A Big Block of Ice

Trip Start Jan 15, 2006
Trip End Sep 05, 2006

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Monday, February 20, 2006

Last month we spent a couple of days in the Chilean mountain town of Futaleufu (abbreviated to "Fu"). I described Fus development state as pre-aspenization. We have spent the past couple of days in the Argentine mountain town of El Calafate and I can report that they have at least moderately aspenized. Main street is lined with shops selling fancy clothes. There was even a fur store flogging its wares in the summer sunshine.

To date, I have resisted the temptation to expound on the socioeconomic trends of Argentina as we have spent all of our time in the hinterlands. I was afraid that this would be the equivalent of spending 3 weeks in Idaho and figuring you understood the USA. That might not be a balanced picture.

In the style of Fox News, however, I am ready to declare my opinions to be sufficiently fair and balanced to be shared with the world irrespective of any potentially annoying facts.

The Argentines seem to be a very passionate and stylish people. (Did you ever hear of the Chilean tango? I didn't think so.) They care about food and the restaurants are frequently quite good, as long as you are partial to red meat. A vegetarian might have it tough here. Many of the hotels are much nicer than anything we found in Chile outside of Santiago. Prices remain quite reasonable due to the fiscal crisis at the beginning of the decade. (For years the Peso was pegged at one for one to the dollar. A few years back, it was devalued to about 3 to 1. Many of the local prices still look about the same as one might expect in USD. Hence, a 2/3 discount.)

There is a much greater willingness to flaunt one's wealth in Argentina than in Chile. I will attempt to investigate whether this is a cultural phenomenon (my current guess) or just a greater distribution of incomes in Argentina.

One of the main attractions of El Calafate is the Perito Moreno glacier, about 50 miles outside of town. This was our first chance to get close to one of the glaciers and it was an awesome sight. The ice reaches 180 feet out of the water. In 1988 the park service installed a series of fences that kept us about 150 meters away from the glacier. Prior to the fences there would be about 1 death per year from someone getting too close and having ice fall on their head. (Darwin award?)

Big pieces of the glacier fall off and violently crash into the water a few times a day. The tourists spend hours staring at the glacier hoping to catch one of these 'explosions'. I was reminded of the NASCAR fans who sit at the turns hoping to see a big crash. We happened to catch a modest collapse and it was, in fact, a pretty spectacular sight.

The glacier is perpendicular to a long, thin mountain lake. Most of the time, the glacier reaches about halfway across the lake. Every few years until 1988 the glacier would completely cross the lake, water pressure would build as one half of the lake rose (drainage is in the other half) and finally the whole thing would collapse in a violent spasm of ice and cold water. This was considered great entertainment for the locals.

For 16 years after 1988 this did not occur and many environmentalists were quick to cite this as tangible proof of global warming. In 2004 the glacier crossed for a few weeks. Last August, it crossed again and as of yesterday it remains quite far across. One lake looks to be about 10 meters higher than the other. (These are very large lakes.) When the collapse occurs, it will clearly be the mother of all icy cataclysms. Stand by.

I mention the global warming angle not because I doubt that the phenomenon is actually occurring. I merely wish to point out the danger of taking a couple of data points and extrapolating to a conclusion. (The savvy reader might counter that this is the usual analytical technique employed by this blog. Touche.) If and when the data changes, credibility declines.

Kia and I are looking forward to getting out of glacier country and finding a little warmer weather. Tomorrow we head north again. Vamos al la playa
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