Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Magnificent National Parks

Both Argentina and Chile have done a great job when it comes to preserving their outstanding landscapes in national parks. We visited the two most spectaculat ones, Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, and Torres del Paine in Chile.

Perito Moreno Glacier is nice because it is located near the town of El Calafate. El Calefate is the equivalent of Jackson Hole. It is loaded with shops, restuarants and hotels. And it is windy. It is so windy that we had to take care parking the bikes so that they would not be blown over.

Our visit to the glacier was terrific because we were able to see large chunks of it calving. And we were able to capture on event in photos.

After 2 days in Calafate we headed down the dirt again and crossed the border at Cerro Castillo. This border crossing was about as out of the way as posible. When we arrived at the Argentine side to check out we had to wait 10 minutes. We had to wait not because of traffic or the crush of visitors. We had to wait because the border guards were playing the customs agents it a ping pong death match. Yeah – you got it. The entire staff at the border were playing high stakes ping pong. And we dared not disturb them lest our papers be rejected. It looked to me like the border police won the match.

Another 2 hours down the dirt track lies the magnificent Torres del Paine national park. This is the premier national park in Chile, and is the most spectaculat in all of South America. It is not at all like a US national park. One cannot just drive up there. Although we were able to drive our motorcycles into the park as far as the base hostel, most access is by foot. This is not Mount Rushmore. If you think you can just drive up, pay the park fee, pull into the parking lot, and take a short walk to the outlook for photos—forget it.

Thousands of people trek the park every year on trips of 3 to 7 days. It is a full day climb to the torres for which the park is named. The park is not handicap or elderly accessable. And if you have a heart condition, this is not the place for you. Marty and I climbed to the torres. My legs hurt for 2 days after the feat. But it was worth it, even thought I may never walk again. There are 3 or 4 treks taking about 5 days. The place is loaded with backpackers of every age from around the world, with a large number of Europeans. Marty and I stood out as “Real ‘Mericans” because we clammered up the mountain in our blue jeans and biker stuff. In fact we fashioned a back pack out of a tank bag with BMW tie downs for shoulder staps. Next time I have got to get some real climbing boots and at least one piece of clothing with “Marmot” on it. Marty makes a good mule for hauling things up a mountain.

Both parks are on the backpacker trail for good reason. They are worth it.


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