It’s too hot to go outside today in Buenos Aires. If I had gotten an early start to my day, maybe I could have done a few things. But since I had nothing planned for this week (well, actually I haven’t planned anything specific for the rest of my stay here in Argentina- so unlike me but I’m getting comfortable with the idea) and since I was up until 4:30AM reading a book, I decided to just stay in and relax until the sun goes down. I haven’t been outside but the weather forecast tells me it’s 34 degrees (~92F), and looking out my window I can see that the sun is blasting down. It probably feels like it’s 40+ degrees. It hasn’t rained once since I arrived in BA and in Patagonia where I expected the worst kind of weather, we were incredibly lucky. The only day with a bit of precipitation was the day we visited Perito Moreno, which takes me to January 6, 2012.
So far I was beyond thrilled with my Patagonian adventure, and walking on glaciers the day before was unexpected and unbelievable. We’d gone back to El Calafate the night before and had several reasons to stay over there. As it has a airport, most/some fly to El Calafate from Buenos Aires like we did and use it as a base to visit the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The south side of the park is just 80km from town, making it a great stop for those who want to visit the famous Perito Moreno glacier. The bus terminal perched on top of the hill serves many routes, including Puerto Natales, Chile where we were heading the next day. The town has grown over the years with banks, restaurants, equipment/clothing shops (Columbia, North Face, etc), and a range of accommodations. I loved El Chalten for its rustic charms and beauty, and at first I had an immediate disliking for El Calafate. In comparison to El Chalten, El Calafate felt like a snobby, sophisticated cousin, much like Aspen, Colorado or another resort town. But it grew on me gradually. It’s a place where you can have your outdoor adventure during the day and return to have a cozy dinner by the fireplace. We’d already decided on our dinner venue for the evening, which was to be La Tablita where the specialty of the house (like most places in town) was parrilla (or asado– Argentine grill). I keep vegetarian when I cook for myself or if I can help it, but I knew once I arrived in Argentina I’d want to try everything so I was actually looking forward to dinner.
With that settled, we headed out to Glaciar Perito Moreno with our local guide at 9AM. The two hour drive went by quickly as the scenery along Lago Argentino kept me marveling over its beauty. During the ride we learned that while the Argentine side of this giant glacier is roughly the size of Buenos Aires, it only accounts for 15% of the total. The other 85% of the ice field extends over to Chile where it stretches out to meet the Pacific Ocean. On the Argentine side, the glaciers connect to Lagos Argentina, Viedma, and San Martin. While most of the glaciers in the world are receding, Perito Moreno is actually “stable”- i.e. as much as it is melting, it is growing. It’s also special in that it is in constant motion, moving about 2m per day. This movement makes for huge chucks of ice to break off (they call this calving) and also rupture. When this giant mass of ice moves and is pushed against land, it dams the Rico branch of the lake, causing water levels to rise up to 30m. When the ice melts from below a natural tunnel starts to form and eventually when the weight of the ice above can’t be supported anymore, the dam collapses. We were told that this “rupture” is a spectacular sight (and sound) with an enormous explosion of water and ice. The last rupture was in July of 2008 (it’s happened 20 times since 1917) and everyone thinks another one is due soon.
As one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, there are various ways to see this glowing mass of ice. We took an hour-long boat ride to see the southern part of the glacier (Brazo Rico) which allowed us to see just how large and imposing Perito Moreno really is. It was a bit cloudy but we were lucky that it didn’t snow or rain, as I spent most of my time on the top deck staring at the glacier.
We then went to the Iceberg Channel (Canal de los Tempanos) to view the the north face of the glacier. The national park has done a great job of setting up a series of wooden walkways and platforms that provide enough distance from the glaciers but guarantee amazing views. Not that any part of this natural wonder was less than awe-inspiring, there were definitely great spots to take it all in. I suppose watching a glacier can be as thrilling as watching grass grow. But there was an electricity and excitement in the air, a heightened sense of suspense and anticipation as we all listened for the slightest crack and rumbling in the ice. And as if to reward us for our patience (more likely good luck than patience), I got to witness not one but two ice calvings. As soon as we heard a loud crack we snapped our heads over, just in time to see a huge chunk of ice fall off the glacier and plummet down into the water below. I just stood there, stunned, realizing that my reflexes were too slow and I didn’t get a video or even a photo of it. It was the same when it happened the second time- I stared at the falling ice, probably with my mouth gaping open.
We bombarded Antoine, the glaciologist from Switzerland, with a lot of questions- why is it blue, how can you tell how old a glacier is, what makes it a glacier, etc. As a doctoral student in glaciology who is going to spend 6 weeks in Antarctica after this trip for his studies, he was obviously in his element and loving every moment. He graciously answered all of our questions but we left him alone, for the most part, to enjoy Perito Moreno (he was the only one who captured an ice calving on video during our visit). I’m sure as a scientist Antoine appreciated this glacier but he looked like the happiest little kid, and it was hard not to share his enthusiasm. As someone who didn’t even know the existence of glaciologists a few weeks ago, I can’t even begin to describe how big this ice field is or what luminous shade of turquoise crystal it emanates. But I can say that I am now a certified glacier lover and I am officially putting Antarctica on my list of places to visit.
Back in town, Lynne went to a bird sanctuary with Antoine and Joy while I took a break to write. Lynne came back to recount a story about a “hawk attack,” a funny experience she shared with Antoine and Joy that kept us in stitches every time it was brought up for many days that followed. At 7:30PM, we all met up for dinner at La Tablita as planned. Carola told us that it’s a local favorite and that we had to get in there before 8PM. And just like she said, by 8 a crowd was beginning to form outside. The service was friendly, the restaurant was modern but ye very warm, and the Patagonian lamb that Lynne and I shared (huge portions) was the best lamb dish I ever had. Along with the grilled lamb, Lynne and I split an order of sauteed acelga (Swiss chard), and flan for dessert. With two glasses of Malbec, cover charge, plus tip, my share of the bill came to $30 USD. No wonder this place is so popular. I would eat there all the time, too if I lived there.
As we got ready for bed Lynne and I sighed happily, thinking of what we’ve seen and done so far and looking forward to crossing over to Chile tomorrow. Up next, Chile!