For Alex and I, the adventure continued as we ventured yet further south. From Bariloche we embarked on the 28 hour journey to El Calafate. We were loving our front row seats where we were joined by an English doctor who could only be described as wet. Within the first few hours he had complained about the weather, the bus seats, the leg room, the length of the journey, his Spanish, the local’s lack of English, why we were stopping, why we weren’t stopping, the food and he had moisturised his hands twice…
In comparison Al and I sat there unshowered, almost in awe at the comfort of the bus, the views we were seeing and when the food was served we were verging on ecstacy at the delicious lasagne. Needless to say on arrival into El Calafate we went one way and Dr Negative went the other.
We were lead to a lovely hostel where we had the option to camp or stay in a dorm room for an extra couple of pesos, the equivalent of 30p or so. We were in a dorm room but it was low season and we were now very far south which left us with a room to ourselves. Basically, there was a similar incident to the Mendoza trip where we drank a little too much and didn’t start the day early enough to do the tour. The day was spent relaxing/recovering and we did manage to organise a few things so it wasn’t a complete waste. We really wanted to hire a car and take it on an epic 2000km road trip across to Chile and to Puerto Montt. After some research it worked out way too expensive so it would have to be the bus again. We decided to drown our sorrows with a traditional Argentine asado. The restaurant was attached to the hostel and the previous night we had seen three giant lambs roasting on an open fire through the window. We had food envy but tonight we would make amends. We ordered the ‘standard’ asado and were able to help ourselves to as much salad as we wanted. Clearly, salad wasn’t the reason why we were here though. A short while later arrived perhaps 6 different cuts of lamb, blood sausage, a type of chorizo and some intestines. We set to work, the conversation limited to nothing more than grunts for the next hour. The challenge was huge and by the time we finished the most we could do was pay the bill, crawl back upstairs to the hostel and lie down. We barely moved for the rest of the night but with our full bellies we rested well before the visit to the glacier the next day.
Sunday morning we were up early and made no mistake about getting to the bus terminal on time. It was a stunning morning and the sunrise turned the sky red, a perfect way to start our day. The minibus drove for an hour or so through mountainous scenery before we arrived at the national park. After another half an hour we had our first sight of the glacier. At this point we were still a 15 or 20 minute drive from arriving but we could see the lake the glacier was growing into and a part of the glacier. The scale of the thing was hard to comprehend but as a boat appeared in the lake we began to realise just how big it was.
Before I go on to ramble about how incredible our day was, here are some quick fire facts:
– The Perito Moreno glacier is located in the Patagonian Ice Field, which is the third largest fresh water reserve in the world.
– The Perito Moreno glacier is one of only three growing glaciers in the Patagonian Ice Field.
– It currently grows at a rate of just over 2 metres per day.
– Measured from top to bottom, it stretches for approximately 30 kilometres
– At the terminus, or the ‘end’, of the glacier, the width is 5 kilometres. The visible height (above the lake) is on average 74 metres. Below the waterline, it reaches depths of up to 170 metres.
– Before the installation of the current walkways, many people were killed or injured each year by ice falling from the glacier.
– The Perito Moreno glacier is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen (this one isn’t from Wikipedia).
I have to say that the Argentines have done a great job of allowing the attraction to cater for the many tourists who come to visit but without ruining the place. There are constructed walkways and various circuits which can give you different views of the glacier from reasonably close up to further away but with a view of the whole thing. Al and I set to it and marched round all of the loops. We knew we only had until 4pm so wanted to see everything. As we got closed to the edge of the glacier it was just jaw dropping. The size of it was incredible but even more surprising than that was the activity of the thing. It appeared as though it was alive with every few seconds the ice moving somewhere and a cracking sound resonating down the glacier towards us. It could be compared to the sounds of thunder! We watched in awe from many of the viewing points and both agreed that the 28 hour bus journey was worth it, without any question at all. Here are lots of photos of the glacier and perhaps some less inspiring captions.
As lunchtime approached we found another viewpoint and fine dined on our ham and cheese sandwiches. The cold, wet weather was beginning to set in and being this far south, the wind was bitterly cold. Most people seemed to have retreated inside so at times it felt like it was just us and the glacier. I never imagined watching a big piece of ice could be so exciting but time was flying by as we sat and stared. It was shortly after lunch that we heard a larger cracking sound and looked to where the sound had come from. We saw first a large chunk of ice fall and then even larger pieces sliding and falling off of the front of the glacier! This was what we had really been hoping for. All thoughts of getting the camera out at this point were completely forgotten as we just watched in amazement. Again, it was hard to judge the scale but the waves formed from the falling ice must have been several metres high. We were delighted that we had got to see this, particularly as it’s a more common event on warmer days. Even better was that as the day wore on the same thing happened at least five times. We were even lucky enough to capture it on video!
Eventually it was time to head back to the bus where the other four people on our tour looked considerably dryer and warmer than us. We didn’t care about that in the slightest, we had squeezed every moment from Perito Moreno. The evening was spent with two Frenchies and a couple of Colombian’s, all good company. The following morning it was time for us to get back on the endurance bus and return to Bariloche. Again, time flew by and we were back in my favourite hostel again in no time. Strangely, the hostel was officially closed as the owner had gone away for three weeks. Luckily, I had spoken to some of the residents in advance who had contacted Jorge, the owner, and it was fine for us to stay.
We relaxed the first night, enjoying the company at the hostel, playing lots of cards and lots of table tennis. With the help of Sonia, we decided to camp the next night and followed her advice to hike up to Refugio Frey. After a hit and miss attempt at catching the bus we did eventually get there but had to speed march up the mountain. The views were, once again, absolutely beautiful. The glistening blue lakes, autumnal colours of the trees, leaves on the ground as we walked through the forest which we had to ourselves and then the snow capped, jagged mountains with another lake. We both felt very lucky to be where we were and were glad to have returned to Bariloche even if just for a couple more days. Most of the people at the hostel had warned us about the cold weather at Refugio Frey and advised us not to camp, Sonia thought it would be fine though and anyway, we had brought along the ultimate camping necessity to stave off the cold…whisky!
We enjoyed our cold dinner of more sandwiches, crisps and chocolates and then as the chill set in early evening, we sampled a ‘wee dram’. I’m no whisky connoisseur but I would advise that lying down in a tent is not the best method to drink the stuff. Although it was going down easily enough, an hour or so later and two thirds of the bottle down, we stood up for the first time. On the one hand the whisky was working its magic and we weren’t particularly cold, on the other hand, we were rather drunk. We wandered over to the refugio building and bought a hot chocolate which was delicious until we decided to mix it with, you guessed it, more whisky. Then it was disgusting. The remainder of the evening we passed playing catch in the moonlight and a few games of cards before finally dozing off to sleep. It wasn’t the best nights sleep for either of us. I remember waking up several times thinking ‘How is Al asleep when it’s this cold?’. Once I woke up the following morning, Al asked me the same thing which made me feel a little better.
We enjoyed our last moments at the top and then wandered back down the mountain pass, back to the ski centre where we had started our hike and caught the bus to return to Bariloche. It was nice to be in the warm hostel again and we had our final send off as we didn’t think we would see any of the people from the hostel again. We had a leisurely morning the following day before heading to the terminal where unfortunately Al and I were taking different buses. For Al, he would now be flying solo, the big bird was flying the nest and I waved him off as he took his bus across the border into Chile and to Puerto Montt. Shortly after, it was my turn to board a bus. I was also crossing the border but heading up to Santiago. From there I would take another bus south to a smaller city called San Fernando, finally then catching one more local bus to Tumunan Lodge. For me, it was the end of my backpacking days for now, I was going to be working at the lodge doing maintenance and other activities but that’s another post.