We spent a total of six nights in Patagonia and for someone who isn’t crazy about the outdoors, I loved every minute of it.
We fly into the town of El Calafate after a long flight and much waiting around in airports – we have barely slept in 24 hours. But the view of the landscape and near-freezing temperatures as we head to our hostel does much to perk us up and keep tiredness at bay. The Patagonian landscape is stunningly mountainous, arid steppe-lands, earthy browns of the plains covered in tough spinifex type grass and little bushes bearing yellow and white flowers which add varied textures and colours to the mountainous landscape. Cold biting winds lash the environment mercilessly and only varies in speed and force!
We’ve come to El Calafate to hike the Perito Moreno glacier which measures 35kms in length and 5kms across at its mouth. We are eager despite the lack of sleep to get out and explore so we wolf down a quick-lunch and book a space to head to the glacier. I read that few glaciers on earth can match the activity and excitement of this blue-hued glacier which is what I’m so excited about. On our first day, we take a boat cruise which takes you right up to the face of the glacier itself and we also get onto the established walking treks they have all around the glacier which has balconies to view it from both its north and south faces. The sight of it awes with its sheer size and sparkling intensity and I am practically hopping up and down tugging on Peter’s jacket sleeve. I initially keep thinking that I hear gunshots but they are the moments when parts of its 60m jagged ice peaks break off and crash-land into the lake, birthing small tidal waves and forming large bobbing icebergs. There are some incredible jaw-dropping moments and we heartily cheer along with other spectators when a large thundering crack rents the air and rewards us with an icy avalanche.
On our second day, we wake early and are excited about our trek on the Big Ice which is a good 4 hours on the glacier itself. We meet our guides who are humorous guys, good at cultivating the group dynamic and keeping energy levels up the whole time. We begin by hiking for 45 minutes through lush green forests to get to the point where the mountain meets the glacier. On the way, we spot condors overhead gliding gracefully on the slipstream and one alights on a glacier peak which sends everyone diving wildly into their backpacks for their cameras.
Once we arrive at the foot of the mountain we gear up with harnesses, crampons (spiked shoes) and are given instructions on how to walk and what absolutely not to do. The guide ends with (and I quote him verbatim) – ‘This is Patagonia folks and not America. There are no helicopters if you fall off into a crevasse so we cannot rescue you. Ok? Everyone clear? Vamanos!’ We all laugh a little uncertainty and look around at each other, I hear a nasally pitched American lady turn to her husband nervously saying, ‘he’s kidding right Wayne?’ and off we go.
We trek in single file, each following the previous person footsteps and we fall into a natural rhythm digging our crampons into the ice and I enjoy the way it crunches beneath our feet as we follow the main guide. The second guide scouts ahead and within a few meter radius of the group watching for thinner ice or precarious paths, he also treks in between and around us all the while engaging us in friendly conversation. There is ice for as far as the eye can see, with peaks, troughs, crevasses, and sinkholes which make it look like a surreal universe. The uneven landscape gets a bit hard on my knees but the experience is so exhilarating you don’t mind that the winds are so cold they hurt your ears, or that it has started to snow and develops into a mini ice storm which whips shards of ice at your uncovered face.
It is not every day one gets to trek on a glacier.
The excursion comes to end all too soon and we pile back into the boat and head for shore, fogging up the windows with the heat of our collective bodies. We are surprised by the crew who uncover trays bearing glasses of whiskey on the rocks. Right from the glacier itself which is a very nice touch and rounded off with chocolate covered macaroons. I couldn’t think of a nicer way to end such a spectacular day.