el calafate and perito moreno

  • it's cold
  • boat to the glacier
  • ice bergs
  • deep hole
  • crampons
  • people going up the glacier
  • we drank water from here
  • another water hole
  • whiskey with glacier ice in it
  • it's cold out here

After hanging out in Buenos Aires for a few days pretty much just recollecting myself after quite an intense month and a half in Brazil, on the 24th of October I flew down to El Calafate, deep in the Argentine Patagonia. The plan was to meet Anna, whom I'd met in northern Peru, visit the Perito Moreno glacier and take things from there. The trip started off on a slightly bad note. On arriving at the airport in Buenos Aires, I was told that because I had not paid for my ticket within 24 hours, it had been cancelled. Fortunately, there were seats available on the next flight, but this would mean arriving at about 10pm as instead of 6pm as I had told Anna, and because of dodgy Argentine communications, my texts would not go through. I eventually arrived at "Hostel las Manos" at about 23:30 and said hello to a half asleep Ms Rubycz who was somewhat worried because I had not said anything about my late arrival.

The next day, we headed out to the small town, for a later breakfast. On leaving the hostel I realised just how cold Patagonia would be. For the past 4 months I had lived in a world of boardshorts, flip flops, sun and surf and now I found myself wearing most of the warm clothes I had and looking up at what seemed to be snow clouds. We found a small cafe and the day cleared and we sat there in the sun pretty much all afternoon catching up on the past few months and chatting about what we'd do next. That afternoon we booked our day trip to Perito Moreno glacier the next day which would include a glacier walk. That evening we found a cosey British-like pub where we ate and sipped on some red wine. The place served Don Pedro's which reminded me of back home.

We woke to an even colder morning and the clouds we had seen the day before were definitely snow clouds, as we found out on the way out to the glacier. There had been a dump of snow overnight and the whole area was covered in a light layer of powder. The day was still cloudy which worried me because most of those incredible shots I had seen of the glacier before, had been on sunny days. When we arrived at the glacier the area looked like a winter wonderland. I felt like I was on one of my snowboarding trips in France. The guide gave us instructions on how long we had for viewing the glacier, and how long we had for lunch, etc.....several times. We both found it quite funny because up til now we had both avoided these sort of touristy activities where you're pretty much treated like a kid.

We walked around the various boardwalks with different views of the glacier and I was in total awe at the absolute magnificence of this giant piece of flowing ice. So many times on this trip I have seen things where I've wondered how I'd describe them to people and failed to find the words, and this time I was at more of a loss for words than ever before. The sheer magnitude of it, the way it stretches back into the horizon looking like it never ends, it's jagged top, the bright blue colours caused by light refracting, the chunks of ice that crumble down to the water every once in a while, the smallest of which alone make an earthquake-like sound. Simply incredible. Anna who's extremely well spoken and had some very poetic descriptions of it all also came out with the not so eloquant "Wow, mother nature does some weird shit."

After wondering arond for a while we found a warmish corner outside the restaurant and ate the lunch we had brought with to avoid paying the astronomical prices charged at these places. We had nearly half a roast chicken, cheese, crisps etc. The cafe is very strict about people who bring their own lunch in and then throw their rubbish in the cafe bins, so it was quite entertaining watching Anna, wondering into the cafe with a chicken carcass in a bag, dumping it in their bin and then walking out looking like she had just shoplifted something. At lunch Anna had a local take on Irish coffee, which rather than having whiskey in it, has a local liquere. I also descovered my place amongst the hot beverage drinkers of the world. I have never been one for teas or coffees, but when I decided to have an Irish coffee but asked them to substitute the coffee with hot chocolate I was sold, the Portuguese/South African Hot Chocolate was born - hot chocolate, topped with cream and cinamon and a shot of whiskey. Great for those days on the glacier!

After lunch we got back onto our bus and headed out to the port near the glacier where we boarded a boat which would take us out to a piece of land that borders the glacier. The boat ride was beautiful because you saw the glacier from the water level and so it had an even more imposing look to it. The weather had started turning again, the snow had turned to rain and the temperesture dropped as we got closer to the glacier. Just before we started the glacier walk, we were give our crampons (spikes that you strap to your shoes so you can walk on ice), then given a short intro on how to walk in them, and we were off.

No need to state the obvious that the temerature on the glacier was icy, which prompted Anna to say the second great saying of the day, and something that in my seven years in England I had not heard before "Shit the bed it's cold!". My description of the cold was tainted with a bit more hard core cursing which I'll leave off this page. The ice guides were pretty cool dudes and gave us loads of those facts useful for pub conversations. At one point we stopped next to a water whole, and filled up our water bottles with pure glaciel water - probably the best tasting water I have ever had. We walked around, on, and inside the glacier for about an hour. Really, walking "on" the glacier was more like walking inside it because contrary to what most of us think, it's not just some smooth sheet of ice but rather a maise of small mountains and valleys. At the end of the trek we stopped and had a whiskey with glacier ice in it, compliments of the guide company, and then it was back to land and back to El Calafate. That evening after telling Anna that I was not bad around the kitchen I unsuccesfully cooked a vegetable soup that turned out more like a sloppy stew served to those doing time.

The next morning we would board a bus to Puerto Natales, the base for doing the very famous Torres del Paine National park trek.