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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live blog: el calafate

After our death-dying adventure we said goodbye to Bariloche this morning and flew another two hours south to El Calafate, along the Chilean border.  While not the end of the world, it certainly feels as though we are closing in on the tip of South America.  Established as a small shelter for wool traders, the town takes its name from the thorny calafate shrub, which seems to thrive here in the austerity of southern Patagonia.  The Tehuelche Indians made it through the extreme winters by using the bush as firewood.  It also produces a small, sweet berry similar to our blueberry.  According to an old Indian proverb, “He who tastes calafate, shall return.”  Needless to say, we took one look at this view and then went in search of a calafate bush.

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