Wandering in America del Sur

Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

When the Shortest Way Is Not the Easiest Way!

Arriving back in El Calafate in peak tourist season at night, dirty from our days hiking, we continued with packs on back to search for a room in the dark. Fortunately found something, but it was not as easy as it seems since we spent our first night in bunkbeds and after that had to keep moving places since nowhere had consequent nights free. Ah, the joys of spontaneous travelling without pre-planning!

The town was packed with Argentian tourists who made the backpackers look very rough and unsophisticated. There were tons of families and the restaurants were thronged with well dressed people, quaffing wine and parrilla (grilled meat) until the late night hours. The place had a buzz about it, but was also very, very expensive. We used the opportunity to eat well, use the internet, catch up with the remaining Navimagers, Bessie, Greg, Lisa and Eddie while we just missed Billie and Curtis.

But the real piece de resistance of all of our days there was a visit to the Petito Moreno Glacier. Having seen it once, I was a little skeptical about shelling out the cash again to be toured around its site, but quickly my cynicism evaporated as we approached it. From every direction its massive walls of ice and snow overwhelmed your senses. The intense blue shining through behind the jagged edges, the sound of icebergs calving off, cracking like gunfire and the corresponding cheers of the tourists wildly snapping photographs.

It is probably one of the most photographed and most touristy places in Argentina, but it retains its ruggedness regardless and being that close to the glacier and feeling the waves on the boat after the pieces fall off, and knowing that it could happen anytime again, you are aware, that Mother Nature is in charge, not you or any tour guide. It is awesome!

With our excellent tour guide we found ourselves first approaching the glacier by boat, feeling the full effects of the wind spilling off the ice, biting cold and forcefully strong. After, on a short hike, up above the glacier, we looked down upon it, to see all its jagged edges as far as the eye could see and then lastly, on the walkways, directly in front of it, staring at the white, blue and black ridges. And we were not disappointed as at that time, tons of pieces began to fall off, cracking in the air, and hitting the water to submerge and then re-emerge as the bottom was exposed to show a navy blue, almost black colour and waves ringed the area.

It would be so easy to spend hours there trying to compose the perfect photo or just to watch the power of nature, but unfortunately we had to head back to El Calafate and dinner after only a few hours. Met up with Lisa and Eddie again for a lovely dinner where Eddie and Kurt had huge, gargantuwan steaks (the size of Gunnar´s face!)and we all enjoyed a fine Argentian malbec.

The next day we all headed to the airport together. Lisa and Eddie heading south to the tip of the continent and us, north to Buenos Aires. The only problem was that we did not have a ticket the entire way. All of the Aerolineas Argentina flights had been sold out for weeks so we had received bad news with every travel agent. And strangely enough, in the town, where travel agents can not book flights and everything is done directly through Aerolineas who seem to have a monopoly, no one mentioned to us about going with any other carrier.

But our guidebook, the Lonely Planet, spoke of LADE - Lineas Aereas Del Estado - the state run military airline with passenger service. Celebrating its 65th anniversary and billing itself as the "first and unique airline developed in Argentina" how could it be bad. Plus it had been in business much longer that Aerolineas Argentina, and surely military trained pilots must be good! The other bonus was that they did not charge tourist prices for non-Argentian residents so their flights were dirt cheap.

In their office in El Calafate, we turned out not to be the only desperate travellers seeking tickets north or south. Considering LADE´s coverage of the country, they were definitely the airline of choice for servicing Patagonia. We managed to get a flight from El Calafate to Comodoro Rivadivia saving ourselves almost 20 hours by bus! And in a country where bus travel is composed of epic journeys because it is so large we were hoping to luck out and get on stand by down the line. So far, so good ...

In the boarding area in the airport, Lisa and Eddie looked dubious at our very little place next to their jet. Having spent lots of time on small planes, the twin otter seemed like an old friend, being rather cute as opposed to small in my eyes. I had faith in its capabilities. After all, they flew all over Canada and were extremely tough.

Said goodbye to Lisa and Eddie who left quite late on Aerolineas Argentina and headed off smuggly to our little tin can where we watched them throwing our backpacks which, being quite heavy, hit the plane door, and then fell directly back down on the ground. Oops!

The first bad sign was the flight attendant - military planes should not have one! She was wearing this cape and with her wild black hair, looked very witchlike and scary. The plane had obviously seen better days as well with worn seats that did not fully recline or sit upright. The emergency exit glass was broken which did not bode well either! No shiny steel here, just dented and scratched flat metal.

We took off with little problem despite the winds and then the pilot decided to show off for the tourists and took us up and over the Petito Moreno Glacier, weaving in and out at low altitude to a wildly happy bunch of tourists who were camera happy snapping aerial photos of the magnificent glacier.

It was all good until we started getting close to Comodoro Rivadivia where it was flat and we could see the lines in the earth from the drilling of oil wells on which the city was built. Suddenly I saw the Atlantic Ocean and more than that, the whitecaps, and the plane started to drop and get tossed back and forth, up and down. Had to hold on to stop from moving out of my seat. It wasn´t quite like on Air Canada when the captain comes on the loudspeaker and says, "ladies and gentlemen, we will be passing through an area of turbulence", no it was the real thing - where you feel like you´re in the eye of the storm and the vodka in the martini shaker. Not good!

For what seemed like hours, the pilot fought to bring the plane down to the ground as we came in over the ocean. I really was not sure if we were actually going to land in one piece. And after all the warnings of wind in Patagonian when hiking, wind that would blow you down, wind that we never saw in Torres del Paine or Los Glaciares National Parks, here it was - when we really did not need it and were at our most vulnerable, reminding us of its incredible ferocity.

The plane was extremely quiet and everyone was trying to think happy thoughts as the city did not seem to get any closer and the plane continued to be completely unstable. The sound of the wind and engine whining and our choice of the seats at the back being particularly bad for the bumpy ride!

Finally heard the screech and bump of the wheels as we landed on the terra firma and was very grateful for the pilot´s skill. Probably just another day´s work in Patagonia for him! Never have I wanted to kiss the ground so very much! Everyone looked green when they came off the plane. Took one step down the stairs and nearly got knocked over as I tried to walk from the plane to the terminal across the tarmac. No wonder it was so rough! The winds of Patagonia were saying goodbye to us!

Now Comodoro Rivadivia was only a small part of the way through this vast country of where we needed to go, the capital, Buenos Aires was still a days travel away. And how to get there? I know what I favoured ...

In the airport Kurt wanted me to check for us to try to get on another flight to Buenos Aires. Personally, the 24 hour bus ride was looking good to me about then! But he pushed me on. I slowly approached Aerolineas Argentina who only flew jets who said that had a flight at night which we could stand by for and probably get on. Sounded good to me, surely by 9pm, the winds would abate! But Kurt wanted me to check with LADE who was supposed to have a flight in 30 minutes at 5pm. Now there was absolutely no way that I was getting back in that tincan with wheels to fly hours to Buenos Aires!

With fear and intrepidation that they would say they had a seat, approached the counter to ask for 2 tickets. However, the first question I asked in Spanish was "What type of plane - que tipo de avion?" "Oh, a jet" they promised me and after waiting awhile they handed us two boarding passes, rechecked our bags and we handed over all our available cash because they would not accept credit cards! We had the last 2 seats and I was still not feeling very lucky!

Kurt was thrilled that we would be there in 2 hours versus the long and tedious bus ride and I was wondering if we would actually make it there alive. Waited in fear for the plane to arrive and stared incredulously that it actually was a jet. Small, but very jetlike and recognizable as a Fokker F-28, very common in the Air Canada fleet!

With feet like lead and dread, climbed aboard to find out that we had the last 2 available seats. Sat with the nicest Argentian family and got to practice my Spanish and try to distract myself from the winds and fear of this plane not making it to Buenos Aires. But despite my fears, they were unfounded and the flight was mainly smooth as we flew over huge tracts of undeveloped territory and coastal bays rich with marine life. As Patagonia receded in the distance, we found ourselves over Buenos Aires, one of my favourite cities, 3 days ahead of schedule without any plans, but that would be the easiest part after the flights!

Landed ahead of schedule, said goodbye to our LADE plane and crew who, despite difficult conditions, had gotten us where we needed to go. Headed out into the bank of heat which greeted us at 33C and stepped forward to our next adventure in this incredible country.

Petito Moreno Glacier - note different colours of blue, from light to dark to almost black

Petito Moreno Glacier - note different colours of blue, from light to dark to almost black

A very windblown me on the boat in front of the incredible Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

A very windblown me on the boat in front of the incredible Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Snap happy photographers - Kurt on right

Snap happy photographers - Kurt on right

Just after the calving, see pieces and ripple effect

Just after the calving, see pieces and ripple effect

Ah, our little twin otter just before take off at El Calafate airport, Patagonia, Argentina

Ah, our little twin otter just before take off at El Calafate airport, Patagonia, Argentina

Yes, a very optimistic me, pre-take off and turbulence! Not looking so good later on : ) (see the small doorway!)

Yes, a very optimistic me, pre-take off and turbulence! Not looking so good later on : ) (see the small doorway!)

The aerial view of the Moreno Glacier from our little twin Otter, courtesay of LADE

The aerial view of the Moreno Glacier from our little twin Otter, courtesay of LADE

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Argentina When the Shortest Way Is Not the Easiest Way!
The trip
 
Description:
My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America
Details:
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
Chile
Argentina
Uruguay
Ecuador
The Author
 
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 15 years.