February 10 Bus ride to El Calafate
February 11 Glaciar Perito Moreno
February 15 Bus ride to El Calafate, flight to Bariloche
Once you get away from the Andes, much of southern Patagonia looks like this. And most of the roads are not paved, so there is quite a bit of dust. On one of our bus rides through these steppes, every time the bus hit a bump, dust would shower out of the "air-conditioning" unit onto the person in the window seat.
The prime (and basically only) attraction at El Calafate is the Glaciar Perito Moreno. There are about 50 major glaciers in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and Perito Moreno is one of the largest of them.
Perito Moreno is the most active glacier in the region, and it comes very close to a peninsula where there is a very popular viewing area. Here you can watch pieces calve off the glacier and fall into the water.
Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers in the world that is not receding. In fact it has advanced so much recently that since September 2003 it has crossed the narrows of Lago Argentino and run up on the opposite shore, right next to the viewing area. At the time we were there, the dam formed by the glacier had caused the upstream arm of the lake to be seven metres higher than the rest of the lake. But within a month the pressure of that extra water undermined the dam, and on March 14 the ice dam collapsed for the pleasure of a couple of thousand spectators.
When we were researching El Calafate, we noticed a remark in one of our references that said there was an annual festival there in the middle of February. But when we could find no current information about it, we decided not to worry about it. Otherwise we might have avoided the town during that period. So when we returned from our trip to El Chaltén, we got off the bus and found the local military organizations on parade. This was the annual Festival of the Naming of the Lake, and the reason why hostel and airline reservations were difficult to get. The army band was not too bad.