April 29-May 5: Cueva de las Manos, Fitz Roy, Perito Moreno and on to Tierra del Fuego

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Following a frigid night in the town of Perito Moreno–we first stayed on the municipal campground but left shortly after midnight as local youth had decided to stage a barbecue literally right next to la bestia–we left early and reached World Heritage-protected Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) in time for a guided tour.

 

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On its way to the cave the group was greeted by this fearless fox.

 

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The vast majority of the cave’s famous hand prints and paintings are actually outside the cave; the cave itself was closed for visitors in 2006 because of vandalism.

 

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Lots of hands (mostly left hands, because paint powder was blown onto the rock through a hollow bone usually held by the right hand) but also choique (Patagonian ostrich) footprints…

 

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… as well as more abstract forms such as circles and dotted lines. Well worth a visit.

 

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As we continued toward the small town of El Chalten near Mount Fitz Roy, we were lucky to come across choiques in their natural habitat.

 

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Southern Patagonia is unlike any other place I’d been to before: barren, deserted, and yet magical.

 

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We approached El Chalten and Mt. Fitz Roy–its iconic shape is visible as the rightmost peak–as the sun was setting.

 

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No comment, for lack of words.

 

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The next morning we wanted to continue south to El Calafate, but the sole gas pump in town only opened later in the day. We ended up stayed for another night…

 

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… and another day, leaving El Chalten in the afternoon of May 2 and reaching Lago Argentino a few hours later.

 

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La bestia has been running smoothly since her last check-up — except for a small and yet unexplained oil leak.

 

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In El Calafate we met up with Bernie, one of the most faithful followers of this blog and a dear friend since 2000. We celebrated the reunion at a steak house, though I stuck to grilled trout.

 

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The next day–May 3–we drove into Glaciers National Park. We missed the ferry we had booked by one minute but thanks to Bernie’s Argentinean negotiation skills, we were allowed to switch to the afternoon trip without having to pay twice.

 

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For the remainder of the morning we enjoyed the views of breathtaking Perito Moreno Glacier from several different viewing platforms.

 

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While I have watched a few good documentaries about glaciers, seeing Perito Moreno’s stunning range of colors with my own eyes was quite a treat.

 

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More hues of blueish whites…

 

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… and turquoise blues.

 

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Afterwards Bernie and I were taken across the lake on a small catamaran where we got ready to explore the glacier on crampons.

 

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Although the three-hour tour was pricey, we enjoyed it a lot.

 

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The next day we continued driving across the southern pampas

 

 

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… and, just as we were about to cross into Chile, met a lovely German couple hailing from Stuttgart who has been traveling for over three years in their yellow MAN truck (far left).

 

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Once in Chile, we followed the Ruta del Fin del Mundo (Road of the End of the World) and spent a night in Puerto Natales…

 

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… and then continued toward Punta Arenas…

 

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… where on May 5 we drove la bestia onto yet another ferry bound for Porvenir on Tierra del Fuego.

 

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The two-hour crossing was surprisingly smooth; although Patagonia is famous for its strong winds and grey skies, we have been extremely lucky: it has been fabulously calm and mostly sunny thus far.

 

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We braved the cold for the first hour and stayed outside (partly to avoid yet another Chilean TV disaster unfolding in the ferry’s main cabin)…

 

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… and finally made it to (Chilean) Tierra del Fuego.

 

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The next day we left early, driving past flamingos…

 

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… and more magical landscapes (note: the photo is not out of focus — it’s the clouds)…

 

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… and, of course, Patagonian vicunas…

 

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… as well as a good amount of Chilean army troops ostensibly training to repel an Argentinean invasion (but then, who would be dumb enough to enter Chile without a good-enough reason?).

 

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We had to stomach one final border crossing — and then we were there: Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego Province!

 

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Only a few hundred kilometers left to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city reachable by car.

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