Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate, Argentina (4 days)

On our bus from Puerto Natales was Byron, a fellow British Columbian from Kelowna who we first met in a hostel in Ushuaia. Travelling north is great because we are starting to run into people we have met before on the same travel plan as us. Byron had in the meantime been to Antartica and back, so we got to oogle over his pictures on the bus ride. Antartica looks magical, with glaciers that tower over big boats, and him getting to explore lots of penguin and seal colonies in zodiac boats. He said it wasn´t nearly as cold as you would imagine. Byron also visited some spots where historical explorers had been and had some great stories to tell us of heroism and hardship in the far south.

El Calafate welcomed us with lots of tall poplar trees rustling in the wind under a big blue sky. Can´t recall when we last saw big trees, and whole bus ride was dirt road and yellow grassland for as far as you can see, as usual down here. El Calafate is located on a blue lake with mountains in the distance. It is the most touristy place that we have yet been, with lots of shops selling comparatively expensive gifts, and here you can get real brewed coffee in fancy coffee shops and even more ´north american´type food (we were actually able to find a place selling eggs for breakfast). Highlights of El Calafate were an amazing lunch that we splurged on in a fancy restaurant (tender lamb, roast potatoes, apple crisp), endulging in real coffee (everyone just gives you instant here), and a shop with good homemade chocolate. Also it was fun to shop for once, and one little group of shops was cool architecturally with a grass roof garden on the shops with river rocks.

We chose to stay in a hostel here that our guide book called ´a log cabin on steroids´! It was. Once in, we met a nice-seeming (forewarning, yes) Israeli guy, Natan, who was travelling on his own. We had heard from Mary and Brian on the Torres hike that in El Calafate, it is cheaper to rent a car than to take the tour buses out to see the highlight of this area, the Perito Moreno Glacier. So thus, Ali and I, Byron, Natan and an Irish girl who was also on our bus from Puerto Natales, Aisling, all did a little research and committed to hiring a car the next day.

The next morning, there we were driving around Argentina on the dirt roads, able to stop whenever we wanted (a luxury no tour bus will afford), and loving it. Had the tunes on the radio and an overwhelming feeling of freedom. We drove to a lake that is next to the glacier upon someone´s suggestion, but it really wasn´t special at all. On the way we stopped the car to all get out and try to get photos of the condors flying overhead- they´re huge! In the afternoon we headed to the glacier and it is every bit as spectacular as the photos suggest. The Perito Moreno Glacier is an impressively huge one that ends abruptly in a lake with a massive 60meter face of ice. There, pieces of it fall off and crash down to the water below. You see it happen before you hear it, it´s an awesome experience. We spent a good three hours just sitting and taking it all in.

So then, when we were ready to go, we all said ´where´s Natan??´ And thus we waited for two hours for this guy, worried that he might have got lost (how??). So basically, after some research at his hostel that night and the next day, we came to the conclusion that he hitched a ride back from the glacier to get out of paying for the car, and he also snuck out of the hostel to avoid paying them. What a guy!


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