STORIES FROM TRAVELLING IN SOUTH AMERICA


The images

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Of course when I decided to go to South America for half a year it was clear to me that I would bring my camera as well.  Photography will be an important part of this journey and I will post pictures when I have web connection.  Of course I take a lot of pictures during this time and I won’t post all of them on Instagram and Facebook.  However, you will find more pictures  from my travels if you click the following button. I will update the images in this link from time to time, when I also post something new here.

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The First few weeks - patagonia I

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 So the first few weeks of this trip we spent together as a family traveling from Buenos Aires in Argentina to the very southern most tip of Patagonia and back up to Santiago de Chile. And we saw a lot.  Some of the highlights include of course Buenos Aires itself, El Chaltén with the peaks of Fitzroy and Cerro Torre, Perito Moreno Glacier and, the cruise from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas on the Stella Australis.  I will post some stories, more detailed descriptions and more images in the coming days.

Buenos Aires 13.12. - 15.12.

Well, what did we learn in Baires? Clearly, that there's rain in South America, too. The day we arrived, it rained like crazy, absolutely bonkers. The streets were flooded and I remember this one time where we had a very good laught, at the expense of a lady that had just been completely drenched by a literal wave, originating from a bypassing bus. I have been splashed by bypassing cars and it's very unpleasant. But that was nothing in comparison. The woman was as wet as if someone had pushed her into a pool!

The first impression of South America for me was that it's a lot louder than Europe. Everything seems to be at another level of volume. Definitely something that will take me some time to adapt to.

Then, we were also introduced to Mate, by our great city guide. It's a hot beverage that many Argentinians drink day in, day out. I'd describe the effect of a one sip as the combination of drinking a can of coke and 3 very strong black teas at the same time. It's absolutely incredible, and a good explanation why Argentinian nightlife starts around 2 a.m. Well, I like it.

El Calafate 15.12. - 17.12.

In El Calafate we went to the world famous Perito Moreno Glacier, which many will know from photographs of Patagonia. The glacier forms up in the mountains and flows down into an immense lake. Sometimes, it grows so large that it cuts the lake into two, seperating it into two bodies of water. This separation is actually so tight that on both sides of the glacier tung, the water levels develop in different ways. From what I record there can be over 10 meters difference in water levels, which is absolutely massive, if you think about the amount of water required for that. After a while however, the forces on the icy dam become so strong that it eventually breaks and gives way to water flow. When we were there, there were no differing water levels, but one could still see the tunnel in the ice, connecting the two parts of the lake. We took a boat trip to get nearer to the glacier, which was absolutely stunning. While we were there, some smaller blocks of ice fell off the glacier face and dropped into the water, creating big slashes.

El Chaltén 17.12. - 20.12.

From El Calafate we went to El Chaltén, which is about 3 hours north of El Calafate by bus. El Chaltén is the home of some of the best known peaks of Patagonia, Mt. Fitzroy / Chaltén and Cerro Torre (the latter a bit lesser known to many, but in my eyes the prettier one). It's a paradise for hikers and mountain climbers. And guess what we did - hike. The days were very long with sun rising at about 5:30 a.m. and setting around 10 p.m. I managed to photograph sunset and sunrise once each, which resulted in a very, very short night of about 2 or 3 hours. Because after sunset I didn't directly go to bed and in the morning me and my dad hiked for about one hour before reaching the place we wanted to photograph from. Of course, we were the only ones. But as Patagonia has become very popular, especially with photographers, I doubt that this would be the case in high high season (we were there at the beginning of high season). Sunrise was absolutely stunning, we had some of the best conditions I've ever experienced and I think we both walked towards breakfast with a few very good pictures.

What I realized once again, standing in front of all these wonderful mountains, is that many mountains back home are not nearly as famous as these, but are just as beautiful. Of course, Cerro Torre has a stunning form and for climbers it surely is something different. But from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Swiss Alps have a lot to offer that is at the same level. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to say that it's not worth seeing them. But I don't think it's worth it flying around the globe for only this if you have some pretty mountains at home as well. That being said, something that is different are the animals. There are just so many more in Patagonia than in Switzerland. And that is what really enchanted me. Mainly the birds. The ones that excited me most were the colorful Caranachos (hawks) and the huge Condors of course.

The First few weeks - patagonia II

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Ushuaia 21.12. - 23.12.

Ushuaia is the most southern city in the world (at least that's what they say - I didn't check, but if you look at the map, it sounds pretty plausible). And with around 100'000 inhabitants it's not that small for such a secluded place, either. From here, cruise and research ships leave to visit Antarctica. We came to Ushuaia to board a ship as well, but not one to the white continent.

When we got there, it had just begun to rain. We were picked up by our transfer to the hotel and not much after arriving at the hotel, we already left again, to go on a hike in the area. We went to Laguna Esmeralda, a lake fed by glaciers and therefore of a wonderful blue color.

As part of a bigger group of about 8 people (if I recall correctly) we hiked through beautiful woodland, until we reached a more open area, where trees were more sparse and smaller. When we arrived at the lake it was around 5 p.m., but due to our very southerly location, we still had a few more hours before it would get dark. So me and my brother decided to walk around the lake, which, in the end, took a bit longer than expected, but definitely was worth it. At first the trail was marked quite well, but at the far end of the lake, it vanished for a while and we were struggling for some time to decide in which exact direction we should go. That we came across a family of Upland Geese (see images) didn't help of course, because I had to take pictures of them (and I think I got some pretty nice ones out of that).

What we also saw was the shortsighted nature of (some) humans. Patagonia has long been struggling with economic growth and I guess only in more recent years, tourism has picked up a lot. But before that, this area in the far south didn't have a lot going for it (economically speaking). And so one of the ideas of the government was to introduce beavers, in order to sell their fur (around 1946). It wasn't quite clear, whether it was the plan to release them into nature or keep them contained, but it doesn't really matter. The Canadian beavers that were introduced thrived, because they didn't really have any predators and the people didn't hunt them because the winters are more mild than where they come from and so they didn't grow as thick and fluffy furs. (They do, however, grow very big, a lot bigger than their Canadian brothers and sisters.) So in the end, this plan of pushing the local economy all but succeeded and left the area with a growing population of beavers (estimates range from 100'000 - 200'000) And this might not be clear immediately, but they can have a rather destructive effect on their surrounding. Not only do they chew on trees, but with their (impressively tight and stable - you can totally walk on the bigger ones) dams, they flood large areas. And while that might not initially be an issue, the trees here are by no means adapted to beavers in their ecosystem. So they don't do well in constant submerged territory and die. If you look at the images of that day (21.12.), you'll see one that depicts this very well. One report states that the beavers are like "bulldozers thrashing through the area".

The Chilean and Argentinian governments have agreed on a plan to eradicate the beaver completely, which, apparently is the biggest attempt of eradication ever made. After a nice dinner in a simple and cosy forest hut, we drove back to town.

The next day we went on a trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park. In Patagonia, you often see trees that seem to bear weird, orange-yellow balls, that could easily be mistaken for fruit from afar. However, these are parasitic fungi, that live off of the tree's sap and make these colorful, squishy balls to disperse further. In some areas, there doesn't seem to be a single tree that isn't in a battle with a fungus. Then there are other areas, where you hardly see any. If you look at the images of the 22.12., you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about. The little thingys that hang off the trees are called indian's bread, because the native people used to eat it. Nowadays there are a few people that still use it in dishes, but for most it's way too tasteless to consider eating. I found it quite interesting to bite on. It doesn't taste like much, but it has a certain flavour and sweetness to it.

On our third and last day in Ushuaia (23.12.), we did a short boat trip to nearby sealion and bird colonies. That was very interesting as well, and of course I shot tons of photos of nesting Magellanic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax magellanicus) with their babies and of sealions lazing around.

After that, we boarded the ship that would take us on a cruise all the way to Punta Arenas in Chile. But more of that next time.

The First few weeks - patagonia III

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Stella Australis (23.12. - 27.12.)

Day 1 (23.12.)

On the 23rd, a very special part of our vacation began. At 6 p.m. we boarded the Stella Australis, a small Chilean cruise ship (small at least on the scale of cruise ships), along with around 200 others. We had a really big cabin, with a huge window to see everything around os on this 5 day trip. Sometimes, me and my brother would sit at the small table in front of the window and just watch the world passing by, while drinking mate. But as the schedule on the ship was full of excursions (or, as they called it - probably for marketing reasons - expeditions), presentations and eating, we didn't end up in front of the window that often.

Day 2 (24.12.)

Already in Ushuaia we had been talking about how long it stayed bright outside, in contrast to at home, where it was winter. On my grandfather's birthday, which happens to coincide with the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the 21st of December, it was most obvious. At half past nine in the evening, it was still almost like daytime. And on this year's 24th of December, I made myself a nice little Christmas present. I got up at 4, to photograph sunrise. That was a great idea. Not only because seeing sunrise from a ship, near Cape Horn, at Christmas day, alone on deck, is a pretty special thing. Also because in the days after we never got another real sunrise, it was always too cloudy that early in the morning.

Later this day, we were supposed to go on land on Cape Horn. But, due to waves at the place we would land, we couldn't. And so, we saw Cape Horn from the ship and didn't get to set foot on it, too bad.

This year was only the second time in my life, I think, not celebrating Christmas with all of my family. Usually, we would meet at someone's home and have a yummy dinner together, talk, drink and just have a good time. This year, Christmas felt a bit forced to me. The crew was running around in Santa hats and they even had one of the crew members walk in dressed up as a Santa and take pictures with people at their tables. Fortunately, we escaped the room before they came to our table. I really wonder, what kind of bet the guy in the costume lost.

As a Christmas present we also got to witness a beautiful rainbow over the patagonian landscape, unfortunately my camera was nowhere near and I could only snap a picture with my phone - but it turned out rather good (see it in the folder with the images which you can find in the first post).

Day 3 (25.12.)

On the following day, we did an excursion to a glacier, and we got pretty near to it's white and blue face, sometimes seeing and hearing parts of it fall off and land in the water. It was similar to Perito Moreno, but with a lot fewer people around and a different feeling of course - this was not a glacier that every tourist in Patagonia sees.

I absolutely loved the moody atmosphere while we were there, just before we stepped into our zodiacs to return to the ship again, it started to rain a little bit. And when we were back on the ship, leaving the glacier behind us, I saw how the rain had, just a bit further up, still been snow. So I guess we even got a white Christmas! Where the falling snow had melted and transformed into rain, it left a perfect border line of snow on the landscape. And the mountains around us were surrounded by clouds, revealing glaciated peaks and cliffs.

Later that day, we would go to another glacier, where we were given the options of either staying on the ship or doing a hike on land to a waterfall. I chose to stay on the ship, as we were told that the views of the glacier would be much better from the ship than during the trip on land. My brother and father chose to go on the adventure, walking on a path that gets very few visitors, compared to the likes of Torres del Paines crowded trails. I also used the time to edit some of my images of the trip, with the beautiful views of the patagonian landscape in front of me.

Next time: more glaciers, this time from even nearer, and penguins, tons of penguins!