A sunny welcome and skies greeted us as we arrived at El Calafate. Named after the local Patagonian dark blueberry-cherry tasting berry, that apparently once eaten, means you are guaranteed to return to these lands.
Crossing the bridge into town, surveying the neatly groomed and tree lined main street, Ave San Martin, we couldn’t help but compare it to Santa Barbara, of all places. A wholesome tourist Mecca and excellent entry point to the wilds of Patagonia and the Campo de Hielo Sur, the third largest ice field in the world, the Main Street is dotted with cutesy, pine fronted souvenir shops selling relatively tasteful tat (an oxymoron I know), plenty of outdoor shops; Patagonia (natch) and Northface, leaders in the pack, plus several hand-made chocolate shops. Two mini museums offered a snapshot on the lived of Eva Perez and more locally renowned, the philanthropist and explorer Francisco Moreno.
We scoffed empanadas, gooey queso y chambola, carne and spicy pollo, washed down with an ice cold beer. Bliss.
After our blow out Antarctica trip, we were tightening our belts and swapping apartment stays with hostels and camping for this leg of our adventure. We based ourselves as the the very hospitable Hospedaje Lautaro, swapping (cheffie) stories with Belen and Dario over our first mate … Easy to see why Katy had recommended their home cum hostel, from her travels.
We enjoyed a fabulous home cooked supper of tranche, straight from nearby Lago Argentino and masses of grilled vegetables, all washed down with a bottle, erm of two, of Malbec.
Perito Moreno Glaciar called and we set off early next morning to view what should be one of the great wonders of this world. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is stunning centrepiece in the ice field, some 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high (above the surface) PLUS it is one of the only three ‘stable’ glaciers in the world; what is lost to ice-melt is regained and it creeps forward up to 2m a day!
Once again we were a little lost for words as we gazed at it’s majesty. The light played on the walls of ice and we could clearly see ‘strata’ lines where new ice had been compacted upon old, craggy fissures and blue tinged seraks. More than just a visual experience, we held our breath every time we heard the cracking thunder of ice carving from the glacier, as it pushed and crept forward, hoping to capture the miraculous sight….
All that was missing was the bucket of popcorn!
Like many before us we took up the opportunity with both feet to walk on the ice. Hielo Adventura are the main outfit that run the operation and a grand job they do with knowledgeable guides who truly are mountain men at heart. We were given an informative brief before skirting the forest and heading towards the huts posted on the moraine – time to get fitted with crampons.
Gingerly we followed Walther’s footsteps as he made easy progress up onto the edge of the ice field. Granular with ice melt, it took us a while to get a rhythm going as we practised walking like John Wayne to avoid falling over our feet.
A sculpted, moving river of ice, we passed gaping crevasses opened up as the ice moved over rocks on the valley floor, sink holes of water draining and spiralling its way some 40-50m below where we stood, spiky pillars and softer cones of moulded ice. Even on a grey cloudy day the glacier was an incredible mix of Bols blue and aquamarine in places, with the light refracting on the compressed air bubbles, or lack of.
After an hour or so we rounded a hill and spied a table neatly set with glasses. It was the end of our walk and time to toast to our mini ice adventure… Nico, our second guide, wielded his pick axe and hacked away, deftly scooping his efforts into a bowl and theatrically throwing it all over the neatly lined up glasses…. Scotch on the purest rocks, you could hope for. Cheers!