A blog which may appeal to those who enjoy stories about people, politics, economics, sports, and travel. In and around Argentina and the USA.


Patagonia Atlantic Coast

Driving north from Punta Arenas along the Strait of Magellan I stopped to check out the red roofed buildings of San Gregorio, a 19th century sheep estancia. Also nearby was the shell of a 1869 british ship called the Ambassador. The former was apparently still operating while the later was now a Chilean historical monument.

Crossing the border back into Argentina I soon arrived in Rio Gallegos. I'm not sure what there is to say about this town except that Kirchner was based there as governor of Santa Cruz before becoming president of Argentina. Possibly the only easier job in the world than governor of Santa Cruz is governor of Texas. I visited a bank machine and gas station and got out of there.

North on Route 3 it was close to sunset when I drove up to a inn at an empty truck stop. The owner showed me to a crispy clean room. I really enjoyed the hot shower in the polished bathroom and the good food out in the dining room after a long day of driving and sightseeing. But something was not right in the twilight. As far as I could tell I as the only guest at Posada Lemarchand. After a while I noticed the family walking around with wild looks on their faces. The inn seemed new, but who knows how long they had been out there on that windy steppe. We all glanced up when a group of very tough looking gauchos walked in. I was ready for what had to be the next scene in the movie. But these guys turned out to be regulars who looked happy to be out of the wind - no knife throwing competitions or nervous womenfolk. They simply drank and watched late night futbol replays and I did the same.The next day I was up for an early breakfast and could see the wind already blowing outside. I looked over and noticed Granny behind the counter staring out at the gravel parking lot, lost in her morning cigarettes and solitude. On the way out I waved goodbye and didn't notice a response.

I drove north to Monte Leon national park which opened just two years earlier. The only coastal national park in Argentina was once a huge estancia owned by The Southern Patagonia Sheep Farming Company. The land was recently bought and donated to the country by an American. When I arrived the place was completely deserted and that made it more special. The signature viewpoint is on a high cliff facing a towering island out in the ocean which happens to be home to thousands of comarants. Two long cables connected land and island, but anyone hoping to ride out on a gondola would be confusing Patagonia and Orlando. Further north I walked along an empty rocky beach backed by low cliffs and muddy inlets when I was suddenly joined by a solitary penguin. I approached slowly as he inspected himself and enjoyed the sunshine. Once or twice the surf came up to his webbed feet and he shifted further up the beach to avoid the cold water. This went on for a while but then as I came closer he turned and swam out into the Atlantic and I watched him swimming and fishing in the water close to shore. I took my souvenir egg-shaped rock and headed back to the 4 x 4 up on the bank. The Kia had not been lonely as it was surrounded by a large herd of Guanaco. One bold individual stood near me down on the beach level drinking from a muddy pool. The others waited nervously above until it was safe to drop in from the cliff's edges.

Continuing north on route 3 the wind was steadily slashing the truck and trying to knock it off the road. I had to hang on tight. Insect bits and dust made it difficult to see and it didn't help to smear it all around with fluid and water. At one point a suicide bird came flying in and ofted himself with a slap on the front grill. Later that afternoon I turned off for the 50K drive out to Petrified Forest National Park. The huge fallen trees trunks turned to stone millions of years ago and now lay across dry rocky hills and cliffs. Very forceful hot winds were whipping dust across the lunar landscape and its strange grey volcanic mountains. The wind was so strong I was having a hard time breathing and walking. Starting my drive back I stopped to take a leak and was left gasping when the wind flipped around and peppersprayed me in the face with urine and dust. Then, trying to get back inside the truck I had to duck down in front of it because I was getting raked by painful buckshot swirling up off the road.

Finally back off the ripio and on route 3 I arrived later in the small town of Fitz Roy with my tank on empty and planning to make another 100 kilometers. There on the side of the road was something that looked promising but as I approached I saw the shell of the old YPF station complete with wrecked vehicles scattered about the lot. This was making me nervous. I drove around until I found the local police station and the police chief. He went off to find me some gas. A while later he was back with a can and a plastic tube and sucked up a nice mouthful of the stuff. But the syphon worked and $!00 pesos later I was back on my way.

I made it up to a town I thought would be a nice place to stay. But Caleta Olivia turned out to be a smaller version of Commodoro Rivadavia. I now know why no one talks about it in the guide books. I stopped at two shabby hotels and was shown jail cells with sad carpets, stained walls and tiny cots. I kept moving. In the end I ended up at the Hotel Robert which, as far as I could tell, was the least miserable hotel in town. I had a nice milanesa with vino tinto downstairs in the busy restaurant and fell asleep early after realizing the remote control didn't work.


Perito Moreno

The Perito Moreno Glacier first ruptured in 1917. The lake slammed through the intruder a second time in 1934 and then again every 4 to 5 years over the middle of the last century. Since 1989 the big event has only happened twice and we were lucky enough to be there for the final stage the second time. Everyone with access to the media may recall that this was in March.

My friends Kitty, Red and I arrived in El Calafate on Sunday the 12th, driving against rush hour traffic. Actually we had no clue what was going on. This was the scheduled last stop for my friends who were flying back to San Francisco that Thursday. We arrived at Parque Nacional Los Glacieres 90 kilometers away from town on Monday March 13th and were soon out in the freezing rain and antartic winds viewing the glacier from the lake shore. A few days earlier fiesty Lago Argentino had blown a hole through the corner of Perito Moreno that had dammed it up, releasing the intense pressure that had built up over two years time. What was left now was a dramatic ice bridge which had held through the weekend carnival.

Those who did not have to join the traffic out on Sunday were there in their cold places under flying tents and blankets alongside wrapped television crews and new arrivals who stumbled about looking for a cup of coffee before running back to join the vigil. Each massive falling slab of ice dropped into the lake with a splash, boom and rolling wave sequence that foreshadowed the huge implosion that would end it. We heard someone say that if this was anything like 2004, the finale was still 24 hours away. Based on that convenient information we decided to retreat to our room in the park after being out there in the cold for more than 4 hours.

The next morning we found out that the bridge had fallen overnight. Like Broadway during a black out, the curtain fell when no one could see the show. There was a rumor that the moon had broken through just in time to illuminate the scene for the hardy bunch that had camped out overnight - this sounded too good to be true. But those who were there must have heard it and felt it and I can imagine what an experience that was in the darkness. With or without the natural dam or a rupture event, the wall that forms the leading edge of the glacier is a stunning sight. And to get off the beaten path, I think a real glacier trek is the right call. I'm ready to go back next year.


Truck Fire

I arrived in Buenos Aires on a flight leaving San Francisco on December 31st 2005 and landing here on the morning of January 1st 2006. I guess if you are moving to the other side of the world, January 1st is a good date to get started in your new city. It's also easier to get an upgrade on a holiday. You can spend the hours relaxing in first class and skip the New Year's Eve drill on the ground.

Actually a few years back I did witness a party on a flight to Argentina which was very entertaining. On that occasion after all of the little airline bottles were consumed, many passengers could be seen running up and down the aisles in their underwear. But this last time it was very quiet: not even a midnight toast. United employees don't have much to celebrate these days.

After one night in Buenos Aires I flew on to Uruguay to join cousin Annie and friends on Summer Vacation, already in progress. We stayed in the small town of Jose Ignacio with its beautiful beaches and very good restaurants and drove to La Barra every few nights looking for a little movimiento.

After dinner one Saturday night in La Barra we walked over to the bar Arretxe. We were a bit early but soon a procession of pretty skinny people started arriving looking like they were ready to make some drama. But the scene inside was nothing compared to what was about to unfold outside. We were seated around a table near the bar when we became aware of something going down near the entrance. I went out to find a crowd backing away from a truck engulfed in flames. Those who feared an explosion ran inside, but others were too mesmorized by the light and heat to move. Soon firemen arrived and started blasting away until the flames were gone leaving a thick cloud of fumes. Things were seemingly under control. But then the owners, a young couple who had been found in a restaurant on the other side of a nearby bridge, came running up to the smoldering metal and started frantically pulling out ruined surf boards and blackened luggage. Unfortunately their dog was inside and he was unconscious. With the help of paramedics and friends, they got him out and down on the dirt road. All surrounded the animal in a tight circle. We could see the hurried medical activity and, amazingly, CPR being performed. Crying, screaming and shouted instructions.

But in the end there was just the lifeless dog laying on the ground and the couple wandering around in shock - everybody trying to help - we could all see the pain on their faces.

They really loved that dog.

I hope that after a while someone gave them a little puppy that jumps for joy when they come home at night and follows them around the entire next day, just like their old dog did.