I thought I would close the year with a post featuring my favorite photo from 2012. After an hour of struggling to select a single image I have opted to reflect on my growth as a photographer instead. As I looked through the 8713 pictures I elected to save from last year (probably shot five times that number) I concluded, perhaps with a somewhat biased perspective, that my landscapes have improved noticeably. I think I have finally got the knack of rendering a three dimensional scene in a two dimensional medium (hint: it is all about the foreground). 2012 was also a year where I made the effort to put myself in remote places of beauty and grandeur. As more of my life is behind me than in front, I am increasingly taking advantage of every opportunity to travel the world in search of natural wonders and cross cultural experiences. I am so very thankful for my family, for my health, and for the means to pursue my passions. I wish all my followers the happiest New Year.

Photo credit to Kyle who captured me doing what I love.

Morning Snowscape

We received our first real snow of the winter last night. I was up at 5AM to clear the 6 inches from our driveway so that I could get out for a little sunrise photography.

Triple Threat

Maya was in fine from this evening scoring her first hat trick during an indoor soccer match. She shot from distance, she dribbled past defenders and she went head to head with the goalie. I was able to sneak in with the players so I did not have to photograph from behind the dingy and scratched glass walls.

The Shepherdess Dance

My adventure in Patagonia came at a high price. I missed seeing Maya in 4 dance and 3 acting performances in the weeks before Christmas. She is pictured here during her performance of The Shepherdess Dance in the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Zeppeli Balls

Normally prepared on Christmas Eve, this year’s batch of Zeppeli (fried dough covered in honey and sprinkles) was postponed for a few nights. Joining us this evening in the preparation were Hannah, back from Emory for winter break, and Nicolai’s friend, Taylor. The kids made short order of the work and the results were excellent.

Los Tres Amigos

For all the pictures I take it is surprisingly rare when I get one of all three kids together. I never did inquire as to the source of their fascination but was pleased with the formation of bodies it created.

Xmas Joy

If it is Christmas morning, then you know the Calabria’s will be enjoying popovers and lingonberries for breakfast, a tradition from Jeanine’s side of the family. Popovers can be a little tricky and if not prepared in exactly the right way then they do not rise, leaving you with something more akin to a muffin. The proper popover is hollow inside ready to be filled with any combination of butter, jam, syrup, berry, bacon, fruit, you name it. This year’s batch was prolific in size and the overflow batter which fell to the bottom of the oven created a new form of treat, which we have dubbed poopovers. Rather than rushing through the process, we linger over the investigation of stockings and opening of presents. This year we completed stockings in time for lunch and presents in time for dinner. Many stockings were found to have reproduced and contained babies (regular socks) which were initially misidentified as ear warmers which prompting the photo below of all who received them.

Candle Light

We are delighted to have both my mother and Jeanine’s sister, Susan, staying with us for Christmas this year. We attended the children’s service at First Parish in which Maya participated. It concluded with the singing of Silent Night by candle light which inspired this photo, taken after we returned from our traditional Christmas Eve Chinese dinner with the Budris family.

Homeward Bound

Two weeks ago when Kyle and I departed for our adventure in Patagonia he made one simple request. He asked that we grow our beards until we returned. Although I have maintained a beard at various times in my life, I have not done so since having children. The last time I saw my own beard, there was a much younger man on the other side. Despite the itchiness, there were days on our trek when I appreciated the extra layer of warmth and protection it provided. As we prepared to board our return flight to Boston, Kyle and I made a final father-son photograph to document the growth of our facial hair. What is not apparent from the photo is the growth we experienced in our relationship. I am so pleased that Kyle joined me on this adventure and I feel much closer to him as a result of the long periods of time we spent together uninterrupted by smart phones, iPads, TVs and computers. Sometimes we trekked for hours without speaking a word. Other times we had deep and extended conversations about our respective lives and aspirations. When Maya and Jeanine leave for India in February, they will complete the last Coming of Age adventure for the family (age 13). I would like to initiate a new parent-child tradition called the Journey of Discovery to be repeated with Nicolai and Maya when they turn twenty years of age.

Buenos Aires

With only one day to see Buenos Aires, a city of some 13 million residents described as the “Paris of South America”, we opted to take an open air bus tour with on/off privileges. The 3 hour, 25 stop circuit provided comprehensive coverage of the main attractions of the city. We completed the first lap listening to canned descriptions of the various sites through headphones. We used the second lap to jump on and off where we wanted to spend our time on the ground. The La Boca neighborhood was our first stop and destination for lunch. We enjoyed delicious roasted chicken although Kyle observed that we failed to order in the incremental fashion of the locals who can turn any meal into a three hour affair.

La Boca has a strong European flavor, with many of its early settlers being from the Italian city of Genoa. Known among sports fans for La Bombonera, the home of Boca Juniors, one of the world’s best known football clubs. It is a popular destination with its colorful houses and pedestrian street, the Caminito, where tango artists perform and tango-related memorabilia is sold.

Our next destination is the open air market at the Plaza Intendente Alvear where each of us peruse the artifacts produced by local artists. The challenge was selecting items that were small and light enough to add to our packs for the return flight home.

Our final destination was the San Telmo neighborhood where we settled in for an Argentinian style dinner. Kyle was determined that we order in the fashion of the locals and we stretched our dinner experience over two and a half hours. Shortly after dessert we were treated to a live tango show and music bringing our South American adventure to the perfect end. I was enjoying the dancing so much that I did not think to video the performance until it was almost over. For all the ballroom dancing experts in my family I am not sure if this clip is of a tango or another style.

Laguna de Los Tres

Having gone to sleep quite early the night before, it seemed quite natural to wake up at 2AM. With nothing else to do, I decided to make the 3 minute walk out of the forest in which we were camped to an open meadow where I could take in the night sky. The storm had completely abated and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The star field was incredible and Mount Fitz Roy was totally visible. I quickly returned to the tent and insisted that Kyle wake up to enjoy the celestial panorama. Kyle was amazed by what he saw but was too cold to remain outside for more than a few minutes. I managed 30 minutes before the cold got the better of me as well, but not before making some of my favorite images of the trip by the light of the stars, the moon being no where in sight.

Inspired by the absence of clouds in the sky, I departed for the Laguna de Los Tres vista at 4AM with the goal of catching the sunrise on Mount Fitz Roy at 5:15AM. Kyle opted for the warmth of his sleeping bag given he had already seen the peaks in normal daylight. This one hour ascent was without a doubt the most demanding yet. The trail rises relentlessly gaining 1,700 vertical feet in under 2 miles of climbing. I found the slope to be reminiscent, if only half the vertical ascent, of the summit day climb on Kilimanjaro and also best climbed by the light of a headlamp to minimize my feelings of vertigo. My reward for the effort was glorious morning light. Unfortunately, Fitz Roy was partially shrouded by clouds even though its two brothers were out. In these mountains you take what you can get.

I chose to descend very slowly to protect my knees and reunited with Kyle as he was waking up. We had just enough cooking fuel and food for a breakfast of hard boiled eggs and hot soup (again). Out of fuel and out of food (either good planning or dumb luck), we broke camp and descended to El Chalten by way of Laguna Capri.

After a nice lunch we snagged front row seats on the 1PM bus to El Calafate and rested our weary feet as we enjoyed the view. A gamble to jump an earlier flight to Buenos Aires paid off and we arrived at our hotel by midnight affording us a full day to see the city tomorrow.

Laguna Torres

With a base camp established, today’s trekking is with camera gear and day pack only, a welcomed relief from hauling full packs. Not five minutes into our hike, Kyle looks back and notices that Mount Fitz Roy is totally clear. Knowing how infrequently this happens with good light I jumped on the opportunity to capture the scene.

Our destination is the viewpoint of Cerro Torres from above Laguna Torres. The round trip takes us 6 hours to complete. When we arrive at the mirador, Cerro Torres is completely shrouded in clouds. It is said that visitors have a 1 in 10 chance of catching an unobstructed view on any given visit. Disappointment about the cloudy conditions instantly gave way to excitement over the katabatic winds. I have no way of knowing for sure (driving with my torso sticking out of the sun roof in a limo being my only frame of reference) but I would estimate sustained winds of 50 mph with frequent gusts to 70 mph. The video which I shot is far more compelling than the still photos.

Satisfied with our gale force wind experience we descended back into the forest where we encountered this very large woodpecker doing some serious pecking on a tree immediately adjacent to the trail. Even with only a wide angle lens at hand I was able to capture a fairly good image of this very distinctive bird.

During the last 45 minutes of our return to camp we encountered a light rain, which eventually transitioned to barely perceptible snow and then to highly perceptible albeit tiny hail. Anyone familiar with sand blasting will appreciate the sensation of these tiny balls of ice, driven by a horizontal wind, smashing into ones face. Between the hail and continuously dropping temperature, Kyle and I decided to get bundled up inside the tent. The soup I cooked under the vestibule of the tent helped to warm us from the inside out and made it easier to fall asleep much earlier than normal.

El Chalten

El Chaltén is a small mountain village in Argentina located on the riverside of Río de las Vueltas, within the Los Glaciares National Park at the base of the Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains. Another three hour bus ride delivers us to this village, a popular destination among trekkers and climbers, just in time for lunch. “Chaltén” is a Tehuelche word meaning smoking mountain, as they believed it was a volcano for its peak is most of the time covered by clouds. Starting at the Hosteria El Pilar, we make a relatively easy 6 Km hike to the Poincenot campground where we establish a base camp that will serve us for two nights. Having run out of dehydrated food, this evening’s meal is pasta with meat sauce prepared with ingredients obtained in town. I was rather pleased with the outcome and Kyle offered no criticism of the simple but hearty and piping hot meal. Temperatures here are considerably cooler than Chile and we are wearing almost everything we have to fend off the cold.

Perito Moreno Glacier

For a complete change of pace today, Kyle and I will trek in crampons over the Perito Moreno Glacier. This glacier is located in the Los Glaciares National Park in the south west of Santa Cruz province, Argentina. The 97 square mile ice formation is 19 miles in length, and is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes system shared with Chile. This ice field is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water. The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of only three Patagonian glaciers that is growing, the reasons for which are a matter of debate among glaciologists. The terminus is 3 miles wide, with an average height of 240 feet above the surface of the water of Lago Argentino and an average ice depth of 558 feet. My back of the envelope calculation puts the total weight of the glacier at 40 billion tons which helps to understand how such a formation advancing at up to 6 feet per day can carve valleys from stone. Massive calving events are a frequent occurrence.

We arrived at the glacier mid-morning after a two hour bus ride from El Calafate. We were then shuttled across the lake to the trail head of our trek on a catamaran which afforded us great views of the face of the glacier. After a relatively short hike to its base we were fitted with crampons and began our ascent onto the glacier. A very knowledgeable guide taught us proper ice trekking techniques and gave a series of short lessons on glaciers in general and the Perito Moreno in particular. Our trek concluded with a whisky and glacier ice cube toast (I opted for straight glacier water) before returning by boat to the other side of the lake. An additional hour was spent viewing the glacier from a set of balconies emanating from the visitors center offering a much wider view of the entire glacier. Even with my 17mm lens on a full frame camera I was not able to capture the full width of the glacier in a single photo.

El Calafate

After a good night’s sleep we caught the early bus bound for El Calafate, Argentina. The six hour transit included more than an hour spent clearing passport control and customs at the border. A model of inefficiency, all passengers exit the bus on the Chilean side of the border to clear passport control and then re-board the bus. A few minutes later we arrive at the Argentinian control point and once again everyone disembarks and files through the passport control office while dogs check luggage for illegal contraban. A single passenger with a soon to expire visa held up the line for over 30 minutes. When travelling in this part of the world you simply have to accept the fact that time tables are more like loose guidelines. We arrived Calafate by mid afternoon, checked into our hostel and made a bee line for Laguna Nimez Nature Reserve, a virtual gold mine for birders. Pictured below are but a fraction of the birds we discovered.

I asked Kyle to select the restaurant for dinner this evening and we were not disappointed with his choice. By far the best meal of the trip, I enjoyed a grilled salmon while Kyle sampled their best cut of beef. Also on his radar was a fine ice cream parlor which served as our final gastronomic destination of the evening where we indulged ourselves in our only frozen treats of the trip.

Torres del Paine

Consistent with the plan formulated yesterday, guided by our headlamps through a cold light rain, we left the warmth of our refugio at 3:30AM destined for the 3000 foot high Mirador Torres which requires a fairly steep ascent after passing the Campamento Torres. Our party of four arrived at the top by 5AM, fifteen minutes ahead of sunrise. Alas, the sun would be blocked by clouds on this morning which would prevent me from making the image I had hoped for featuring the peaks bathed in golden light with the small tarn and boulders in the foreground. Kyle, having glimpsed through the clouds at the grandeur we came to see, wisely elected to return to the refugio after about 30 minutes on top and before losing all feeling in his fingers. I remained for another two hours hoping to photograph all three peaks unmasked by the clouds. I had two such opportunities which lasted for less than a minute each. The light was not good but I was grateful for those brief windows of relative clarity. With a 9AM breakfast deadline looming, I completed the 12 Km round trip back to the refugio descending at break-neck speed to ensure I would have a meal in my belly before facing the dreaded 3 Km, all downhill leg (most punishing on my knees) of our trek. Kyle had waited to have breakfast with me and it was nice sharing our last meal in the park together. Before taking the shuttle to the park entrance and transferring to the afternoon bus back to Puerto Natales we had an opportunity to dry our tent and sweat soaked clothing in the sun and do a bit of sun bathing ourselves.