaroa

Leaving the desert, we would arrive in the National Park Eduardo Avaroa


Flamingos

Flamingos


El increible árbol de piedra (the stone tree), a volcanic rock formation shaped by the strong winds

El increible árbol de piedra (the stone tree), a volcanic rock formation shaped by the strong winds


Coloured lake, with flamingos, the colours are amazing

Coloured lake, with flamingos, the colours are amazing


Mummy and baby alpacas

Mummy and baby alpacas


Who's tickling me??? <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Who's tickling me??? ;)


The desert by night

The desert by night


Geysers at almost 5000 meters high

Geysers at almost 5000 meters high


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And we would arrive around 7am at a lake with thermal waters...

And we would arrive around 7am at a lake with thermal waters...


Where there was a small swimming pool! Temperature outside: <dfn title='32°F'>0 °C</dfn>; Temperature inside: <dfn title='95°F'>35 °C</dfn>!!

Where there was a small swimming pool! Temperature outside: 0 °C; Temperature inside: 35 °C!!


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On the left, the road to Argentina, on the right, to Chile

On the left, the road to Argentina, on the right, to Chile


Our fantastic Brazilian/French group!

Our fantastic Brazilian/French group!

Posted by manolo84 09:43 Archived in Bolivia Tagged animals desert volcanoes english salt Comments (0)

Going down the mine in Potosí


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A few days later, I found myself on another night bus (I stopped counting) to a city further south called Potosí. Potosí is actually, as the Bolivians claim, the highest city on earth, at approximatively 4070 meters above the sea level and classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site. But that is not the main reason why one should visit this place. Potosí is also known for its mining activity and particularly silver mining.

Hundreds of years ago, Potosí used to be the richest city in the world, extracting silver from the Cerro Rico mountain and providing the whole America and also Europe with silver coins. The city was founded in 1545 following the discovery of ore deposits in the mountain, which proved to be the world's more lucrative. Under the influence of Spaniards, millions of indigenous people and imported African slaves labourers were conscripted to work in the mines in very poor conditions, and millions of death occurred.

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Nowadays there is still a bit of silver waiting to be extracted but also other minerals. The problem here in Bolivia being that there is no industry to process these minerals, which means that everything is being sent abroad, therefore creating a loss of revenue for Bolivia. The current Bolivian president, Evo Morales, although having a good reputation abroad and with the Bolivian farmers (he used to be one) is now not very well seen from all the miners as promises were made during the electoral period but as often, nothing was being done to help the mining industry. This is one of the reasons there are often strikes in Bolivia (and generally in whole South America) to protest for better working conditions.

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In Potosí then it is possible to visit these mines and it's an experience not to be missed. So I took my helmet and prepared myself to scramble and crawl in low, narrow, dirty shafts and climb rickety ladders... I could actually meet real miners and realised that the working conditions have not improved by much since hundreds of years ago... Work is done mainly by hand with basic tools, and underground temperatures vary from below freezing to almost 45 °C. Miners, often exposed to several noxious chemicals, often die of silicosis pneumonia after 40-50 years old. But all of the miners I met (and I was being told it is the same for the rest of them) are really proud of their work and what they are accomplishing. It's probably one of the hardest job on earth but also can be really rewarding. They work the mine as a cooperative venture, with each miner milking his own claim and selling his ore to a smelter through the cooperative.

Actually one of the first thing you have to do before entering the mine, is to go to the market and buy some gifts for the miners you meet inside the mine. Gifts are usually coca leaves (which help to reduce fatigue, hunger and cold), soft drinks, cigarettes and even dynamite!!! Yes you have read well: it is totally possible (and legal?) to buy dynamite in the local market!!! I didn't buy any though nor seen any miner using it but I heard of tours where guides actually let you try it...

Anyway this was one of the most interesting tour I had done recently and if you are thinking of heading off to Potosí one day, I highly recommend the tour agency Big Deal Tours, run exclusively by ex-miners who were tired of other agencies organising tours and claiming to give a percentage of the price paid by the tourists back to the miners whilst actually they weren't. So here is the link to their agency: bigdealtours.blogspot.com

Factory where the minerals are being separated from the dirt and rocks

Factory where the minerals are being separated from the dirt and rocks


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El Cerro Rico, the silver moutain

El Cerro Rico, the silver moutain


Wagons used in the mines

Wagons used in the mines


Let's go inside!

Let's go inside!


Our guide Pedro, also an ex-miner

Our guide Pedro, also an ex-miner


Miners having a short break

Miners having a short break


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I think I would have fractured my head at least 10 times if I didn't have this helmet...

I think I would have fractured my head at least 10 times if I didn't have this helmet...


Wheel system which would be used to stamp the silver coins

Wheel system which would be used to stamp the silver coins

Posted by manolo84 05:49 Archived in Bolivia Tagged cities english mines Comments (2)

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