Featuring: sheep and wind. And a guacho. And a lot more wind.
Featuring: sheep and wind. And a guacho. And a lot more wind.
In Jan/Feb I spent two weeks back in Bariloche with Esteban and Beatriz and their lab. As usual it was quite a nice trip, made nicer by the fact the volcano had stopped, the air was clear, the lakes were free of ash, and the airport was open! Below is a view of the glacial arm of Lake Mascardi, where the suspended glacial powder shades the water column, lowers the seston C:P ratio, and makes life better for Daphnia! (according to the beautiful research of Cecilia Laspoumaderes)
Our time in Bariloche was (sadly) over and we packed up all our things and said goodbye for now to the wonderful Laboratorio Limnologia. Since our flight back was out of Puerto Montt, Chile (a ticket bought before the Bariloche airport had re-opened), we decided to cross into Chile in style, via the Cruce Andino (“Andean Crossing”). So, Esteban dropped us at the pier at Puerto Pañuelo near Llao Llao, where we boarded a catamaran. It was a gorgeous day and after a couple of hours we reached the western end of Lake Nahuel Huapi in the rainforests of Puerto Blest (3600 mm of rain a year!). We disembarked and headed by a short bus trip to Lago Frias, a cool-looking lake all turbid with glacial flour. Mt Tronador loomed overhead. After a short trip on the lake we landed on the far side and passed through Argentinian customs to file our departure card. Then, into another bus for about a 60-min ride, crossing the Argentina/Chile border to the tiny town of Peulla on Lago Todos de Santos. Here we had to clear Chilean immigration. Most of the passengers continued on the rest of the way but we booked two nights to stay in this little town. We enjoyed walking around, sleeping late, and working our way through the hotel restaurant’s limited menu. A highlight was seeing a Chilean pygmy owl sitting on a wire with a hummingbird! The weather both these days was sunny and hot – highly unusual! On the last day we rejoined the crossing, boarding the boat to cross L. Todos de Santos. This is a spectacular lake with many large mountains all around and waterfalls and deep forests. Unfortunately the weather was shaky with low clouds and we did not get to experience the astonishing view of the Osorno volcano for which this part of the trip is famous. After several hours of cruising we arrived at the landing at Petrohue (where we had been previously, during our November trip to Chile) where a bus completed the crossing, taking us in a intensifying, Chile-style, rain to our favorite little town of Puerto Varas. We immediately headed off to La Olla for a final seafood feast then to bed to rest before the long flight home. Pics HERE. Everytrail map showing the route, plus more pics, is below.
Adios Patagonia! Que triste!
We are heading back to Bariloche on Monday for another two months. So, seems like I should post about our return trip back in December!
Of course the Bariloche airport was still closed so we took a 21-h bus (full cama, of course) to Buenos Aires, arriving a day early for our flight just to be sure. We had a nice hotel in the city center and spent a couple of days wandering semi-randomly in the city. We ended up spending a fair amount of time in the Puerto Madero area (where there are various renovated warehouses on the waterfront) and the San Telmo neighborhood where there are lots of antique shops. We had some good meals and the big city certainly was a big change from Patagonia. One highlight was when we spied the coach of the champion Boca Juniors football (soccer) team in our hotel lobby. At the end of the second day we headed to the airport for the long flight home. Full pics at LINK.
(Here’s the last set of pics and narrative from our long trip to Salta.)
Following our big trip up to Socompa we headed back to Salta, following the same incredible road. We were able to stop in the “Colorado” area and took some amazing pictures. Along the way we saw more vicuna and then some (likely domesticated) llamas. In the pictures you will see an ironic one depicting the “shrine” for Pachimama (goddess of safe travel in the puna) with the pick-up truck in the background getting its flat tire changed. Back in Salta we spent two more nights at the La Selva Lodge in San Lorenzo to clean the dust off ourselves (and the final ticks?) and a little birdwatching. Then we moved to a hotel in the city center and enjoyed Salta’s colorful churches (one of which contains a sign admonishing visitors NOT to use holy water for witchcraft) and a visit to a museum in the former home of Pajarito Velarde (one of Salta’s most famous and flashier citizens and author of various well-known salsas and tangos). The highlight of the trip was a visit to the ‘High Altitude Anthropology Museum’ which displayed one of the mummified Inca children that was found at >20,000 feet on one of the volcanoes we had passed by two days earlier. But no pictures were allowed. We also had a fun evening at a “peña”, sort of a dinner theater with Argentinian folk music and dancing (I got a chance to don a gaucho hat and join in) . We then flew to Mendoza and boarded the overnight bus back to Bariloche. Full pics HERE.
After a short night’s rest we packed into the pickup with Maria and the TV crew for the trip to Socompa. Because it was early in the season, we had to take a longer road than normal but one that would take us first across Salar Grande (the second largest salt flat in the world) and then to the “ghost city” of La Casualidad, once home to more than 10,000 people and the largest sulfur mine in the world. It was closed abruptly (the lift buckets were apparently still full of sulfur – a line of them, and their dumped ore contents, made a yellow line from the town up the high mountain location of the sulfur ore), apparently in order to try to increase sulfur prices. The Lonely Planet calls La Casualidad “the most remote place in Argentina”. So, naturally we had to go further, another three hours or so over another pass that must have exceeded 4700 m and passing Mount Llullaillaco, a 22,000-foot volcano where high-elevation archeologists recovered mummified remains of three children sacrified by the Incas in the 15th Century or so. (We later saw one of the mummies in the museum in Salta.)
After a flat tire on one of the trucks, we finally reached Laguna Socompa. It was yellow! Maria noted that sometimes during the year it is blue, or green, or pink! We had little time to stay so I scrambled up a nearby slope and took an 800-image Gigapan sweep. Then back down the hill for some more pictures and interviews with Maria for the NASA virtual field trip. Maria retrieved a spectacular sample that showed clearly the characteristic laminations of a true stromatolite. Nearby we saw signs of the ancient Inca road and the more recent remains of a train wreck on the defunct Argentina/Chile rail line. Since we faced another 5-6 h driving back to Tolar Grande, we headed back in haste. Nevertheless we still needed to drive the last 2 hours on those treacherous roads in the dark, reaching town and a delicious chicken dinner a little before midnight. The generator turned off and so did we.
Full set of pictures HERE.
Following our return from El Rey, we spent the night in Salta and then met a colleague, the amazing Dr Maria Farias, for an expedition to her study systems in the “puna” (highlands) to the west of Salta. She studies an incredible set of ecosystems very high in the Andes, including the world’s highest stromatolites in Laguna Socompa, plus the microbes in some salty pools at Tolar Grande (our destination today). A big group came along, including Maria’s husband, several of her students, and a pair making a TV special. One goal of my trip was to gather video and photos and Gigapan imaging of her study sites for production of a “Virtual Field Trip” for the NASA Astrobiology program. The drive to Tolar Grande was spectacular but long (12 hours?). We started by stocking up on a couple of bags of coca leaves that Maria claimed would help stave off the effects of altitude sickness. The drive followed the route of the famous Tren de las nubes (“Train of the clouds”), proceeding up the Quebrada del Toro (with its saguaro-like cacti!) over a couple of high passes (max: 4500 m, or 14,750 feet) up to the “city” of San Antonio de Los Cobres. We then headed south, across a large salida (salt pan) and then into the incredible, Mars-like “Colorado” area. Late in the day we finally reached Tolar Grande and were able to reach her study ponds as the sun began to set. I managed to complete one Gigapan image (about 200 shots) and got some other really amazing pictures. Unfortunately, while most of us were off at the pools, someone drove one of the vehicles off the road and, as you can see in the pics, mired it in the mud and salt. This person spent the next day finding a tractor to haul it out. After the photo/filming session, we scampered to the “town” of Tolar Grande (3510 m above sea level = 11,515 feet) and grabbed dinner before the lights went out (they turn the town generator off at midnight). Next: onward and upward to Socompa! Full set of pics HERE. (There is also a lot of video but it is too much to pull together right now.)
(Almost ready with the first round of pictures and videos.)
Because of the ashes, the airport in Bariloche of course was still closed. So, we needed to take a bus, 16 h overnight to Mendoza and then fly from there. Fortunately, Argentina buses are really nice – reclining seats (“semi-cama”), movies, meals, wine, even bingo. We had a decent sleep on the bus and then flew (2.5 h) to Salta. We were met by our guide Mario (but not by our luggage, which took a special side trip to Buenos Aires and came later…) and spent the first night in the Selva Montana Lodge in the pleasant small town of San Lorenzo. Early the next morning we set off for El Rey National Park, about 3-4 h driving. We were there two days (full report coming soon). Then we headed back to Salta and met microbiologist Maria Farias, her husband Aldo, a big gang from her lab, and a film crew. We then headed up to “the puna”, to Tolar Grande, about 12 h driving through spectacular scenery (another full report on this day will come later). After a night at Tolar Grande, we headed even further into the puna, to the laguna at Socompa, reaching 4700 m above sea level along the way. (another full report on this day will come later). We spent that night at Tolar Grande again and then returned to Salta. We were three more days there, bird-watching and touring the city. Then, back to Mendoza on the plane and then the 16 h bus (“full cama” seats this time!) to Bariloche. A great trip as you will see as I get the stuff posted.
Our 10-d trip to Salta was so incredible and mind-bending that it’s taking a long time to get caught up! But watch for an update with the first installment (about El Rey National Park) soon.
Ticks AND Tapirs AND Toucans!
After Aconcagua, we made it back to Mendoza where we spent two nights in a nice B&B. Of course, Mendoza is famous for its wine and especially its Malbec terroir. So, we headed out to a little town nearby called Maipu where we rented some bikes. The weather was fantastic and we had a great day riding to various bodegas and sampling el vino. It was 90% charming – the 10% uncharming part was riding the bikes on some sections of highway way too close to passing trucks. At the last winery we visited, our guide was a young woman who had lived in Mesa (AZ) for several years. El mundo chico, as they say. Full set of Mendoza pics HERE. (Bonus pics from earlier trip to El Bolson here.)