So, onto El Calafate. Like Bariloche, it’s much more geared up to a wealthy Argentine crowd and rich (or short of time) tourists who fly in (as opposed to humble backpackers such as myself who trudge everywhere by bus) from Buenos Aires for two days to see one thing, the Perito Moreno glacier about 50 miles out of town. And who can blame them, this thing is BIG. First seen by Western eyes in 1879, it extends down from the Patagonian ice field (3rd largest in the world after Antartica and Greenland fact fans) and covers 257 km2. It rises 60m above the waters of Lago Argentina (itself the largest lake in the country) and its North and South faces are 5km long. If all that wasn’t enough it’s the only stable glacier in the world. While all others are shrinking in the face of global warming, this one keeps marching on. Can you tell I did a tour yesterday?
And what a tour. The basic option is to get to the park, stand on the 2 viewing balconies about 100m from the front of it and just watch. Because all glaciers move (even the shrinking ones) big chunks of ice are constantly falling off the front edge with an almighty roar, a huge splash and hundreds of tourists frantically turning their cameras on to take pictures of the ripples, having missed the fall itself. I did this for a bit, then we were all marched back onto the bus to catch a boat over to the other side of the lake where we walked for an hour or so through the woods alongside it, then put on our crampons, had a little lesson in crampon technique (duck feet going up, monkey legs going down) and headed onto the glacier itself. For 3 hours we tramped around, across crevasses, up and down little slopes, past streams,waterfalls, pools, ice caves (complete with ice slide weeeeee!) and ice. A whole lot of ice. It was magical.