Friday, January 3, 2014

Patagonia Part 1: El Calafate to Perito Moreno

We Climbed on a Glacier! :-)

We are so excited to start our Patagonian vacation, not in the least because Buenos Aires has been suffering through an extreme heat wave and we are ready for some cooler weather! Also, this trip has been on my bucket list since my mid-20's, when I didn't even HAVE a bucket list, per se. Always an area of the world that has fascinated me, but of which I knew very little about. 

First, we fly the 1715 miles (2761 km) from Buenos Aires to cool El Calafate. Our plane was delayed, but due to our extreme southern setting we still had plenty of daylight to explore this new(ish) and tiny town of around 10,000. It is situated on the southern shores of Argentino Lake, the largest body of fresh water in all of Argentina. It's also home to flamingos, which seems very odd to me. The lake itself is within the borders of Los Glaciers National Park, the second largest National Park in Argentina and the largest Ice Cap outside of Antarctica and Greenland. 

From the airport road into town, vistas of the Northern boundaries of the Ice Cap are visible, including the Perito Moreno Glacier and Mount Fitzroy, which we will visit in Chalten. But from the town, you only see the Andes mountains that surround the Glaciers. Very temperate climate. Throughout our trip, we will eventually spend four nights here, as it is the ONLY portal to most points on our itinerary.

Views of Lake Argentino
The beautiful Andes

Sunshine turning the water a very vivid blue
Our first two nights were spent at the Kau-Yatun Estancia/Hotel, which has an incredibly good restaurant, should you find yourself in El Calafate surrounded by touristic and overpriced places to eat. I can highly recommend the lamb and the goulash, but would skip the desserts, as they all seem to come frozen from a box. The hotel was completely adequate, if not a bit spartan.

The town itself offers very little outside a casino, a bus station and numerous pizza joints and parillas to feed the huge influx of tourists awaiting passage to either Chalten or the glaciers, a passageway of artisans and their goods (nothing I hadn't seen in Buenos Aires), a small hill with a stairway to climb and check out the view of the lake (blocked firmly by a large orange restaurant) and a two lane bowling alley/bar/pool hall called La Loika we found on our last night, complete with hand set lanes and duck pins! It's also open VERY LATE. 
We did not try our hand at this, but probably should have. In our defense, we were beat from a 7 hour bus trip back from Chile when we discovered this gem up the street from our hotel.

Day Two: Let's Get GOING!

We are ready to start on some adventuring! Our itinerary starts with an 8 AM pickup by Hielo y Adventura (Ice and Adventure) to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the three advancing glaciers in Patagonia. First we drive 80 kilometers through very scenic steppes and mountains to reach the boat launch at the Brazo Rico arm of Lake Argentino.

We can see ice! Must be getting closer!
We board a small but sea-worthy ship for a quick twenty minute ride up close and personal to the glacier shelf jutting into the lake.
First glimpses are incredible and bring to mind Superman's Fortress of Solitude, if you're old enough to remember that!
This stuff is Heisenberg Blue, for this generation! LOL

This shelf looms up to 250 feet above the surface of the lake, and extends northward over 400 miles

Currently, there is an ice bridge to the land. When it collapses, it's called a rupture. It has been on an approximate two year cycle of building up and falling. Lucky to get to see it, but would have been cooler had it collapsed while we were there!
The complete immensity is overwhelming!

Next we take a half hour trek out to the glacier and the outfitting shacks, where we will be fitted for crampons and head out onto the ice!

I have to keep stopping to take photos, though, as it is just soooo amazing.

And did I mention it is BLUE? So VERY VERY BLUE!

Cute kitty hanging around, posing for photos.

Crampons ON and ready to GO!
We choose to do the mini-trek on the ice, which is a couple hours of wandering around with a guide on the face of the Glacier. There is also a "Big Ice" package, which is five hours long. We talked to a few people who did this, and they said a couple hours was enough. Not sure they had any better vantages. All the water flowing in and around the glacier is safe to drink, and the ice goes well with the whiskey we were served up after our trek! I don't even LIKE whiskey, but it tasted so good. And, the whole glacier smells like Michigan in the winter. . . 
This is what the surface looks like!

From our highest vantage point, looking down the wall

After a couple hours, we descend and walk back to "camp" for lunch. Views are still incredible and the light has changed a bit, making things a little warmer.

Back on the boat, back on the bus to the other side of the glacier to see the expanse of this thing. Incredible! Heading back to El Calafate for the night. Tomorrow Chalten!

And a shout out to Say Hueque, the company I chose to book our Patagonian adventure. I based this decision on all the great reviews they received on numerous tourist boards all around the internet, their EXTREMELY fair pricing, and the fact they are six blocks from our apartment (very scientific, I know). Their staff, including Vera and Carolina, were with us throughout the entire planning process and were also in touch with us as we traveled, including advising us of flight changes. Very professional. You do NOT need to use a tour company to do what we did, but I will say we were able to see and do a LOT more than we would have booking everything individually or tried to do it on our own. Many of the tours and buses were booked up for days on end for last minute travelers, so even if you don't use a tour company, try to get your activities and transport booked early. 


Bill H. said...

Very nice, can't wait for volume 2

Bob mack said...

Great tour , you are a great blogger! Great pics and descriptions ,