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Published: December 4th 2009
Given the aspect ratio of Chile, it never takes long to leave the country, with the destination more often than not being Argentina. Leaving Puerto Natales, bound for El Calafate was no exception to this rule and within an hour we were at the border. A few hours later we arrived at our destination. El Calafate is one of those places that exists solely to service the tourist industry, specifically those tourists wanting to visit Los Glaciares National Park. You don’t need to be proficient in Spanish to guess that this national park is home to a number of glaciers.
Despite having seen a number of glaciers on the Chilean side of the border, those contained in this park were reportedly some of the most spectacular in the world and well worth a visit. Of the many tours on offer in the town, the one that caught our eye purportedly visited “all glaciers”. Despite being well aware that this claim was at the very least improbable, it sounded excellent. Even though this wasn’t peak tourist season, we were amazed at how many people were on this trip. In all, three boats departed that day, each carrying something like two hundred
people. As you can probably imagine this resulted in some crowded decks, as people clamoured to fill their memory cards with images of glaciers and icebergs.
A couple of the glaciers that would normally be visited on the trip were unfortunately out of bounds. This was due to access being blocked by huge blocks of ice that have recently broken off them. However, we did manage to get close to two highly impressive glaciers. Firstly, was Spegazzini, which is an awe inspiring wall of blue ice towering over 100m above the level of the lake, making it apparently the highest “often visited glacier” in the world! Secondly was the star attraction of the park, Perito Moreno, which is one of only a few constantly advancing glaciers in the world. Creeping forward at up to 2m a day, it is famous for providing tourists with views of huge chunks of blue ice falling into the lake and making the transition from glacier to iceberg. Sadly during our brief visit, the glacier stayed intact.
Our next destination was a slight deviation from our journey south, to the other side of the national park and the small town of El Chalten.
This area of the park is prime hiking territory and on our first day we did just that and took a gentle hike to a couple of view points. The next day was to be one of the best days of our entire trip, helped in no small part by the perfect weather conditions. Having fully experienced the fact that Patagonia has some of the most changeable weather conditions anywhere in the world, we were amazed to have a day completely devoid of cloud or wind.
Having had our fill of seeing glaciers from boats, we took a trip that would allow us to get up close and personal with one. We first walked for a couple of hours with a guide through the national park to the edge of Glacier Grande. Here we put on our crampons and unlike our previous experience of using them, we received some instruction on techniques for walking on ice.
We stopped at an ice wall on the glacier to have our lunch, collect refreshing melt water to drink and do some climbing. Once again this was far superior to our previous experience, again due to receiving some instructions. We also found
recreational ice climbing to be far more enjoyable than using it as a method of hauling ourselves up a mountain. Testimony to our amazing luck with the weather was the fact that our guide felt the need to take numerous photographs of a place a he visits every day. We rounded the day off perfectly by visiting the first microbrewery we’ve encountered all year.
We then returned to El Calafate and caught an overnight bus, leaving at the unsociable hour of 3am, bound for Tierra del Fuego and the city of Ushuaia. Frustratingly, despite both El Calafate and Ushuaia being in Argentina, it is impossible to make this journey without passing through Chile. Therefore, we collected another four stamps in our rapidly filling passports.
Ushuaia is adorned with signs welcoming visitors to “The End of the World“ and is famed for being the southern most city in the world, something the Argentineans seem very proud of. So proud in fact that they seem blind to the fact that when looking directly south to Isla Navarino it is possible to see the sizeable Chilean town of Puerto Williams. Due to its strategic location, Ushuaia is the jumping off point
for cruises to the Antarctic. We briefly toyed with idea of seeing if we could find a last minute bargain for such a trip. However, the best we could find was a ten day trip leaving the next day for US$4000 per person. Although definitely last minute, it was most definitely not a bargain and well beyond our means. This wasn’t the end the world though, as hopefully we will return one day, when we have sufficient funds, as we would hate the thought of leaving a continent unexplored.
Whilst in Ushuaia, we made up for our previous failed attempt to see penguins and visited an island where these appealing seabirds come to breed. There are many boat trips that allow you to see the penguins on the island’s beaches, but only one company is licensed to land. With only forty people allowed to set foot on the island a day, we were extremely lucky to get places on this trip. We spent an enjoyable hour or so photographing the cute and comedic birds as they waddled around. We also took an enjoyable boat trip into the Beagle Channel and saw a vast number of sea birds and sea
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