The road is looooooong.
We left El Bolson with heavy hearts as we had really taken to the place, but we headed back on the road with our next destination in mind, El Calafate, and Los Glaciares National Park, yippee!
However to get there we had to endure one of our longest and bumpiest journeys so far, 46 hours down the infamous Routa 40, the longest road in Argentina, which goes from south to north, more than 5000 km. By the end of the journey we felt we had seen a fair whack of it, or as much as we could spy through the muddy windows. A late night departure and soon we were making our way on the bone-shuddering road. We are well used to the long bus journeys by now and the bewildering, seemingly pointless amount of stops the drivers take, often it seems we could get there in half the time. Usually the stops are at 'service' type stations where you can buy all manner of greasy fried snacks, our favourite being the empanada de carne, or beef pie. However, as we were journeying into deepest, darkest Patagonia, where the road stretches into a whole lot of nothing there were no
Cerro Perito Moreno
Sunrise hits the distinctive peak of Cerro Perito Moreno
towns around and our pit stops were taken in very strange places, with nothing but tumbleweed passing by. These stops were in tiny cafes or bars that seemed no more than some farmer's sitting room that they had opened up to the passing traffic, one even had a pet llama wandering around inside. It is very surreal, especially if you have been snoozing away.
Finally we arrived in El Calafate, and were warmly welcomed at our hostel, America del Sur. After a very welcome shower we had some lunch enjoying the views over the lake and to the distant mountains. It was a really nice place to chill out after our arduous journey. The staff at the hostel could not have been more helpful and even booked our trip to the glaciers for the next day.
And so to the Perito Moreno Glacier, we had opted not only to view the glacier but also to take an ice-trek. We set off early in the morning to the National Park and as we arrived were greeted by a spectaculour sunrise that bathed the surrounding snowy mountains in pink light. To get to the glacier, we took a short boat
trip across Lago Argentina, the water was a gorgeous turquoise hue, caused by glacial flour (the sediment from the glacier). On the boat we got our first awe inspiring view of the glacier. Although we have seen so many images of Perito Moreno on postcards and posters (Karen also used to gaze dreamily at it on her computer's screensaver at work) nothing prepared us for just how huge it is. The mass of blue ice suddenly towers above the water and stretches away into the valley as far as the eye can see.
Disembarking from the boat we met our friendly guide and set off around the water's edge towards the glacier to get our crampons fitted, with a quick stop to be told some fun interesting glacier facts:
• The terminus of the Perito Moreno Glacier is 5 km wide, has an average height of 60 meters above the surface of the water, with a total ice depth of 170 meters!
• One cubic metre of glacial ice weighs around 1 ton!
• The Perito Moreno Glacier moves around 2 metre per day, although it loses mass at around the same rate so is one
of the few glaciers that is not retreating!
• At its deepest part, the glacier goes 700m deep!
So crampons fitted, we took our first steps onto the ice. By being on the ice we could really appreciate just how dense and vast the ice is. We trudged up and down over icy hills, over deep crevasses and around blue sink holes. It felt like a totally alien environment as if we were in another world. The colours in the crevasses and pools were so blue, they were almost hypnotic. We would liked to have spent all day exploring the strange beautiful landscape. However, all too soon our ice adventure was over, and we arrived at the end of the trek where we were treated to a dram of whisky on the rocks - with extremely old glacial ice in it. This certainly hit the spot and went down easily! Back on terra firma we had our packed lunch on the beach enjoying a privledged view of the glacier, very much still in awe of our surroundings. After lunch we went to the viewing platform overlooking the North Face of the glacier for some more stunning views and
lots of snaps. We both loved the whole experience and appreciated how lucky we were to experience walking on something so ancient. When you think about just how old the ice is it is very thought provoking.
We wanted to do some hiking in the National Park and had heard from fellow travellers that the place to do this was in nearby El Chalten, to the Fitz Roy Massif.
Back on the bumpy Routa 40 again, this time only a 4 hour jaunt which was teeth chattering due to the uncemented road and the freezing temperature. As mentioned earlier, bus journeys are frequently interrupted for food stops and toilet stops at strange places but one worthy of mention on this journey was the La Leona Hotel. Here in 1905 3 gringos stayed in their accommodation later to be revealed as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and wife Ethel. They had also housed many intrepid mountaineers exploring the surrounding area of which we were the latest!
El Chalten is a small, windy village set in a valley surrounded by mountains and glaciers. It is most famous for the Cerro Torres and Fitz Roy mountains. As the town
is so isolated it has a very 'end of the world' feel to it. We imagined that it would be hard living here through the harsh winters. The supermarkets were empty but for mayonnaise and bleach, thankfuly someone had warned us and we had brought some rations. We ended up being popular in the hostel as we had a supply of teabags!
All buses arriving in El Chalten are stopped at the National Park information centre where passengers are given a talk on the surroundings, advice and rules on environmental sustainability and local wildlife. We found this really interesting and useful and thought it would be great to see happen in other areas of outstanding beauty.
Luckily we had arrived on a beautiful, sunny day and the Fitz Roy peak was visible above the town. We decided to make the most of the weather and not waste any time getting up into the hills. We chose a walk that offered great views of the spire like peaks and over into another valley overlooking lake Viedma. Here we were lucky enough to see condors soaring elegantly above us. While Karen returned to the hostel to prepare a brew, Tony
managed another wee walk to a nearby waterfall for some snaps in the fading light.
The next day we started out early for a longer trek to Laguna Torre and Glacier Grande. We have really been enjoying the forests in Argentina and this walk was no different, the trees again were glorious in their autumn colours. We also spotted a family of woodpeckers through the trees pecking away happily. They were a lot bigger than we imagined! After a long but easy walk along the valley we scrambled over a rocky rise to be met by Laguna Torre, a beautiful lake with icebergs bobbing around and Glacier Grande dominating at its far end. Unfortunately the wind and rain really picked up here, and we were very exposed so after a few snaps we continued around the lake to get closer to the glacier. This was a hard walk as the wind got even stronger and was wipping around us almost blowing us off the trail. Later, once snug in the hostel we agreed it was one of the best walks we've done.
We managed one more walk on the morning before we had to catch our bus back
to El Calafate. This took us to Laguna Capri where Karen spotted a large bird of prey sitting watching us only metres away. Tony took some snaps thinking it would fly off soon, but the big fella sat quite happily next to us totally unperturbed. This is definately one of our closest encouters with wildlife yet, and was a very special moment, we are beginning to feel like real pro twitchers. We have now identified it as a Crested Caracara.
El Chalten was a great place for walking with stunning views, and fully deserves its status as the National Trekking Capital. Well worth the visit and a rewarding few days.
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