Our 27 hour bus journey turned into 30 hours due to the over-the-top passport checkpoints that we had to go through as we passed through the different regions in Argentina. But as we had booked our tickets early we secured cama seats which are bigger and far more comfy than the semi-cama that we usually have. Given our long journey we arrived into sunny El Calafate feeling pretty good.
The main reason people visit this small town is for the nearby Los Glaciares National Park which contains the Perito Moreno Glacier. Although very expensive we decided to join a day tour to the glacier to experience this beast for real and hike on the ice.
As we drove through the National Park we gained glimpses of the glacier, it was far larger than we had anticipated. For the first part of our tour we roamed the 4 km of balcony structure which is erected in front of the glacier. We literally stood, watched and listened for two hours. Completely absorbed by this ever changing ice mass.
This mammoth chunk of ice measures 30 km in length and a depth of 170 m, 75 m of this is above the water surface. It has a whooping volume of 250km3 and unlike other glaciers around the world it is classified as stable. The glacier advances at an astonishing rate of 1.5 m daily but is returned to equilibrium by the huge chunks of ice that constantly break off and smash into the water below. This makes for some fantastic viewing, the gunshot sounds of the cracking ice echoes through the valley and has the crowd gasping.
Next was a boat trip on the lake in front of the glacier, here we felt completely dwarfed as we cruised fairly close to the cracking walls of ice. The boat docked near the north face of the glacier where we disembarked and took a walk to the side of the glacier. Our guide spoke excellent English and told us how the glacier is formed - which in a nutshell is as a result of continuously falling snow in the Andes that is compressed into ice and forced down the mountain by gravity.
Next we had crampons strapped to our shoes and we began our 90 minute hike on the glacier. The surface was very hard and sharp, the aim of the game not to fall as you would cut yourself.
We saw many different features on the glacier including deep fissures and holes where ice was melting and creating unique structures. We took a drink from the freshly melted ice and enjoyed the intense blue glow that was produced by the reflection of ice.
Just before the tour ended we enjoyed a glass of Scotch on the rocks (freshly carved of course) and a chocolate biscuit at the make shift bar that had been set up on the ice. It was a lovely touch and a fantastic end to a surprisingly tiring day!
After our two nights in El Calafate where we stayed in a very comfy hostel and enjoyed the cooking of the hostel owner each night, we head back across the Chilean border to Puerto Natales.