El Calafate, capital of the glaciers

From the end of the world I moved on to a place that seemed like it was at the end of the world. El Calafate is in the middle of nowhere, but beyond the town are scenes that are unbelievable.
From Ushuaia, after waiting for too long for a flight to avoid a massive bus-driven detour, I got a flight with LADE. They’re cheap! But, with the low price seems come a lack of advanced flying machinery. The plane we flew on somehow made me feel that the Wright brothers would’ve been better pilots than the ex-airforce flyman we had at the stick. It was a Fokker F-28, well at least that’s what it said on the window!

After spotting the plane on the runway from the departure lounge and listening to announcements I realised that this plane was flying to 3 destinations. Quite aptly (from travellers’ tales) a fellow Dutch traveller described LADE as a Bolivian bus service in the sky. The poor people flying to Buenos Aires had to fly from Ushuaia via El Calafate and Comodoro Rivadavia before making their way to BA. Shame! Well, the flight was another story altogether. Flying with them made me want to take a nice long bus ride. I felt like a LEGO man in a model aircraft at some Sunday fair. And, looking out the window, I was absolutely positive that the engine on the right was not working! Again, a comforting remark from another traveller was: “At least it doesn’t have propellers like the last one I flew on!” But, we landed safely and with a few other travellers it was off to find a taxi to the much recommended America del Sur hostel.
When we arrived we were greeted by the friendliest staff, and a million shoes at the door. This is to keep the hostel free from the dust that flies around in the middle of nowhere. A very nice hostel indeed. Floors were heated and each room (4 bed dorms) had a private bathroom. There was, like most other hostels, a kitchen, etc. But the friendliness of the staff made it quite pleasant. They organised everything, and after a very convincing talk from Dolo, it was decided to do a mini Trek on the Moreno glacier the next day.
After asking around it seemed the other travellers didn’t share the same affinity for gastronomic tourism that I have! So, I decided after much umming and aaahing in my mind to eat alone. After a reccommendation from the staff it was off to my favourite kind of restaurant, the tenedor libre. Yes you guessed it – all-you-can-eat! Rick’s Cafe was the place and Cordero (lamb) was the order of the day! Lots and lots of lamb. I think they thought I was mad after practically devouring a poor innocent Patagonian lamb on my own! But, man, the lamb was good. A French couple came and sat at the table next to me and I ended up actually translating their order for them, that’s how bad their Spanish was. Or, maybe that’s how good mine was… After supper, back to the hostel and a pretty early night.
An organised bus came to fetch us in the morning and off to the glacier it was – all in a very full bus were very excited. We got the the first viewpoint and the sight was amazing, never in my life have I seen anything like it! Just a mass of ice, so big, there seemed to be no end! Then we drove on and got to a jetty to get onto the boat. We took a trip right across the face of the glacier to the other side of a part of Lago Argentino. We reached the other side and met the guides waiting for us. It was then up to the glacier to get crampons (The spikes for your shoes) to walk on the ice. Then we started the most amazing walk – not too tough, but so amazing. Passed mountain sized hills of ice and glacial waters that taste good, better than any boiled water. The formations are amazing and every pebble and bit of sand that has blown onto the glacier forms a small sinkhole that gets bigger and bigger with time and creates little streams of water from the melting ice.
The Moreno glacier is apparently the most impressive in the area, but is not even the biggest, which I still cannot believe cosidering the sheer size of it. The face of the glacier is 55m-60m high, about 2/3km across and stretches for over 60km backwards if I remember corectly! As explained by the guide, glaciers are not formed from frozen water, but are compacted snow that stays frozen through the summer and allows more and more snow to fall and compact. If it forms on a mountain it then sldes down the mountain and moves slowly due to gravity. The Moreno glacier is stable – it gains 2m and loses 2m every day – and is one of only a few in the world. Pieces fall off the front al the time and it makes an amzing sound – like gunshots. Some pieces look like pebbles, but taking into account they are falling down the face of a massive glacier, they could be as big as 1m-5m!
This thing really is worth a visit and I recommend it highly along with all my other recommendations to travel to this great country.


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