The rapidly growing town of El Calafate is approximately 200km further south of El Chalten, on the south-west edge of Lago Argentino and 80km from the southern edge of UNESCO World Heritage listed Los Glaciares National Park. The town’s presence and success are owed to the Perito Moreno Glaciar, one of only three Patagonian glaciars that continues to grow larger each year and a phenomenon that scientists are yet to fully understand.
Having had some success hitching to El Calafate the day prior and being reluctant to pay the extortionate bus fare for a 80km return trip to the national park ($140AR/$28AUD) I decided to let the French girls that I was travelling with take the 9:30am bus while instead I would try to hitch a ride up to meet them in the park. It wasn’t to be. My luck had swung the other way and after a 3-hour stint on the highway out of town I caved in and went to buy a bus ticket. To make matters even worse, the next bus didn’t leave until 1:30pm, giving me even more time to wait in the bus terminal. Finally, after what seemed like ten hours, we left El Calafate westward bound for the national park and its main attraction: Glaciar Perito Moreno.
Upon arrival, I took the opportunity to pay $90AR ($18AUD) for a short trip on a catamaran to get closer to one of the glaciar’s gigantic, imposing faces. While on the boat I spoke with an expat American couple in their fifties now living in Germany and a hairdresser called Sarah from Buenos Aires who didn’t mince her words. When the American man voiced his rather concerned, but innocent, observation, “I’m surprised that people don’t speak more English here…”, Sarah was quick to enlighten him (very bluntly and without hesitation) that South America is in fact, a predominantly Spanish speaking country with of course, the exception of Brazil and the Guianas and what else could he possibly expect? Ouch. The awkwardness was palpable.
Being a tight-fisted, discount seeking, penny pinching backpacker, I knew that a day trip to the glacier would hurt my wallet. I dug into my pockets again and handed over a massive $130AR ($26AUD) just for park entry! As I felt the pain of spending four days worth of cash in one morning, our bus transported us up through the park to the main platforms that spider outwards, offering many beautiful views of the glacier from above.
Although the weather wasn’t perfect and the sky was a bright haze of cloud, as we twisted around the mountains to the front face of the glaciar, the view of the enormous chunk of ice was truly spectacular. One cannot comprehend the size of this thing simply by looking at pictures. The face of the glacier rises over 70 metres from the water – the other 70% of its height lies below the grey depths. At the front face, the glacier is two kilometres wide and it stretches back over thirty kilometres to distant snow-capped mountains. To put it in perspective, this thing covers an area the size of Buenos Aires – over 250 square kilometers! Yeah, pretty big.
I had heard wonderful things about the opportunities to trek on the glacier, but at $570AR ($114AUD) it was definitely outside my budget. I chose instead to take advantage of the superbly built wooden walkways that ascend and descend through national park forest, offering multiple vantage points from which to take in the enormous frozen structure. Occasionally, roaring claps of thunder break the stillness as massive chunks of ice break off the glacier and crash into the grey, iceberg dotted waters below. Having never witnessed anything like this before, the view that lay before me surpassed anything I had ever been able to conjure within my imagination. I spent hours staring at huge chunks of precipitous ice, willing them to break off and create more scenes of the devastatingly awesome power that nature possesses.
I wish the weather had been kinder to me and allowed me to take photographs that could do this awe-inspiring glacier justice. Once again, I direct you to my friends Jen and Ted’s post here if you wish to view more examples of photography from their trip a few weeks ago. I’m very jealous that they saw a rainbow stretch from one end of the glaciar to the other!
I have recently returned from a very eventful three night, four day trek through the Torres Del Paine in southern Chile and I intend to do it justice with a post it deserves, so stay tuned to the Facebook page for updates as I head through Punta Arenas and finally Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world!) before flying to sunny Buenos Aires next week.
Views of the enormous glacier face from the catamaran: