Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, March 11, 2012

El Calafate – Perito Moreno Glacier

We arrived without a hitch at the Bus Terminal in El Calafate around 5 PM and with a little pushiness got a taxi that took us to our Hostel Del Glaciar on Av Libertator (careful, there are 2 hostels with the same name). This fairly new Hostel is a great place.
Glenda in BA had booked it for us and yes, the Hostel Del Glaciar received a call from Dingbat who did not cancel our first day, but moved the whole 4 days we had booked one day forward.
So instead of cancelling the 18th of Feb as I told Dingbat to do, they moved all our days starting now on the 19th. Ok, we can live with that, we just have to cancel the last day now because we have airline tickets booked for a flight to Ushuaia on the 22nd.
Bruno at Hostel Del Glaciar was very helpful. But he could not refund me the money because I did not book the Hostel. It was booked by Supernova, the travel agency, and only Supernova can be refunded. So for that to happen, I contacted Glenda and she is working on it. Let us see when and if I get the $97. returned. Glenda understands, Bruno understands, I understand - but this is Argentina, do you understand?
Now that we have one day less than planned in El Calafate, we immediately booked the famous boat tour to see the glaciers. There are many glaciers in this area and the most famous of them all is the Perito Moreno Glaciar. Yes, as you can see the name Perito Moreno pops up all the time. There is a town called Perito Moreno, there is a river by that name, a mountain and a glacier, a National Park and who knows what else.
Perito Moreno was the discoverer of this area. He mapped this lonely terrain, he and his men made the area known and famous. Born in BA in 1852 to a wealthy family he started his expeditions at the age of 20. This was the golden age of Argentina when this county was wealthier than the U.S. As director of the Museum of National History he discovered many lakes, mountain ranges and even forgotten indigenous tribes; some of them not so friendly like the Tehuelche. More about them later but the name means ‘fierce’ in their language and they were very tall and war-like. Perito Moreno was captured by a clan of the Tehuelche and sentenced to death but escaped the day before his execution.
He spent his life as a discoverer until his death in 1919. His name can maybe be compared to Lewis and Clark in U.S. history. He loved to chart the unknown; he did this for years and years; loved to prove a point. Honor was given him by Universities but he was most happy on his trips. He realigned the continental divide in the southern part of Argentina.
Perito Moreno helped settle land disputes with Chile and explained why some rivers, previously going East are now going West. (Glacial Ice flows blocked and diverted the rivers which were the boundaries between Argentina and Chile). He was a busy man, a dynamo of Argentina who now has his name on many Argentinean National features.
Our boat trip was the best we could do given our age and physical stamina. There are walking and climbing tours on the glaciers but there is an age limit here, a cutoff date. Nobody over the age of 65 is allowed on those ‘walking’ tours. I could technically have qualified but I preferred the comfy seat on a big boat.
Our pick up by mini bus was at 7 AM and we arrived at the harbor gate on Lake Argentina about 8:10 am.
A mass of people stood already lined up for the cruises leaving from this location. The morning winds were blowing a stiff breeze and standing in line for 20 minutes really chilled me to the bones. Boy, am I glad I am not walking on the Glaciers. It is cold, it is f r e e z i n g cold.
The gates opened up on time and like a herd of cattle, we all rushed to get on board our respective boats.

In addition to the fee of 500 pesos ($120.-) for this tour, there is an additional entrance fee to the National Park of 100 Pesos, which we forgot to pay. But because the masses were so great, the ranger just pushed us past the border check line. We saved that expense.
Finding a good seat on the ship was not that easy, we were among a pushy bunch of people. Our boat, a large Catamaran, held about 250 passengers and the boat was loaded to capacity.
Our official trip began at 9 AM and we were met immediately by icebergs.

Some had a very intense blue color to them. The bergs looked like floating jewels, huge and in every conceivable shape.

As beautiful as those icebergs are, we all know they can be a menace too.

So the boat proceeded slowly at first until we reached more open waters. We were in a canal of some sorts and slipped through a very narrow opening in the rock walls called Boca Del Diablo (throat of the devil) only to be in another channel.
After about 2 hours of just more or less open waters we approached the first glacier named Upsala.
There was no way to get close to this glacier. So many icebergs blocked our way that we could only see the real ice fields, the wall of ice from a far distance. Chunks and chunks of huge bergs blocked us. The temperature was cold, the wind blew hard. Only the most adventuresome folks dared to stand on deck and expose themselves to the chilling winds as we proceeded towards our next stop, the glaciers Bolado and Onelli. Since those glaciers are small compared to the rest of the others we had more or less a drive by for photos only.
Our first look and what most people see on their trip out here is the glacier Spegazzini. Wide and majestic, this river of ice empties itself into an iceberg filled channel that is wide enough for the boat to navigate through. The boat could get fairly close and the sight we had was one of the natural wonders of Nature. I saw a frozen river, flowing down a snow-filled, ice-filled mountainside.
For millennia this process never changes. Nothing stops this river of ice until it can empty itself into a lake or the ocean. Mountains that are in the way will be pushed aside or will be worn and scrubbed away. The frozen water will win in the long run. Slowly, without remorse, the ice moves on until it can finally relieve itself and unload its burden.
While we were there, a loud crack preceded the fall of a small section of the giant ice wall into the channels, which are all part of this huge lake named Lago Argentina, the largest lake in this county with the same name. This glacier is very active; a constant melting in the summer and refreezing in the winter makes for a great visit and an almost guaranteed sighting of chunks of ice falling into the water.
After maybe 30 minutes for taking pictures, for finding the best angle for a once-in-a-lifetime photograph, we moved on to the jewel of the area, the renowned Glaciar Perito Moreno.
Finding our way back through the channels of icebergs, through the channels of rocks to where we were facing the glacier Perito Moreno took a good two hours. People became more daring and the warmth of the middle of the day helped many to be on deck instead of being in the cabin. At one point a rather large wave suddenly gushed over the starboard side of the catamaran and doused a lot of the people with ice water. Carol was one of those who got soaked.
She was lucky; her waterproof parka took the brunt of the wave. It took a long time to dry out the wet jeans however.
Arriving at the highlight of this tour did make some people stop talking. Argentineans are a chatty people and for a moment their natural exuberance was overshadowed by the sheer size of the ice wall facing us.
Our boat kept a respectable distance from the ice wall. We could, theoretically have floated really close to this wall of ice but it would not have been safe.
At any moment huge blocks of ice could have come loose and crushed our boat with no trouble. We looked small compared to this display of Nature. The
wind blowing off the glacier was cold.
At one point the crew of the boat obtained a large piece of ice, a tiny iceberg.
They heaved it aboard and chopped it up and used the ice as ice cubs in drinks one could buy. A larger ‘trophy’ piece was given around to hold and was used as a prop for a photo op. I passed on the drinks but had a picture taken on the bow of the ship amid the winds blowing off the glacier.
It was cold as you can see from the way Carol is bundled up.
It is hard to describe the feelings one gets when faced with huge natural phenomenon. I basically feel so tiny, so unimportant. It is silly actually to even have an opinion. Mother Nature does not really care one way or the other what we think, I believe.
I am always awestruck.
Our return took us back to our starting point and we got to the waiting bus at around 4 PM only to sit and wait for other people who were somehow delayed until 4:30PM.
We were back in the Hostel Los Glaciares at about 5:30 PM.
Just as we were getting warmed up and checking our emails in the lobby of the Hostel, in walked a group of BMW riders.
This group, lead by guides of the Australian Company “Compass Expeditions”, seemed like old friends to us by now. We met them first in Bariloche; one of them seemed to have remembered my lovely face from a GlobeRiders DVD. Then we met again in the town of Perito Moreno just as they were standing in front of their nice hotel. And now we meet them again right here at the Hostel Los Glaciares in El Calafate. We met them three times and I wonder if these meetings have any cosmic significance. So let me add some pictures here and let me say that all of the riders must be good riders.
They did ride on this awful Route 40, some did fall down, all did get dirty and felt cold and felt scared and all of them can now be very proud. John you made it,
Walter Maurer you even rode 2 up on some of these stretches. All of you accomplished an amazing feat. I take my hat off to you. This was not an easy trip but the comments you left about Compass Expeditions were all very positive. I am glad to have met you all. As you can see from the photo the company runs new 650 GS bikes for this tour. The bikes performed perfectly, too and the chase vehicle was a bonus.

After some leftover food from last night’s Parrilla in the kitchen of the Hostel, washed down with a bottle of wine we still had from our wine tour in Mendoza we called it a day.
We crashed into bed at about 11 PM right after we had booked a 4x4 tour for tomorrow morning.

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