Glacier Perito Moreno in Patagonia.
Glacier Perito Moreno in Patagonia. Rae Wilson

Glacier spotting in Patagonia

WITH just a few days left after three months travelling around South America, I doubted my brief snapshot of Patagonia could still amaze me.

I had experienced carnival in Rio, seen the incredible Iguazu falls, swam with sea lions and penguins in the Galapagos Islands, conquered Machu Picchu and added countless other destinations to my travel memoirs.

But glacier Perito Moreno still took my breath away.

Partly because it was so cold I could barely breathe, as it practically neighbours Antarctica, but mostly because its beauty and sheer magnitude stopped me in my tracks.

The stunning deep reds, yellows and oranges of the deciduous trees changing colour for autumn made the sights before me even more gorgeous.

My day tour of the glacier was organised through Chimu Adventures, based here on the Sunshine Coast.

Even though Argentina Aerolineas’ bad reputation for delays meant I missed my connecting flight to El Calafate and had an unexpected night in Buenos Aires, Chimu Adventures quickly popped me on a tour for the following day with little trouble.

A quick look at the company’s website shows they work closely with operators throughout most of South and Central America, and Antarctica. They can personalise and custom-make tours if large organised group options are not your preference.

My tour guide Nadia spoke English and Spanish but I found the clarity of her Spanish meant I did not need a translation into English too often. Three months of travelling meant I had picked up enough of the language to get by.

Because it was winter, it was still dark when they picked me up from Apart Hotel Libertador in the centre of town – selected via the wotif website at the last minute.

We drove by the turquoise lagoon closest to the El Calafate township where we saw pink flamingos, past the impressive condors having a feed and stopped to take a look at the El Calafate tree which, in season, bears a fruit used in jams and chocolates in the town.

It’s an 80-km journey out to the glacier but the snow-capped mountains, autumn foliage, turquoise lakes and Nadia’s commentary pass the time quickly.

After stopping for a view of the glacier from a lookout, we ducked into a small port to board a catamaran for a closer squiz.

When you see piles of snow lying around that haven’t melted as you board, you know it’s cold, but it becomes bone-chilling as the boat moves and you get closer to the 250km2 of ice.

My gloves came on and off each time I wanted to take a photo, often adjusting the exposure to a darker setting to offset the brightness of the white glacier and to capture the deep blue colour within the ice.

Outside the summer months, the area is almost always below zero degrees celsius.

The Moreno glacier is believed to be one of only three advancing glacier in the world, advancing about 2m a year.

The ice formation is 30km long and 5km wide with an ice depth of about 170 metres.

When it reaches land in the L-shaped Lago Argentino, it cuts the lake it half causing a natural dam.

The lake on one side can rise up to 30 metres which causes pressure to break through the ice barrier and create a tunnel under the glacier at its furthest edge.

Varying from one year to every decade this happens and makes spectacular photos and visions when the tunnel eventually caves in.

After the boat ride, we ventured further into the national park to a series of ramps and steps where you can capture photos of the glacier from a million, well almost, different angles.

I think I took more than 400 photographs. It seems a little excessive, even to me, but it can be difficult to capture details when there is a white glacier with white snow-capped mountains in the back ground.

So, even if you don’t have an SLR, it is worth fiddling around with the settings before you get there so you can ensure the detail through the lens.

But, also, it was my last official day as a tourist before I shopped in Buenos Aires so I had to get my final photo fix.

Some platforms give you a great panoramic view, others get you up close and personal but it’s worth traversing them all for different perspectives.

Truly experiencing the glacier also involves listening carefully.

As the sun rises, the ice begins to melt and you can hear giant cracks forming inside.

If you are lucky, like I was, you will even see pieces of the glacier sheering off and falling into the water.

I even got a photo of ice as it plummeted into the water.

Some of the others on my tour had opted for lunch first and missed the five ice falling shows I had.

It truly is a sight to behold, with the thunder-like sounds adding to the effect.

There are even tours onto the glacier if you have enough time.

But El Calafate is a great stepping stone to some of Patagonia’s other delights such as Mount Fitzroy, to the north, and Ushuaia, the most southern tip before Antarctica.

If you fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, try to get seats on the right side for spectacular views of Mount Fitzroy and the surrounding snow-covered mountain range.

The town of El Calafate has great restaurants and fabulous chocolate – there’s Rick’s (recommended by my taxi driver) for a cheap parrilla (mixed grill) or for a classier place (I’m talking a delicious grilled slab of gourmet cheese and the most amazing lamb risotto of my life) then try Casimiro.

There’s also a casino if, unlike me, you’re not at the end of your trip living on credit until you get home.

So, mi amigos, this is the end of my blogging journey. Twenty photo galleries, 18 blogs and thousands of memories later, I have returned to the Sunshine Coast.

I have finally stopped saying si and gracias, having reverted back to boring old yes and thankyou within a few days of my return.

But I am, of course, already dreaming about my next trip. Maybe Central America?

Hasta luego amigos.

A Latin Affair written by Rae Wilson.

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