bucket list: 2010 – april

ARGENTINA/NAPA:  Far from being the cruelest of months, April was a banquet of adventure.  My first foray to South America took me from the cultured urbanity of Buenos Aires to Bariloche’s lake district (and a near fatal expedition in search of condors) to the otherworldly glaciers of Patagonia.  The variety of experiences in Argentina whet my appetite for a return, while the Michelin stars dotting the Napa Valley whet an altogether different kind of appetite:  the all-you-can-eat hedonistic kind. Bardessono may have been a disappointment under the fussy hand of Sean O’Toole but Michel Chiarello’s convivial Bottega was extraordinary.  The high point:  a gastronomic pilgrimage to the altar of Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.

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live blog: last licks

I kept wishing another boat would come by to provide some perspective on the incredible height of the Spegazzini glacier-face. Llike a mountain view that constantly changes in the shifting sunlight, I could have spent many more hours watching it and seeing it anew.

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live blog: filtered ice

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live blog: calving

Thanks to Tracy Shar – and her lightning-fast reflexes – for catching these photos of the Spegazzini Glacier as it calved almost directly in front of us.

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live blog: perito moreno

After our hike across the Perito Moreno glacier the other day, it was interesting to view the massive north face from the water.

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live blog: meditating on the practical applications of icebergs

Add whiskey and enjoy.

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live blog: iceberg, straight ahead

Sailing the lakes we were privy to the sight of numerous icebergs, slowly drifting and melting in the end-of-summer sun.  When we got to the ice tunnel in the second photo, one of the deck hands scored for us the most practical of (temporary) souvenirs.  To be continued ….

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live blog: glacial views

Yesterday we spent quality time on the ice, today we got to enjoy a different perspective: seeing it from the water.  Departing from Puerto Banderas, we settled into cozy leather recliners and navigated our way through Boca del Diablo along the northern fjord of Lago Argentina.  For close to 90 minutes we sailed among huge icebergs and chunks of drift ice that pulsed with color in the early sun.  If you’ve never seen icebergs – and I’ve not, until now – they’re transfixing.  You want to see them from every angle; you want to touch them, to taste them.

Eventually we came to the imposing glacier in the video here:  the Upsala Glacier, which covers some 370 square miles.  To put that into perceptive, in the 1960’s an Argentine Air Force Captain actually landed a DC3 on the glacier.

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live blog: georgia’s ice

We jokingly nicknamed this crevasse the O’Keefe due to the, how shall we say, interesting anatomical formation.  There was a river coursing down below – no jokes, please – but we couldn’t see down to the bottom.
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live blog: ice, ice baby

It’s surreal – and a lit bit disorienting – to hike into the middle of a vast glacier.  Yes, you have a mountain as reference along one horizon, but turn around and as far as the eye can see there is nothing but ice. I’ve always been a fan of the narratives of the polar explorers and though today we only hiked for little more than six hours, I came away with a much grander appreciation of their individual perseverance and fortitude.

A short boat ride from Bajo las Sombras across Lago Argentina brought us face to face with the towering ice walls of  Perito Moreno Glacier.  At roughly 3 miles wide and 100-feet high (plus, don’t forget what’s below the waterline: another 300-feet of ice) it’s not the largest glacier in town.  It is, however, the only one to which you can virtually drive up and jump aboard.


A guide awaited us as we landed on the opposite side of Moreno’s north face.  After checking gear, we picked up our crampons, got fitted for harnesses, and hiked up the lateral moraine towards the center of the glacier.  After about an hour, we finally stepped away from terra firma and out onto the surprisingly hard ice.  I don’t know why it was such a surprise; it is, after all, ice.  But perhaps it’s because when viewed at a distance the glacier – despite its girth – looks ethereal.  I half-expected the terrain to have the texture (and taste) of gelato.  Turn the sound up on this video and you’ll hear that nothing could be further than the truth.

The ice sounds like it is alive.  Occasionally there is a deep low rumble, as if the ground were about to start shifting beneath your feet.  Or a high-pitched thunder, as though someone fired off a rifle round in the near distance.  It’s the pressure of the all that ice seeking release.  I couldn’t imagine being out here in the dark or all alone. There are huge moulins, crevasses, and caves that shimmer a milky blue in the sunlight.   (The ice is not actually blue but a trick of the eye, functioning like a prism as it’s hit by the light)  There are unexpected rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, too.  The absence of life doesn’t mean the glaciers aren’t alive by any means.

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live blog: strap-ons

One of the chief attractions of this entire journey south of the Equator is getting the opportunity to hike the glaciers.  No less than thirteen of them descend out of the Andes as part of the Patagonian Ice Field – the second largest ice field in the world after Antarctica, in case I haven’t already  dropped that factoid in here somewhere.  It kind of seems as if you want to hike a glacier, this is the place to do it.

Here’s a little tease of what we got up to today as part of a full-day hike across the ice:  strap-on crampons.  I’ll post something in more detail just as soon as I’m done with a much-needed massage.

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live blog: 8 days unshaved

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live blog: los sauces

Love her or hate her, Eva Peron is as close as this country comes to having a native-born saint.  So when I approached my room at Los Sauces and saw Eva’s name on the door, I knew I was going to have one pretty sweet suite.

A collection of small villas or casitas, Los Sauces is the most luxurious hotel in town, with spectacular views of both the mountains and the Lago Argentina.  It also has some of the friendliest staff of any hotel I’ve visited – and that says something.

Also, the President of Argentina has a house next door.  She and her husband  – the former president – were in town for the Easter holidays, which incidentally caused a back-up on the road from the airport as every vehicle that tried to pass was searched and the contents screened in a mobile roadside x-ray unit. Yet oddly there appeared to be a distinct lack of security around the house itself.  From my balcony I could see right into the President’s sitting room.  I waved a few times but never got a response.

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live blog: a cretaceous 4X4

My introduction to El Calafate came in the shape of a enormous 4X4 vehicle that looked like something out of the Mad Max movies and moved with all the grace of a sure-footed Brontosaurus. It climbed up the balcony of Calafate to the top of Mount Huiliche, giving me a bird’s eye view of the largest lake in Argentina – Lago Argentina – and the mostly barren, mountainous topography created by the retreating glaciers.  The Patagonian Ice Field – which extends across the continent into Chile -  is the largest expanse of glacial ice apart form Antarctica.  When it retreated north a few million years ago, it scraped (and scarred) the earth here, creating lakes and leaving deposits of sedimentary rock and minerals.  It’s a tough landscape.

Climbing uphill we stopped at the Labyrinth of Stones, an 85 million year-old Cretaceous formation of rock and sandstone.   After gaping at the views, we scrambled down into a sandy valley for tea and hot chocolate in a yurt.  It was very civilized – if just a bit surreal.

Journeying back down the mountain at angles steep enough to induce flashbacks of the recent “cheating of death” in Bariloche, we paused to check out these curious sombreros, tossed so carelessly among a small incline of rocks.  Actually they’re not sombreros at all, but deposits of iron inside the rock.  Consisting of a cannonball core and a brim of bleed-out, they were revealed once the eroding sand caused the rocks to fall and break apart.  Curiously, you can still find a few matching pairs of hats along with the rock they’ve separated from.

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