Argentina as the epitome of freedom, primordiality and beauty, Part 2
I certainly didn’t come to Argentina for graffiti, soccer, or to see cities in general. Of course, the most interesting thing in Argentina is endless expanses and a variety of natural and climatic zones – steppes, mountains, plains, the northern tundra, glaciers, jungles, and Iguassu Falls, the most powerful waterfall in the world, which is considered the calling card of Argentina, as well as Brazil, too.
But the most interesting place for me, which beckons from my childhood with its wildness, pristine and unpopulated is Patagonia. It was the main goal of my second trip and in general met any bold expectations.
In fact, there are two Patagonia’s in the world, the Chilean and the Argentine. The first insanely beautiful, mountainous, well maintained, fairly developed, with good roads, a gorgeous national park, great camping and trails, crowds of tourists and of course with fantastic views. I’ve told you about it before. But if you want to see the real Patagonia – the vast silent land of wildlife, untouched by civilization natural beauty, a secluded and unpopulated corner of the world where everything seems to be the same as it was millions of years before – you need to go to Argentina.
There is no camping in Argentine Patagonia (you just can find tents in the forest without any infrastructure and services), you will not find good trails (you should take swamp boots and very strong shoes for climbing, otherwise you can easily break your legs or at best get them wet), often you can see where there is a trail and where there is no trail only by old rare trails, and it does not matter in principle – you can walk anywhere, no one will follow you. No rangers, rules, prohibitions and restrictions. But if something happens, no one can come to your rescue.
This is not Iceland, Chile or the U.S., where it seems a lot of wildlife, but which is always easy to get to and which seems so convenient to watch, because all the benefits of civilization, one way or another are near – the shower, and gas, and communications, and transportation, etc. It’s not like that here. It is in the Argentine part of Patagonia you can feel like a pioneer, a discoverer, abandoned to the edge of the world pioneer, left alone with the wilderness, to feel its incredible strength and untouched inner beauty. And this is what attracts thousands of backpackers, lovers of wandering with a backpack outside of civilization, outside of the usual life, outside the framework and boundaries, outside the rules and laws, outside the constant control, surveillance and monitoring.
It is clear that there is some life here, and the small village of El Chalten is its center. This is not the Altiplano in Bolivia, where human life and traces of it do not exist at all, and where you can ride only completely autonomous from the world, about this will come next. But all the same feelings of boundless inner freedom, deep involvement with the real nature, dissolution in it and immersion to our origins, some kind of even primal contact with our ancient ancestors and their life – something like that can be experienced there. Not tears and emotions from the surrounding beauty – it is here, but not so concentrated and powerful as in Chile, rather the purest, primal and very natural, but exactly some special state of solitude, detachment, knowledge and, most importantly, real intoxicating freedom. That is what I was looking for there and that is what I found.
The last frontier of humanity
There aren’t many. left in the world of truly vast sparsely populated wild places. Maybe the Sahara, maybe Chukotka, maybe the Yukon and northern Canada, or say the interior of Australia, Greenland and Antarctica. But Patagonia, perhaps, remained the only practically unexplored and unpopulated corner of the planet, where at the same time more or less normal climate and where in general it is not so difficult to get, and besides with its unique and interesting nature, fauna, flora, active natural life and different natural processes, which are often absent in less livable places.
In general, formally, Patagonia is everything that lies south of the 40th parallel, outside the agricultural areas where the wild steppe begins, including Tierra del Fuego. But the real Patagonia in the world of tourism is still the area south of the 45th parallel and more of the central and western mountainous part of the continent, outside the Atlantic coast, and Tierra del Fuego is considered as a somewhat different natural region, with its own characteristics.
The Argentines began to conquer these territories very late – in fact, they only captured them at the end of the 19th century, and began to develop them in the twentieth. That is why these places are still so unpopulated and wild. At one time there were Indian tribes here, they are still there now, but they were always rare in relation to other places in SA.
Now in two southern provinces of Argentina – Chubut and Santa Cruz, which are Patagonia, lives less than 1 million people (if to count Rio Negro province – 1.5 million), the average population density is 2 people per square kilometer, but at the same time 80-85% of population lives near ocean, the real population density in Patagonia itself is somewhere around 0.3-0.4 people per kilometer. Roughly speaking, like Yakutia, although conditions here are much better. And in general, almost the entire territory of Patagonia is closer to the equator than Moscow (which lies on the 56th degree of latitude north, and the southernmost city in the world – Ushuaia – the 55th south), and the climate there in general is quite moderate. The only thing is that it is quite dry and there are terrible winds. So it’s hard to grow anything, and there are problems of their own.
The largest and central city in the region is El Calafate, which I have already written about several times above and which has only 15-20 thousand people. There is an airport here and it’s kind of a central tourist center, but it’s very small. Although all the most interesting things here are not particularly close – El Chalten (which has 1.5 thousand residents) and Fitz Roy – a drive of more than 220 km, the glaciers – 80, Torres del Paine in Chile – more than 250. And in fact there is only one track – the legendary Road 40, one of the longest roads in the world (5 thousand km), which connects the whole Patagonia together (and at the same time with the other Argentina) – and outside of it there is virtually nothing – no settlements, no roads, at least with asphalt, no communication, and almost no civilization. Endless wilderness, where life has been going on for thousands of years, and is going on now. Very very sparse farms and that’s about it.
About megacities and the spirit of space conquerors
For me it is a bit of a mystery why Patagonia is so sparsely populated, yes it is dry and windy (three days before our arrival in El Chalten there was a hurricane with snow, which knocked down trees and broke many tents of tourists), but at the same time, the region with stunning nature, with many top tourist spots, with a comfortable temperate climate, an ideal place for people who love solitude, spaciousness, peace and freedom. In a way, you could say the last Wild West left on earth. And tourists seem to come here more and more, it is possible to earn something on it. But for some reason there is still freedom, solitude and peace and almost no civilization and life. Maybe Argentina, unlike Chile, simply does not invest much in these places, does not build campsites and new roads, does not pave trails, does not create infrastructure, neither for tourism development, nor for new inhabitants to move here. Although El Chalten, for example, is being built very quickly-new houses and hotels are being built all over town, and there is some movement. But in general, the region is not developing fast.
Maybe modern people and, in particular, modern Argentines have lost the spirit of conquering and exploring something new, finding their land, their place and their freedom? Once people liked to settle on newly discovered and developed lands, to be on the edge of civilization, to live in new and interesting wild places, to develop them from scratch, to build their own houses, settlements and cities – whether in Oklahoma and California, northern Siberia and the Far East or Western Canada and Australia, many really liked such places, but now people more and more attracted to megalopolises, to concrete boxes with mortgages, to offices, etc. Although it would seem – modern technology, communications, communications, etc. allows you to live and work anywhere – but no, for some reason the megacities of the world are growing rapidly, and those places that were not particularly developed in the end instead of developing often die out and population density continues to decline.
To me this is a kind of paradox – why did mankind need for centuries to develop more and more land, and then seek to concentrate all the 40-50 small points of the planet, united by thousands of flights, from NY, Tokyo and Paris to BA, Moscow, Jakarta, Rio and Shanghai, probably soon if not half, at least a quarter of humanity will live in a few dozen such megacities, and the rest will envy them – the trend is just that.
In our country, the largest country in the world with its gigantic expanses, one in seven already lives in a metropolitan region; in Argentina, also with its incredible expanses, one in three. And this trend is increasing all over the world.
With the declining role of agriculture and industry in the global economy, people no longer understand why they need to live near nature or in beautiful, but inaccessible, wild places – and that leaves Patagonia a good chance to remain so wild and beautiful forever, to be the wild west in a time when there is almost nothing wild left in the world anymore. It just didn’t have time to be spoiled during the period of new land development, unlike many other places.
The ice of the land of silver
The most interesting thing in the Argentine part of Patagonia is the area around Mount Fitz Roy, an incredibly beautiful mountain that every backpacker and mountain tourist dreams of climbing, and the Perito Moreno Glacier.
This time we couldn’t see and photograph the glacier because of bad weather, it was foggy and windy (although it’s always windy here) and there was not much to see. But in general in Argentina and Chile there is a gigantic ice plateau, one of the largest glaciers in the world, 500 thousand square kilometers, the third world’s reserve of fresh water, part of which is the Perito Moreno Glacier. Unlike other glaciers in the world, particularly in the northern hemisphere, this one is not only not melting or shrinking, but even seems to be growing a bit. As if global warming has no effect on it.
In the Argentine part, near one of the largest tongues of the glacier, the Perito Moreno, the national park Los Glacieres, along with Iguazu is a top Argentine attraction. Although in general different tongues of the big glacier can be seen in other neighboring lakes, not far from El Chalten, where there is even a special campsite near the glacier, where you can go and where you can stay for a while or, for example, in Torres del Paine in Grey Lake. But in general, Perito Moreno is the most beautiful glacier in the region – 80-meter wall of multi-millennial ice is certainly a very beautiful sight. In good sunny weather it looks great.
Every 3-7 years there is some interesting action. The glacier is constantly moving and sometimes reaches the other shore and blocks the flow from Lake Argentina, forming a natural dam. In one part of the lake the water rises to a much higher level than in the other, the difference reaches 30 meters, and begins to press on the ice and eventually the water breaks this ancient ice into pieces and bursts out. They say it’s an absolutely fantastic spectacle that leaves just incredible emotions and impressions. But it is impossible to predict, it may happen in three years after the last explosion and in 10 years and on what day exactly will happen, no one knows. But even an ordinary ice collapse, not as global as the one in 5 years, looks pretty cool, something like that. It can be seen quite often.
Attraction and cognition by Fitz Roy
But I’ve seen glaciers in Iceland – so here I was more interested in hiking, mountains, Fitz Roy, El Chalten – that’s it. As I wrote – El Chalten is a small village, but is the center of a large tourist natural region, an ideal place for climbers and nature lovers to wander with a backpack. It is surrounded by stunning mountains, unspoiled nature and clean water, absolutely fantastic and diverse nature. The mountains are absolutely stunning and unusual – in some places simply ethereal, as in Torres del Paine. The central mountain of the region of course Fitz Roy, to the foot of which considers it a duty to climb every mountain tourist, although the road there is not easy to say the least. But in general, the vast majority of those who come to El Chalten go there for hiking and climbing Fitz Roy.
Of course the ascent there is not to the very top of the mountain, it seems no one has been there yet, it is impossible to conquer it, and to the foot of its peak, where there is a gorgeous lake with views of the peaks. To be there you should do 3 things: 1) come to El Chalten, stay overnight there at least one day, there is plenty of places where you can do it (you can also buy some equipment – but the prices are much higher than in Moscow, Buenos Aires or even in El Calafate). 2) pass the first route from the El Chaltena to the base camp at the foot of Fitz Roy and also there at least one night stay 3) from the camp the next morning (or rather overnight) assault the mountain itself on a special trail (if you can call it so). Some people combine 2 and 3 in one campaign there and back – but in my opinion it is absolutely boring and uninteresting, plus it requires very good physics, alpinist level.
Already the first trail to the campsite will not leave anyone indifferent. It passes on very picturesque and wild district, around stunning views and it is rather uneasy, especially at a decent wind. To go more than 11 km, a set of height is not great, about 800 meters – but they come to one section where you have to climb the mountain, and there you have to sweat a little. But we walked there in perfect weather, and calmly reached in 4 hours, while sometimes resting and photographing the neighborhood.
Patagonia is a harsh wilderness with narrow rivers and fjords, with steep slopes and steep mountains, glacial valleys, blown by cold winds. There are such natural wonders as the granite towers in Torres del Paine National Park, Los Glaciares National Park with huge glaciers, colorful sedimentary rocks, and stunningly beautiful emerald lakes and rivers.
Patagonia is a region of South America without clear territorial boundaries, partly belonging to Chile and partly to Argentina. Russians know Patagonia mainly thanks to Jules Verne, who drove his heroes in search of Captain Grant into the desolate snow-capped mountains with giant condors soaring over them. Now it’s a region that has retained its natural identity, attracting both American and European tourists with its ideal conditions for outdoor activities.
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Mountains and glaciers, desert plains open to all winds, sandy beaches and green river valleys – these diverse landscapes of Patagonia have one thing in common: inaccessibility and remoteness from the densely populated centers of South America. There have never been advanced civilizations with treasures that attract greedy Europeans, nor fertile lands where everything grows and matures on its own.
Map of Patagonia, 1855.
Discovered during Magellan’s voyage, Patagonia was of no use to anyone until the 19th century. The local tribes were struggling for food, and the few European missionaries supported them as best they could. In the nineteenth century, the tall Indians who had struck Magellan’s imagination were supplanted by those from central Chile, the Araucans, but even they could not overcome the difficult climatic conditions of the region. Patagonia took its first step toward prosperity with settlers from Germany and France, who planted orchards with typical European fruits – apples and pears – to grow them for export.
In 1881 Chile and Argentina officially divided Patagonia between them. In the twentieth century Argentina, with its milder climate, bet on the development of agriculture and sports resorts in the Andes, and Chile on eco-tourism, cattle breeding and fishing, in principle maintaining minimal infrastructure.
Araucan King in Patagonia In 1851 there was a historic visit by John R. Bartlett In the late 1850s, prospectors mined silver in the mountains of Patagonia A resident of Patagonia
Ethnographic features of Patagonia
The natives of South America are not too tall, nor, for that matter, are the Spaniards who conquered the continent. All the more surprising was the surprise of Magellan’s team when they discovered the Tehuelche Indians, all of whom were a head taller than the Europeans. Hence the name of the area: the epithet patagón denotes a giant in Magellan’s understanding. Now only 6 thousand natives live in territory of Argentina, and the local Spanish-speaking population is a mix of Europeans and Indians of other tribes.
Argentine and Chilean Provinces of Patagonia
To understand the variety of tourist offerings in Patagonia is quite difficult because of the heterogeneity of climate and infrastructure. Schematically, the situation can be represented as follows: the more southern the area, the closer to the pristine nature, respectively, the north, the better the service.
The northernmost province of Patagonia has managed in recent decades to become Argentina’s leader in winter sports and has gained international fame. The beach areas are popular mostly with locals. The resort town of San Carlos de Bariloche, a low-lying town surrounded by mountains and lakes, receives the biggest influx of climbers, anglers and skiers. It adjoins the borders of Nahuel Huapi, the oldest national park in the country. Modern hotels have been built along its perimeter, hiking trails are laid out at the borders, and pleasure boats go on the lakes.
Rio Negro Lake Traful.
Villages in the mountainous part of Rio Negro are connected by bus service. The coastal route is taken by sea by lovers of inexpensive beach vacations on sandy ocean beaches. The water temperature in the season stays at +25 ° C. Most of the coastal Rio Negro has 2-star hotels, with Playas Doradas, a 3-kilometer beach and all kinds of water activities, including diving, eventually becoming a higher category.
South of the Rio Negro, in the province of Chubut, the range of fauna available for observation is expanding. On the Valdes Peninsula, the mating games of southern right whales and colonies of penguins can be observed every year since May. The town of Escuel is located near Los Alerces National Park, known for its ancient trees. Here also lies glacial Lake Menendez. Fishing and boating in its waters are forbidden, but tourists travel kilometers of hiking trails just to admire the magnificent scenery.
Seals and penguins colonies La Trochita – the Patagonian Express
Those who can’t imagine life without fishing will find themselves at Lake Puelo in the national park of the same name. In the coastal city of Puerto Madryn, connected to major Argentine cities by air routes, travelers watch dolphins, sea elephants, nandu ostriches, kayak, canoe, and surf. An important attraction in Chubut is the 75-kilometer narrow-gauge La Trochita, with wagons from the 1920s, still in operation for tourists.
The south of Argentina is cool, with winter frosts not inferior to those in the Urals. Fans of extreme sports – glacial mountain climbing, salmon fishing in mountain rivers and lakes – and of pristine nature come here without expecting much comfort. Tourists usually rent cars, and charter flights to the glaciers are organized from Buenos Aires airport. Among the latter, Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the most popular. On the coast of the national park “Monte Leon” observe rookeries of seals, lions, nesting cormorants, penguins. Despite the cold weather, during the warm season the beaches are full of vacationers, especially popular is the coast in the area of Caleta Olivia.
Perito Moreno Glacier, located in Los Glaciares National Park
Patagonia includes the southern part of the Chilean province of Los Lagos, named for the abundance of lakes with excellent fishing conditions. Its climate and terrain with numerous fjords reminds one of those of Norway. The region is actively developing rural ecotourism, bird watching, rafting, kayaking. The climate in Los Lagos is temperate, too cold for a beach holiday in Chilean Patagonia.
Alpacas in Patagonia Dawn in Patagonia
Aicen del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo
Patagonia includes the mainland part of a Chilean province with a complicated name that is colloquially shortened to Aisen. For fear of harming nature and saving money, the regional government has fundamentally refused to develop infrastructure: Aisen has many gravel roads, which are inaccessible from April to November because of the abundance of snow. At that time the settlements are connected only by small flights. Fishing and recreation from civilization is the main occupation of the tourists who come here.
Torres del Paine National Park, Chilena
Magallanes y la Antarctica-Chilena
The continental part of the southernmost Chilean province of Chilena traditionally belongs to Patagonia. Tourists will be invited to participate in freshwater and saltwater fishing, to follow challenging trails through national parks, mostly composed of glaciers.
Selfies in Patagonia
The climate in Patagonia is most varied, but seasonality is usually clearly expressed: summer (for Europeans – winter) is relatively warm and windy, winter is cool to frosty. The amount of precipitation also varies: in the Andes foothills of Argentina’s Rio Negro province is wet, in the Chilean steppe areas – dry. It is worth visiting Chile from December to March, during the warm season. Argentine areas welcome visitors all year round.
SEALs in Patagonia A glacier in Patagonia
Shopping in Patagonia
People go to Patagonia not for shopping, but for the experience, but even here there is something to spend money on. Mostly it is souvenir shops, small eateries and restaurants. Argentina’s Rio Negro province supplies fruit and berries to Europe and Russia, so tourists get a chance to taste them locally. Southern Chile catches king crab and eel, produces beef, pork and horse meat of export quality. In southern Argentina and Chile, the wool of local sheep is used to produce high-end yarns.
Excursion Desk Souvenir Shops Bar in Patagonia
Where to Stay
A significant shortcoming of Patagonia is the underdevelopment of transport infrastructure by European standards, but the Russian tourist will find quite decent provincial roads. There are enough hotels with decent service and a set of sports activities on the borders of national parks in Argentina, in some parts of reserves you can stay in tents and cook food by yourself on a campfire. In Chile, the hotels are much worse, and travelers have to rely only on the serviceability of transport.
Tourists traveling alone need to keep in mind that the distance between stores and service stations can be hundreds of kilometers. Stock of food, fresh water, warm clothing, first aid kit, wheels for gravel surfaces – the minimum that should be in the car.