Patagonia Part Two: El Calafate

After an exhausting day of travel, I arrived in Calafate – the most southerly point on my Argentina adventure. On the airport transfer I met two dutch girls, Suzanne and Marloes, who were staying at the same hotel as me, and when we arrived we immediately made plans to go for dinner together. It was so nice to have other people to have dinner and conversation with!

We had dinner at a small pizzeria in town, where I ordered a ham and pineapple (probably the best I have ever tasted!) and the dutch girls opted for a spinach pizza humerously entitled “Green, I love you green”. After dinner we headed straight back to the hotel – we had a very early start the next morning for our glacier tour.

At 8am we were picked up from our hotel to make the 45 minute journey to the port on lake argentina where we would begin our boat tour. When we arrived at the port, we were presented with a rather upsetting reality – it was very windy, and the boat captain was not sure if it was safe to go out to the glacier today. We spent 10 minutes anxiously awaiting a final decision, fearing the worst. However, when the guide returned, he said we were able to go out in the boat afterall, and so we bought our tickets and boarded.

The boat tour began with an extremely rough 20 minutes crossing the widest part of the lake, but once we we reached the smaller channels, it calmed down considerably, and we were able to go out onto the deck and take photos of the scenery, which was absolutely stunning. Large, snow-capped mountains surrounded the lake on almost every side, and as we progressed, icebergs began to appear in the water. It was very beautiful, but it was still extremely windy and cold and being out on deck was a fairly intense experience.

After about an hour, we arrived at the first view of a glacier. This was the Upsala glacier, the second largest in the area. The huge wall of ice was incredible. It ranged from pure white in colour to a deep turquoise blue – this difference in colour reflects the age of the ice – older parts of the glacier are a deeper blue colour. Continuing on we passed more mountains, with a strange contrast between ice, mountain and thick forest. The colours were amazing. One part of the glacier we visited was particularly special. Here only a small edge of the glacier was visible, surrounded on both sides by mountains, with forest at the lower altitudes and snow at the peak. As it is autumn currently, many of the trees are beginning to turn a deep auburn red. A light rain was falling, and this formed the most spectacular rainbow over the glacier. We stopped here for about half an hour, before continuing on to the main attraction – the Perito Moreno glacier.

At the glaciers edge, a 60m wall of ice emerges between the mountains. The top of the glacier was jagged, whilst the walls were much smoother. Occasionally, large chunks of ice would fall from the edge of the glacier and come crashing into the water below. Perito Morena is the 3rd largest of the glaciers in the area, but it is one of the only remaining glaciers that in Argentina that is growing rather than retracting, at a rate of about 7cm a day during the winter months. It is also the only glacier here that is accessible by land.

After about 10 minutes of viewing the glacier, I started to feel rather unwell. I was developing what I now know as my glacier headache! The glacier is so white, it is almost painful to look at without sunglasses, and this combined with the rocking of the boat and the extreme exposure to the elements, started to make me feel quite ill. So I went back inside the boat, and tried to feel better. I spent most of the return journey sleeping, and when we arrived back at the hotel, I felt much better.

My second day in Calafate began with a 2 hour drive back into the national park and to Perito Moreno, this time to view the glacier from land. Along the way we stopped to see flamingos and some condors feeding! Once we arrived at the glacier, I had 3 hours to explore the trails, which offered various views of the glacier, some very close. This time, the ice falling from the glaciers edge was even more dramatic, although unfortunately just as we were leaving we heard a several huge crashes which probably would have been incredible to see up close.

That evening, my last in Calafate, I decided to go out for a meal and some drinks with my new friends, Suzanne and Marloes. We had a nice, if very expensive dinner at a crowded restaurant on the edge of town, and then headed back into the center (if you can call it that!!) to see if we could find anywhere good to go out for a few drinks. We stopped at one bar and had a beer, but it wasn’t very busy and so we decided to move on elsewhere. By this point, I had reached the conclusion that Calafate was an extremely safe town, and after a couple of drinks and in good company, I started to let my guard down. Out of the blue, a man, who I hadn’t even given a second glance to as he walked past us, tried to grab my bag. I’m not entirely sure how, but in the moment, I clung onto my bag, and he pulled me over onto the floor as he tried to run off. Luckily, he gave up and ran away, leaving me bruised and shaken, but with all my personal belongings. Apparently, this was only the second time anyone had been robbed in over 2 years – I must have been very unlucky!

Having calmed down a bit, we went onto another bar as planned – supposedly the most ‘happening’ place in Calafate. The Argentinians are notorios night-owls, so we had been warned that things wouldn’t really heat up until about 2am. So we had a drink and waited. Slowly the bar started to fill up, but with almost exclusively middle-aged men who looked like farmers. At about 2.30am, we gave up and were going to head home when we spotted another bar, and this one was much better. We stayed out drinking and dancing till nearly 6am! Luckily we had been told that there was no check-out time the following day, and my flight wasn’t until 3pm, so I had plenty of time to catch up some sleep before heading over to the next stop on my tour – Iguazu.

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