Friday, February 10, 2017

The Awe-Inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier.


The plan for today was to take a denomades.com tour to see the Perito Moreno Glacier which is located in the Argentinian side of Patagonia, near the town of El Calafate. The denomades.com tour is a round trip tour so after seeing the glacier, you return to Puerto Natales.

When I was planning this trip, it dawned on me that we could use this tour not only to see the glacier but also as our transport to Argentina. I checked with our contact at denomades.com to see whether or not it would be possible for us to only go one way.  They confirmed that indeed that was possible.  So,  two days ago, I reached out to the same contact to remind her of our  plan to do the one way trip.  She remembered and confirmed she would follow up with the local tour operator to make sure she was aware of our intentions to hop off in the town of El Calafate.

Sadly, we left The Shed this morning.  I will miss our cosy, comfy retreat in Puerto Natales. Bro and I were up early to make sure the place was clean and that we had all our possessions as once we pulled the door shut behind us, there was no way to go back in without waking up Andrea, our Airbnb hostess. 

That's Andrea's two story house on the left; Bro standing in front of the door to The Shed on the right.

It was a chilly and cloudy morning.  Pretty much what it has been the whole time we've been here.  They say the weather is very unpredictable in Patagonia and having been here nearly a week, I can say it's true.  One moment it's cold and cloudy and the next minute, the sun is out and it's a gorgeous day. 


As we waited for our ride to arrive, the very friendly do who lives across the street came out to check us out.  Same thing he's done every day we've been here.  I will remember our stay at The Shed and this neighborhood fondly.  It's a humble, modest place here.  Some would even describe the neighborhood as rundown, but somehow I feel very much at home and at ease here.

 The 'hood.  I'm standing with Andrea's house just behind me.


A shuttle van soon pulled up and our driver got out and put our suitcases in the front seat.  Bro and I piled into the back.  As he drove off, he explained (in Spanish) that he would be taking us to a meeting place where we would be joining up with a larger group.  Okay.

A short distance out of town and the driver pulled up into the parking lot of a hotel.  Bro and I got out and the driver took our suitcases out of the front seat.  He then told us to wait.  We did as we were told as we had absolutely no clue what was going on.

Minutes later, a large tour bus pulled into the lot and a huge group of British tourists exited out of the hotel, with their suitcases in tow. Bro and I were still just standing there.  We watched them load up their suitcases in the belly of the bus and one by one, board the bus.  Then it was our turn.  Apparently, we were going on the same bus with this group.  I boarded the bus but Bro decided he wanted to make sure our suitcases didn't get mixed up with everyone else's so he hung back to make sure the bus driver was carefully separating our bags out from all the others.  Seeing that we were on this big bus it all made sense why our one way trip request was a no brainer.

Apparently, the British folks were assigned seats so it made sense to get them on board first.  Fortunately, there were a few seats left in the back of the bus.  As I made my way to the back, I noticed a few Asian tourists.  They had obviously arrived with the bus but since the cargo hold was empty when the Brits boarded, these folks must be doing the round trip. 

With all the luggage stowed below and passengers on board, our bus driver began the long journey to El Calafate, Argentina.  The road we were on was very familiar - same exact road we took to get to Torres del Paine National Park.


In fact, it was so familiar that a short distance from Puerto Natales, I recognized the General Store that we had stopped at two days ago... on the way back from the park.  That day, I did not pay attention to the fact that the store is located right next door.....literally, to the Chilean border office buiding.

Everyone had to get off the bus to clear immigration.  Even though it was a full bus load of people, there were enough immigration officers at work that we all got our exit stamps very quickly.           


I think we were already in Argentinian territory when the bus driver made a quick pit stop at a gas station.  The convenience store sold the usual roadside stuff but based on the prices, it looked like every thing was in Argentinian pesos.  Apparently, the coffee was quite delicious....at least according to the Brits who bought cups.  Our fellow Brit bus mates are an older lot and extremely friendly.  They're all traveling as a single group.  Not a Cosmos tour but something very similar.



Back on the bus and a short ride later and I saw the Argentinian flag that marked the official border.


The same procedure as on the Chilean side and just as quick for everyone to get their entry stamps.  We're officially in Argentina.  Woohoo!!


Somewhere in Argentina, we broke out our stash of leftovers and had our "lunch".



It was around 1pm when we arrived into El Calafate.  My first impressions of the place are that it 's vastly different from either Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales.  Much more upscale and it reminds me of Lake Tahoe - log style buildings nestled among tall pine trees.  It's lovely.

Our driver pulled into the bus station.  I nudged Bro and told him this is likely where we will need to return to as I knew that the hostal that I had booked us into was located just a short walk away.  I was curious why we were here at the moment and that mystery was quickly answered when a young lady boarded. She introduced herself as Cecilia.  She was our guide.

As we made our way to Perito Moreno, Cecilia did her duty to tell us more about it and about our itinerary for the afternoon.

Perito Moreno Glacier is located in the Los Glaciares National Park in southwest Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. Due to its size and accessibility, Perito Moreno is one of the major tourist attractions in southern Patagonia.  It's just a short 78 kilometer (48 mile) drive from El Calafate. Perito Moreno is named after the explorer Francisco Moreno, a pioneer who studied the region in the 19th century and played a major role in defending the territory of Argentina in the conflict surrounding the international border dispute with Chile. The glacier is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes system shared with Chile. This ice field is the world's third largest reserve of fresh water.

Perito Moreno Glacier is unusual in that it is advancing, while most glaciers worldwide are retreating. The reason is still being debated by scientists.


I listened to her until the moment I saw the blue glacier.   I don't remember a word of what she said after that - my attention was fully dedicated to the incredible view unfolding before me.  Wow!  This fully made up for the disappointment of the Serrano glacier.




We arrived into the park complex and the driver deposited us in front of the Visitors Center.  Before disembarking, Cecilia gave us our instructions.  We were to meet her at the boat dock in 20 minutes.  She pointed the way to the dock and then let us on our way.  One of the Chinese women approached me. She didn't quite understand what Cecilia had been saying so I told her to just follow Bro and I.  Turned out she was traveling with a small group so we all went down to the dock together.   Along the way, we stopped for a photo op.  What an incredible view!


While it was cool day, it was at least sunny.  I'm glad I had dressed warmly and I was prepared with rain gear.  Afterall, we had all our luggage with us. It would have been very disappointing had it been raining as was the case yesterday with the Serrano Glacier.  Our time at Perito Moreno was shaping up to be a very enjoyable one!



The dock area was surprisingly crowded with tourists and quite a few were already in line.  I spotted Cecilia up front and she noticed me so we waved to acknowledge each other.  I got in line.  Little did I know that the fleece shirt that I had been holding got left behind when I took Bro's photo.  I think I put it down on the railing and in my excitement of the moment, forgot to retrieve it.  I would only remember this after boarding the boat.


As the line started to move, Cecilia made her way towards us.  She handed each of us our tickets.  Good thing she hadn't done this beforehand as who knows how many of us would have already lost them :-)

We attempted to head up to the upper deck but were waved to go inside the cabin.  Deck access would only be allowed once the boat was near to the glacier and the engines had been shut off. 

Typically, when I board a board, I head up to the front but today, Bro suggested we sit at the very back so we would have quick access to the upper deck when the boat was stop.  Smart.


The boat slowly made its way towards the far end of the mass of blue ice and then cruised back along the full length of the glacier.  Here are a few of the photos that I took from the lower and upper decks.   Perito Moreno is simply awe-inspiring!!





The cabin was full of passengers (at least 30) and now everyone was crammed up onto the small upper deck with just a few on the lower deck.  We were all jockeying to get to the one side of the boat to take photos but I have to say, everyone was courteous and polite.  We all got in our shots!


Just as I was temporarily settled in spot to shoot some photos from a different angle, I noticed another boat passing us.  There were barely 20 passengers on that boat  - no one crammed in like a sardine.   How was that the case?  I was envious.


One look at the wall of blue and my envy disappeared.  This is the work of Mother Nature at her very finest. 



 There's even an ice cave at the far end of the glacier.




The boat dock and visitors center.

The terminus of the Perito Moreno Glacier is 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide, with an average height of 74 meters (240 ft) above the surface of the water of Lago Argentino Lake. It has a total ice depth of 170 meters (558 ft).  It is larger in surface area than the city of Buenos Aires.  This thing is massive!



Lago Argentino.  Perito Moreno Glacier is behind me.



The boat captain sounded the call for everyone to return to the cabin.   Back on the dock, Cecilia was waiting for us all.  As a group, we followed her back to the bus which we all board for a short ride to another part of the park.  Disembarking, we followed her down to a path that connected various platforms from which you can see the glacier from different vantage points.  She told us the meeting point and then let us loose.  I just took my time and took lots of photos.  Here are a few.  You can gasp in awe at any point in time :-)













All toll, we spent about 2.5 hours at Perito Moreno.  We then returned to El Calafate where the bus driver dropped off Cecilia, Bro and I.  The Brits were being taken to a hotel in town and the Asians were headed back to Puerto Natales.  The poor Asians would arrive back around 10p; more than 14 hours after having left.  I cannot imagine doing this round trip tour where you essentially spend more than 10 hours just riding a bus.  Not worth it and I'm glad we got off!

Our hostal, the Schilling Hostel Patagonico is located two blocks away from the bus station.  Cecilia pointed out the building to us before she bid us farewell.

Time to settle into El Calafate!