They tell you to save the best for last but they assume that patience is a virtue we have all been blessed with. Certainly Pumpkin has but for me, the patience genes have skipped a generation. As much as I endeavored to unleash my South American adventures unto you in a chronological fashion, my excitement about sharing the ultimate highlight of my trip saw the boundaries of self discipline shatter into pieces. Out with chronology and in with the glacier.
Perito Moreno Glacier
The Perito Moreno Glacier can be found about 80km and approximately an hour’s drive away from El Calafate, where most glacier hunters base themselves. A few facts to satisfy those of you with a thirst for stats – this towering glacier, which serves as the focal point of the Los Glaciares National Park, stands at an impressive size of 250 square metres, 30km in length and an average height of 74 metres. Does that mean anything to you? Me neither. I’ve never been one for facts and figures where travel is concerned. I can’t visualise something on the basis of a description like that and prefer to use my old-fashioned eyes to marvel at its beauty.
There are two ways of seeing the glacier and many tour operators combine both: either a boat tour along the pristine waters of Lake Argentino, which takes you closer to the glacier or a walk around the viewing platforms and balconies. Both options afford spectacular views, the main difference being the perspectives and angles. For the more adventurous, there is also the option to disembark, get your crampons fastened and go glacier walking. If you have booked a tour in advance, clarify with your tour operator whether or not the boat trip is included in the price – we were caught a little off guard to find that our pre-paid tour didn’t in fact include the boat trip.On the boat, the professional photographers make a mint from the queues of tourists lining up. At 5 USD per photo, the profit margins are clear but even I was tempted to pay above the odds to take home this once-in-a-lifetime photo but Pumpkin, ever the money “saver”, kept me in tow after we managed some decent shots on our own camera.
The boat stops for at least 45 minutes, allowing more than enough time for everyone to take in the view but rather like spotting geysers in Iceland, be sure to spend some of that time standing back to take in its beauty. My other tip would be to choose your spot well on the boat. The front of the middle deck on the outdoor balcony is probably the best place to position yourself. You’ll have a good view wherever you are but it can become almost a stampede to find a standing spot the closer you get to the glacier.
It has been no easy feat trying to recreate in words the sight of the glacier. There is nothing in my basket of travel memories to compare this to. I had seen one glacier before in Iceland, much flatter and smaller in its appearance and with a dusty, black smudge on the surface from the debris of volcanic ash. Perhaps the fact that just six months ago, I knew nothing about this glacier added to the heightened sense of marvel. Even after four hours of staring at it, we ceased to tire of the sight.
The shards of ice gazed in differing planes, like maize crops in a windswept field. They coalesced into a glacial meringue, majestic in its vastness, boundless in beauty, delineated by radiant contours, white as a virgin. We continued our descent along the walkways, our fingers achy from the frequency with which we were clicking away, trigger happy, as if we had never used a camera, so compelled were we by the view bestowed upon us. There are various circuits that take between 1-2 hours and catering for a mixed variety of fitness levels and lifts are available for those unable to manage stairs to the viewing platforms.
Intermittently, the glacier sheds boulders of ice from its surface, sending echoes reverberating, the bellows identical to thunder. I tell Pumpkin that I am startled at how two entirely different geological phenomena can have such similarities in their voices. Pumpkin explains how the glacier formations occur. (The guide did tell us but I was unable to keep up). Pumpkin ever the scientist, me ever the dreamer. But it is hard not to be when you’re in a place like this.The desquamated ice fragments (they really are more like bricks than fragments) yield a topaz-like frosting to the still waters. I saw jewels. Pumpkin saw Fox’s mints – this is part of the charm of travel. Rather like art, you may all be seeing the same thing but everyone sees it just a little bit differently. Those visiting in February 2013 were fortunate enough to see the disintegration of an enormous ice bridge within the glacier, crashing into the water. The sounds of cheering tourists in this footage will give you an insight into how enthralling the sight must have been.
Before booking our trip, we had wondered whether it was worthwhile taking the 3.5 hour flight from Buenos Aires to Patagonia or whether, with limited time, we would have been better placed maintaining our travel plans to Northern Argentina. Having now seen Perito Moreno, however, I now know it would have been a deep regret to miss it.
Have you seen any other beautiful glaciers in the world? Where were they and what were they like?
Part of the #SundayTraveler Link Up