Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Trip to El Calafate

The road to El Calafate
We don't get the chance to do a lot of touristy things here.  We are so busy with the work that it just doesn't happen.  However, on March 20 and 21, 2014 we had zone conference in the city of El Calafate.  It is three and half hours from Rio Gallegos by car.   We had to drive ourselves in our little Ford Ka because we had to be back here in Rio Gallegos early for choir practice for the district conference.   The trip was an opportunity to see some of the country and see some of what Patagonia is all about!  

Most of Patagonia is a flat dry plateau.  As you can see in the photo above, it looks a lot like parts of Wyoming or Idaho: dry, windy, with low grass and shrubs.  Much of the scenery in this area is in the clouds.  They are frequently very interesting.  We did see some interesting wildlife along the way.  We saw three Andean Condors hovering over the road.  They were really cool! Unfortunately, at that point there was quite a bit of traffic on the road (at least 3 other cars) and we couldn't pull over in time to get a picture.  
Guanaco on the road to El Calafate

We saw a lot of guanaco.  They are related to llamas and alpacas but apparently can't be domesticated so they are just wild grazing beasts that you have to watch out for when they decide they want to cross the road! The speed limit on the road to El Calafate is about 70 mph but people apply the same rules that apply driving through much of the western US.  You don't really want to hit one of these things going fast.   Our little car did hit 70 mph going down hill so we generally had a little more time to be prepared for the guanaco!

The city of El Calafate is next to Lake Argentino . It is a very large glacial lake.  There is a bird refuge on part of the lake but there were a lot of birds even right on the lake by our hotel.  There are two species of swan here that we have seen.  Black-necked swan and Coscoroba  (Thanks to Daniel and Wendy for the bird book!)  The Coscoroba look pure white when they are sitting on the water but when they take off you can see the black wing-tips in flight and it is pretty stunning.
Black-necked swan on Lago Argentino
There is also a species of flamingo in Patagonia.  I tend to think of flamingo as being more tropical birds, but Chilean Flamingo seem to flourish in all their pinkness even here close to the Antarctic and yes those are part of the Andes off in the distance.

Chilean Flamingo on Lago Argentina

The day after the conference we went to Los Glaciares National Park and visited a huge glacier called Perito Moreno.  The set of glaciers in Los Glaciares are some of the few in the world that are still actively growing.  Perito Moreno was very impressive.  The coloring of the glacier is an intense sapphire blue and the immensity of it difficult to describe and hard to comprehend from photos.
The Perito Moreno glacier in Parque Nacional de los Glaciares

We saw some people making a trek over the top of glacier and they looked like ants. The front of the glacier is about 70 meters high. We got to take a boat tour to see the glacier closer.  While we were on the boat, a huge section of ice calved off and created a rolling wave.  The boat had to move quickly away from the area and position itself to be hit by the wave. 
Looking towards the opening into Lago Argentino.

They have done a great job with the national park.  There are raised walkways that allow you see the glacier from many different perspectives and still protect the vegetation and wildlife.
The Perito Moreno Glacier and one of the overlooks.

 As you might have noticed we did get a good look at the Andes at last.  Most of the day was kind of overcast but we did get a few glimpses of spectacular peaks.  This picture turned out kind of cool.  It turned out looking like black and white just because of the lighting and the coloration of the rock and snow.  It was a pretty spectacular day.   

We did leave Los Glaciares in time to make it back to the choir practice in Rio Gallegos.  I was directing the choir and Hermana Merkley played the piano.  We sang Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd and it turned out really well.  The third verse states

Dear to the heart of the Shepherd,
Dear are the "ninety and nine";
Dear are the sheep that have wandered
Out in the desert to pine.
Hark! He is earnestly calling,
Tenderly pleading today:
"Will you seek for my lost ones,
Off from my shelter astray?"

The song fits well with the work that we do.  There are times when we have all wandered and  need someone to come looking for us.  There are some that we meet that truly just need an invitation to come to Christ.  There are some that it will take much more, and some that may never return but they still tell us that their door is open because they love the Spirit that we bring.  It is fun to go see the tourist things that are here at the end of the world, but it is more fulfilling to see lives changed as they allow the atonement of Jesus Christ to take effect in their lives.

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