Trip to Ushuaia, Part 2

The reason for visiting El Calafate was its proximity to the glacier Perito Moreno. In the garden of our hotel there was a Buff-Necked Ibis, an attractive species which we saw repeatedly during the rest of our trip. Perito Moreno has interesting dynamical properties. I wonder if it has ever been modelled mathematically? Let me describe the process. The glacier comes from a peninsula and its lower end enters a lake, the Lago Argentino. It then proceeds until it has crossed the lake, which is quite narrow at that point. When it has reached the other side it separates one arm of the lake from the main part. The lake has an outflow but none in the smaller separated part. Thus the water level in the separated part rises compared to that in the main part. At the moment the difference in the levels is about thirty meters. This results in flooding of the surrounding land. We visited one farm there where an important part of the grazing land has already been submerged. The process just described leads to the water exterting a strong force on the glacier. This pressure is first released to a limited extent when water starts to flow under the glacier. This flow increases in intensity and produces a kind of arch which is flows under. Pieces of ice break off the arch successively, making it higher and higher. Eventually, about three days after the water has first penetrated the ice the arch is so narrow and high it collapses and then the obstruction has been removed. We are back at the starting point of the process. All this could be seen in a video in the glacier museum. The next breakthrough of the water is expected within the next few months but nobody knows exactly when it will happen.

From El Calafate we travelled overland and crossed the border into Chile.We had hardly crossed the border when we saw our first Andean Condor. This part of Chile has no road connection within the country to the rest of Chile. All necessary goods are imported by ship and the prices are correspondingly high. We were first in Puerto Natales. There it was convenient to observe the local ducks and cormorants along the waterfront. There is a statue of a giant sloth, a creature whose remains were found in a cave in the region. We travelled to the Torres del Paine, a spectacular mountain range. What you can see there is heavily dependent on the weather and we were quite lucky. Only the very top of the largest of the three ‘Cuernos’ (horns) refused to emerge from the clouds as long as we were there. What sounded like thunder turned out to be an avalanche. From Puerto Natales we travelled to Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan. There we visited some reconstructions of famous naval vessels. There is the Beagle, with which Darwin travelled, one of the ships of the expedition of Magellan himself and the modified lifeboat with which Shackleton sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia and thus saved the lives of the members of his expedition. The text of the famous advertisement with which Shackleton recruited men for this expedition is reproduced there. According to Wikipedia the story of this advertisement is apocryphal but the text is so delicious that I cannot resist repoducing it here: ‘Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success’.

From Punta Arenas we flew to Puerto Montt and travelled from there to Puerto Vargas. Here the attraction was the volcano Osorno. This time our luck with the weather seemed to be at an end. Our guide explained in a quite amusing manner how if the weather had been different the wall of cloud which we saw in a certain direction would have been replaced by a view of the beautiful volcano. In fact it turned out that there was a small window before breakfast the next day where the volcano could be seen from the hotel. The last step of the journey was a flight to Santiago. The city did not make a very good impression at first sight. Compared with Buenos Aires all the signs seemed to be reversed. Later we learned that the city is divided very strictly along economic lines. The rich upper part of the city looks quite different to the rest. We learned about the story of Chile as a model system for testing neoliberal theories. Just now the Chileans, who used to be considered as very backward are proud to be doing better (economically) than their neighbours, the Argentinians. We also had the opportunity to learn from our guides about the politics of Allende and Pinochet, in particular that Pinochet still enjoys considerable popularity in Chile.

We flew back from Santiago to Frankfurt via Madrid, our heads full of many images of Argentina, Chile, their people and their natural environment.

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