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Glacial Encounters: Hiking on the Perito Moreno Glaciar in Argentina

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The Perito Moreno Glaciar with the mountains in the background

My visit to the Perito Moreno glacier a couple of hours away from El Calafate, Argentina, was an escape to a landscape of jagged white and blue ice. It stretched past the mountains in the distance and clouds clung to the far reaches of the glacier. A milky blue-gray lake lapped at one end of the glacier and transported thick pieces of ice away from it.

The heavy silence that hung over us like the clouds on Perito Moreno was only broken by camera clicks and the thunder-like sound whenever a piece of ice – no matter how small – broke off the glacier and collided with the lake water.

El Calafate – Sleepy Town meets Minnie Mouse

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El Calafate, avenida San Martin.  Courtesy of HeretiqOur flight from Ushuaia to El Calafate, Argentina, was like crossing over into another world, another culture altogether. The land was barren and desolate compared to the wild backdrop of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. The lakes were turquoise milk, cloudy with glacial sediment, but they were surrounded by dry gray and mustard-colored bushes that huddled close to the ground to get out of the wind.

As we drove by taxi from the small airport into El Calafate, passing the fields of parched grass contrasted against the clear cool blue of the sky, my friend Ellen commented that it looked more like the end of the world than Ushuaia did and I agreed. Unlike Ushuaia, I couldn’t imagine anyone living in the distance between the mountains or at the shore of the lake. This was the end of the world with no Antarctica on the other side. Although there were roads and houses scattered across the hillside in the distance, there were no signs of life and the narrow highway was completely empty. Every few miles a shrine with a picture of the Virgin Mary surrounded by rocks stood out against the sand-colored mountains, but each seemed to represent someone who once cared but had long forgotten.

Rafting on the Rio Mendoza

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Rafting on the Rio MendozaThe Rio Mendoza, or Mendoza River, was muddy and resembled chocolate milk that rushed over sharp stones and rounded boulders. (Billboard ads for Nesquik even showed the milk-loving bunny surfing down the chocolate river.) Like the bunny, I rafted down Rio Mendoza, trapped in a boat with a group of women who would scream with every wave and then wipe the water from their wide eyes, exhilarated, as if they had just survived a hurricane. Cold water flowed down my wetsuit but was instantly warmed by my heart-pumping body heat.

Ushuaia: Journey to “The End of the World”

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Ushuaia:  Journey to the end of th world.

On a scorching summer day, Ellen, my British travel companion, and I started off our backpacking journey through Argentina with a trip from Buenos Aires to the self-proclaimed but accurately described “end of the world.” Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, reminded me of a New England fishing town; the bearded men hugged each other and everyone bundled up to keep cozy in the bitterly cold wind.

By the end of our four-day stay, I already knew people on the street. Black mountains and white-capped lakes and ancient forests surrounded the town, forming a shelter and an escape. Sitting in Tante Sara, a café in the center of town, we watched friends wave hello to each other through the big windows overlooking the main street before spontaneously joining each other for lunch. Waiters patted me on the back and everyone, in true Argentine style, kissed each other on the cheek. Although it was a frequent stop for tourists, the town retained its homey, comfortable atmosphere and the locals, seemingly unaware of the stigma surrounding “the tourist,” received us warmly and without hesitation.