February 11, 2004

Argentina flagUp early once again—what kind of vacation is this? Anyway, after a quick breakfast of tea, bread, and jam the tour bus picked us up, on time, at 7:15 am to go up to the Perito Moreno Glacier. The tour cost us 50 pesos each, but that was for basically the whole day.

After picking up passengers at other hostels all over town, the bus was soon on the road. It went along the old, more scenic, route to the park while Mariano, our guide, gave us a descriptive narrative. We were able to get out and take pictures as well. Once again the road was under construction, but we weren’t delayed much.

Before long we were entering Parque Nacional de los Glaciares, where we paid our park entrance fee of 20 pesos and received park brochures. The Perito Moreno Glacier is not the largest glacier in the park, but it is one of the most spectacular and one of the easiest to access, so that is where the tours go. It is one of the few glaciers in the world that is advancing rather than retreating, and recently it has advanced so much that it has crossed Lago Argentino and run aground on the opposite shore. This happened last September and already the blocked-off arm of the lake is seven metres higher than the rest of it.

The foot of the glacier is now right next to the public viewing areas, then. The bus dropped us at the beginning of a walking trail, where Mariano led us on a little hike. We had views of the glacier face, which is 40 to 50 metres high with chunks calving off impressively from time to time. The hike climbed higher and higher until we reached the top of the observation area, which has a view along the 14-km length of the glacier, back to its source mountains, which were almost always in clouds.

Here we were on our own until 3:45 pm, when we had to be back at this same place to get the bus. We walked down to the first “balcon” and had our lunch. From there we had several choices of where to go, “balcons” at various levels connected by stairs and boardwalks. The further down you went the closer to the glacier you got, until at the bottom level you were very close to the foot of the glacier. Perhaps the glacier will overrun the bottom level in a few months if it continues to advance at its current rate.

The glacier itself is a fantastic blue colour and is made up of columns of ice. When chunks of it broke off, which happened quite often, there were loud crashes and huge waves as they fell into the water. Because of this the tour boats have to keep well back from the glacier; we had a better view than they did, so we didn’t regret saving the money a boat trip would have cost. Instead we spent most of the afternoon waiting for the glacier to calve, and managed to photograph some of those events.

The bus ride back took the new route, so we were back in El Calafate by around 6 pm and we both slept most of the way. It dropped us off at the hostel, where we completed planning for the next few days. Tomorrow we go to El Chaltén, not far away (a four-hour bus ride) to see Cerro Torre and Monte FitzRoy, Argentina’s rivals to Torres del Paine. And then to Bariloche, at some time, somehow.

Bariloche is 1200 km north of here. There are three ways to get there: first, there is the occasional direct bus that follows the unpaved Ruta Nacional 40 through the steppes for four days. We already knew what that was like and didn’t want four days of it. Second, there is the roundabout bus ride over to the coast and back to Bariloche, two days in length with a 12-hour layover in tourist-unfriendly Comodoro Rivadivia. Third, there are a couple of airlines, which fly from El Calafate to Bariloche in about two hours for a cost of about 430 pesos.

The cost of the flight was only a few pesos more than the cost of the bus, so we decided to fly. Clearly many other people had made the same decision, as flights were hard to get. At Rumbo Sur we booked a flight for February 15 at 4:05 pm, which gave us three days at El Chaltén. Next we went to the bus company to book our return bus trip, and our planning was complete.

Now that we had taken care of those details, we decided to buy the wooden birds that Rosemary’s Internet acquaintance Diane had asked her to get. We bought some for ourselves as well, so that was taken care of. Tonight we ate dinner out, at a restaurant (whose name we forget) serving meat. Paul had lamb chops and Rosemary had steak, which were both really good, and we both ordered salads, which we shared. The total bill was 30 pesos. We were entertained by a singer-guitarist who tried to sell us his CD and then passed the hat. He was reasonably good, too.

Back at the hostel we reorganized our packs for the trip to El Chaltén, and put the rest of our stuff into a bag that went into storage (a heap under the stairs) at the hostel. We double-checked our bus reservations, grabbed a computer and sent off some e-mails, and got to bed about 11:15 pm.

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