The Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

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The Perito Moreno Glacier

A visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of things that attract people to the town of El Calafate – the town itself is dominated by tourism and doesn’t have a lot to offer in its own right. It is possible to get to the glacier by public bus (and that would work out very cheap although involving a lot more walking to see as much of the glacier as possible) but again, for an easy life I opted for one of the tours.

As in Puerto Madryn (for Peninsula Valdés) and Puerto Natales (for the Torre de Paine) there are many agencies offering tours. They might all offer something slightly different but by the time you have paid for all that you have to pay for the costs work out very much of a muchness. These tours aren’t cheap (if the Argentinian economy is in a bit of a free fall the tourist industry has protected itself by basing their quotes on the US$) so though the situation is getting dire for many Argentinian workers the companies that run these sort of tours for visitors (from Argentina or abroad)have not really been effected.

The Perito Moreno is visited by hundreds every day for a number of reasons. It’s one of the few glaciers that can be reached relatively easily. It’s still a long day but the roads have been improved as the State realised this site could bring in a lot of money. The area is a National Park and the road infrastructure to and within the park is good enough to not put people off the long journey. There has also been a huge investment is a series of walkways on the hill facing the glacier that give anyone prepared to walk a view of virtually all the face as it reaches the lake.

The glacier is also unusual in that although most of the face of it comes to an end in water there’s a part that hits the land. It is here an unusual event happens from time to time. There’s no regularity overtime and the last was earlier this year but the next could happen within weeks.

For most of the time there’s a channel under the end of the glacier where it touches land. However, for a mixture of conditions which I’m not sure anyone really understands what happens is that this channel will get blocked. This leads to a build up of the water in a narrow branch of the Lago Argentino whose level starts to increase. This can be clearly seen on the shore line where the maximum water level is marked by the lack of any vegetation.

But this huge build up in the weight of the water together with water’s desire to find a way through any obstacle means that this blockage gets weakened. This then collapses catastrophically and is called the ‘Rupture’.

By all accounts when news got to El Calafate that this was likely to happen earlier this year virtually the whole town tried to get a front seat. There’s a series of pictures taken when this happened in 2003 on a poster in my hostel so I’ll see if I can photograph the sequence and post it here.

But the day I went wasn’t so dramatic. However, it was a perfectly beautiful, sunny day which meant you were able to appreciate the beauty of the way the various shades of blue were developed with sunlight refracting through the different thicknesses of ice. This colour show can only really be appreciated by taking one of the boat trips (most cover the southern part of the glacier although there is also a smaller boat on the northern side). The improving weather in the high mountains by mid afternoon meant that a clear view of those peaks was also possible.

Practical Information

I took the tour organised by the owners of the hostel I stayed in called ‘The Alternative Glacier Tour’. It took a different route out of town,providing a panoramic view of the Lago Argentino beside El Calafate itself and also took a route through the countryside, along dirt roads rather than going the quickest and most comfortable route.

Basic cost = A$1,110 (about £20.00)

Then on top of this was the boat trip = A$800 (about £16.00). This I would recommend,especially if it’s a bright and sunny day. On a dull and overcast day you would still get the sense of the size of the glacier but would miss out on the colours.

On top of this there is the entrance to the National Park itself = A$700 (about £14.00).

What follows is a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures of ice.

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Las Malvinas and Rio Gallegos

Las Islas Malvinas - Rio Gallegos

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Las Malvinas and Rio Gallegos

The Background

It would be impossible for a Britisher to make a visit to Argentina and not make reference to the war between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Islas Malvinas, from April 2nd to June 14th 1982. That tacky,wasteful and unnecessary war was a God-given opportunity for a weak and pathetic government to try to divert the attention of the population from its failed economy and worsening social conditions. If true justice existed in the world that neo-fascist would be charged in the international court for war crimes. Margaret Thatcher was lucky. ‘Her’ side won – and so she was able to hide behind the ‘joy and enthusiasm’ of victory. After all, it’s the victors who write the history of any conflict.

The ‘other side’ was led by an equally weak and pathetic leader, Leopoldo Galtieri, a fascist army general who was the last President during the period of military dictatorship from 1976-83. H hoped to use nationalist feelings over the Islas Malvinas to divert attention away from the growing opposition to military rule. He gambled – and lost.

I won’t go into my thoughts too deeply about that shameful war. Suffice it to say that if Galtieri had held back for a couple of months the outcome could have been very different – for the history of the Malvinas as well as for the subsequent history of the two countries concerned.

At least the Argentinians knew where the Malvinas were. Most Britishers, waking up to the news on Friday 3rd April 1982 thought the Argentinians were off the north west coast of Scotland.

The British success –which was as close to a near thing as the Battle of Waterloo –meant that the military dictatorship in Argentina had just over a year before it was replaced by a ‘democratic’ government.

The war and the eventual re-raising of the Union Flag in Port Stanley released a flood of patriotism, jingoism and racism in Britain unknown since the  Relief of Mafeking in 1900. In return for their stupidity the British people had the pleasure of Thatcher as their leader for another eight years, the entrenchment of the ‘neo-liberal’ economic theories(adopted, more or less, by all political parties in the UK since),the weakening of the economy and the power of workers to determine their own futures and the worsening conditions for society in general under the banner of ‘austerity’ .

The Rio Gallegos ‘Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War’

Being one of the closest points on the Argentinian mainland to the islands Rio Gallegos was obviously to play a major role in the land, sea and air war. For that reason there’s a large monument to the fallen on the outskirts of the town. Not the best of locations, to my mind, but then perhaps there’s always a different mindset when a monument commemorates a victory or a defeat.

(The monument in Puerto Madryn is on the edge of town and the one in Buenos Aires,although central, is still in a peripheral location. The ‘eternal flame’ at that monument wasn’t so eternal during the lock-down of the G-20 2018 as it was surrounded by metal crash barriers.)

Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War
               Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War

I also don’t think it’s a particularly impressive monument – taking into account the feelings that all Argentinians I’ve met have towards the Malvinas. Not only is it unimpressive as a piece of architecture it doesn’t help that it’s starting to look a little bit neglected. If I read the situation correctly it was originally planned to have an almost permanent flow of water, uniting the tower to the geometric representation of the islands a few metres away. When everything is dry and rubbish is starting to collect then the original idea is not only lost it becomes an indication of lack of care.

Looking at the memorial from what would be the principle approach the entrance is flanked by two eternal flames (gas operated) which sit upon truncated pyramids.The central monument is a yellow column sitting upon a pile of rocks(presumably representing the islands themselves). From the eternal flames this column shows three levels which reduce in height and width. I’ve no idea what this implies. A short distance from the top of the column a circular crown of laurel leaves forms vertically to achieve the highest point of the monument.

From the front it looks like a vertical pillar but from the sides it can be seen that it folds back on itself, as in a concave image. Almost exactly in the centre is a small, square hole. I can’t see what this signifies but if my idea is that this monument is also a water feature it is from this hole that the water would fall towards the islands at the back of the column.

From behind the column a chute comes down steeply from the hole. This is painted red, as is the pavement on either side of the channel that leads to the pool in which sits a very rough geometric representation of the islands. I’d forgotten how complex the islands are with its coves and bays.

We get the idea that these are islands in a sea as the land is grassed over to differentiate the concrete from the water. There are no trees represented as we know from 1982 that no trees grow on the islands.

My interpretation here is that the blood of the Argentinians, in some ways, nurture the islands. That the ‘sacrifice’ of the 649 in 1982 are what make the islands part of the country. But as I’ve already said, the fact that no water is running and the area is starting to look neglected, this idea loses a lot of its power.

The Fallen in the Malvinas War
                          The Fallen in the Malvinas War

On either side of the principal monument are two, L-shaped alcoves. On the external sides there are two bas reliefs in red, of the four only one of them is recognisable and that seems to be faces in some sort of agony. Time and/or vandalism has degraded the other three. On the interior of these alcoves are fixed a number of brass or ceramic plaques that have been fixed there over a period of time by different groups commemorating specific anniversaries – this is a common approach to monuments throughout Argentina and can be seen, for example, on the San Martin monument in the square that bears his name only a few blocks away in the centre of town.

To the left of the two eternal flames is a board contains a poem written for the inauguration of the monument – I didn’t see any date of its inauguration nor any details of the architect/artist.

My translation of that poem is:

I have seen emerge, from the very soul of our land, valiant combatants of the air, sea and land parading their laurels in the infinite heaven

I have seen the sacrifice of their spilt blood bathing our islands in honour

Justice will come then, as hot firebrands engrave the memory of the men to which this symbol in concrete pays homage

Hector Pedraza

The Malvinas remembered in the port of Rio Gallegos

I’ve come across a number of murals in my travels but, due to only catching a glimpse of them from a bus window, I have no actual record of them. However, the general point is that a) Las Malvinas son Argentinas and b) those who died should not be forgotten.

In the port area of Rio Gallegos I came across these murals.

I’ll let these pictures (in the main) – with the relevant translations – make their own point.

The Angel
                                                The Angel

The young soldier,converted into an angel, flying over the graves of his fallen comrades, with the ‘Sun of May’ in the top left – on his way to heaven. Notice the beatific smile on his face, as if he is the modern day version of a Christian martyr. All this image needs is the image of a Gurkha’s khukuri that slit his throat to be floating in the air behind him. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most bizarre and, in many ways, most unpleasant call for the dead to be remembered I have seen.

Glory and Honour Forever
                                 Glory and Honour Forever
Whilst an Argentinian breathes
Whilst an Argentinian draws breath we will never be the invaders

649 – they will always be our heroes (649 is the number of the Argentinian dead)

Don't mourn Grandma

Malvinas Forever –’Old Lady (Grandma), don’t mourn that I’m with my fallen comrades on the islands. All I need is that my country remembers me.’

No Surrender!

Here there’s no surrender. Shit! Long Live the Country (Argentina). Our own strength.

Two struggles in one
Two struggles in one

28 Heart – We will build together

This one is a little bit complicated and has to be de-constructed.

I think that the image of the islands and the soldier, with the Argentinian flag in the centre, was the original image – without words.

However, time moves on and other struggles come to the fore. Beside this image of the Malvinas was another which puts the case for the miners of the RioTurbio region (which used to send shipments of coal to the port of Rio Gallegos) who are under threat of closure. It depicts a black miner’s helmet with the torch attached with the words ‘I’m here as well’ and ‘Miner’s Power’. As in Britain in the 1980s the closure of the mines doesn’t just mean the loss of jobs it means the total destruction of a community.

I'm here as well
I’m here as well

The interpretation I have learnt from speaking to people locally is that the miners (or apolitical faction from that community) have put their slogan over the original Malvinas image to equate the two struggles that people believe in, fervently, in this part of Argentina.

(Anyone aware of the situation in Britain with the neo-fascist Thatcher and her government’s struggle against the miners in the Great Strike of 1984-5 might think that this situation in 2018 is quite ironic. It also indicates that if workers don’t start to think in an international manner and remain parochial then what effects workers in one part of the world will eventually effect all in time.)

There’s also a very small museum in Rio Gallegos dedicated to the War in the Malvinas which I will post separately.

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The G-20 effect on Buenos Aires

Designed to keep the people out

Designed to keep the people out

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The G-20 effect on Buenos Aires

After four days all plans thrown up in the air

The last thing I though I would be doing, within a week of landing in Argentina, would be sharing the air with 20 of the most duplicitous, cheating, thieving and corrupt creatures on the planet. But that’s what I’ll be doing from Thursday night and for the next three days. For on Friday the 2018 G-20 summit officially begins here in Buenos Aires.

If I had known the summit was to take place I certainly wouldn’t have organised a flight to the southernmost city on the continent on any of days it was due to take place. But not knowing I innocently booked a flight to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires this coming Friday morning. Since I became aware (yesterday evening) the gangsters and their equally odious entourages were to descend on this country, in its own deepening economic and social crisis, I have been trying to decide what to do.

As these meetings have been drawing protests wherever they take place the matter of ‘security’ has become the most important aspect of any planning. But that ‘security’ takes precedence over anything and anyone else. I’m still getting to know the city of Buenos Aires but with what little I do know I can see how this meeting will cause unbelievable disruption during its three days duration. A vast area along the north-eastern coastal edge of the city will become a virtual no-go area.

Public transport in the area will be non-existent for the best part of three days. This includes buses, the subway and even the city’s main railway station – only a shadow of its former splendour.

Pedestrian access will also be strictly regulated – all aimed at preventing the mass build-up of protestors. But everything is unsure. I spent part of this morning trying to get answers about how access will be effected over the weekend but no-one could give me a definitive answer. Knowing what will be the situation no more than eight hours before in advance makes any planning impossible.

So after four days in the country with the only fixed, more or less, plan I have so far made have been ditched. I’ve extended my stay in Buenos Aires till Tuesday of next week – when, in theory, everything will have returned to normal.

When I made that decision, literally on the hoof, as I was walking to the bus station to find out if or how I could get to the international airport for a 09.00 flight I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find anywhere to stay. Would all accommodation, especially of the more economic kind such as my hostel, not be full of angry protestors. The fact there was no problem in extending my stay might indicate the level of the protest – at least from those non-Argentinians.

It will almost certainly mean that I’ll have to forego the airfare. When you go the cheapest way there’s no opportunity to change the timetable. My only hope in this matter is that the workers of Aerolineas Argentinas will call a strike for Friday and I’ll get my money back or an alternative flight. That’s not totally impossible. Strike action is taking place this week as part of a long running dispute with the management. And a statement made by the Transport Minister that I read in a newspaper yesterday was definitely intended to ratchet up tensions by insulting all who work for the company.

This Minister, whose name I can’t and don’t even want to remember, has obviously be cast from the same ugly mould as the transport incumbent in the present British Tory government.

Having made the decision before the end of today at least I won’t be losing out on accommodation I had already booked. The internet booking sites are useful in that way when plans have to be changed at short notice.

The reason for my decision was twofold – the first being more important. I’m very unlikely to be in the same place as the conspirators cabal at any time in the future and it would be a crime to be leaving when it all was going to kick off – whatever that might be. What made that decision easier was the sheer logistical nightmare of getting to the airport. There’s no definitive information about what the restrictions are or how they will affect anyone not part of the circus. They know everything, we know nothing.

Things might be easy (although very unlikely) but I wouldn’t know until I tried to get away. The money has been spent so there’s no real loss. And it will be interesting to see how the Argentinian workers and any foreign supporters will react to the criminal gang polluting their atmosphere. So what’s the reason no to be here?

I’ll have to make efforts to find out exactly what is planned for the three days. I know there is definitely a demo in the timetable for Friday, but exactly where and when I have yet to discover. Yesterday afternoon I was able to eventually get in touch with the only Argentinian contact I have. She’s a Trade Union official and I know she will have all the details to hand. Between now and Friday I have to make sure I also have them. But I forgot about a rally that had been called for this (Tuesday) evening and didn’t remember that it was taking place until I saw a ‘live’ report on the TV. I don’t believe I missed anything. Such rallies are merely a reaffirmation of what the people think, useful, no doubt, but in the general it rarely takes the movement forward.

The weekend could be an interesting few days. The Argentinian state is already ready geared up to deal with crowds who might represent something the government, of whatever political colour, might not like. On my first Saturday afternoon here I saw these large black screens (the name of which I read last night in relation to the ‘incidente’ of Saturday, but can’t at the moment remember and the young people in the hostel I have asked couldn’t come up with the exact name) in the area of the Casa Rosada, pushed to the side but within easy deployment reach.

On my way to the bus station to find out about transport to the airport there were many of them around one of the hotels that will be used by those lackeys attending the summit – many of them spanking new. The no-go area is so large they will be a need for thousands of these things – so someone has already made a pretty penny out of the meeting.

I’ve never experienced a city in lock-down so if you would like to know what happens watch this space for updates.

An Argentinian Joke

It might lose a bit in the translation but this is related to the ‘incidente’ of last Saturday and the on/off, if/when, and where of this incredibly boring game of football. (I never expected to write such a lot and spend so much time on this game.)

‘¿Has escuchado que el partido se juega en martes?’

Have you hear that the game will be played on Tuesday?

‘¿Esta semana que viene?’

‘Next week?

‘No, en la planeta.’

‘No, on the planet.’

In Spanish ‘martes’ means both Tuesday and the planet Mars.

Even more on the ‘incidente’ of Saturday

It has started to be a metaphor of the malaise in which the country is gripped. If you can’t organise an efficient sporting event then how can you run a country? People have ‘resigned’ (i.e., thrown to the wolves, and the only way this might come to an end is the fact that the G-20 will become even more of an issue. But that only lasts three days and if it’s a bad news day on Monday then the sharks will be out for the frenzy. That’s especially so as although the date/s of the game has been announced, the location hasn’t. I’m not really sure how you can do that? And we allow these cretins to rule us. Who is worse, them or us?

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