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Published: December 9th 2014
At 7:30 Saturday morning, after another mind boggling breakfast, our driver Miguel and his wife, Sybill, picked us up for our crossing into Argentina and El Calafate. We were warned that the border crossing requires lots of patience and that it can get really backed up during heavy tourist season. There are two windows, and a couple of guys processing a considerble amout of peole.
Even though we had tried to get an early start, we got stuck behind one of those obnoxiously large tourist buses that create a crowd just by themselves. Holy Cow! It was a slow process to say the least. At last, we got through the bureocratic nonsense and got back in the van heading down this dirt and rocks road (did I mention most of the roads were dirt roads?) towards Argentina. Woe is me! I missed the part about this being noman's land, and still having to go through the same bureocratic BS in a couple of miles when we got to the Argentinian side.
Good grief! It was a shame. The Chilean side may have been a humble building with too few officials working it, but the Argentinian buildings were ramshakle, next
to falling down shacks with broken windows and boarded doors. It was cold and windy that morning, and the room was too small to accomodate everyone, so there were shivering tourists standing in line outside the building. It was one of those third world countries scenes. Our driver had told us that on a bad day the whole process could take an hour and a half; it took three! For one thing, they said they were having to do everything manually because they had no electricity. We were wondering about that because the lights were on but, on the way back, the buildings were actually in the dark with these poor devils really without electricity. There was blatant corruption. When an Argentinian guide showed up and gave one of the agents some cigars, he jumped him in line. Disgraceful! Thousands of tourists come this way, to see the incredible spectacle that are the glaciers, and this is what they see as their first impression.
Needless to say, we were seriously behind schedule when we finally got through that hell, so Miguel decided to take a short cut that is no longer used because of the condition it is in,
and the fact that if something happens there is no assistance nearby. I think more important was that a person can have serious liver damage being rattled about on this dirt and rocks road! I think we all had a sigh of relief when we finally rejoined the regular highway. Phew!
We arrived in the very charming city of El Calafate not too far behind schedule. We were supposed to do the boat safari to the glacier, and then go to the area with the walkways, but the marine safari's early cruise was sold out, so we reversed the order of events.
Our Argentinian guide for the day was Milthon, attractive and personable, he was extremely informative and interesting. We drove with him from El Calafate to the Glacier National Park, listening to facts about the area on the way. To this day, the area is very sparcely populated, with Estancias owning thousands and thousands of acres needed for the sheep business. The Argentinian Steppes are a very rough terrain, and it requires at least a couple of acres to sustain one sheep.
We made a small detour to look at one of the nearby Estancias. A
very old one, and a good example of the basic structures and functions.
We drove along Lago Argentino until we made the turn of sighs and had our first view of Perito Moreno. I give you one guess why it is called the turn of sighs! We continued into the park and stopped briefly at the Cafeteria for a coffee and a surprisingly good beef Empanada before we took a short walk on the walkway that has been built on the side of the cliff opposite the glacier, and which offers magnificent and close views of the southern and east flanks facing the glacier.
Then it was time to drive the short way to the pier where we were to embark for a cruise of Brazo Sur, or Brazo Rico as it is also called, and get close to the glacier by water.
There are no words! We had been warned not to stare at the glacier without sunglasses, but the day was overcast so, although we did not see the shimmering glacier in that light, we were able to see all the blues and changing colors of the ice naturally. It is incredibly impressive. We spent
about an hour cruising along this face of the glacier which, I think, was the north face. I was fascinated by the icebergs, although there were not any large ones close by at this time. Eventually we docked again and headed back to the walking circuit for a lengthier look at the glacier.
The walkways keep descending until you are fairly close to the glacier. At one time, adventurous souls could go all the way down to the rocky bottom and be almost face to face with the ice, but 33 people died when pieces of ice fell and the wave created by this washed the people away. It is not permitted now. Even now, one particular piece that broke off was big enough that the shattering pieces broke the lower level of the walkways, and it was closed for two months. We saw a couple of collapses, but nothing big. However, there is the often rumbling roar of the cracking ice coming across, as a constant reminder of the movement and power of the ice. We were told that it takes 300 years for the ice to reach the front of the glacier. I thought it was a
short time, considering the over 500 feet high wall I was looking at.
Eventually, completely in awe, we got back in the car for our drive back to town and our hotel.
Much to our disappointment, the hotel that we were supposed to be staying in the center of town was sold out, and we were staying at the other hotel in the chain which, although nice, was not nearly as convenient for exploring. Alas! The shopping opportunity in Argentina was not to be realized, and the center of the charming town would have been nice to explore. Fortunately, we were told of a new restaurant that was supposed to be very good, Mako, and was a couple of blocks from the hotel. There was a large window in the front with an open pit and three Corderos (goats) roasting on spits. We didn't have any of those, but the short beef ribs with fries were excellent, as well as the grilled cheese specialty and empanadas we had as appetizers.
The staff was cordial, including the owner and head cheff. Our waiter was attentive, but a little forgetful which resulted in my fries not being ordered with
the rest of the meal. So, I was trying to slowly eat my rib waiting for them, until the owner said to eat before it god cold because he was bringing me another portion with my fries. The fries were really worth waiting for, but I was stuffed after my second portion of meat and fell in bed shortly after getting back to my room, and was dead to the world until morning.
The following morning we decided to relax, linger over a late breakfast, and be well rested by the time we were picked up at 11 AM for our ride back to Chile and another encounter with the arm pit of border crossings! It was a long ride back to Punta Arenas, and one more sightseeing stop along the way, at La Cueva del Milodon outside Puerto Natales.
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