events

Bohyeonsan Observatory, Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do

​The idea for this place came about one day while I was browsing the contents of Korean Airline's inflight magazine and I read about a small village north of Yeongcheon very close to the large city of Daegu. This town decided they needed an identity and a signature dish. And it so happens that there is an observatory right on top of Bohyeonsan 부현산 and apparently they nicked-name the village "Star City" for us English-inclined speakers, and since there seems to be quite a number of Korean parsley growers, they started making a fuss out of grilled pork belly 삼겹살 and parsley 미나리. 

And as it always goes with me, time to check it out. Interesting combination. Stars and parsley. I recall the time I was in turkey close to the Syrian border where every meal seems to have a large side serving of parsley and how I loved it. 

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An Afternoon in Yeouido 여의도, Seoul

This small urban island is the home of many company headquarters, the seat of the Korean parliament and just about very major TV stations in Korea. Not to forget the occasional mega churches. Situated in a piece of land on the Han river, it is an island because a small stream cuts it off the mainland. So the southern part is just a stones throw to the mainland while the northern section requires a larger medieval catapult to get to land. 

The western part of Yeouido has tight security, and there is where the National Assembly building is, where the politicians hang out. I don't even bother to take out my camera as I'm sure security guards don't like any pictures taken. There's not really much to take here, mainly drab government building, that box with a dome on it and perhaps KBS station. 

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Foods of Wan-do and Cheongsan-do, South Korea

Steamed Seafood & Abalone - Jeonbok Jjim (전북찜)

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I just looked it up, jjim is translated as "steamed" but it is basically a stew with less soup than the usual, so it is really steamed with usually plenty of sauce of the spicy variety. Just about every shop sells this. Randomly picked this one on the way from Wando bus terminal to the ferry terminal. One of the cheapest I've seen, 38,000₩ for a medium plate that's enough for 3 person with rice. It has abalone, squid, octopus, crabs, mussels, scallops and other seafood I cannot name served on a bed of bean sprouts and what looked like Korean water parsley (미나리) with hot chilli paste sauce. The sauce is more sweet than spicy, but tastes quite well with rice. Rice would e require at the end of the dish to wipe up all the sauce. The banchan here comes with kimchi that tastes more sour and you can kind of taste the fermentation. They like to serve the banchan here on a canteen type plates with shallow separates that serves four types at a time. Never seen this in Seoul other than canteens. Anyhow, tastes great and very filling especially when you finish off the sprouts. 

Abalone porridge - Jeonbok Juk (전복죽)

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It's porridge, with sliced abalone, and greenish stuff that I later learned was the interior parts of the abalone that lies between the abalone and the shell. The stuff is then mixed into the porridge giving a sweet tasting gruel. Nicer in winter than summer but I'd happily eat this anytime. Price usually ranges around the 10,000₩ tag. Tastes even better if the shop puts more slices of abalone. Usually looks like less than a whole abalone in most shops I've tried it. 

Shellfish bibimbap 

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Served with different types of shell fish sashimi on a bed of lettuce. You'd dump in the rice yourself and put as much gochujang sauce and sesame oil as you would personally like and stir it into a nice uniform consistency. The shell fish gives the texture into every bite but I'm not sure that it lends too much to the overall taste. Other than being healthy, I can't say that it's a dish I like to order if I was a taste freak. 10,000₩ poorer for the privilege. 

Instant Noodle with Abalone - Jeonbok Ramyun (전복라뮨)

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Now this is a strange one. Instant ramen is popular cheap breakfast dish. Salty, MSG and a sinful serving or never expired noodles, but with two fresh abalones inside. Had this one when I got off the ferry on Cheongsando island. That's 8,000₩ bowl of the best combination made with Nongshin ramen. They did add some bits of additional spring onions to make it look healthier. 

Abalone and Seaweed Soup - Jeonbok Tteokbaegi 

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Two things Wando region is famous for. Abalone and seaweed in casserole dish. Tastes slightly salty, but not ramen salty. Probably a lot less salty than a jiggae too. Just nice as far as my taste goes. Served with rice and the usual banchan on canteen plates. Really good for hangover I think. Not that I plan to get drunk here though. Of course no need to do so to try this dish. At the shop I tried this, I counted 2 medium sized abalone. 10,000₩ dish. It looks great as a hangover dish!

Abalone Pancake - Jeonbok Paljeon (전복팔전)

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I love paljeons. Even better when I spotted the abalone cousin on the menu. That's one expensive pancake at 15,000₩. It's made of batter with strips of whole spring onions including the oniony bits and the leafy parts and with uniformly spaced small abalones. I did not count the number of abalones but suffice to say, there's enough to cover the whole 20cm radius pancake. Taste? With the soya sauce with chilli flakes as a side dip, really good. In fact so good I think this is my favorite Jeon so far because of the chewy texture. Look for it in restaurants. I got mine in Cheongsando close to the ferry terminal. 

Jeonju, Jeollabuk, South Korea: Bibimbap Town

Directly south of Seoul, is the small town of Jeonju. There is plenty of history in this town, I’m sure, but this trip is not about history but about eating. No, I have not sold out yet, it is still a travel site, and not another “foodie blog”. Back to the topic at hand… Jeonju is just 3 hours away from Seoul, enough to get there in the morning, have lunch and dinner and then come back before midnight, which is what I’m going to do.

At the Express Bus Terminal, the bus leaves from Central City terminal about every 10 minutes. There are two classes of bus, but I’d go for the more expensive service that cost 17,900W one way. According to the map, it is just about 200km away, but as usual, traffic jam plus heavy rain means that the trip took 3 hours. There will be a break half way to Jeonju, and the rest stop i surprisingly well equipped. There is a small supermarket, and plenty of shops selling sit down meals or korean junk food. They even have toebokki and sundae (korean blood sausage, not ice cream).

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Shanxi Province, China: Pingyao

I blame a previous issue of Silverkris (Singapore Airlines' inflight magazine). I tend not to take any more airline magazines as they all turn out to be paper weight after it leaves the plane, but now with a camera phone with enough resolution, I can take a picture of the page and read it later. And so it was, one edition had an article on Pingyao. That’s in Shanxi, Shanxi with single “a” and not the one where the terracotta warriors are located. It was not a long article, just one page, and something about not being affected by the cultural revolution and the fact that this small town was the first financial hub in China about a hundred years before Shanghai. And so during the long weekend in May, when I was out of ideas of where to go, Pingyao came to mind. Wouldn’t be that bad to decamp over there for a few days just to chill out.

The only issue is getting there. One idea was to go to Beijing and then taking a train, but that seems to take a whole day. Another way is to go through the capital of Shanxi Province, Taiyuan, just about 2 hours by bus. I like the chinese bus. Dirt cheap (though train would be cheaper) and full of locals. So... mind made up, and ready to go.

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Leica camera CLA in Seoul

I have a couple of Leica Ms and of all of them, my favorite has to be the M2. However that M2 is also the only mechanical camera in my possession that is in need of overhauling. Clean, lubricate & adjust as they say it, or simply CLA. Doesn't take long to do a search on the Internet before I stumble across a supposedly nondescript shop in Chungmuro (충무로) that came recommended. GPS coordinate is approximately at 37.562063, 126.990041

To get there, take line 3 orange line to 충무로 station and get out at exit 5. Continue straight towards Myeongdong and one you pass a big tower called Kukdong Building, turn right and immediately turn left on the next small junction. About ten meters later on your right will be a small camera shop called Yeongsang 영상 Camera. Go up to the second floor and there is a black and white photo developing shop. In a small corner of the shop, the old man there will CLA your mechanical camera.

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Patagonia: Civil Strife in Puerto Natales & Evacuation

12 January 2011: The road to Puerto Natales

It was supposed to be a simple day, we were suppose to drive to Punta Arenas today, and I would split up with the group and go alone by bus to Ushuaia. But the last few days there were some rumours about a civil strife in this part of Chile, mainly in Magellanes region over the rise of heating fuel. The whole region was supposed to go into a protest mode and they showed their displeasure by trying to hurt the economy of their own region, and in this place it means shutting down the tourist machine. At this point we were not too sure about what that means, there were police at the hotel this morning in Las Torres but they didn't know what the latest status was. All we heard is that at Punta Arenas, the road to the city was blocked by protestors and tourists will have to walk the whole distance. 

The choices then was either to drive back to Argentina to escape the blockade, or continue the drive to Punta Arenas, and have the option to spend the night at Puerto Natales if the situation was not favourable. Even the drive to Argentina was not guaranteed as the protestors could block the border too. 

It was basically plenty of unknowns and at worst case it was a regional lock down. 

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Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

​This post spans 7-11 January 2011 that I spent in probably the most spectacular landscape I've seen so far at Torres del Paine National Park. It starts with the crossing into Chile from Argentina with time spent at three Estancia, first at Laguna Verde in the south, then to Lago Grey at the southern end looking at Glaciar Grey and finally to Las Torres for the final big hike up to Mirador Las Torres. It was a combination of landscape photography and wildlife hunting. In terms of scenery it was the icing on the cake.

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Patagonia: El Calafate, Santa Cruz, Argentina

El Calafate is the largest town at Parc Nationale de Glacieriares but it is still a small town with tens of thousand inhabitants. It is named after Calafate berry that is close to blueberry and make very good jam and sorbet. This was a one night stop, like a trip break between driving from Perito Moreno into Chile, which otherwise would be a long drive indeed. I think it was fun to be able to walk around a small city once, since after leaving Buenos Aires the only thing I saw was estancias and vast patagonian deserts and plenty of mountains.

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Patagonia: Perito Moreno Glacier, Santa Cruz, Argentina

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Perito Moreno Glacier in the hot summer sun

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This picture gives a sense of how big this glacier is

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Tourists on the glacier

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On the glacier

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More lenticular clouds

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Perito Moreno Glacier early in the morning before sunrise

4 January 2011 Leaving El Chalten this morning on the paved Ruta 40 down south past Lago Viedma and Lago Argentino, leaving behind Cerro Torre and Fitzroy. I’d say that I have been lucky to be in El Chalten and having a few days of clear skies. Today as we leave El Chalten, the peaks are already obscured by low clouds. It would have been depressing to come all the way to not see any of the amazing peaks at all, so I’m thankful to the weather gods.

Highway 11 brings us to El Calafate in time for lunch. El Calafate, named after a local berry (which makes a very nice breakfast jam, very close to blueberries, raspberries but a little more tangy sour) is more like a large camping ground. With a casino. Its a brainless way for bureaucrats to stimulate a boring local economy with a casino. For lunch, a local pizza place served up a large portion of food, do people here eat a lot... Even North Americans think the portions are too big. I ordered a special sandwich with bacon, egg and I think a small slab of steak, and it was filling enough I had no more space left for desserts.

For the short drive along highway 11 to Perito Moreno, the bus went along the banks of Lago Argentino. There are a few glaciers that feed into this massive lake, and every once in a while (more like every few hours) a large chunk of ice breaks off the glacier and floats on the lake. Imagine seeing ice bergs in a lake in summer. This, I was told, was mostly coming from Glacier Upsala which is melting the fastest of the lot. I don’t remember but this could be one of the glacier highlighted in “An Inconvenient Truth” as being a fast disappearing glacier. Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the largest in the region. Supposedly larger than the space occupied by Buenos Aires, 35km across and at the point where it meets with the lake and the part that is easily visible, 5km wide and it is supposed to be stable and in equilibrium.

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Entrance to Perito Moreno Glacier National Park

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At the entrance, checking up on cars

Nothing much in term of view on the way, until the bus got to the entrance to the glacier park where there was a little problem with the Hosteria forgetting to tell the entrance guards that a bus load of photographers were going to stay that night and not to charge entrance fee. The road ends at a look out broad-walk, and every car that goes in is required to pay an entrance fee. There is a hotel inside, not cheap, but with one of the best views of the glacier from every single room. This is the one that we are headed to.

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First view of the glacier from the road

Glacial ice, made up of compacted ice, is deep blue in color when light illuminates. Behind the mountains here in southern Patagonia, is the southern Patagonian ice field a large expanse of ice third in size after the two poles. When looking at the mountain ranges, it is sometimes possible to see part of the ice field and what looks like ice overflowing over mountains and pouring into big lakes in the form of a glacier. In terms of the mechanism of how it all works, air coming from the pacific ocean contains plenty of moisture and when forced over the mountains it causes precipitation (or snow), which in turn feeds the ice field. Glacial ice breaks and melts into the lake, but is replenished by the ice field. By the time the air reaches the Argentinian side of the Patagonian range, it is mostly dry, which explains the desert terrain on the Argentinian side of the mountain range. After a few days in this place, that’s my understanding of how things work around here.

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View of the glacier from the hotel living room

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Hotel room view

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Los Notros Hosteria rooms

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Hauling luggages up to the rooms

For Perito Moreno glacier, I will spend two nights at Los Notros Hosteria. My room is on the ground floor with a view of the glacier. The window is big enough to be able to climb out through it and I already had some idea to set up a tripod and camera outside for star trails and for the morning shoot of the glacier tomorrow. The lazy landscape photographer.

After a short rest at the hotel, we take a hotel shuttle to the broad walk to get close to the glacier. This is an elaborate set of pathways overlooking the front face of the glacier. There are some steps here and I did notice lift for the handicap. Its an easy stroll mainly and one could spend hours here. The shuttle bus comes back to pick up tourists from the broad-walk after 1 hour. This leaves no time for all the paths but there is no necessity to do it all. There are different color coded paths there, some of them will take a few hours.

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The full face of the glacier from the broadwalk

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Nice infrastructure here

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This picture gives an idea of how close the glacier face is to the broadwalk

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Bridge connecting glacier and land where the broadwalk is located

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As usual...

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Dinner at Los Notros

First thing that hits you the first time you get out to the broad-walk is the size of this glacier. It's so wide you need a 12mm full frame lens to take the face in one shot. The broad-walk is directly facing the glacier face. Its close enough you feel like you’re touching it. From what I have heard, every 4 years the glacier blocks off a small portion of the lake from Lago Argentino where the level of the lake rises to a point where the pressure is so high it bursts the temporary ice dam. Today, I could see that the glacier has creeped close enough to the side where the broad-walk is and there is an arch with ice touching this side and water flowing under the the arch. I was told that the breach happened recently and everyone is waiting for the ice bridge to collapse and for the next cycle to happen again. There is also a constant roar of cracking ice and fissures forming deep inside the ice. Everyone on the broad-walk would look around every time a loud crack was heard. Again, sound travels slower than light, so we look around a lot for falling ice and making sure that the camera is set so that we can just put it to eye level and snap without doing too much complicated setting. After a while I learnt to see the telltale sign of when a break will be coming... listen to cracks (not splashes) an little bits of ice will usually be seen seconds before a clean break. The path were constructed on an elevated ground on this side to make sure that waves from crashing ice will not wash away visitors, which is a possibility seeing how close the ice is to the broad-walk.

5 January 2011 I spent most of the last evening trying to perfect my star trail shots, but as I am not that well versed with predicting how the stars here move in the southern hemisphere, I almost always shoot in the wrong direction. The morning shoot was centered on a nice lenticular cloud during the magic hour. One second it looked like a space ship, next second it starts to look like a interstellar giant creature. Minutes later it starts uninteresting. Shape shifter.

Back to this morning, the hotel prepared some packed lunch (sandwiches, juice, water and an apple). It comes in a paper bag and a backpack provided by the hotel. A hotel shuttle moves the guests to a pier just downhill, and onto boats that seats at least 50. The view of the glacier is to the right of the boat.

Yesterday was an appetizer. Today, I will get to walk on the glacier with crampons.

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Tourist boat pier

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View of the glacier from the boat

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Boat captain

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Destination: A patch of land next to ice that is flatter than the rest of the glacier

We alight at a small pier on the business end of the lake, before the boat starts picking up passengers for the return trip. The trip to the glacier is pretty straight forward, almost in a straight line and on the way back the boat usually goes in front of the wall of ice but still far away not to be dangerous when a big slab of ice breaks off crashing into the lake. First thing to do is to trek up to a locker room to leave the lunch backpack behind, and then a short trek in the woods to an area where land meets the glacier. All these procedures are quite well organized. There’s a professional tour company that manages the whole glacier walk, pretty much a monopoly. As long as they do a good job.

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Short trek to the glacier

Back yesterday, the ice on the glacier is made up of large chunks of pointed ice, not something where one could walk on, but this section where the ice walk happens, the ice is a lot flatter, more like rolling hills. No mountaineering skills required. Just put on crampons and walk. While walking around the rocky ground before going to the area where guides put on crampons for the tourists, I loiter around the area hoping to see a large chunk of ice falling into the lake. Every loud crack made me look around for falling pieces of ice, telltale sign of the upcoming break. Since there is a long queue of people waiting to put their crampons on, I think I have about 15 minutes at least to spot breaking ice. I set my camera on continuous shot mode and high shutter speed just in case, and I focus my concentration on one are of the glacier that looked promising. Here, small ice chunks are breaking off quite regularly.

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Another piece sliding off. I have about 40 frames of this event.

And sure enough, soon, some movement in the ice face and short seconds later, a chunk the size of a house starts to slide off the glacier. A big splash later, it was bobbing in the water along with a large wake of a wave radiating outwards. Nearby, a tour boat started to turn around so that it faces directly at the wave coming at it and once the first wave has passed, it decided to get out of the little bay and back into calmer waters. I did shoot about about 20 frames, capturing the event on my DSLR. Felt happy my patience was paid off.

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Crampons

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And putting them on...

Spent enough time on the 20 frame, and time to rush to the crampon zone to put on the metal spikes. Excited. First time on crampons. Guides here tie on world-war two era crampons on tourists’ shoes. These are bare steel crampons without the toe spike so they are only good for walking and not for ice climbing. Its secured by a series of straps tied tight. Not a place to be wearing your office shoes for sure as the crampons will damage the leather. Who would be wearing their best shoe to a glacier anyway.

Walking for the first time with crampons is quite strange. Imagine not being able to flex your forefoot at all, and crampons on rocks is no fun. When walking on ice, it has the feeling of running on a wet grass pitch with studded soccer boots, except again, you can’t flex your forefoot. Our guide demonstrated the Godzilla walk. Its easy enough, and another precaution is to walk cowboy style to ensure one does not impale your other foot while walking with the spikes.

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Tourists waiting for the trek on ice

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Pool of water with a nice blue hue

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Walking on ice

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Crevasse with deep blue water. No idea how deep this one goes.

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Tables set up on ice to serve glacial ice and whiskey

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Ice gaucho giving a climbing demonstration

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A guide in action...

The ice that I’m walking on is like medium-sized ice cubes and it has the same texture. Looks like the kind of place that you don’t really want to slip and fall as the ice looks sharp enough to cause some serious injury. Not the astroturf rash kind for sure. Think lacerations. At a couple of locations, one could look down a bottomless crevasse with dark blue colored water falling into the void. All water on this glacier, including small ice pools are dark blue. The guide’s story here is that snow that falls in on the southern Patagonian ice field takes about 300 years to move to this point and ample time to be compacted almost to the point of looking and feeling like ice cubes. So that’s what you get here, crevasses and rolling hills of ice. Highlight of this trip was a private session getting of official guide to climb one of the house-sized ice stalagmites to demonstrate how big it was. But seriously, walking on ice was never that much fun, and I was already thinking about buying a set of crampons for use during winter when I get back!

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Waiting for the ferry

An hour or two on the ice was all we got. Back at the locker room the group sat down for sandwich lunch while waiting for the next boat to ferry everyone back to the hotel pier. The wait was almost an hour. Most of it was wasted resting on large rocks overlooking the Perito Moreno Glacier. I set up the camera and my sound recorder, hoping to capture picture and sound of the ice breaking off, but didn’t get a single thing at all in that single hour. But I have already captured enough frames earlier on, so was not utterly disappointed, though it would have been a lot nicer to capture some sound too.

The rest of the day was for resting. The walk on the glacier was still hard work and luckily for an extra dab of sunblock lotion just about everywhere on my exposed skin (reflection off the ice could also cause sun burn) my already burnt skin did not get additional stress. The last few hours of the walk on ice saw some cloud cover coming in giving a nice light to shoot in. Much more moody then a clear blue sky. Overall, pretty happy with the shootout today. Nice photos, first time on crampons and first time walking on a glacier. Many firsts today and well worth the effort finding my way all the way here. Don’t miss the glacier walk.

6 January 2011 After the glacier trip, the next destination is a long drive into Chile broken up with a night in El Calafate. This is a little like a rest stop. It was possible to go directly into Chile’s Torres del Paine National park but that would have been a whole day of tiring drive, so a rest buffer day would have been a lot better. This marks the end of Argentinian side of Patagonia. Another day and I will be in Chile, some say for the grand finale.

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*end*

Proceed to El Calafate, Argentina...