My Spring Break 08 - ALOMOST the End of the World - El Calafate & Puerto Madryn: Glaciers, Penguins, and Orcas

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March 29th 2008
Published: April 5th 2008
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So we pit stopped in Buenos Aires on Tuesday the 18th for one day to wash clothes and re-pack for Spring Break. Now heres the thing, we had reserved plane tickets for a 5hr flight to El Calafate which is at the tip of South America, almost the end of the world! But the day before we went to buy the tickets they raised the price and supposedly "called" us to inform us that they were raising the price and if we wanted to buy them at the price we reserved them under we needed to come that day, but none of us had missed calls or voice mails. So that just goes to show that when flying in Argentina, buy your tickets as soon as you find a good price because you never know if they are going to change, even if you have them reserved! So instead we took a 44 hour bus ride to the tip of South America. The trip wasn't as bad as we thought it would be what with riding first class, being tired from traveling for a week already, we fell right asleep both nights on the bus, and did homework during the day.
So on Thursday around lunch time, we finally arrived in El Calafate, and on the way walking to the hostel we had already booked in Buenos Aires, we stopped in at the travel agency to book our excursion to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (or Glacier National Park), and they told us they didn't have any more room for tomorrow or the next day! We were so distraught and let down. But have no fear, because walking a little further towards the hostel we found another tourism company who had room on a boat tour to the glaciers and we would be able to see 3 of them, not just one! So we paid for it right there and then. The hostel we stayed at, called Marcopolo (like the game you play in the swimming pool), was really nice. We stayed in a 6 person room with two people from Israel, but had our own bathroom, instead of the standard hall bathroom in most hostels, and the view from our window was truly beautiful. That night we went to dinner at a place called Viva a Pepe that served artisan crepes that were DELICIOUS! I had a chicken, mushroom, onion, cheese and parsley crepe for dinner and a banana almond dulce de leche creme crepe for desert!
The next morning we got up early and the bus from the tour company picked us up at the hostel and took us to the boat landing about an hour outside the city. Then we started our boat tour. We got to see 3 ENORMOUS glaciers and TONS and TONS of icebergs. The first glacier we saw was called the Spegazzini which has the highest walls and is the third largest in the park. Then we went to see the Upsala Glacier which is the largest one in the park and here we got to see chunks of the glacier fall off into the water. The sounds that the glacier made when it moved were extraordinary, the cracking and breaking of ice shifting on top of ice, it was like thunder and gunshots mixed together. And on the way out an iceberg broke in half under water and flipped over! It was so cool it was just rotating and sucking water down and turning over and the part of the iceberg that had been under water was all blue and not white

not really, just a small glacier flowing down a mountain
like the part that had been above the water. Finally we went to the third glacier called Bahia Onelli. Here we got to disembark from the boat, walk through a Patagonian forest and have a picnic next to the water while watching little pieces of icebergs and glaciers float past with the marvelous view in the background. It was truly amazing, I could have stayed all day. But we had to leave before the boat left us, but we took some pictures with a chunk of glacier ice first. Then the boat finally took us back to the landing and the bus took us back into town. We bought some stuff for dinner at the local supermarket and cooked chicken, red peppers, and rice for dinner.
Then on Saturday we went on a 4x4 excursion on the steppes above the town. Our truck was huge and jostled us around the whole time, especially when we went over huge rocks or down really steep hills. Our truck took us up to the top of the steppe for a beautiful view of the pueblo and the surrounding snow capped mountains. Then we descended deeper into the steppe and stopped for lunch
Chicas y el glaciarChicas y el glaciarChicas y el glaciar

Girls and the glacier
at a little tent on an "estancia" or farm. While they were preparing the lunch we got to climb some rock towers nearby and saw some "zorros" or gray foxes who appeared due to the smell of the cooking meat. Our lunch was so simple but excellent. We just had steak and tomato sandwiches with Sprite, but the seasoning or marinade on the steak was succulent. We we arrived back in town that afternoon we did some shopping and got Calafate ice cream. Turns out that calafate is actually a type of fruit or berry that grows in the area, which is what the town was named after. It was so yummmy! I just wanted to buy a gallon and have it shipped back home.
Sunday morning we left for Puerto Madryn arriving on Monday afternoon after a 27 hr bus ride. After checking into the hostel we found out not only was it cheaper to rent a car to visit the nearby Ecological Reserve on Peninsula Valdes, but we could make sure that we got back in time to catch our bus back to Buenos Aires on Tuesday evening. So we went ahead and rented the car for
Spegazinni GlaciarSpegazinni GlaciarSpegazinni Glaciar

Spegazinni Glacier from a distance
the next day, and then headed to the beach which was only 4 blocks away from our hostel! It was like a miniature Santa Monica Beach with a fishing pier and everything! We stayed on the beach all afternoon, walking out on the pier, up and down the beach, and finally laying out and eat delicious fresh hot churros (cinnamon sugar bread) with dulce de leche inside instead of the traditional Mexican way of serving it with chocolate sauce.
Then on Monday we woke up, met the lady from the car rental place outside, and after signing the contract and all that mess, left for Peninsula Valdes. All the vehicles in South America are manual transmissions or stick-shifts and seeing as how Gabby and Tracey don't know how to drive a stick-shift, I had left my license in Buenos Aires, Jessica was the chauffeur for the day. We were looking forward to seeing penguins, sea lions, and possibly some killer whales or "orcas" as they call them. But before we could even get to any of those viewpoints we had to stop several times on the road for sheep, ram, llamas, horses, and even ostriches that were crossing the

Not our boat obviously but one like it!
road or eating by the side of the road. We went to see the sea lions first. There was a colony of them sheltered up against a cliff. We could hear them barking as we walked down the path to see them and when we got there many of them were lazily lying around sleeping or just lounging and only a few were frolicking and playing in the water. Next we went to see the penguins because you are supposed to have a better chance of seeing the orcas at high tide. When we arrived at first we didn't see any, but it was a cliff and they were all lined up down all along the beach at the bottom of the hill. And then we saw one come out of a hole like 2 ft past the retaining fence. Turns out their little homes are up on the hill. They dig little caves or holes in the wall of the hill and waddle up and down to the water. They were so cute but when you tried to get closer they got very defensive. One even waddled out of his little hole like he was going down to the water but then he just pooped and crawled back in his hole - it was funny to see such a display of behavior in their natural habitat. The penguins were also howling and barking and two of them even chased each other around and then had sort of a fight with their beaks slapping them together back and forth. It was cool to see all their different behaviors. Next, we headed to Punta Norte which is where the orcas were. By some luck, right when we drove up and went down to the viewpoint, there was an orca at the very tip of the point some ways a way. He never jumped out of the water or ate a sea lion. But they said the behavior he was displaying was a hunting technique. He would travel parallel to the shore only sticking his fin up out of the water and coming up when he needed to blow or breath. I tried to get some pictures but it was really far away. We wanted to stand there forever just hoping and waiting to see him jump or do something more, but we finally had to walk back up to the car and get food out for a picnic. We ate under the shade of a nearby building and as soon as we took out the food, guess who showed up. Gray foxes of course, but also several armadillos who were even more aggressive than the gray foxes if you can believe it. They kept trying to steal our tomatoes for tomato and cheese sandwiches. I got some good photos of them though. Finally we had to get in the car and head back so we could make to us bus on time. We caught our bus back to Buenos Aires which turned out to seem much longer than the 44 hr bus ride down because we got stopped several times on the way due to protesters in the campo or country who had blocked the roads off. It turns out it was the farmers protesting the prices for their meat, milk, and produce being too low. But finally we arrived safe and sound back in Buenos Aires on Wednesday and we all crashed and slept until the next morning. It's Saturday today, and my parents are arriving tomorrow to visit me for a week! So I get to show them around and eat really good dinners compared to the residencia cafeteria food we get every week, YEA!!! Anyways, that's all for now. Amor y Paz. Caleb

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5th April 2008 i love you and everything but right now...I HATE YOU. come back to me and then we'll all go back together, okay?...okay
10th April 2008

What incredible pictures. Thank you Caleb for allowing us to experience your trip through your blog. Your positive comments in the face of adversity are always encouraging. We love you, mom

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