El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier

Trip Start Jan 19, 2008
Trip End May 01, 2008

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Friday 25th saw us getting up early to catch a flight to El Calafate, which is the most convienient place from which to go to see the Perito Moreno Glaciar. The flight from BA was pretty spectacular. There were no clouds, so for the most part we could see all the way down to the coastline that we followed South for 2/3rds of the 3 hour flight. It really made us appreciate how unpopulated this part of the world is - and for no reason we can determine. Argentina is about the same size as India, but with only 1/30th of the population. Huge green flat areas of land are deserted of signs of civilisation. Maybe they are used for cattle raising, we couldnt tell from the air though. Eventually the green was replaced by scrubland and then finally we turned inland to head across to the Patagonian Andes. The final 30 minutes of the flight were spectacular, flying past  the mountains and glacial blue/green lakes and are already a highlight of the holiday in  themselves.

Matt had managed, after extreme stress and frustration, to book accomodation ahead from BA. It turns out his pidgeon Spanish is OK when he can point to things, but over the phone its a whole different story. Still, we managed to get booked into a hostel, perhaps even two, as Matt never could tell whether his first attempt at securing a room actually resulted in a reservation being made. Still, sorry to Hostal Thomas if they were expecting us!

El Calafate is a very pretty tourist town, with a ski resort feel thanks to the many wooden chalets although priced accordingly. Our first day there was spent investigating tour options. Eventually we booked to see the Glaciar the following day and we spent the rest of the evening (until it finally got dark at around 11pm) having a bit to eat, a little to drink and finally just chilling back at the hostel. Although we were at  50 degrees South of the Equator,  the weather was boiling hot, and Kat has a bright red burnt nose to show for it. Because Argentina is stupidly only 2 hours behind GMT and we were in the far west of the country it meant that the hottest part of the day was between 3 and 5pm and not around lunchtime as you would expect, and it was this that caught us out.

We had debated whether to pay extra for an organised tour of the glaciar or to get the bus there ourselves on the cheap. Matt whinged all the way onto the tour bus (and for the first hour on it!) after Kat got her way but has to admit that the tour probably was worth the extra 10 GBP or so each as the commentary and convienience was definitely worth it.

The tour of the Glaciar was spectacular. The glaciar itself  ends up in a lake as a V shape, with its tip touching the far side of the lake, so that it forms a dam. Eventually the water level on the upper side of the lake rises sufficiently so that the pressure causes  the underside of the glaciar to wear away, eventually forming a tunnel hundreds of meters long, until one day the weight of the tunnel roof can no longer be supported and it collapses spectacularly. This year they are expecting it to happen around early March. However, every few minutes,  huge chunks of the walls of either side of the V collapse into the water with thunderous splashes.  The  first time you see the glaciar its a real shock because its bigger than any lump of ice you have ever seen before!

In the morning we took a boat trip along one of the sides of the V taking us to within 300 yards of the glaciar. You are not allowed closer as otherwise you might be submerged by the tidal waves created when the icebergs crash off from the glacial wall into the water below. In the afternoon we went to a viewing point and ate our yummy home made packed lunch. Suffice to say that we never want to see another ham and cheese sandwich again! For some reason the glaciar was much more active in the afternoon, possibly because of the stronger sun. Even when huge chunks werent falling from its face, you could hear similar activity from within the glaciar itself, happening maybe a few hundred yards back from the front wall. Sometimes these would have a knock on effect and eventually cleave huge chunks from the front - so occasionally you got some warning and could look (or point  your camera) in the right direction. It really was incredible we both agree!

That evening we again tried to save a bit of cash and tested our culinary skills by making use of the Hostals kitchen. It turns out we still know how to cook student style pasta and sauce. The following evening we upped the style and made everyone envious of our Argentine Sirloin (Bife de Chorizo).

Next stop, bus into Chile and to Puerto Natales, where we hope to take a tour of Torres del Paine national park and take the Navimag cruise up through Fjords and past icebergs and glaciars up to Puerto Montt.
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