events

Patagonia: El Calafate, Santa Cruz, Argentina

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Flamingoes on Lago Argentino

6 January 2011

El Calafate is the largest town here 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. I know because I’ll be on a lookout for it at every meal. This is where the airport is, a port of entry\ for most tourists to this region of Patagonia. As you would expect, tourist shops and fancy restaurants with Argentinian themes are all over the main street and once you step off one block away it dies down to the feeling of a small sleepy town. There is even a casino, just in case tourists are sick of the mountains and decided to go back to something more “exciting”.

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Welcome to El Calafate, I guess.

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The Casino

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The drinking hole…

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… and some local souvenirs...

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Not to mention some shopping places.

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Old trucks

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Lago Argentino

Outside the western end of the city is a nature preserve with flamingoes standing on one leg. They looked pretty far away, even with a 600mm telephoto you'd probably get just a pink speck. The water is not deep at all and i don't think it is worth wading in it to get close to the flamingoes. They would just fly away anyway. But there is probably nothing much more to do other than to look at the tourist shops and buy a fridge magnet or some artisanal chinese-made souvenir, so the best thing to do would be to take a good walk to the lake. It is, after all, a place for some R&R.

It is a pretty long walk. A few kilometers at least, and takes me through the heart of the tourist El Calafate. The main street is full of tourist memorabilia and outdoor shops, parilla-style and italian restaurants plus a casino smack in the middle of it all, clearly intended to be the centre of attraction. The prices of the restaurants on the main street is comparable to the ones that you find in Buenos Aires, which is normal I guess. Off the main street the prices seem to drop somewhat. There are pockets of area where the shops seem a little more upscale, kind of like the place where rich tourists would visit. I don’t get the idea of looking for a quaint shop in the middle of a town that is obviously not quaint. Its like looking for local hamburger in the provinces in China. It just doesn’t fit in, but you see that in every tourist town. Perhaps that’s how you tell a tourist town from a real functioning town with its own economy that doesn’t really bother with tourist dollars.

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Parilla, how could I resist...

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Saying the people here are carnivores is an understatement. This is a platter for 2. 2!

The cars here are a mix of old and new. The old cars here are pretty old and badly maintained. It's probably not such a bad thing since this town is so small people don't drive faster than what is required with a first gear anyway. I did see some speeding along a secondary road but most cars were going 20kmph at the most. Even at that speed it takes 15 minutes to get from one end of the town to the other end. Then on the other end of the spectrum are the fast cars, and I have no idea where they are planning to go in such a hurry.

We get to the nature preserve and noticed that while there is no man made barrier between us and the birds, one would have to go over marshes and mud to get close. And don’t let the distance fool you, it looks quite far away, but in actual fact it is even farther than that. So I’m happy enough to stay close to the main road and hope to get some shots of the flamingoes from there. There are some birds around closer to the main road as well, so I take those as easy prey. The flamingoes get to escape from my camera this time. I figured out if I could get close enough and getting mud all over me from doing so, there is no guarantee that it will not just decide to all fly off at the same time. I think flamingos could fly.

Generally there is not much to do here. But considering there are not too many towns in the vicinity, El Calafate would make a good base with Moreno glacier less than 2 hours to the west and Cerro Torre and Fitzroy 3-4 hours drive away around Lago Argentino and Viedma to the northwest. Next, bring on Chile!

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Waking up to sheeps outside the hotel window!

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Southern Lap Wing

Proceed to Torres del Paine National Park, Chile...