February 14th, 2008 – by: andycox_is_now_in
Sacrificed the much needed lie in to start the journey back north to El Calafate with time starting to run very short before my inevitable return home. The drive through Patagonia exactly as imagined with a mass expanse of bleak desert scrub land too windy for the smallest tree to grow, but with an amazing backdrop of a chain of mountains stretching into the horizon and a chain of azure blue lakes in the foreground. Impressive wilderness but not inviting to live. Cruised through the border crossing back into Argentina, leaving Chile for the last time on this trip. The planned lazy day didnt materialise as the bus journey took much longer than expected and was 3pm by the time we rolled in to El Calafate.
A big tourist destination for Argentinians - quite a small town with the main street a procession of wooden artisan shops selling predicatable souvenirs, only interrupted by overpriced cafes giving it a very attractive feel but not much character. Found somewhere to eat before checking out prices for trips for the main purpose of the visit - Perito Moreno (Moreno Glacier). Buses surprisingly expensive and worked out cheaper to hire a car for the day between the 4 of us. With the paperwork done and everyone drained from the past week, Siggy cooked a meal in the hostel and had a chilled evening.
Up early again, this time to get to Moreno Glacier before the hoards arrived. Made the 30 minute drive to beat the park rangers and save ourselves the 40 pesos (£6) each entry fee for the park.
Got to the top of the mirador for the glacier by 7.40 and although daylight, sun only just starting to hit the mountain behind the glacier. Moreno Glacier itself, as the only remaining advancing glacier in the world lived up to expectations with a 60 metre wall of ice (3km wide) facing you and stretching back into the mountain range. Just a small channel of lake (which the glacier regularly cuts off) between it and the mainland the mirador stands. The whole front of the glacier varying shades of blue with a small section at the base of the middle a deep turquoise. The top of the glacier much cleaner than Po Xi and Grey Glacier with less dust giving it a glow in the dawn light. Famed for the amount of activity with shards of ice breaking off, we weren't disappointed as in the 1st 10 minutes of watching the glacier a 5 metre slab, then 30 metre slab and a 15metre chunk of the face of the glacier broke away and crashed into the lake below.
Created a big impact as they hit the water, but an even bigger wave as the iceberg resurfaced sending a tidal wave across the 30 metre channel to the mainland. Definitely one of the most impressive sights of the trip. As the sun moved across the glacier giving it an orange glow, sounds a constant gunfire across the valley as further breaks occurred in the out of sight crevasses and valleys in the glacier field. Walked down to the lowest mirador with the glacier towering above, to watch the sun hit the front of the glacier making it appear even bluer with little streams of water cascading down the face as ice started to melt. Having been watching the glacier for 2 hours, starting to go numb with cold and we decamped to the coffee shop to warm up.
From the warmth of our coffees, watched as a procession of coaches turned up to ruin the peacefulness. Returned to view the glacier but not the same surrounding by hundreds of tourists and hard to find a space to view. After another half hour with no further activity of fractures on the glacier (very lucky to have seen 3 chunks fall off so early), decided to head back and leave the crowds to it. Bumped into Tina (Aconcagua). Made shool boy error by saying we had hired a car and Tina promptly asked for a lift back to El Calafate (should have saw it coming having hitch hiked with her in Puerta Inca). A little cramped in the back of the Golf with Tina, Siggy and I in the back seat, but Tina and Siggy both from Berlin and both happy to get the chance to speak German.
Drove through the Patagonian wilderness and found a nice spot by a river in the middle of nowhere for a scenic lunch stop. Nice weather and chilled out. Joel and I took up a conversation with Siggy and Tina about the pros and cons of Adolf Hitler and the impact of Jews in German history. Apparently Mein Kampf is still illegal to be sold in Germany (I own a copy) and interesting to discuss the topic and understand what Germans are taught about European history in the 1st half of the 20th century - all very amicable until Joel (in jest) starting singing the theme of Dambusters and The Great Escape!! Returned to hostal to find that completely coincidentally, the Navimag girls had checked into the same hostal as us. As it was Valentines day, we all agreed to go out for a meal together.
Tom was going to cook the girls salmon in the hostal but soon talked him out of that and to side with us and go for an eat all you can steak BBQ. Joel and I finally finished off the asbynthe from Mendoza
before going out. Joel being mischievous and set Chris and I up for a steak challenge. Not the most mature thing to be doing in pleasant female company on Valentines day but we weren't for backing down. Starting to get full when the chef refused to serve us any more ! Definitely the last night with the Navimag girls before I headed up to El Chalten
and fly on to Buenos Aires
(whereas they were heading down to Ushuaia) so stayed up chatting with their stocks of wine before final farewells and promises to stay in touch through Facebook until their return to England/Scotland.