Monday, March 21, 2011

Air Calafate: We Have Two Winners!

Often, when I offer a give-away contest, it seems to take several days to get the winners but, after posting the El Calafate quiz on Friday night, I had three correct answers when I checked my mail the next morning: the first was Lisa Burrell Gardinier of Tucson, who made it even for the day was out; the second was Andrew Zur of Toronto, who answered in the early morning hours on Saturday. Both of them won copies of Moon Handbooks Argentina (though Lisa has asked for a copy of Moon Buenos Aires, which I will be happy to provide instead). Steve Behaeghel of Merelbeke, Belgium, checked in a little too late, but also had the right answer, as did Darek and Analia Przebieda of Burbank (a couple days too late).

The right answer is that Avenida Gunther Plüschow and Avenida Jorge Newbery were the runways of El Calafate’s original airport, which closed in 2001 with the opening of the Aeropuerto Internacional Comandante Tola (pictured above, presently underdoing a major expansion), about 23 km east of town. With its location so close to the town center, the original airfield was never suitable for the jets that now arrive here. Until the new airport opened, most Calafate-bound visitors had to fly to Río Gallegos and take a four-hour bus trip just to reach the gateway to the Moreno Glacier (some took an even longer bus trip from the Chilean town of Puerto Natales, after visiting Torres del Paine).

Both Newbery and Plüschow were aviators. Newbery (born 1875 in Buenos Aires), from whom Aeroparque (the Buenos Aires city airport) takes its name), died in a plane crash in Mendoza province in 1914. Despite his British-sounding name, and the importance of Anglo-Argentines in the country, Newbery’s father was from New York rather than England.

Plüschow (born 1886 in Munich) gained fame in Argentina with his pioneering flights in Patagonia, where he was the first to film the region from the air, on both the Argentine and Chilean sides of border (his biography is far more interesting than that alone, but I don’t have time to go into it here). He also died in a crash, near Lago Argentino, in 1931.

Now, of course, the old runways are part of the “Barrio Aeropuerto,” where my cousin and her husband have built their house, and design hotels and less imposing guesthouses are gradually filling in. Whenever I visit Calafate, it’s still something of a shock to drive this broad paved surface that carries almost no other traffic. There has been some talk of moving Calafate’s bus terminal here and, certainly, there’s plenty of room for it.

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