Thursday, March 10, 2016

El Calafate, Argentina: Glacier Time!

Long story long, I had a roomie in Buenos Aires that had persuaded me to head to the city of Ushuaia  (the southernmost city in the world; it's very "end of the world" feeling and it's where boats to Antarctica depart from).  I had purchased a plane ticket and all was well (on a side note, Argentina is big, y'all! It was almost a 4-hour flight) - until the day before my flight, when I got an email confirmation saying my ticket had been cancelled because they didn't have my passport #. 

You never asked for my passport number, jerk website!!

So I found myself scrambling last minute with the change in plans. As I was at my hostel sorting out hostel cancellations and trying to book a new flight, the hostel lady at the front desk was trying to help me. She mentioned that to see Patagonia, you don't need to go to Ushuaia - there is a really awesome city a little north called El Calafate, which is a great jumping-off point to other places you can hike from. Upon further research, UM GORGEOUS. So I last-minute bought a new plane ticket for the next day to El Calafate. I love being able to do spontaneous things like this. How am I ever going to go back to real life.

What It's All About:
El Calafate is a city in Southern Patagonia, suuper close to the Chilean border (ok, all of Patagonia is because it is shared with Chile).  It is most famous for being located near the Perito Moreno Glacier, located in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (yep, exactly what it sounds like), which is one of the most famous glaciers and is super popular with tourists.  

El Calafate is kind of adorable - it's got a small main street with tourist stores and restaurants, and it feels like a true mountain town.  There's not too much to do in the town itself (I'm sure there are some other outdoorsy thing people do here), but most people come to see the glacier. 

Perito Moreno Glaciar from afar

Perito Moreno Glacier is 30km long, 5km wide and 6 meters high. It's one of the few glaciers in the world that's actually growing (due to something fancy and scientific about the weather and freezing), which causes huge chunks to break off constantly with an earth-shattering roar. You have the option to visit several scenic overlooks of the glacier shelf, as well as the option to hike on the glacier itself! :)

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Flew into El Calafate on a 3-hour plane from Buenos Aires, where APPARENTLY they served a meal and I slept through it and woke up later to everyone around me munching on mysterious delicious-sounding things that I HAD MISSED. CRY.

The view of the mountains on the drive from the airport

  • That evening, I was wandering down the main street of El Calafate (which is called St. Martin, which fun fact, every single city in S. America has a street called St. Martin because apparently he liberated Argentina and all of South America or something like that) - and I ran into one of my old hostel roommates from Buenos Aires, Eddie (UK).  He mentioned that he and his friend were going to make dinner for themselves that night at their hostel and invited me to join. So I went and met them later at their hostel.

The view from the deck of their hostel

Sun setting over the mountains....beautiful

This is what happens when you let two boys pick out and cook dinner - meat, meat, and a huge stack of potatoes.  I do have to say though, I was 0% involved in the preparation of this and I was impressed with how delicious it was. My only job was to open the wine. Which I also failed at doing.

  • The next day, I signed up with a tour to head out to Glacier Perito Moreno (about 80km away from El Calafate) and go ice hiking with them!

My first view of the glacier - this thing is huge. You have no idea.

There are a million paths and viewing decks so you can see the glacier from every angle

Flanked by mountains on every side

As mentioned above, because the glacier is growing due to ideal conditions (up to 2m/day!), huuuuge chunks of ice break off every so often, in a process known as calving. Here you can see the huge blue chunk where ice has broken off recently. Later on, I got to actually see it happen live - it was CRAZY. First you hear super deep rumbling, like an earthquake is coming or the world is going to end. Then a huge ice block comes roaring off the glacier, creating a huge splash and leaving a bright blue scar on the glacier in its wake. It is the COOLEST.

Another crazy factoid - because the glacier is growing, another phenomena happens when it actually touches the land mass across the way (as you see here) and plugs up/separates the lake. One lake starts to rise much, much faster than the other since the glacier has effectively dammed the lake, which drowns all the trees by the water of the higher lake. Then after a couple of years (different time periods every time), the pressure builds up so much on the glacier that eventually, in an insane explosion of ice, the glacier collapses entirely on this side as the water rushes through. It's apparently one of the craziest things to witness ever - especially since it doesn't happen often, and nobody can predict when it's gonna blow.

Last pano of giant glacier

Another thing I loved?? The water was SO GREEN-BLUE.

  • Then it was time to hike the glacier! A bus drove us to the other side of the glacier, where a boat escorted us across the water to the glacier itself.

Disembarking from the boat for glacier hike

People attached metal crampons to our feet to hike on the ice

Another group descending from the glacier

Walking on the ice was super weird - it's a very slow process, and you have to stomp like a dino as you walk to make sure the spikes of your crampons grab ahold of the ice (so you don't slip and die)

Glacier water is totally safe to drink, and it's ice-cold (obviiii)

I met Jacob (US) on the tour; this is him hiking in front of me

We hiked through fun little ice valleys and such

And then to end the tour, we all got a glass of whiskey with glacier ice in it!  The tagline was "the one time you'll have whiskey over ice where the ice is older than the whiskey"  (the ice from this glacier is hundreds of years old)

Cheeeeeeers to glacier ice and (probably cheap) whiskey!
Slurp. Great ending to the day.

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • This area of Patagonia accumulates up to 6 meters of ice and snow a year.
  • This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Obvs. Yawn.

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