Glaciers, dogs, and birds

El Calafate, a town in Argentine Patagonia, has the look of a frontier town, with buildings thrown up slapdash out of whatever scraps were at hand. The landscape itself is sere and twisted.

The gorse-like bush at the edge of the photo with the yellow flowers is called el calafate, and despite its thorns, its berries are picked for jam and liquor, makeup and whatever else the industrious population can think to make of them.

But as the natural wonders that surround the town have become an increasing tourist draw, it’s as if a Disney theme park had appeared next door, and hotels, restaurants and shops have instantly sprung up to accommodate trekkers, sightseers, and tourists of all sorts.

The main street, without traffic lights but with a fair amount of impatient traffic, has dozens of tourist shops where just about anything has “El Calafate” printed on it to entice the passing hordes to buy, and if they are not selling geegaws, they are offering tours, adventures, beer, wine, food. A new Casino seems to attract a fair number of tourists, and nearby they are constructing a Museum of Toys. In short, what charm the town has is quickly being erased.

At the moment, though, one of its charms is that dogs roam about freely. They don’t seem to fight, but are doggily busy with their chores; chasing trucks, barking, socializing with other dogs, and most importantly, lazing in a sunny spot, alert for the spare morsel. Here are three asleep in front of the butcher shop.

I made the mistake of feeding an unwanted sandwich to two of them on the hotel lawn, and they followed me around the rest of the afternoon.

The fact is, though, that the wonders that attract the tourists (including us) are truly wondrous.

No photo can prepare you for the impact of the giant, black, towering peaks and the glaciers making their thousands-of-years way down between them. I’d seen the photos, but the beguiling turquoise blue of the light refracted from the snow and ice compressed into towers and fissures over time literally takes your breath away when you first see it. We rounded a curve and got our first look at the Prieto Moreno glacier, and involuntarily gasped. The lookout at that spot is called “curve of sighs” for that reason.

Even though you really can’t get the full impact, here is what we saw. 

We spent a couple of days on the lake filling our eyes and spirits with glacial marvels, the slow sweep of the Andean Condor, and other marvelous birds.

Truly worth the journey.

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