Sometimes, Patagonia = New Zealand

11 02 2015

In November 2011 I was in Patagonia with my Dutch friends Angelique and Elwin. Witnessing many eye popping scenes, we often pinched ourselves, saying, “This looks like a postcard from New Zealand!” So in 2012 we made plans to go to New Zealand to find out if we were right. By December 2012 and all of January 2013 we were in New Zealand! And in this blog, I’ve got photo comparisons. While there are major differences in terms of sheer size of the territory and size of geologic features, the view often seems nearly identical.

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Torres del Paine Chile

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Tasman Glacier Trail New Zealand

Patagonia and New Zealand are full of trails winding through glaciated valleys. Both have mountain ranges where the western slopes are wetter, with fjords, and the eastern side has landlocked glaciated lakes and the weather is much drier.

They’re both subjected to blasts from frequent Antarctic storms. New Zealand’s South Island is especially impacted in a similar fashion to Patagonia.

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Lake Te Anau New Zealand

Here are two pictures of gigantic inland lakes. In both regions, ice age glaciers cut deep valleys on the east side and west side. Today both New Zealand and Patagonia have massive inland lakes fed by glaciers. In Patagonia, many of these lakes have ice bergs!

los alerces national park argentina

Los Alerces National Park Argentina

On the west side of Patagonia and New Zealand the ice age glaciers carved fjords leading to the sea. In Patagonia these fjords wend their way for more than 1,000 miles. In New Zealand they also form magical vistas.

Doubtful Sound New Zealand

Doubtful Sound New Zealand

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Puerto Natales, Chile

Believe it or not, both regions even have some of the same trees! They both just happen to have the purple-flowered Jacaranda tree!

jacaranda tree,hastings new zealand

Hastings New Zealand

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Blooming jacaranda tree Buenos Aires

The Jacaranda tree blooms its beautiful purple flowers in spring.

They can be glimpsed in drier areas of New Zealand, as well as Buenos Aires, Argentina.

So many times viewing a landscape we’d swear we were seeing the other country!

Many of New Zealand’s inland lakes are a light colored “glacier blue,” as are many in Patagonia. And driving through the dry inland valleys, whether you’re headed toward the Andes or the Southern Alps, often times you’d swear you were several thousand miles from where you actually were!

mount cook

Left sided driving to Mt Cook…

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Argentina, heading into the Patagonian Andes – right side driving!





Spring in Buenos Aires – Beautiful!

10 02 2012

Eray in Parque 3 de Febrero

One element of our Patagonian odyssey that has been consistently spectacular has been the weather! And these last two days in Buenos Aires are no exception. We have two consecutive clear days in the mid-80’s with low humidity.

I’m still getting the most of the breakfast buffet at Castelar Hotel! I ensure I get down there early and enjoy my favorite meal of the day. Saskia arrives, as do Elwin, Angelique, and others. Orange juice, fresh fruit, sausage and some scrambled eggs are something I’ve missed.

There are no plans for today. Tonight, we are all headed to the airport for mid-evening flights. So my usual crew of Angelique, Eray, Elwin and I look at the options and make plans. Christoff has departed for a few days visiting with acquaintances in Chile.

Eray is extending her time in Argentina, and she has arranged for lodging at Home Hotel, in the Palermo neighborhood. She says it’s really nice and encourages us to check it out for a late morning coffee or cool beverage. Sounds good! We also look at options and because it’s late spring, we decide to walk back through some of the beautifully designed parks in Buenos Aires.

We catch a taxi and head to the Home Hotel. The Palermo neighborhood is completely different from any we’ve seen. While it’s urban, it’s very residential. It’s quiet. There are cozy, European style and up and coming neighborhood restaurants and cafes. The Home Hotel is nestled in amongst all of this. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d miss it. Once past the front counter, one walks through a tall atrium and into a rear area complete with patio, garden and pool.

We settled into some chairs out by the garden and ordered some cool drinks.

Angelique and I get a shot of ourselves out back…

It’s very contemporary and refreshingly relaxing. Some of teh guests had bathrobes supplied by the hotel. The menu actually had breakfasts with eggs!

It was tempting to stay there for hours. But we only had today. So, we departed to walk amongst the lovely parks and the blooming jacaranda trees.

Walking past the Centro Islamico, a large Mosque, we reached Parque 3 de Febrero. This is one of the famous parks designed by French architect Carlos Thays. His handiwork is everywhere as it is so familiarly European. Carlos Thays not only designed the parks but had trees and shrubs brought in from all over. Today, these parks and the flora he planted are testament to his genius. Portenos enjoy his creations each day.

We stroll through the greenery. There are lots of birds. Geese and swans ply the ponds. Gregarious parrots cackle above, perching next to their favorite nuts and seeds, which they consume with great pleasure.

Portenos make the most of the parks. Jogging, rollerblading, bicycling or walking, they are enjoying the open spaces.

There are rose gardens and so many flowering trees.

It seems to me that every tree is in bloom at once!

We are the lucky ones, we get to enjoy this.

 

In this video you get to hear the birds singing, see the flowers everywhere, and even catch some women with thermoses of Yerba Mate walking by. Not to mention my travel mates!

And below is one of the flowers on a magnolia tree. Really lush! Later in the day, our whole group gathered at a restaurant near the hotel to celebrate our time here. And to say our good-byes. We’ll be staying in touch. We had a memorable time in Argentina and Chile!

Gorgeous Magnolia Tree flowers.





Buenos Aires in Bloom…

8 02 2012

We depart Ushuaia for Buenos Aires in the evening. Aerolineas Argentinas has not recovered from the strike. Things are still backed up, and there is some confusion about which plane we are to board as now two are headed for Buenos Aires. Ours is an aging MD-80. There is an in-flight “meal,” but guess what? Opening my meal box, another dreaded ham and cheese sandwich is lurking inside. I cannot eat it, and give it away! In Buenos Aires, we’re staying at the Castelar Hotel again.

Morning dawns very warm and beautifully sunny. I scramble downstairs to the breakfast area. And what awaits is a breakfast feast for my eyes! The Castelar Hotel has a breakfast buffet with a much wider selection than most of our lodgings on this trip. Eggs, bacon, sausage, real orange juice, fresh fruit, all things I love in the morning! This day starts off nicely!

Today we’re going to explore Buenos Aires by bicycle and subway! There is a subway station right near our hotel. We pay our fare and wait for the next train. When it arrives, it sure is something! It’s positively ancient, a living fossil. I’d say right out of Victorian England! It’s outside is wooden, the inside is wooden, and the windows are open. Once inside, the doors clang shut – no warning whatsoever. It jerks forward, and is off to the next stop. Passengers are of many different niches. Professionals, blue collar workers and students.

We reach our stop, walk outside and into the warmth. It’s already over 70 degrees, headed to 85 degrees today. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Since we were here last time, the flowers, and flowering trees, have bloomed and are peaking! The avenues are lined with Jacaranda trees. These trees have beautiful purple flowers.

We walk the cobblestoned streets to the bicycle rental shop. Once there we perform the obligatory rental ritual and begin the process of adjusting the bikes for ourselves.

We’re to bike down by the Puerto Madero area, on the water, and then head to the Costanera Sur Nature Reserve.

The Costanera Sur Nature Reserve sits beyond Puerto Madero on the Rio De La Plata River.

A lot of adjustments have to be made…and I think it’s funny because most of us are Dutch, and the bikes have KLM Royal Dutch Airlines ads over the rear wheels!

We ride through the old section of town with narrow streets, and then have to cross the busy boulevard, over the canal and then to the reserve. The reserve has a number of trails which lead out to a view of the Rio de la Plata.

We see many Portenos enjoying the warmth and sun. Men jogging in Buenos Aires don’t wear t-shirts. They go shirt-less. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good idea. We reach the river and there is a 50-boat sailboat race going on.

So some folks have leisure time and money to spend in Buenos Aires!

There are some interesting creatures taking advantage of the refuge.

We see plenty of parrots. Green parrots are gregarious and noisy, as well as busy eating nuts in the trees!

Later on, we see some iguanas being heckled by birds. It looks like the iguanas were trying to steal eggs?

It was time to return the bikes. But it’s a Friday and now rush hour. Buenos Aires drivers are seriously aggressive, yet we’ve got to wind through many lanes and intersections. All I know is I want to stay behind Saskia, our leader, because she knows the route!

Many twists and turns later and with sweat beginning to run down my face, with all hands still safe, we make it back to the rental shop.

Tonight we see a tango show. I won’t go into too much detail, but while the dancers were athletic, gifted, and talented, the show was outdated and stale for my taste. I was impressed by the dancing, but everything else seemed like a put on.

After the show some of us went for a drink at a local restaurant. It was Portenos doing what they do. There was hardly a seat to be had, it was past midnight, and even children were in abundance! Late night festivities are a ritual!





Ushuaia and Wildlife in the Beagle Channel

3 02 2012

Wow! I had the most amazing sleep! I did not awaken once. And today I am recharged! We’re to take a boat from the Ushuaia waterfront out to see islands and marine wildlife colonies in the Beagle Channel. Luckily we got another weather break. Thin clouds but no wind nor rain. The highlights will be getting up close with colonies of terns, cormorants, sea lions and more.

We get to the waterfront early, so we’ve got some time to observe. There are some huge factory fishing ships docked here, and just their size makes me concerned about collapsing fish stocks. With ships like these, towering above the docks, how can Planet Earth’s fish survive? Where is the catch going?

There are plenty of tourists shooting photographs of themselves in front of a sign declaring they’re at the “end of the world.” They’re not – the end of the route is where I hiked to yesterday! There are also some very interesting sailboats. They are private yachts. They are *not* luxury yachts.

These are built for solo circumnavigation with all the overbuilt toughness required to survive the Southern Ocean. These sailboats can capsize, go inverted, and come up righted and survive.

The Argentine Prefectura, or Coast Guard, is busy, too.

We board our little boat and it takes us out of the harbor and into the channel. We cross, and looking around, I can see some very impressive glaciated mountains to the west that go into the sea. They are part of the Darwin Range, in Chile.

The glaciated Darwin Range

Though they look over 10,000ft high, they are only 6,000ft. It is because that we are at such an extreme latitude that lower mountains can have such impressive glaciers.

Looking back at the city one can see the shanty town creeping up through the forest behind.

Crossing the channel, we navigate amongst some islands home to marine animals of varied species.  We land on one of them and take a quick hike. We see cormorants nesting, and even skuas. Skuas are the bane of nesting birds. Skuas, which look like brown, oversized seagulls, live by scavanging the weak, young, and infirm. They’ll eagerly snatch a chick from a distracted parent.

Looking overhead, I notice the sun is far to the north of 12:00 high. That shows just how far south we are! Wow. We depart for several other island colonies. Each island is home to a species.

On the way we see one or two Southern Giant Petrels, another scavenger.

Giant Petrel

One colony is a sea lion island. I’ll never forget the noise, and the smell. They belch, burp, and make the mose grotesque gutteral noises, as well as bark. There are hundreds, with calves, and bulls making all kinds of noise. It smells! It smells because they eat fish!

Skuas and seagulls are making the most of the leftovers, as is another bird I’ve never seen, which is called a snowy sheathbill. This bird is all white.

We move on to a colony of cormorants.

A snowy sheathbill

They are super busy! There must be a thousand of them. And, they are flying back and forth building nests, bringing food to chicks, and so forth.

The cormorants are black and white, and I’m tempted to call them flying penguins. They make these nests that look like cereal bowls attached to the rocks. These guys squawk incessantly!

Here too, opportunistic scavangers are working the colony hard. Parents are on guard defending against attacks from the hungry predators.

Then, it’s on to the shrieking tern colony.

Like the cormorants, the terns remind me of an aircraft carrier. Lots of  “planes on deck,” and others coming and going.

It’s non-stop buzz of activity!

I do have a couple of videos, which I will show you.

The terns are really pretty, I think.

We get back to the Ushuaia harbor in time for an afternoon exploring the city, and lunch.

Tonight, we depart for Buenos Aires (unless there is another Airline Strike). Elwin, Ivo, Echbert, myself, and Flores head to town in search of lunch. Ushuaia is a tax-free zone so one would think the shopping would be good. Shopping turns out to be a let down. Prices are too high and there are no bargains to be had – they are obviously expecting lots of tourists – especially the ones from cruise ships. We pick an “Irish Pub.” The Irish-ness of the establishment stops right at the front door. While they do offer Guiness, the food isn’t Irish. I see a hamburger on the menu but instead try for what they call a “steak sandwich.” And again, I’m faced with meat on a dry bread / bun or something. While not satisfying, I guess it contained some nutrition. Lunch completed, we wandered around town. The parts Elwin and I visited were nothing worth blogging about. Touristy shops, some liquor stores, hostels, and up back on the hill, some strip clubs. We went down to the water to watch the activity – pass some time.

We only have two days left in Argentina! I wonder how Buenos Aires will have changed since we left? It’s 1,266 miles north to Buenos Aires. We’ll be wearing shorts and t-shirts again! I was told the Jacaranda trees will be in bloom! Looking forward to seeing the beautiful avenues!





Yerba Mate – An Argentine Rite!

13 12 2011

Mate (pronounced mah-tey) is nothing less than a national passion in Argentina! What is Yerba Mate? Physically, is like a primitive tea. It has stimulant properties. Yet consumption of this beverage is a ritualized affair! Young and old, all demographics in Argentina consume this beverage which transcends ethnicity and class. Sharing the beverage is its purpose.

Argentina is the world’s largest producer and consumer of Yerba Mate. It’s a “tea” made from the plant ilex paraguayensis. Argentines consume more mate than coffee. It is definitely a stimulant. It has been swilled for generations, being hailed for health benefits. Yerba Mate may promote weight loss, reduce fatigue, pain and headaches, and has even been claimed to alleviate health problems caused by the Argentine diet, which is very meat-based.

But simply drinking mate is not something Argentinians do alone. Mate is a social ritual. It’s a high social affair. Something to be shared. Sometimes between a woman and her husband. Most times, it is a group ritual. It’s rarely served in restaurants, except in mate “tea bags.” It can be prepared flavored, though most often it’s brewed plain. Some say a good wife is one that can make good mate for her husband.

Sharing mate!

Mate is consumed from a small cup, like a gourd. The gourd itself is the subject of much attention. A brand new mate gourd will not do. It must be prepared. The gourd should be filled with near-boiling water and mate and soaked for at least a day. How does one drink mate? Another essential tool is the mate straw. It’s a metal straw, called a bombilla, with a filter at the bottom, to the participant does not imbibe the leaves. The hot water for the mate is heated to just under boiling-and kept in a thermos.

So, get the picture? To even begin to indulge in this cultural treat, you’ll need 1) a properly prepared gourd; 2) your bombilla; 3) your yerba mate; 4) a thermos filled with hot water and 5) some thirsty participants! Now you can begin!

In a mate ritual, one person, called the cebador, makes the mate and everyone else drinks from the gourd. They fill the gourd with mate, and then pour piping hot water over the herbs.

The gourd is passed to the first participant, who is expected to finish the entire gourd dry. It’s then passed back to the cebador, where it’s recharged with water and passed on to the next participant. This continues until the thermos is empty.

Out in Patagonia, gas stations often have hot water heaters for travelers needing to fill thermoses for their mate!

Nobody wants to be out on the highway driving without mate by their side, right? This guy in Patagonia has two thermoses!

And these young portenos in Buenos Aires are sharing some mate on a nice 85-degree Saturday afternoon!





Buenos Aires – Halloween!

3 12 2011

Monday in Buenos Aires broke clear and bright.  I was now in the southern hemisphere of course, and unlike home in Oregon, days are growing longer, instead of shorter, so morning light comes in early!

Things are going to be interesting, as we spend time in the city but then we are set for a 17-hour overnight bus ride to Puerto Madryn tonight – in coastal Patagonia. Once there we are to simply check in and head out. I wonder how I am going to handle that? Will adrenaline just keep me going?

Today we are going to see other parts of the city. We’ll get to see some parks, and the rehabilitated and upmarket Puerto Madero riverfront area, plus the Rio de la Plata, and the cemetery where Evita is buried, a soccer stadium, and take a peek at where Tango is done. Today is Halloween in America, so I am excited to get to the cemetery!

We gather and head out into the city. The weather is unimaginably perfect. Smog-free, smoke-free, cloud-free, no humidity, a light breeze, and 80 degrees! Shorts weather! I ask if this is typical and the answer is no. I’m told that the Chilean volcano sent ashes this way not long ago, obscuring everything. And it can get humid! No matter. Today is incredible!

A high quality of life is evident as I see plenty of joggers and cyclists in the parks, one of the biggest is Parque 3 de Febrero, and another smaller one is Parque de la Flur. It’s clear somebody has planned parks into the city architecture. These parks are huge. They have rows and rows of flowering plants and trees, and plenty of lagoons. Birds are attracted – parrots, doves, swans, geese, swallows and swifts. The parks are filled with statues of all kinds.

In fact the city was planned by a French landscape architecht, Carlos Thays. He directed the planting of the thousands of Jacaranda trees that line the avenues. These trees put out beautiful purple flowers in November. We will see them when we return! He also directed the fantastic assortment of other trees I saw, such as palms and magnolias.

We don’t have a ton of time, so we have to see a lot of it by bus. We do stop in the parks, we get to see Puerto Madera, we walk through several of these beauties.

It’s obvious people have a quality of life here. People are out roller blading, or jogging, or enjoying the parks. There are sailboats.

I also notice a marked difference from Mexico and some of the Southeast Asian countries I’ve been to. People here have breeded dogs. Instead of “street dogs,” or what I call “generic dogs,” those light brown dogs ubiquitous in these other countries, in Argentina I see black labs, german shepherds, beagles, afghans, etc. Not only that, I see dog walkers! Imagine that. Things can’t be all that bad, right?

Take a peek at the video of a nice day in Buenos Aires!

It is Halloween, so we’ve got to visit a cemetery! The cemetery we see is full of mausoleums – above ground. It’s absolutely perfect, and I’m filled with glee that it is Halloween. I scamper around and my fun is only increased by the the discovery that many have coffins visible. Some have glass doors with stairs leading down to the ? underground. Others in disrepair had broken glass, making it look like spirits had escaped.

And many had cobwebs covering the inside, or chains “locking” opened doors, making it look like something was trying to get out! It can’t get any better than this.

Something tried to escape!

So, I just couldn’t help myself. So here’s a nice video of what I saw: .

And of course the obligatory Halloween mausoleum video:

Later I saw some folks trying the tango for gawkers…

Well, that’s it for our time in Buenos Aires, until we return in three weeks!

We are about to embark on a 17-hour bus ride. Prior to heading to the bus station, we get take-out empanadas for everyone.

Empanadas...good stuff!Now the empanada is something I can deal with for lunch. They are like mini-calzones.  They can be stuffed with cheese, pork, chicken, beef, onion, all sorts of good stuff!

OK. Now we get to the bus station. Bus travel in South America is something else. They have these double decker overnight buses. Ours was such a bus.

The seats almost fully recline. Leg room is almost like airline business class. The bus is equipped with flat screen televisions – we saw at least four movies. If you have earphones, you have awesome sound. And get this! There is a steward! That’s right. We have a uniformed guy who comes around and serves snacks and dinner! And free wine/beer!

So, bus travel ain’t so bad after all. I quickly discover the best seats are 2nd floor in the front – there, you get an incredible view!

So, the journey to Patagonia begins. My partner for this segment is Monique. We talk about work, about our health, about Holland and America. We view “Captain America.” I find that movie infantile. Worse, later they show “The Expendables.” Well, at least they show a comedy in between.

The bus moves through Buenos Aires rush hour traffic. Eventually speed increases, and it moves at the speed limit on a multi lane highway into the Pampas. Ranches (or Estancias) raising cattle pass by one by one. So it is here where the cows are raised!

Eventually, however, the Pampas gives way to what looks to me like Eastern Oregon high desert. This is the Patagonian steppe. The highway becomes one lane in each direction. There are no vehicles visible ahead. There are no hills. This nothing-ness – this is something we will see for the next several days!

Except, however, for the Atlantic Ocean!