Friday, January 18, 2013

Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers

Since we didn’t have time to do a cruise to see the glaciers when we were in Argentina, we decided to book a cruise in Puerto Natales, which would allow us to see two different glaciers (Balmaceda and Serrano) and the chance to hike out almost to the base of one (Serrano). It also gave us an opportunity to see a lot of sea life, and the tour included a parilla (barbecue) lunch on an estancia on our way back toward Puerto Natales in the afternoon.
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On our way, we stopped to see a colony of Imperial cormorants.  At first glance, they look like penguins, unless you notice them flying to and from their perches on the rock.
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We also saw fur seals.  We may be getting jaded, because we were amused  by the stampede of passengers to that side of the boat.  Apparently, they haven’t seen them before, let alone had to walk a beach carefully so as not to step on one by accident.  But we did take a few pictures before returning our eyes to the rest of the beautiful scenery around us.  The partial cloud cover made for some beautiful, but quickly changing lighting.
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Eventually, we reached Balmaceda glacier, which is in retreat, like most glaciers around the world.  We observed this one just from the boat deck.
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This was the furthest into the fjord that we travelled; the boat headed back along a different shore, towards Serrano glacier, passing some beautiful forests and waterfalls on the way.
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The boat docked at a floating pier, near Serrano glacier.  Once we docked, we took off at a brisk pace. Having been cooped up in the boat for several hours, we were ready to get our blood pumping with a hike. Occasionally, when appropriate, we even ran a few bits of the trail.  The constant wind coming across the lake had chilled us on the boat, but the trail here was sheltered, and we warmed up quickly.
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Serrano glacier still meets the water; there is a sort of ice lagoon that then spills out into the larger lake.  Our trail took us around one side of that lagoon.
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The walk back from the glacier was a good opportunity to see all of the flowers and plants that were enjoying their spring in Patagonia. We couldn’t tell you what most of them were, but they made for some great photos.
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That’s a bee—an enormous bumble bee that seemed to us to have fashioned an orange fur stole out of some unfortunate animal. We’d never seen a bee quite so large—about two inches long—or heard one so loud before.
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This is Lana waiting to get back on the boat, not using an “outdoor” toilet.  We weren’t sheltered from the wind here, and Lana was happy to have her Peruvian hat along.

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After we finished the hike, we got back on the boat and headed back toward Puerto Natales, to an estancia for a late parilla (barbecue) lunch.  Parilla cooking is very simple: they only use smoke, heat and salt.  It produces delicous, tender meat with a complex, but not overwhelming flavor.
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First course was a lovely vegetable potato soup.
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Followed by an enormous mound of lamb, chicken and sausages (you can’t see them, but they’re under all that meat), as well as potatoes and a lovely big salad.
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After lunch we had a little time to wander around and attempt to walk off the enormous amount of meat we had for lunch.  The setting was beautiful and the animals were all as disinterested as they were picturesque.
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After a bit of wandering around the estancia, we got back on the boat and headed back to Puerto Natales. Almost everyone had a little doze on the way back, and we got back in time refreshed and ready for a nice dinner.  After being dropped off in the town center, and having a good pizza and salad at a local restaurant, we walked back toward our hotel and caught the last rays of sun behind the clouds. It was a beautiful end to a long day.
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