The Journey from Hell to the Magical Land of the Glaciers

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July 27th 2009
Published: August 23rd 2009
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Puerto Madryn to El Calafate

Puerto Madryn --> Rio Gallegos --> El Calafate

The magnificent Perito Moreno glacierThe magnificent Perito Moreno glacierThe magnificent Perito Moreno glacier

Los Glaciares national park, southern Patagonia

Tuesday 21st July

We looked out the window of our hostel in Puerto Madryn. The weather was starting to change for the worse, the wind was picking up and the rain was getting heavier. We were starting to panic - our taxi had still not arrived. It was now 6.25pm, the bus station was 10 minutes away and our bus was due to leave at 6.40pm. "C'mon, we can't wait any longer" yelled Gaston, as he ran to the door with Ryan in his arms, "I'll drive you". We grabbed our backpacks and chased after them down the driveway. Just as we were getting into the car, our taxi pulled up to the kerb.

On reaching the bus station, we jumped out of the taxi, threw the driver 10 pesos and ran into the terminal praying our bus would still be there. We looked down the platforms - there was no sign of it. We raced up to the Andesmar office desperately hoping that the bus was late. "Una hora más" said the clerk. "Pheww, that was close" we thought, as we both sighed with relief.

A little after 8pm, we were safely on the bus and on our way. The bus was packed. It had already travelled 20 hours from Buenos Aires and it would be another 20 hours until we reached Rio Gallegos. An hour into the journey, we reached Trelew, our first stop on the way to Rio Gallegos. Usually, these stops take just 15 minutes as passengers are dropped off and picked up. However, this stop was taking longer.....a lot longer. We ended up spending nearly an hour at Trelew station before finally driving off.... By now, we were starting to realise that there was no hope of us making our connecting bus the following day at Rio Gallegos (there are only 2 buses a day from there to El Calafate, the last one leaving at 2pm). "Oh well", we thought, "we'll have to stay the night in Rio Gallegos and catch a bus to Calafate the following morning".

After leaving Trelew station, we headed out of town and onto the highway....only to stop again half an hour later at a bus depot down the road! By this stage it was 10.30pm and we were not much more than an hour into the 20-hour journey. We were starting to feel a bit deflated. After
Blue IceBlue IceBlue Ice

Detail of the massive blue iceberg we passed on our way to Onelli Bay
30 minutes at the bus depot, we eventually started moving again. Great, we're finally on our way!


"I don't believe it, we're back in f*'king Trelew!"

Yes, back to Trelew bus station again. But not to pick up or drop off passengers - this time the bus parked up at the back of the terminal. And stayed there... For the night! At this point, we weren't sure what was going on. We thought there must be some kind of mechanical problem with the bus. There was no announcement of any kind or no sign of our bus attendant. At any rate, it was now 11.30pm and most of the passengers were asleep, so nobody even noticed.

Wednesday 22nd July

The following morning, we woke up and tried to find out what was going on. "We should know more in an hour", said the bus attendant. Then at 11.30am, we left Trelew and hit the road. To the bus depot again! "OK, they must be stocking up on supplies" we thought. Wrong! After leaving the bus depot, we ended up back in Trelew bus station again!!

By now, there were a few buses lined up
Close-up of Spegazzini glacierClose-up of Spegazzini glacierClose-up of Spegazzini glacier

The tallest glacier in Los Glaciares national park
at the station. The cause of our troubles was also starting to become apparent, as it began to snow quite heavily. All the while, the attendant kept saying "We'll know more in an hour". So, not wanting to stray too far from the bus in case of any news, we spent our time walking around the car park and drinking watered-down coffee in the bus station, while the locals frantically plugged phones into every available socket in the terminal! Finally, at around 4pm or 5pm, we cornered our attendant again and were met with the words "Hoy, no. Mañana, possible." We wouldn't be going anywhere today. While the words sank in, we debated our options. We had already checked out the possibility of flights before leaving Puerto Madryn, but as there are no low-cost airlines in Argentina, the fares aren't cheap. To fly from Trelew to El Calafate would have cost us GBP£95 each one-way. So, we decided to stick it out in the hopes that we would be on our way early the next morning. Another fun-filled night at Trelew bus terminal ensued.

Thursday 23rd July

We woke up on Thursday morning at around 8am and we were
Close-up of Perito Moreno glacierClose-up of Perito Moreno glacierClose-up of Perito Moreno glacier

with the beautiful backdrop of the snowcapped Andes
dismayed to discover that we were still at the bus station. At around 10.30am, we left to make our usual morning drive to the bus depot to stock up on supplies. This time, however, there seemed to be more urgency to the proceedings. But, after having our hopes dashed so many times, we didn't get too optimistic. On arriving back at Trelew though, we pulled up to the platform and an announcement was made that we were finally good to go!

So, after having spent 40 hours on the bus at Trelew bus station, we then travelled 20 hours south to Rio Gallegos where we arrived at the unearthly hour of 6am and had a 6 hour wait until the first bus to El Calafate departed. After another 4 hours bus travel, we eventually reached our hostel in El Calafate at 5pm on Friday - only 2 days late!! We later found out that the snow storm was the first in 70 years to hit Trelew & Puerto Madryn... And that all roads out of the region (both north and south) had been closed by the ice.

The upshot of the storm meant that we now had only
Incredible blue icebergIncredible blue icebergIncredible blue iceberg

The intensity of the blue is due to its age
2 days to see the sights in El Calafate instead of 4 as originally planned. So we decided to cram in as much as possibe into those 2 days and make the journey worth our while.

Perito Moreno Glacier

El Calafate lies in Patagonia's southwestern province of Santa Cruz and is the gateway to Los Glaciares national park, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1981. It's a small isolated town in the middle of the Patagonian steppe on the legendary Ruta 40. We arrived to find dirt roads and hostels that looked like they'd been dropped out of the sky higgledy-piggledy as, apart from one main street, there was no apparent order to the arrangement of buildings or streets. We were immediately enchanted by this remote pueblo on the banks of Lake Argentino with its impressive natural backdrop of encircling mountains.

The first day, we decided to visit the area's most famous attraction; the magnificent Perito Moreno glacier. Our first view of the glacier was breathtaking, as we saw the massive river of ice descending down a narrow arm of Lake Argentino with the imposing Andean Mountains all around. As spectacular as it was though, this view paled in comparison to seeing the glacier up close. We had both seen pictures of the Perito Moreno glacier before coming here, but nothing could have prepared us for the sheer magnitude of the giant wall of ice when we saw it in person. At over 60 metres tall and 5 kilometres long, it truly was the most incredible sight. It was also quite amazing to see its front wall descend into the waters of the lake, as the glaciers we'd seen in New Zealand had both terminated on land.

On top of the spectacular visual impact of the glacier, we also experienced the sound of it as every few minutes a loud thunder of cracking ice could be heard. At each cracking sound, our eyes scanned the glacier’s front wall hoping to see a chunk of ice fall off but the majority of the ice cracking was actually happening inside the glacier itself. Still, it was incredible to hear the sounds of the glacier so close to us, like a cannon firing.

Around Los Glaciares national park

On our second day, we went on a boat trip to see some of the other glaciers in the national park.
The forest at Onelli BayThe forest at Onelli BayThe forest at Onelli Bay

Some of the most dreamlike scenery we've ever seen!
When we boarded our boat at the port, it was still dark but as we sailed along Lake Argentino, the sun began to rise over the mountains. Not long afterwards, icebergs began to appear alongside the boat and, as we continued through the channel, they got bigger and bluer forming the most spectacular shapes. Luckily for us, the captain managed to find a passage through the bergs (we later learned that it was the first time in months the boat had managed to find a way through them), so we dropped anchor at Onelli Bay and disembarked for a walk through the forest that separates Lake Argentino from Lake Onelli. We had arrived at the forest just as a blizzard was clearing and the colours of the vegetation after the snowfall created the most dream-like scenery we've ever seen! As we walked, we spotted some wild bulls through the trees and a falcon perched on some branches above us. When we reached the lakeshore, we had the most amazing view of the Onelli glacier descending from the mountains into a lake filled with icebergs. It really felt like the end of the world!

Back on the boat again, we
Another massive icebergAnother massive icebergAnother massive iceberg

in Lake Argentino
sailed to the Spegazzini glacier (the tallest Glacier in the national park) and then past some more incredible iceberg scenery on our way back to the port. As the sunset over the lake, we were both left with a sense of wonderment at having ventured into an area of such phenomenal natural beauty. It truly was a privilege (definitely worth the 3 days travel it took to get there!) and an experience that neither of us will forget....

As for the journey out of El Calafate? Well thankfully, we had already booked one-way flights. So, rather than a 40+ hour bus journey, we had a nice easy 3-hour flight to our next destination.... Buenos Aires.

Additional photos below
Photos: 40, Displayed: 28


Perito Moreno glacierPerito Moreno glacier
Perito Moreno glacier

Descending into the waters of Lake Argentino
Perito Moreno glacierPerito Moreno glacier
Perito Moreno glacier

Named after Francisco P. Moreno, the pioneer explorer who studied the region in the 19th century
Perito Moreno glacierPerito Moreno glacier
Perito Moreno glacier

One of only three Patagonian glaciers that are not retreating
Perito Moreno glacierPerito Moreno glacier
Perito Moreno glacier

Stretching into the distance, it's over 30km in length
The massive front wall of Perito Moreno glacierThe massive front wall of Perito Moreno glacier
The massive front wall of Perito Moreno glacier

At over 60 metres tall, it's an incredible sight
Icebergs in front of Perito Moreno glacierIcebergs in front of Perito Moreno glacier
Icebergs in front of Perito Moreno glacier

Every few minutes, we could hear a loud thunder of cracking ice but unfortunately didn't see any breaking off!
Approaching the icebergsApproaching the icebergs
Approaching the icebergs

Our boat on Lake Argentino
Massive blue icebergMassive blue iceberg
Massive blue iceberg

on Lake Argentino
Forest at Onelli BayForest at Onelli Bay
Forest at Onelli Bay

Los Glaciares national park
Forest at Onelli BayForest at Onelli Bay
Forest at Onelli Bay

Los Glaciares national park

14th September 2009

Just read your blog. God how I miss South America. Have fun in BA!

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