Published: August 10th 2007April 3rd 2007
So, after the whistle stop tour of Iguazu we found ourselves flying almost the length of the country to visit El Calafate in Patagonia. By this stage we thought our Spanish was coming along nicely, then we met the fastest talking taxi driver in the west. Well the south, technically. Between the airport and the quite fantastic hostel he averaged three thousand words per second.
Arriving after a long day of travelling and a tiring 20 minute taxi journey trying to make out any of what the driver was saying it was great to arrive at probably the best hostel we've stayed in anywhere. America del Sur was to be our home for the next week and a base from which to explore some of Patagonia's seemingly endless delights, both culinary and visual.
Our first trip combined the two nicely as we headed for the quite ridiculously enormous Upsala Glacier (it's 4 times the size of Buenos Aires!!) by boat. We couldn't get too close to the face of the glacier on the boat as there is a risk of pieces of ice dropping off. Well, not really pieces as much as the whole 4km face. Which would create
a wave big enough to cause more than a few problems.
Having marvelled for a while at the sheer scale of this monster of ice, the boat turned and weaved it's way back through the icebergs that pepper the lake and headed for Estancia Cristina, a farm, reachable only by boat, where we would be picked up by 4x4s and taken to the top of one of the mountains surrounding the lake to get a different view of the glacier.
It was a superb sight, when you were able to stay standing with your eyes open in the wind for long enough to see the lake and glacier below. After several photographs and much childish standing in the wind with your arms out wide pretending to fly, we headed back down the mountain for lunch in the estancia.
And what a lunch. Several local lambs had kindly donated themselves to a huge asado - a large open fire over which the whole animal is smoked. Lovely if you're of a vegetarian persuasion! Clearly Andrew isn't. It's quite possible that he consumed an entire lamb on his own in an impressive display of stomach capacity. More ice,
They really are that colour. It's amazing
Suitably impressed by Upsala, we decided it was only right to see it's little cousin, Perito Moreno (only the same size as Buenos Aires!).
What it lacks in size it makes up for in drama, with large chunks regularly falling off the face and into the lake, much to the delight of the hundreds of people gathered on the network of walkways designed to give you a close up view.
Not satisfied with getting this close, we felt the need to get on the ice itself. It was a little less arduous than the rope climbing, step cutting trek on Franz Josef in New Zealand, but gave a wonderful sense of the scale of Perito Moreno. And let's face it, we didn't get whisky on Franz Josef. Every member of our group was handed a Famous Grouse with ice freshly cut from the glacier. Quite possibly the coldest alcohol we'll ever drink. Fitz Roy massif in da house
After many long deliberations about whether to head to Torres del Paine in Chile or up to El Chalten we settled on an overnight to Chalten which would allow us some time to get some trekking in, rather
than sitting on a bus for hour after hour.
Which was probably just as well given the jostling for ideal photo position on our bus to Chalten. Everyone without fail was impressed by the site of the Fitz Roy massif. And quite a few were impressed by the sight of Robert's flashy lenses.
On arrival in Chalten the bus detours to the National Park Administration office where you're given a talk on how to preserve the park and where the best walks are. Something that wouldn't go amiss at the entry to the Cairngorms at home.
We took the advice of our friendly guide and avoided the walk that had a 'steepy' ending and instead took the afternoon to reach a great viewpoint of Fitz Roy itself. Not a bad spot for David to celebrate his birthday. Celebrations were continued that evening at the local microbrewery, an unexpected gem in a town that is home to just 300 people and has no paved roads.
Thankfully there were no hangovers the following morning as we embarked on a full days walking before catching the bus back to Calafate. After about 4 hours of beautiful scenery we reached
Hang on to your hat
Andy nearly loses his headwear at the Upsala viewpoint
Laguna Torre at the face of yet another glacier. It's hard to do justice to the view as we emerged over the top of the final rock pile to find ourselves at the edge of the Laguna and surrounded by stunning peaks. Robert won the best picture competition for the day with Patagonia Paradise.
Nobody really wanted to head back to El Calafate after the taste of the scenery in El Chalten. David and Carolyn had already made up their minds to return. We were all consoled slightly by a visit to one of the multitude of chocolate shops in El Calafate. We can highly recommend Calafate Berry flavour although it may be slightly difficult to get hold of at home.
Wanting to squeeze the most out of every last moment of their trip, Jane, Andrew and Karen went off for a little horse riding and a sample of national favourite Mate, the ubiquitous tea drunk by everyone, everywhere, at all times. If you don't like it you're not a proper Argentinian.
And so suddenly it was time for the family to head home (via Buenos Aires, Uruguay and Madrid). We made sure they would be thinking
Tip of the iceberg
There's 85% more below the water you know
about us though, packing their bags full of all the things we no longer wanted to carry with us. We knew there was a reason for them coming over...
There are more photos below