After a quick bus ride over the border from Chile we were back in Argentina. El Calafate in the south west of Patagonia is a one horse town. There is only one reason why people venture to this remote part of Argentina and that is to access the Parque
Nacional Los Glaciares and to see Perito Moreno, one of the most famous and accessible glaciers in the world and something high on our list of things to see.
Glaciar Perito Moreno
We were disappointed when we left the sunshine over the town, heading west towards the dark clouds and rainfall over the park. However, on first siting of the glacier, which
made our Argentinean bus companions clap wildly with joy, we knew the weather, no matter how bad, would not spoil this day. The glacier looked just as spectacular in the rain as we had expected and on cloudy days the glacier
appears even bluer than on a clear day.
Who would have thought watching ice melt would be so much fun! When the glacier moves, approximately 1-2 meters per day, the loud sounds of the cracking and ice carving from
the front can be likened to gun shots and thunder. Environmentalists use Perito Moreno to demonstrate global warming, but it is one of the only glaciers in the world not changing as it regains as much ice each year as it loses.
It takes 300-500 years for the ice to reach the front of the glacier and when it does the ice moving behind it pushes the front against rocks on the lake bed, causing the front to fall. We never knew where or when the ice
carving action was going to happen, but every time a huge chunk fell from the front it sure was a crowd pleaser.
After only 2 hours of ice melting action it was time for us to get a closer inspection. We had signed up to do an ice trekking trip, which involved a boat trip across the
south face of the glacier to get nearer to the ice and give us a different perspective on the monster, which is bigger than the size of Buenos Aires.
Once we had sailed across the lake, managing to miss the icebergs floating in the water, we landed and took a short hike over the rocks and beach, getting up even closer to
Then it was back to school with a Glaciology 101 lesson on the beach where the highlight was catching a massive chunk of ice slide into the water and seeing the iceberg pop
back up on top moments later. Our group was all stunned but our guide had obviously seen this a thousand times when he exclaimed rather mundanely ‘yeah, nice’
Before hitting the ice we had to put on crampons and have an ice walking lesson, learning to walk in a monkey like fashion, digging our feet into the ice to ensure that we
wouldn’t fall into any crevasses!
Wow, it was awesome to get up close to the peaks of ice and be able to trek all around it, seeing ice tunnels and deep crevasses, even taking drinks from the pools of fresh
water. It was easier to trek on the ice than we thought, raising our trekking status to Pro Ice Trekkers now!
To top it off, the trek ended at Perito Moreno ice bar. There are ice bars in Sydney and London where you pay for the privilege to drink in a -5 degree bar made of ice. Some
of our blog readers may be more familiar with the famous Club Ice Bar in St Ives...however, this ice bar is the real deal...a shot of whiskey with ice axed straight from the glacier, a perfect way to end an excellent day!
is a frontier town set up by Argentina in 1985 to fend off the Chileans claim to the land when the countries were not the best of friends. Luckily, everything
is all quiet on the western front now. It’s a very small town with little else to do but look after the hoards of trekkers and climbers that base themselves here to explore the northern section of the Parque National Los Glaciares.
The town is located within the national park so before entering you have a diversion through the park rangers office for a talk on the do’s and dont’s of the area, plus lots of helpful tips. We found ourselves a hostel
and planned our trekking itinerary for the next few days.
First up was the 7 hour round trip to see Cerro Torres. The walk started off steep but luckily for me (I hate the uphill bits) it flattened out until we reached the laguna
at the end and a close up view of the spikey mountain and the Grande glacier next to it.
The second day we took on the Fitz Roy range, an 8 hour trek on a rare beautiful day for this region. With no clouds in the sky we were able to really appreciate the beauty
that is Fitz Roy, from the first observation point, from the lake and from all the way up the top after an hour of vertical trekking that Ryan managed to run up in 30 minutes!
The next day we were rained in so we had to call off our final trek but we felt lucky to have had two great days for the best treks in the park. Unfortunately, our bus out
of town was not leaving until 11.30pm, so we had to spend ALL day sitting in the hostel watching tv and films, eating, chatting with fellow trekkers and using the free wifi...travel can be so hard sometimes.
From here the bus took us north for 30 hours, yes 30 hours and 2 sleeps, up the famous Route 40. It’s the route that formed part of the road trip Che Guevara took in 1952
on a motorcycle through South America, now widely known as the Motorcycle Diaries. I’m sure today the state of the road is much better than Ernesto would have endured, but still only around 40% of the road is tarmac, with
work slowly continuing to get the rest of the road to the same level, with the remaining being a bumpy gravel road with a maximum speed limit of 40km per hour. The driving was slow and the change
in scenery even slower, just an uninterrupted view of nothing, like the outback of Australia, just not red. But that’s what is great about it. Occasionally we would pass some work men preparing the road for a new surface,
miles from anywhere just living in a little hut. We passed by long stretches of new tarmac but just had to drool at their smoothness as we bumped along on the gravel only allowed to look not touch.
We stopped for breakfast in a small town of about 10 houses, a lone petrol pump and one hotel and saw a boy with his satchel on his back walking to school. Thinking life is
normal out here after all, we then realised he would probably be the only pupil in class that day, what an isolated life. Halfway through the trip we had a two hour lunch break so we could stretch our legs
and get some proper food rather than delving into our dwindling snack bag that had been keeping us going. Eventually, after a number of annoying heating changes within the bus, shiver, sweat, shiver, sweat, we were chucked off at our destination at 5.30am. Thanks for the ride
This town is overflowing with the hippy vibe, a magnet for artists, craftsmen, or just anyone wanting to get away from hustle and bustle. It’s famous for it’s arts and
craft market, where vendors can only sell items that are handmade, including beer, chocolate and ice cream, the perfect place to recover from Ruta 40! The market is a great place to pick up an afternoon snack made from fresh
produce. We opted for the waffle covered with dulce de leche, raspberries, strawberries and cream, so naughty but so good.
We happened to be here for my birthday so as well as relaxing, we hiked up a mountain to see a natural stone carving that resembles an Indian head
This helped us work up an appetite for a birthday dinner of steak, Patagonian lamb and mash potato.
Just 2 hours up the road, Bariloche is the tourist capital of the Lake District of Patagonia. It is also the Chocolate capital of Argentina and with every other shop selling
chocolate coupled with us arriving on Easter Sunday, it was only appropriate for us to do some taste testing of samples and purchase ourselves a treat.
The next day we needed to burn off some calories so we decided to get a view of the Nahuel Huapi lake from Cerro Otto. There is a Teleferico (cable car) to the top of the
mountain but there is also a path you can take to trek up to the summit. We kind of lost our way, or realised later on that we never took the right path in the first place, so we ended up on the steepest path with only one way
up. My suggestion of ‘why don’t we just walk down and take the cable car?’ was met with disdain from Ryan so we started the gravel slipping climb up. This was not fun. You must have seen the pathway under a cable car
before, it’s the way maintenance guys reach the pylons and the way idiots, like us, trying not to spend money on the cable car get to the top. The saying of the day was ‘I am NOT having fun!’, followed by Ryan laughing
hard and then me saying ‘Seriously, I am NOT having fun at all!’ followed by screams and shouts as I slipped and scrambled by way up the mountain. We made it to the top, only because it was too steep to go back down, and caught our breath whilst enjoying the view, which kind of made the hard work worth it!
Not put off by that mountain experience we arranged a trek to Mount Tronador within the Nahuel Huapi National Park. This was a 6 hour climb over 18km, which started nice and
flat and then slowly winding up the mountain over 6km until we got to the snail climb, a steep climb to cover 500m in 1km. This got us above the tree line on the mountain and to the final stretch of 3km over rocks to the snow
line at the top of the mountain. The last part felt like being on the moon and the trail was hard to find especially with strong, cold winds hindering us. But we made it to the warm and cosy Refugio Otto Meiling at the summit.
With only 10 people staying there that night there was plenty of room and a really nice ambience with good company and music for the evening. The bedroom was one big room
in the loft with a pile of mattresses to lay our sleeping bags on.
The refugio sits next to two glaciers, one of which you can walk right up to but don’t want to step on in case you slide down it and right off the mountain. The location
was perfect for sunset and sunrise, giving a great view all across the valleys and national park.
And with that we returned weary to Bariloche, bought our bus tickets, ate more chocolate and found the house we would like to live in...a hobbit house!
Our stay was completed with a typical Argentine asado (BBQ) skillfully organised by a friendly couple from Rosario who were also staying in our hostel. Ariel was a pro at
the asado and even cooked eggs in the grilled peppers.
So now we’re back off to Chile.
Until next time
Jo y Ryan