Days: 351-352 (11 June 2015 – 12 June 2015)
Total distance travelled: 74,452.86 kilometres (46,244.01 miles)
Feliz cumpleaños! (Happy birthday)
Almost a week before leaving home (roughly twelve months ago), we’d celebrated Sarah’s birthday with a wonderful dinner in Sydney’s ‘Red Lantern’, an acclaimed restaurant from Australian-Vietnamese chef Luke Nguyen.
We had plans of an equally lovely dinner this year as well.
Our first Argentinean steaks washed down with some of their famous red wine was the plan… but things don’t always work out as desired, delays (as in no bus) seeing us instead travel a day later than expected.
As originally planned, we did indeed rise early, but rather than make our way to the stunning (we hoped) Perito Moreno Glacier, 4am found us huddled in the snowy dark of Ushuaia.
By the time our bus finally arrived and got underway (somewhere around 5am) we were fucking freezing, a situation that didn’t change for much of the morning.
We had our sleeping bags on board, but with little heating, no sun (it wouldn’t be sighted until around 10am) and further snow, the situation certainly didn’t improve for a long, long time.
Now the road north actually snaked back into Chile, and despite being neighbours, there’s definitely little love lost between the two (apparently this stems back to the 80’s), whilst for us it meant we’d need to cross both out of Argentina, then back into Argentina a few hours later.
After chewing up a passport page seemingly unnecessarily, we eventually found ourselves in Rio Gallegos, two hours ahead of schedule!
Normally, this would not be a bad thing, but given with our original timetable, we already had three hours to kill…
It was dark before we began our final leg, another four hours to reach the tourist town of El Calafate, essentially the gateway to the Perito Moreno Glacier.
Much of the bus dozed, but it wasn’t long before I looked up from my Kindle to realise we were not only driving through a carpet of white, but it also seemed a little more serious than that.
The bus seemingly lurched from one side of the road to the other, our pace slackened as our way was less clear.
We were in the midst of a snowstorm!
Continuing at what felt like a crawl, we eventually cleared the snows, finally reaching the town’s bus terminal just after 1am.
Sarah’s birthday had come and gone, and we’d been either on a bus, or waiting for a bus for its entirety…
Checked into our hostel by half past, meant sleep was not found until around 2am, the perfect preparation for an early rise the following morning.
And rise early we did, eager to get ourselves aboard a bus out to the glacier and enjoy the day we’d expected to have yesterday, today!
The bus itself was far pricier than we’d been led to believe by our guidebook (by now, no surprise there), but without other options it was a necessary price to pay, the morning views across the nearby lake quickly allowing us to forget the pesos we’d just forked out to be there.
To the bus company’s credit, our driver was half tour guide as well, throwing about plenty of information and also allowing several stops throughout the journey for photo opportunities as desired by the passengers.
Once at the entrance to Los Glaciares Parque Nacional, the ticket purchase procedure was made very easy as the park ranger came aboard the bus, and simply entered the necessary tickets into an electronic tablet, collected the cash, then returned with the tickets minutes later along with any required change.
It even listed the nationality of the carrier of said ticket, possibly due to the pricing being tiered for nationals, residents of South American countries, and finally, for non-Latin Americans such as ourselves (of course, the most expensive tickets).
Those on the left hand side of the bus (such as ourselves) had the best views on entering the park, as the road hugged the lake on that side of the vehicle, the views far superior to the forest hills on the vans right.
It was to ultimately matter not, as the views to come would be simply stunning from any angle.
There was the option to take a boat ride closer to the glacier at half past eleven that same morning, but due to a lack of cash on hand, as well as the fact that the glacier becomes more active in the afternoon, we weren’t all that interested after the cash we’d already forked out to just get here.
Our group went its separate ways, after confirmation of what time the van would be present to collect us for the return journey, we strolled a few metres… okay, that’s a lie we raced forward at a few more clicks than that, then were stopped dead in our tracks.
Now you all know we love a good UNESCO World Heritage site and this, the view from the UNESCO sign, was simply awesome!
There were a variety of elevated trails veering off in all directions, but we chose a path that was headed essentially directly ahead, eager after that brief teaser, to simply get closer to this behemoth of nature.
We weren’t sure where the majority of our bus had disappeared to, as there was nobody around, but really we didn’t really care.
It was a pretty stunning place to feel as though we had it all to ourselves.
Sure it was cold, so we donned our gloves, and then in a sheltered platform with views of the glacier, we sat down to breakfast on some cake we’d brought along just for this purpose.
I’m not sure however why I’m bothered with such trivial details, when the views we had were such as these…
Outside the shelter that our breakfast perch offered from the wind, it was pretty damn cold, so it was unusual for us to stop at any single spot for too long, the need to keep moving for warmth putting paid to too much loitering in one location… at least whilst the wind remained and the Sun continued to be absent, hidden since our arrival behind grey clouds.
In truth, it was hard to walk too rapidly in the vicinity of the glacier, as every crack in the ice would elicit a rapid head turn, as we hoped each time to see a huge chunk break free as the glacier began the calving process, although apparently the afternoon is prime-time for most of this sort of action.
Still, when a gargantuan wall of ice such as this moves roughly two metres each day, then in truth anything can give, at any given time.
An additional path took us away from the glacier, but given the time we had at our disposal, there was no chance we weren’t going to explore this place fully.
At first, the biting wind warranted us being fully hooded and scarved, however as we opened up our stride (much easier to do without the glacier as a distraction), we also found we began to warm ridiculously quickly.
It was a nice diversion, but there wasn’t too much to be seen beyond the lake (Lago Argentina) and its rugged coast, a dock and lodge at its end, closed for the winter months.
The various trails were far easier and faster to navigate than their suggested travel times (a map near the entrance advising the estimated times for each circuit), so it wasn’t long before we’d scoped out a nice perch for lunch with a view of the action (in truth there were many, but our one was out of the wind).
Low season this time was working in our favour, as despite the popularity of this place year round, we really didn’t encounter all too many others, so in a replay of breakfast, we were able to dine in relative peace once more.
It wasn’t all peace and quiet however, as proven whilst we munched on our cheese rolls for lunch when the relative quiet was shattered by a huge portion of ice falling into the icy waters.
This, the first bit of real action for the day, was our welcome to the afternoon, and the Suns emergence from behind the clouds (finally) gave us promise for more action.
Chasing the patches of Sun and gazing at the glacier, our heads turning at each and every crack of the ice.
That’s how we lost the rest of our afternoon… but if you’re going to lose time, this certainly isn’t a horrible place (or way) to do it.
As we stared, our highlight for the afternoon suddenly announced itself with at first several creaks and cracks, then finally with something of a roar.
A section immediately in front of us, probably somewhere between thirty to forty metres in width, suddenly plummeted leaving us speechless, and me a little too slow with the camera!
For something that was so amazing, it was also a tense experience, the anticipation of where something may occur next causing us to turn every, seemingly leaving our heads in constant motion.
In truth however, to spot the moment fully was rare, as by the time most cracks were heard, the offending section of ice in question, was already within the waters and a large splash or ripple was all that was left in evidence.
Eventually, with our collection time approaching, we began a slow walk back to the parking area, the glacier giving us one final bit of farewell action in salute.
Back at the overpriced restaurant and gift shop, to our surprise we found most of the posse from the bus, where they’d spent the day (given how few other people we saw), we had no idea!
Back in El Calafate, it turned out that our hostel was also attached to a restaurant, a Parilla to be precise, and one that was listed in our guidebook as both good quality and good value.
I was still coming to grips with the different value of the Argentine peso after a month in Chile, so at first to me it looked pricey (it really wasn’t), but we were finally able to celebrate Sarah’s birthday with a dinner, so the price wasn’t truly a concern.
As it was our first true meal in Argentina and we were in a Parilla (the version of a grill meets barbecue here in Argentina) it was always going to be our first crack at some good red meat in a long time.
Sarah opted for a serve of Cordero (lamb)… seriously, a plate of just piping hot delicious, juicy meat, whilst I was a little more reserved opting for some Bife (beef) steak served with vegetables and salad… okay, so my vegetables were a huge pile of piping hot chips, and the salad (which we shared) was two cherry tomatoes…
All delicious, and all washed down with a nice bottle of red.
* Our buses from Ushuaia to Rio Gallegos cost us $680.00 pesos per person.
* A further connection from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate cost us an even $300.00 pesos each.
* A round trip ticket from El Calafate to Los Glaciares Parque Nacional cost $150.00 pesos per person.
* The park entrance fee is higher for non-nationals and also non South American nationalities, and cost us $260.00 pesos each to enter.