Patagonia. The very name conjures up images of – well, images of, as Fodor's aptly put it, the "never-flagging wind" and "more sheep than you can count in a lifetime of sleepless nights." To the west are spectacular vistas of glaciers and jagged mountain ranges. Everything else consists of wide-open grasslands of varying bleakness. Without a doubt, there is a stark, romantic beauty to the place.
The highlight of the Argentine part of Patagonia, for me, was the Perito Moreno Glacier, a World Heritage Site. I took a tour out of Calafate that approached the glacier by both land and water. Each approach has its charms. From the water one can appreciate how high the ice towers above the surface of the lake. From the land, and the various levels of walkways, one can appreciate just how vast the glacier is. The glacier is moving forward at about six feet a day. It had encroached upon a peninsula jutting out into the lake and, for a while, cut the lake in two causing one side to rise well beyond its normal levels and flood vast tracts of trees, killing them. By the time of my December 1996 visit, however, the lake had "retaliated" and had carved a tunnel through the glacial ice that had allowed the two sides of the lake to equalize. All this was readily visible from the land.
When visiting the glacier, one is sure to see gigantic pieces of ice break away with a thunderous crack and plunge into the water (a process called "calving"). I had seen this phenomenon on television but had always assumed the TV was showing it in slow motion so viewers would have more time to see the action. In fact, in real life, it still appears to be in slow motion. If you happen to be facing the right direction, you can watch as a chunk of ice slowly breaks free, plunges into the lake and causes what seems to be a slow-motion tidal wave. The trick, however, is to be looking in the right direction. Once you hear the crack and turn around, the ice is already well on its way. It's a little like trying to watch lightening
Away from the glacier and mountains, Patagonia is a vast windswept grassland. Sheep and some cattle graze on gigantic ranches. Towns are few and far between. One town, Calafate, is within walking distance of the Laguna Nimes Wildlife Sanctuary, where I was able to see flamingos and a great variety of other birds (most too far away for a decent photograph with my limited lenses).