How Did It Get To Be Friday?

1. Ushuaia Does Not Have An Architectural Review Board

In Ushuaia we were unable to get bus tickets out of town for the next day (and air tickets were kind of pricey during the week) but we left the following day. On the last day in Ushuaia, we did a Quirky Architecture tour around town, taking pictures of the dozens of ways corrugated metal can be used as a residential building material, and the many design sensibilities that have been used in this rapidly expanding tourist town. In the afternoon, I took it easy and recovered from my cold while Ray went on a quick hike along the coast in the local national park, looking at shell mounds and woodpeckers and stuff.

(Ray here) The shell mounds are all that is left of the Yamana civilization, unless you count street names. I don’t know that their purpose was ever explained to the Europeans. Now they they are covered in beachy scrub grasses and moss, grazed upon by untended horses, squatted on by Skuas who are annoyed there aren’t penguin chicks around to rip apart and eat. They put so much more effort into building those mounds than we put into blogs, and they were all deleted anyway.

I did not allow myself enough time for the 10 kilometer hike from where the shuttle bus leaves you off to where the shuttle bus picks you up. Therefore, I was limited in my ability to frame pictures and bracket exposures and reflect upon the passage of civilizations. (The Yamanas, of course, are not entirely gone, any more than A-we-ni-shan and Mush-ka-dence disappeared when they married my grandfathers. Most of them did die, mostly of measles, a few from sport hunting by Europeans. Their language is gone. Their particular Vision Quests are gone, photos of which will remind you of the Annie Liebowitz photo of Keith Haring, who is also lost to a plague.) Fortunately, when you go to a lot of World Heritage Sites and other, unbranded, ruins, you get pretty quick at reflecting on the passage of civilizations. I don’t know that I’ve had my life pass before my eyes — hey, what happens when Alzheimer’s patients die? — but I can pass Rameses’s life before my eyes in 14 lines. Did you know that Ozymandias was the result of a contest, like Esquire Magazine’s contest for the first thing for man to say on the moon? There is a runner-up Ozymandias, too.

The woodpecker had a black head and a red bill. I only saw it, in my rush, because three girls were watching it off the side of the trail. This is the market solution to game watching. The place is also overrun with European rabbits but the native fox population is increasing.

2. Back to Laguanacazul

Tuesday started with a 4 AM alarm, and continued with a 5 AM bus ride that took about 13 hours going to Rio Gallegos. Of those 13 hours, at least 5 were spent in the four border crossings (leaving Argentina, entering Chile, leaving Chile, and reentering Argentina). Entering Chile was especially time-consuming because two riders on our bus smuggled some apples which upset the agricultural people one hour’s worth. Another half-hour involved crossing the Strait of Magellan on a very businesslike ferry which we basically drove right on to and which then left right away. By 6:30 we were back at the hotel in Rio Gallegos where we’d left the car, which was right where we left it. And it started. And the tent was still in the trunk. And by 8:30 we were back at Laguanacazul.

I swear. It is so my favorite restaurant of the trip. Not because all the food is perfect — the salmon was overdone and its sauce was too sweet. (But all of the food is creative and uses Patagonian ingredients extensively.) The attitude of its young (25) chef is its secret: hardly anyone orders from menus — he usually suggests some daily special, often something different for each table. Again we asked for “a glass of white and a glass of red” and we got tastes with refills of three very nice wines. Instead of wines by the glass being the most generic “house” wine possible, it’s like “hey, have a taste of this really great wine I’ve found”. Another red dessert wine also showed up at the end of the meal. Fortunately we were walking back to the hotel.

3. No Torrey Pines This Trip

In the morning we checked once again on our car’s permission papers to go outside Argentina, which Alamo/National appeared to have spaced out. If we’d gotten them, perhaps we would have driven into Chile to go hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, though with our other delays we’d pretty much run out of time anyway. We’ll just have to come back sometime. We just drove across to El Calafate, one night before our non-cancellable three-night reservation at a nice little hotel (TripAdvisor’s favorite in town).

4. Get Your CrampOn, or, Waiting for the Rupture

The reason tourists come to El Calafate is to see Perito Moreno Glacier, a 15-mile long glacier which is formed from large amounts of snowfall coming through a gap in the Andes (much like the Golden Gate forms large amounts of fog in San Francisco). It is remarkable for being a glacier which is not receding, perhaps because the area in which snow accumulates is so much larger than the area in which the ice can melt. The middle part of the glacier moves between 1 and 3 meters a day, and sitting beneath the face of it one hears a loud explosion every several minutes as some tower collapses into Lago Argentina. Most of the time part of its face sits against a peninsula, separating the lake into two sections, but there have been some dramatic ruptures in the past.

We went on the “Minitrekking” excursion which was similar to what we’d done in New Zealand, walking around on the ice for an hour and a half or so. (We weren’t eligible to go on the “Big Ice” excursion, a strenuous all-day trip including four hours on the ice with, they admitted, little time to stop for photos. The age limit for that trip was 45.) The walk was made even more charming by the fact that Diego, our guide, spoke English with an accent that was eerily similar to that of our friend Justin’s Swedish friend David. But he had no fetish for the letter “F”. Diego had lived four months in Lake Tahoe, skiing.

Our Antarctica parkas from Lindblad Expeditions give us huge street cred on glaciers. Three people, two guides and a tourist, asked if we’d been there. Mais oui. And you thought we were too old to stumble around on your pathetic little neve.

After we’d gotten back to the “hut” for lunch, we witnessed a large tower of ice collapsing into the lake. Later in the afternoon we spent time up on the viewpoint of the glacier, and heard many collapses without seeing anything — they all seemed to be in the area near where we’d been walking earlier.

El Calafate has many fancy restaurants, and we’re making the most of them because the next several days will probably be pretty basic foodwise. Last night the highlight was the confit lamb at Casimiro Bagua, cooked for two days. It was amazingly soft and tasty. The other items on the tasting menu were all quite nice but the lamb really stood out.