Buenos Aires – Day 1
January 7th 2010
Having only been in the country for a day, the trip has been largely uneventful. That is not to say it hasn’t had its delights. This morning’s first destination was a quick foray into one of Argentina’s specialties… Asado. Being a full blooded carnivore in an area that prides itself on its steaks is much like the proverbial “kid in a candy store”. I unfortunately had to skip the second destination of the day which was to the US embassy. Their rules are to not allow cameras or any other electronics into the building which severely conflicts with my rule of never leaving my camera… that being said I decided to test my nerves and go do a bit of site seeing on my own. I didn’t travel very far and the actual nonexistent dangers I faced, significantly paled in comparison to those concocted in the nether regions of my mind. After free touring for a while I rejoined a few members of the group to do a bit more exploring and then a lot more eating. A day of ribs and sirloin…. The mere thought conjures up images of Homer Simpson drooling or at the very least stirs deep, long dormant Neanderthal genes longing to reassert themselves with a primal thumping of my chest. With today’s theme clearly being food I felt the header for today was appropriate.
Buenos Aires – Day 2
January 8th 2010
This morning started off fairly early… well, if I were anyone else, I’d say too early… considering I finally laid down last night at 4:30am and was up again wandering the streets by 8:00, but for me it’s business as usual. The random turns and directions took me past the botanical gardens and the zoo and ultimately back once again to yesterdays stops. 2:00 was when the real fun began as we departed for our city tour.
After driving around for a while getting the “this is this and that is that” treatment we stopped at our first destination “La Recoleta” cemetery. I’m not sure how I apparently missed this little nugget of trivia the last time that I visited, but apparently it is the 3rd best cemetery in the world. That of course for me begs the question “Who are they surveying to get this classification”. Either way, it is the final resting place of some of the most influential and important Argentineans, including several presidents, and Evita herself; Eva Perón.
Our second stop was La Boca… I’m not quite sure how to describe it without the statement sounding like an insult to the residents there. Essentially it boils down to the phrase “beautiful but deadly’. There are some of the most vibrantly colored structures in La Boca, but it is also essential to be on high alert for your belongings and if you make the mistake of wandering over the rail road tracks(read, the wrong side) you should probably be on high alert for your life as well….and that’s still during the day.
While there were a few minor stops along the way, I am going to skip ahead to our last stop… a visit with the Madrés of the Plaza de Mayo. The Madrés as they are called is an association of mothers whose children disappeared during what is called the “dirty war”, a military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. While their main focus has and probably will always be finding an answer to the disappearances, they also contribute their efforts to current social issues as well. Listening to their stories which span over 3 decades is quite powerful, but an opportunity to see their archives added a completely new dimension of sadness to those stories.
The picture below represents a portion of the archives and the vast numbers of missing that they represent.
El Calafate – Day 3
January 9th 2010
Ok, so I’m getting a little behind on keeping this current… although, in my defense there really isn’t a lot to share today. We arose at 4:15am… yes AM… to catch a 6am flight to El Calafate. I have to say, the travels so far have gone very smoothly.
Upon arriving in town to the beautiful Imago Hotel & Spa, we were treated to a presentation from the local representative of Argentinean Secretary of Tourism. The growth of this area is both astounding and alarming. Prior to 2000, there was no airport and a population of about 5,000. In 2000 the airport was built and since then the population has exploded to over 20,000. The goal of the area is strictly for tourism, but when you compare El Calafate to say; Estes Park in Colorado, it’s easy to be concerned.
I do have to say however that the Imago Hotel and Spa has attempted to do their part to be environmentally conscious. The power in the rooms is controlled by your key card, ensuring that when you leave the room nothing is left on. That does present a slight problem for those of us who may fall into the category of “techno-geek” or those who call America their home, as we tend to carry lots of electronics which we prefer to charge while we are away.
El Calafate – Day 4
January 10th 2010
Sorry about the lack of updates and images. Technology is not always what we hope or expect.
I must say, in the absence of any significant news to report yesterday, today was ridiculously amazing. Coming down here I had a few items on my wish list, but none lived up to the sites of the day. Today’s only adventure was to head the Perito Moreno Glacier. On the way there we were provided an option of a short boat ride out to the glacier. Viewing it from a distance is spectacular, but being next to it, relatively speaking was breath taking. As the boat maneuvered past small icebergs, we rounded a small bend in the
shore line and there it stood before us… it is quite imposing in its size.
As glaciers go, it is one of the faster ones, again relatively speaking. Most glaciers move at a speed of 1 to 2 meters (roughly 3 – 6 feet) per year, while the Perito Moreno moves at a staggering 3 meters per day. You might think that that is a snail’s pace, but consider this… the glacier is 19 mile long and covers approximately 100 square miles and is up to 160 feet high. Where it enters Lake Argentina it hits the bottom at 80 meters below giving it a total height of around 480 feet.
El Calafate – Day 5
January 11th 2010
Much as we did yesterday, we arose this morning to head out to the glaciers. Today our intended destinations were the Upsala and Spegazinni Glaciers. The splendor of yesterday’s journey was matched if not surpassed when you consider the floating sculptures surrounding us as we approached the Glaciers. When confronted with majestic snow covered peaks, water the color of turquoise and the sheer beauty of the glaciers themselves, one cannot help but feel humbled. The artistry of nature never ceases to amaze and
as a photographer it is my hope that I can capture and share that beauty with those who may be interested. On a personal note it is also my hope that through my images those viewing them might find the inspiration to do a bit of traveling of their own, or at the very least gain a deeper profound respect for the beauty around us and the need to preserve that beauty for future generations.
El Chalten – Day 6
January 12th 2010
Another early morning rise today… easier for some than others. As a photographer I am no stranger to rising early, but am usually
afforded a bit more time to practice my craft. While some might argue that strict schedules are the perfect reason to not travel
with groups, for the most part the schedules that we keep push me to learn my craft in an attempt to get the best image possible
making due with what is available. Of course I know that having time to spend in an area to truly get an understanding of the light
is extremely beneficial. Ironically as we walk into the lobby of our hotel in El Chalten, there is a slide show of images running that
clearly show someone who had a lot of time. Today’s header on the other hand push me to the limits as it was shot from a moving bus.
That being said, I hope you find it as inspiring as I do.
On the way here, we were able to see a bit more of the water system that makes up the area. In El Calafate, we had our first exposure
to Lake Argentina. Lake Argentina receives its water in two main ways… from the run-off from the glaciers and via the Leona River which
brings water down from the Viedma Lake. The water from Lake Argentina then runs down the Santa Cruz River and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
El Chalten – Day 7
January 13th 2010
I started today on a hunt for Fitz Roy with little success. Fitzroy are the peaks in the header image, and seem to be perpetually
shrouded in clouds. I arose at 5 am to clouds, tried again at 6 and again at 7. I figured at that point I might as well stay up and
went off to try my luck with a mountain range that seems to love the limelight. Upon my return to the hotel, I had a discussion with
another traveler that broached a topic that I had tried to avoid this time around. He queried about our groups focus on the social
aspects of tourism on the local cultures. I too had those thoughts on my trip to Peru after seeing what essentially boils down to a
theatrical performance put on by the locals for tourist such as me. They would adorn themselves in brightly colored traditional apparel
for photo ops and sympathy, but what truly remained of their actual culture. Not really seeing the blatant display of the cultural
carnival here, I decided to ask our tour guide her opinion. Her response was quite sobering…”There is no traditional culture here to do
that, because all of the indigenous people were killed off”. There are no words for the sorrow that thought brings.
El Chalten – Day 8
January 14th 2010
Fitz and I finally made our peace and he honored me with a few pics this morning; although the wind gusts that were nearly knocking me over and throwing sand in my face made it far from an easy shoot… but in the end it was worth it. In about a half an hour the rest of the crew should be joining me for a 10 mile hike and 1312 foot climb. I am told that the sight from the top is spectacular and therefore will muster up every bit of internal strength that I have to make it and will hopefully have some wonderful pics for you as a result.
So the hike was grueling and probably the hardest workout I’ve done in years. We got to the climb point, we came, we saw… we got denied. Unfortunately, the wind gust that I mentioned earlier were much stronger at this level and for safety reasons, we had to turn back. I guess having group members blown off the mountain wouldn’t be a good thing. The old saying “you can’t miss what you never had” really has a bit of truth to it. While I was momentarily disappointed, I quickly got over it as there were many beautiful subjects to pull my attention in many directions. I do have to say that this excursion force many members of the group including myself to test our limits. I can’t speak for anyone else, but as for myself I am proud of my accomplishment. I’ve always joked that carrying my camera was my exercise program, but never truly had a clue until today.
On a separate note I must say that the folks at La Aldea were an absolute delight and I would highly recommend a stay there if you choose to visit El Chalten. The staff made it feel almost as though you were simply visiting friends. When we arrived, I had a discussion with a group that had been hiking the back country with one of the staff members. At the end of our discussion, I presented each of them with one of my cards. The staff member made a point of remembering my name and would kindly great me every day when I entered the lobby. Of course now I feel like a schmuck because I never took the opportunity to even find out his name.
The town has quite a different atmosphere than that of El Calafate. While both economies are based on tourism, that of El Chalten seems to focus more on climbers and backpackers… or as one of our guides put it, “hippies”. Speaking of guides I have to add a special thanks to Gabriela for taking extra time with me and pointing out various flora and fauna.
Ushuaia – Day 9
January 15th 2010
The road to Ushuaia… kind of has the ring of a great title to a magnificent adventure. Well the fact of the matter is that the biggest adventure of the day was getting up at 12:45am for our 1:00am departure. The morning started off with a clear sky and stars as far as the eye could see. A sight that I have been hoping for since our arrival to the area, but unfortunately I was seeing them from a bus, so no opportunities for star trails. The rest of the journey consisted of several check points and long waits. Due to a border dispute
between Argentina and Chile, crossing from one country to the other is no cake walk. First we had to go through leaving Argentina, then entering Chile, then leaving Chile and ultimately reentering Argentina. While all of the paperwork required for the whole ordeal was a bit… shall we say… a hassle, the worst part was the road leading back to Argentina. It was a general consensus that it was left unpaved and rough intentionally because of where it led. All of that over the course of 21 hours.
Hopefully tonight in Ushuaia, I’ll get some star trails or at the very least an opportunity to shoot the Milky way.
Ok, that was a long and exhausting day, nothing to else to report.
Ushuaia – Day 10
January 16th 2010
Despite being at “the end of the world” Ushuaia is a bustling little sea port of approximately 64,000 residents. It has grown considerably since its inauspicious beginnings as a prison colony in the mid 1800s. The prison its self was closed in 1947 giving way to the capital of the Tierra del Fuego province.
We arose this morning to head out for more… you guessed it… hiking. We started out to go on 3 hikes with our guide Lucas leading the way at a very brisk pace over moderate terrain As usual I was bringing up the rear as I try to steal every moment that I can for a photo or two. The last two portions of the trek were at a much more relaxed pace and provided a bit more opportunity to stop and smell the roses as they say.
Upon our return a few of us decided that it was time for a meal other than beef and venture out on a gastric mission. Being in a sea port we chose the most logical alternative…king crab. It was decadent to say the least and proved to be the culinary distraction for which we were hoping. Of course when dinner time rolled around, we returned to the national dish… beef.
Ushuaia – Day 11
January 17th 2010
Today started early… well it did for me anyway. I was up at 4am to catch the morning light. I’m typically use to having that time to myself in most cities, but not Ushuaia. The streets had more traffic and pedestrians than I would have imagined. I think the biggest surprise was when I happened by one of the local night clubs still going strong. I passed by the same place on my return walk at 6:00 and noticed very little change in the crowd outside or in the volume of the music emanating from inside. A small part of me wanted to go checkout the local action, but considering the amount of equipment I was carrying, it probably wasn’t the best of ideas to cross my mind. Thoughts of dancing the night/morning away quickly faded away along with the rhythmically pulsing behind me.
After perusing through the mornings photos and a few from the previous day, we embarked on our group journey for the day… a short catamaran cruise along the Beagle Channel. For the non history majors who may be reading this, the Beagle was the ship that brought Charles Darwin o the area. For those of you reading this who may be creationists, that would be the legend of Darwin. :
All kidding aside, it was great ride with beautiful scenery. My only wish is that I would have been blessed with sea-legs. It’s a wonder
how I survived 8 days on a boat in the Galapagos and have been miserable on the few short rides we’ve taken here. I guess the easiest
explanation for it all is a refrain that I’ve heard frequently on this journey, “photographers suffer for their art”.
Buenos Aires – Day 12
January 18th 2010
Well, we departed Ushuaia this morning and headed back to Buenos Aires, signaling the inevitable culmination of the trip. Beyond a uneventful flight and an evening of thunderstorms, there’s not much to report.
The one thing however that I guess I can mention are the taxi rides. To most foreigners there might seem to be a lack of rules of the road. Stop signs and lanes almost seem optional to your innocent onlooker and this I guess can be considered a universal truth across the country. That being said, for the most part stepping into a cab can be a thrill a minute. In Ushuaia there was a very near miss with a bus and heading out to dinner this evening in Buenos Aires the driver seemed eager to go. So much so that he started to drive off before I was fully in the vehicle. Then of course there are the drivers who seem to channel the late great racing legends and dart through traffic as though they are competing at Le Mans. I guess it should give me a little empathy for my passengers when I drive. The speed can have one’s life flashing before your eyes if you’re not behind the wheel. Of course however, I follow the rules… at least as we know
Buenos Aires – Day 13
January 19th 2010
If the previous part of the trip was about basking in the glow of some of the most beautiful places that Argentina has to offer, then today was about worshiping at the altar of Capitalism. There was a brief meeting with a presenter from the Argentine tourism council to discuss the country’s future plans, and then it was off to Lavalle and Florida. These two pedestrian malls offer shoppers all they could desire. Both streets are lined with small shops, street vendors, periodical stands and the occasional street performer. Florida is the main street of the two and also leads to what can only be described as the temple of material possessions… Gallerias Pacifico. I’ve had opportunity to see the insides of beautiful churches around the world and have to say that the central area of Gallerias Pacifico is right up there with them. That statement is not meant to be as blasphemous as it sounds and is only meant as a frame of reference to the opulence. If you ever make it to Buenos Aires I highly recommend a visit to enjoy the sites.
Once we departed the Mecca to material possessions a few of us returned to Boca for items that were perhaps a bit more cultural, or at the very least… less expensive. The ride back from Boca was at the very least interesting as we attempted to see how many Americans we could fit in a small taxi. It was an uncomfortable ride, but our driver got a good laugh. Think circus.
Buenos Aires – Day 14
January 20th 2010
Today was primarily a free day for me, so I spent much of it people watching and comparing cultures. I commented during the Peru trip
about some of the areas in which America excels and those where we could learn a few lessons. Unfortunately, sometimes those differences present themselves at inopportune moments. The main one that has come up on this and the previous trips is the unfortunate need for medical attention. With the healthcare debate raging in the states, this is one of those areas where the US should take notes. There have been a few visits by members of our group to the emergency room for a variety of afflictions, including a need for x-rays and general consultation. The combined total cost of the two visits came to no more than $55 US. This includes having a diagnosis made, prescriptions filled, and x-rays printed and read in fewer than 45 minutes. Clearly the US is doing something wrong.
Another cultural difference that is… how can I put this… “in your face”, is sexuality. This again is another area in which the US over complicates a simple issue. Let’s face it, as the book says, “Everybody Poops” and at some point or another we all have urges. In the states we like to pretend this doesn’t exist and try to relegate it to only prurient interests of the darker corners of society. Magazines to entertain those thoughts can be found on full display at any periodicals stand here, with their covers leaving nothing to
the imagination. If so inclined, one can even pick up a video at the same location. There are even hotels dedicated to an afternoon tryst without the social stigma. Scaling back to a more… shall we say… innocent activity such as those of a maternal nature which again have been debated in the US at nausea, is practiced with impunity where ever the need arises.
Having temporarily satisfied my observational curiosities of the human animal, I moved on to watching those which we have consigned to cages. Of the zoos that I have visited, with the exception of the Nashville zoo, which tended to cater more to the animals right to enjoy its limited existence, I have to say a zoo is a zoo. You have an opportunity to view some beautiful animals and at the same time be depressed about the fact that they are in cages while some of the humans that surround us are allowed to roam free.
Buenos Aires – Day 15 & 16
January 21st & 22nd 2010
End of days and the journey home… a sense of bitter and sweet. There is so much about Argentina that will be missed, but we all know you can’t stay on vacation forever. Today was again a free day which a few of us took as an opportunity to revisit La Recoletta. We had the luxury of a leisure stroll through this time, but the overwhelming sense of being like an empanada in a brick oven forced us to cut our visit a little short. From there we took a quick journey back to the Obilisco and Lavalla for a photo op and a little shopping.
Once done there, we headed over to the Museo Evita for a last meal… and oh what a last meal. They offer a wide variety of crepe options, but my favorite was a slight taste of home… a crepe filed with sautéed apples with a helping of vanilla ice cream.
The trip culminated in the grand tradition of the old west. We were greeted with the most spectacular sunset above the clouds as we made our final turn to land in Milwaukee. I wish I had a photo to share with you, but this time the only image is the one that is indelibly imprinted upon my mind and perhaps that of those fellow travelers who were gazing out of the window at that moment.