Our trip through the heart of Patagonia began just a few days ago departing Bariloche, Argentina at 8:00pm with buses Marga.Our journey was to first take us to Perito Moreno, about half way to El Calafate, through the towns of Esquel, Rio Mayo and a few other small hamlets in the middle of the bleak paramo.
As the evening turned to night we left the outskirts of the touristy Bariloche passing more lakes and the jagged surrounding peaks became just a silhouette on the orange and pink horizon, the deep blue night sky yielding to the emerging stars.We let a few sips of whisky massage our bodies into an acceptable sleeping position for the first night on ruta 40.The morning brought us to the speck of a town Río Mayo and some ok coffee as well as a break from the semi-cama seats.As we carried on towards Perito Moreno Liz and I decided maybe we'd be up for tackling the whole 36 hour journey down the famous ruta 40 in one shot.We had seen much worse bus rides in Ecuador and Bolivia so it didn't seem like a big deal to us.
We pulled into Perito Moreno changed our tickets and had a three hour break from the rolling dorm room to grab some lunch.Perito Moreno, not to be confused with the eponymous glacier of the same name further south, was barely a town. One street contained all "commercial" activity and most of the houses along the strip were quiet apart from a couple of homeless Argentinos that just got a hold of another bottle of Quelmes.We had a lomo and a milenesa sandwich from the only place in town that seemed open, found a place for another coffee to kill time and returned to the bus for our 5pm departure.The journey took us through more open paramo, although much lower in elevation than the paramo we've seen before the landscape was similar.First flat barren vistas parted to gently rolling hills of paramo grass tufts neatly spaced and smeared out to the horizon.The muted browns and yellows only broken by the occasional orange and white guanaco turning its black face to glimpse our way before scissoring across the knuckles of paramo grass.
The sun began its decent and we stopped for a moment at the driver's grandma's estancia in what seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.We made our last stop in Bajo Caracoles which Bruce Chatwin described in the 70's travel classic In Patagonia as a town which "…all roads lead to nowhere…" and it didn't seem that much had changed.We returned to the bus provisioned with our dinner of two flavors of Lay's potato chips and a Gatorade, while most the boys that were our "roommates" returned with all the bottles of beer they could carry.We crunched away at our chips and watched the remainder of the color fight drawing to a close on the horizon, Jay the English guy from Gilford offered us some bread and cheese to moisten the salt flat of our tongues.We reclined and turned in for another night after the cheers of the last whisky we all were sharing at this point and were lulled to sleep by the clinking of Warstiener bottles and cheers to "…El Calafate…" by the Englishman and his new drinking buddies from the South Pacific islands of New Caledonia (sp?).
The next day greeted us with an eternal sunrise that lasted through late morning, now around 30 hours into our journey.The sunrise prolonged by the blanket of lavender cirrus clouds casting a shadow across more paramo.A bright slice of orange and yellow blinded to the east and reflected brightly off the mountain range to the west that had crept out of the passing night.We had stopped in El Chaltén and where making our final three hours when the Fitz Roy and Parque Glaciares mountain ranges made their debut.This is exactly how I pictured Patagonia, every picture that I could remember was just like this.Jagged peaks blanketed in glacial snow, off in the distance on the other side of a calm lake, spires of rock reaching to a cloudy sky, somehow still set afire and brightly illuminated by the sun on the other side of the horizon.We broke off onto ruta 11 toward El Calafate officially ending our trek down the partially paved famous ruta 40 that runs down the spine of Argentina.
El Calafate proved to be another tourist town overrun with shops and more restaurants than one needs.The town's entire existence only for visiting the immense Perito Moreno Glacier.Today was our time with the huge block of ice carving out its rock bath tub on its way down toward Lago Argentino.The face of the glacier stands in some places about 60m high and can in some places be measured 140m below the surface of the lake.Lago Argentino is around 550m deep in some places.The overall width of the face of Glacier Moreno is some 2km long and the center of the glacier advances 2m a day!The immensity of the ice field is beyond words and is just as much an auditory experience as a visual one.Huge blocks of ice calve off the face, crashing into the icy waters of the Canal de Témpanos that connects the Brazo Rico arm to the main body of Lago Argentino.
Multiple times throughout the day we would here what would sound like a gun shot and then see the wedges of ice tumble into the water, often causing waves that are as big as ocean swells.Currently the glacier is blocking the Brazo Rico arm of the lake causing a natural ice damn that happens every dozen years or so.The level of the Brazo Rico arm raises until the pressure is to great for the glacier to hold, and then a rupture happens causing a cacophony of ice and water to explode and start all over again.
Just the six or so hours we spent at the glacier were hardly enough time to get the head around comprehending such a massive spectacle of nature.The towers of ice resembled an abstract tire tread leading up through the valley towards its origin in the peaks beyond.To think that glaciers of this size are receding rapidly in other parts of this world is hard to believe and now understand the consequences...
Perito Moreno was a just quick day trip from El Calafate. It was just a brief stop en route to Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego, but unmissable nonetheless.
Since we wanted to take a little extra time at the glacier, we were resigned to taking a tour. The only other transportation to the site was a bus that dropped you off, let you loose for a bit, and then herded you back on the bus - a total of three hours travel time, for an hour and a half of exploration time. Bummer for us, our tour guide was about as interesting as a college lecture.We had to keep ourselves from falling asleep to the lull of his voice. When he said, "This is the part that they call 'breathtaking point' and you will soon see why," we were wondering who stole his enthusiasm.
We were relieved to know that once the bus arrived we were able to go off and explore on our own. After being dropped off, we chose to take the boat out to get the closest glimpse of the glacier. Here, we were herded like cattle onto the catamaran for our hour of face-time with the glacier, the hope of every passenger being a chance at seeing the glacier calving...the sound of which can only be equated to the echoing of a hurricane-level thunderstorm.Unfortunately, we did not see much calving, but did get a nice perspective as to how enormous the glacier actually is.
From there we headed to the pasaleros to have lunch and view the glaciers from the land. All I can say is "wow."The boat ride was nice, but this was incredible. We sat staring at the face of the glacier for the full two hours we were allotted, waiting and listening for the next thunderous roar and corresponding torrent of waves.Sitting here wondering how to portray what we witnessed, leads me only to say this...you had to be there to feel its power - it sucks you in and doesn't allow for any break in attention except to turn to whoever is next to you to say, "wow."