Ice, ice, baby, baby

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Jul 24, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Thursday, February 17, 2011

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We were rather tired when we got onto the plane to head down to El Calafate. We had spent our final night in Buenos Aires visiting one of Anna's friends at her house in the outskirts of the city and rather underestimated how late a Wednesday evening dinner for Argentines could finish.Hence us rocking back to the hostel at 1am still with bags to pack and the alarm set for 3:45am to go to the airport. Still it was really great to see Yanina and her family and we had plenty of time to sleep on the plane (5 hours,via Ushuaia the most southerly city in the world).

El Calafate is in the south of Argentina and the temperature when we stepped off the plane was a welcoming contrast to the heat and stickiness of BA. That said it was still a beautifully warm sunny summer day, perfect for appreciating the incredibly vast landscape. The flat, arid Patagonian plains seem to go on for miles and miles, finally reaching dramatic mountain ranges that appear to carry on along the whole of the horizon. Added to that the deep turquoise Lake Argentino (apparently due to the glacier water run-off) and it truly is a picture postcard view.

El Calafate itself is an interesting yet pleasant tourist town, where Gore-Tex reigns supreme. There are lots of swanky hotels, restaurants and boutiques catering to foreigners and wealthy Argentines, so we did feel a little out of place wandering down the main street with our backpacks. This did have an upside though, as the hairdryer in our admittedly upmarket hostel bathroom nearly brought tears of joy to Anna.

Due to bus issues we had to cut our planned stay here short so we only had one day to visit the main attraction of the town – the Perito Moreno Glacier in the nearby Los Glaciares National Park. We got an early bus that drove for an hour before threading its way through the park alongside a lake shore, until we finally got some tantalising glimpses of the glacier from a distance. However this wasn’t really necessary, as there is a handy peninsular directly opposite the main face of the glacier. The scale of the glacier itself is incredible, 5km wide, 30km long and 170m deep. Bearing in mind that it is at a similar latitude to London from the equator you might be surprised that it exists at all, but thanks to the geography of the surrounding area it snows 300 days a year at the top which then creates the ice. My only question was where is the ski resort? What struck us was how intensely blue the glacier is, with deep veins crossing the face.

After a couple of hours admiring the glacier from land we started the more adventurous part of the day, a boat ride along the face followed by a hike on the ice itself. After donning crampons we ventured on as part of a guided group for a tour up and down, seeing the jagged peaks, crevasses and streams of melting water and hearing the constant creaking and cracking up close. The surface of the glacier wasn’t what we were expecting at all – rather than being smooth it is actually made up of really large crystals, similar to crushed ice, that are really sharp to touch. The tour finished off with a glass of whiskey served over some glacier ice – 400 years old, so it would have fallen as snow when Elizabeth 1st was queen.

The day was finished off with an all-you-can-eat asado (BBQ)back at the hostel – always popular and always great food. The next day was spent looking for some elusive flamingos on the lake, before catching our bus to Chile.
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