Posts Tagged With: Andes

Double Trouble In Patagonia = A Change Of Plans

After a 22-hour trip by car from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, my river dance

I’m in a cafe in Bariloche. The town in the breathtaking Patagonia region of Argentina serves as a launchpad for mountaineers, hikers, skiers, campers and travelers headed to all points, but mostly south to the end of the American continent and its spectacular glaciers. The place is packed. I am hearing many languages: Hebrew. German. Italian. Dutch. English. Spanish. French. Some others I can’t quite discern.  These are people who absolutely love the outdoors. Hardcore climbers. Extreme sports enthusiasts. They’ve somehow made it to Patagonia, despite the challenges getting here, not to mention spending any time here under current conditions.

There haven’t been commercial flights to Bariloche since last June. For these last eight months, the airport has been closed because of an erupting volcano and the ash it has been blasting into the air. Visibility on some days here is down to almost nothing. The volcanic ashhangs in the air, looks like heavy fog, falls from the sky and coats everything. There’s a thick layer of the stuff on the ground, and at first glance it looks like a fine gray sand.

Sand? It's volcanic ash that traveled for miles to Bariloche

It makes people cough and sneeze and stings the eyes when the wind kicks it up. I’ve had just three days of this. Imagine how it has impacted the people who have lived with it for months. Economically, it hasn’t been good, they say. Tourism is down. Way down. The only travelers in town are the hearty souls who have opted to make the 22-hour road trip from Buenos Airesor from other parts overland. They are the people now in the cafe who are here to conquer nature: a mountain covered in ice; a rushing river; a few days surviving in the woods. Nothing, not even an erupting volcano, was going to keep this crowd away. Just to look at them you can tell they live and breathe the outdoors.

Road Trippers: With Massi of Italy and Austria, a stop on our way to Bariloche

I’m here with them. Not much was going to keep me away either. I have been looking forward to Patagonia for years. I checked news reports about the volcanic eruption and all official reports indicate it’s safe to be here. And yet, this isn’t exactly how I had hoped to experience Patagonia.

It’s amazing when you stop to think that this ash has traveled for thousands of miles from southern Chile, where the  Puyehue Volcano rises as but one giant in the  Andes Mountains chain.

My plan for Patagonia: to head to the southern tip of South America, with stops in Punta Arenas, Chile, and Ushuai, Argentina. Beyond that lies Antarctica. But things don’t always go according to plan. With the volcanic ash, I had decided to cut short my trip in Bariloche and head to El Bolsón, which by all accounts is a cool place to visit in Argentina.

Some car repair and a check of the map on our way from Buenos Aires to Bariloche

From there, to Perito Moreno glacier. But south of El Bolsón a destructive forest fire rages on. It has destroyed homes and forced evacuations. It has also closed the roads – albeit temporarily – south. So now I am rethinking and redrawing my plans. Perhaps go as far as El Bolsón now, then near the end of my three-year journey, return to Patagonia or southern Chile, to experienced what I’ve missed. This new plan would allow me to get back to Buenos Aires, cross by ferry to Uruguay and get to Brazil in time for carnival.

I had planned to be back in Santiago, Chile, anyway by 2013, on my way from Easter Islands, so it makes good sense to get to the rest of Argentina and Chile then. And hopefully then, there won’t be any forest fires or erupting volcanoes. Hopefully.

After 22 hours in a car together from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, still friends! 🙂 From left to right, me, Alex of Toronto, Canada, Massi of Austria and Italy, and our fearless driver, Juan of Buenos Aires, Argentina

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A Waterfall Thousands Of Years Old Vanishes

The Loa River in Calama, Chile, is where many in the town go on Sunday afternoons to cool off in the river, barbecue, relax.

Until recently, there was a beautiful waterfall on this river. When I arrived there today with friends, to everybody’s surprise, including the locals, the waterfall was gone! All that was left was a big hole with standing water in it. No cascading waters. Just the bone-dry riverbed where the waters once flowed and fell over the edge.

Locals explained that water being diverted further upstream by the world’s largest open pit copper mine – a mine named Chuquicamata– has caused a serious drop in the river levels, resulting in the vanishing of the waterfall that has been there for thousands of years.

Waters from the Loa River would cascade down here, creating a beautiful waterfall. No more.

Since I got to Calama, I had been really looking forward to that waterfall. I had heard so much about it. For now, it’s no more. Residents hope that with the rainy season that arrives in January, the water levels of the river will again increase and the waterfall will return. This is the desert.

It’s the Atacama Desert. It’s the driest place on Earth. Doubtful it will get so much rain that the river will bounce back enough to bring back the cascade. But I won’t discount Mother Nature. She’s capable of  much.

A day on the Loa River with friends

Still, the Loa River was still a bit cold. Some have more tolerance for near-freezing waters than I do. My friends and I only got in up to our waists. The river is born from the snowmelt in the Andes Mountains, which loom in the horizon. The ice-cold water left our legs numb. It’s that cold. But we still enjoyed our lazy Sunday afternoon down by the river.

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Getting Ready For Argentina

Don’t know what it is about Argentina. But it’s one of those countries I find appealing. And yet, I’ve never been there.

That’s about to change.

I always thought the first place in Argentina I’d visit would be Buenos Aires. ( Now there’s another city long on my travel radar). I still intend to get there. But for now, looks like the first place in Argentina I will set foot in is a city named Salta. The province of Salta is in the northwestern part of Argentina and it borders Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay. From what I hear, it’s very touristic, but it also has a lot of charm and fantastic nightlife.

Next month, I will travel from Calama, Chile, to Salta, by bus – 10 to 11 hours – reaching altitudes over the Andes Mountains of more than 17,000 feet above sea level. Break out the oxygen tank now! I think 16,000 feet was the highest I’ve so far been and that happened in Bolivia recently. Anyway, planning, planning, planning. Buses don’t run every day between the two cities, so I might have to leave for Salta with one bus company and return to Calama with another. I have a five-day weekend – is there even such a thing? – coming up, so I will take advantage of the long weekend.

I am also planning to get back to couchsurfing. It’s a great way to meet locals and other travelers. I look forward to that.

My trip to Salta is in mid-November. But these cross-border trips, regardless of the distance, sometimes take time. Planning, planning, planning.

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