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To the glaciars

2 Jan

One of my final exams at the University was on glaciers in the Andes. Since then I wanted to see them live.

We took a plane to El Calafate, then a normal bus and now we were standing on a boat looking at this a few hundred meters long and 60m high wall of blue ice.

The lake had this special green of ice waters and it was silent. Only sometimes the ice was cracking. Suddenly there was a very loud crack and a peace of ice collapsed into the lake.

After the ship, we walked on the balconies that were built to watch the glacier in its full size. In the clean and fresh air they stood, listening to the silence, the ice cracking and once in a while we witnessed how some ice collapsed.

In 1939 some ice blocked the lake. Farms were under water. The government sent in some planes to throw bombs on the ice. The effect was nothing. Humans had to wait a few more weeks until the water made its way trough the ice naturally.

Imagining that this glacier moves only a few hundred meters a year you feel how small humans really are.

The happiness of the traveller

21 Dec

It is somewhere in Patagonia, but it’s a Welsh village.

Yes, a Welsh village.

Oh, you might notice quite easily… Maybe the rosy cheeks of the girls, or the broad shoulders of the men… Something proud in their look, a strength they haven’t lost over centuries of keeping Celtic secrets and traditions.

You might stop in for a cup of tea. A well-kept custom, a symbol of hospitality. The moment to take time for each other. And to enjoy long talks and also some silences.

You could get surprised how easily time goes by at this time of the afternoon. Sipping the tea, gazing over the flower garden.

We had ours at Plas y Coed, the oldest tea house in the village of Gaiman. Anna was a wonderful host. It was first her grandmother who opened the place, and Anna kept her grandmother’s recipes for the cakes. She also teaches Welsh in primary schools in the morning.

On the walls, family pictures tell stories of courageous farmers who left their land for the promise of freedom. Freedom to keep their Celtic roots, to speak the Welsh language. Far away from the English government. More than hundred years ago.

It took them 11 years to get the first crop of weat. Without the help of the Tehuelche Indians, the Welsh farmers would not have survived in this extreme land that is Patagonia. So far away and so different to the rainy green hills of Wales. Today, still, everyone is somehow engaged in the agricultural business.

Driving through the village, you would have a glimpse at their daily life. It is a good one, simple, satisfying. With a wit of fun to it sometimes…

You might find shelter at one of the guest houses. We stayed at the house of Diego and Brenda (Gwesty Tywi).

There are many things you can talk about with Diego. Always accompanied by his cup of Maté, he will tell you about the Welsh colonies in Patagonia, about Argentina today, and about how life is so different here compared to Buenos Aires.

But then if you ask him about his red Citroen 2 CV…. Oh, well, then it is another story. You might get lucky and he will show you all the original details of his 1975 model, and he might even take you for a crazy ride in the early evening, in the peaceful neighborhood and you will feel the magic of the moment.

The enchantment went on as we set off to visit the little Welsh museum, which tells the story of the Welsh settlement. There we met Tegai. In a very pure English she tells us all the stories. Her grandfather was one of the three first men to arrive in Patagonia from Wales, in the 1880’s.

She stands there in the museum, her back very straight, her hair very white, her eyes very blue and very young… Nobody actually really knows her age. I believe she stopped having one many years ago. I am not very sure if she is an elegant old lady, or if she is an angel. I do not dare to ask her for a photograph. So, you will have to imagine her. After leaving the museum, I feel very touched by this encounter.

In the evening, we look for some food. Tegai and Anna recommend us a strange little place, with two tables only. We almost don’t dare getting in, so simple and run down it looks. But the Argentinian woman in the kitchen has golden hands and cooks for us the best meal we’ve had since arrival in Argentina… Delicious. Beyond words. Mythical.

Happiness. It is for these moments that it was worse to travel.

Impressions of Patagonian

19 Dec

Home of the sea wolves colony, Peninsula Valdes.

Flowers are rare in Patagonia.

Solitary sea elephants couple.

Sea elephants at low tide.

Thomas at Estancia la Elvira.

Patagonian sky.

Magic colours at the end of the afternoon.

Sunset over the bay.

Sunset a few minutes later.

Population: 900 people and 18000 penguins.

16 Dec

If you leave Trelew on the Route 3 going south (most of the time straight) you will reach a petrol station. Here you can go on for another 170km (most of the time straight) or you turn, as we did, left, and drive further 70km (almost straight, there are some hills in the way) until you reach the coast. There you will find the small village of Camarones founded 1905. 200km north and 200km south along the coast there is nothing. And this village only exists because of a fishing port, some beaches for the 3 months summer season and especially because of penguins.

If you leave the village and you follow the coast on a dirt road for about 25km you will find a National park with one of the biggest penguin colonies of Patagonia. About 9000 penguin couples come here every year for the 6 months breading seasons. As we arrived at the end of the day we were lucky and had them all for us alone.

We were amazed how human penguins are and especially how human their non verbal communication is. It feels so easy to understand them and their feelings. And it is amazing how curious the penguins were. Living in a national park they had no bad experiences with humans and do trust them fully.

The village of Camarones is famous as it is the home town of the former President Peron. There is the usual museum on the family. Appart from this, there is not much in the village except a lot of space, a lot of wind and some old houses. But all of this gives it a special charm and we did enjoy the village a lot. One of them was the house of a German carpenter named Vogel who came here 1905 and was famous for his work. His nickname was “Mister Dick” (the fat one).

The only hotel in town was run by a couple that left their corporate career and the big cities to take over the hotel from there parents. The wife turned from a lawyer to a cook and we were very happy about this change of career as we had one of the best dinners in Argentina so far. Sometimes you have to go to the end of the world to find good seafood*.

* The recipe of our favourite dish there will be soon available on The Moving Cookbook 🙂

The beauty of Peninsula Valdès

13 Dec

For the whale watching, we stayed on a Peninsula along the Patagonian coast called “Peninsula Valdès”. The few little hotels available on the Peninsula (not more than 3 or 4) are mainly in the small town of Pyramides, which happened to be a very nice surprise to us…

We didn’t expect much, all excited we were about soon being able to see whales. However, Pyramides is an experience for itself. Previously a tiny sleepy fisherman village, young people from the “alternative” scene in Buenos Aires started building up the place some 15 years ago, giving it gradually a laid-back, hippy, nature-loving touch.

Now it is a lovely town where you forget about time and any other kind of worries. Wooden houses with interesting design and flashy colours form a nest around the shiny waters of the bay.

Peninsula Valdès is not only exciting because of the presence of whales. Renting a car to drive around, we spent our days from one animal-watching to the other, amazed by the diversity of fauna and by how close we could be to all kinds of wild animals.

Sea lions enjoying the sun…

Sea elephants waiting for the high tide…

Group of Ñandus (kind of Lama)…

In this town of 250 inhabitants, everyone knows each other and I would guess the average age is around 35. After the animal-watching activities of the day, everyone – tourists and “locals” – sits to a well-deserved drink and seafood plate in one of the cosy inns of the village. Needless to say how satisfied we felt at the end of the day…

Whale watching

11 Dec

Before going to Patagonia she said that she wanted to see whales and he wanted to see glaciers.

So here we were boarding a whale watching boat in El Pyramides, a small town that mainly exists because of whale watching. The whales come up to this area from the Arctic in July to give birth. During birth giving in August whales can be seen from the shore but in December they are off the coast and you have to take a small boat to go and see them.

The boat took us out of the bay and after about 10min we spotted the first school of about 8 whales. The captain took the boat in the middle of the school, switched off the electric engine and waited what would happen. The boats normally do not go close to the whales, but just stop near a school and see if there is any curious whale coming close.

About 25 years ago, fishermen would say it is impossible to get close to a whale with a baby. The mothers would protect their babys from the fishermen. The experience whales had with humans were not the best.

We were very, very lucky. A mother with her baby came close to the boat. She was not at all scared of humans. On the contrary, we had the feeling that we were a welcomed entertainment for her. Mother and baby were swimming around out small boat, almost posing for pictures.

The baby was going up and down moving all the time and the mother came so close that you could almost touch her. It was an amazing experience to see this animal of almost 20m length and more than 30t swimming so peacefully and gracious around our boat of 12 m length. For her we were nothing than a small toy. Even the crew were amazed and did not want to go back.

Apparently it is rare that a whale comes so close to the boat and stays for the whole trip of one hour so close. When we left we had the feeling she was sad to be alone again.

The captain explained us that she was apparently born in the bay and therefore must have had very good experience with humans. Whale watching in the area started about 25 years ago. It is not clear how old whales can become, but some of them have been spotted coming back every year to this bay since more then 40 years.

It was an amazing experience for both of us. So far the most breathtaking of our whole trip.

In Patagonia

6 Dec

It took us no less than 5 hours of train, 14 hours of flight, and 22 hours of bus to arrive to the end of the world.

Oh, certainly we were not the first ones to fancy the idea of such a trip… It’s been long that travellers of all kinds decided to follow the spur of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. You could see them sitting in lonesome cafés, absorbed in the reading of Bruce Chatwin or Luis Sepulveda…

It is not easy to describe how it feels to have for the first time both feet on the mythical soil of Patagonia. Is it that there is something special in the air? Is it that very particular austral light, soft and blinding at the same time? Or even the absolute immensity of the landscape? Or is it just that feeling that you are far, very, very far away from everything…

The road trip on the bus was the best introduction we could have wished for.  The long, almost perfectly straight Ruta Nacional 3 was impossibly monotonous. From time to time, we would pass by minimalist villages or truckers’ stops. You could see huge pieces of meat being grilled directly on an open fire.

When the landscape reached its most minimalistic look, and the sun stood at its brightest, we knew we had reached the first milestone of our Patagonian trip.