We get up early, pack our bags and have breakfast. We had a dorm mate join us on our last night. We are leaving the hostel by 9am and get a bus to the main bus terminal with our bus driver showing us where we get off and can get a bus to the airport from.
At the bus terminal we get cama seats to Iguacu for the 30th, the same day as our flight back to Buenos Aires, to save us having to spend a night in Buenos Aires. We leave what should be plenty of time between our 3.30pm flight arrival and our 8.45pm bus departure time. We are travelling with Via Barochile, for 375 pesos each.
Bus tickets sorted we get another local city bus up to the airport where we check ourselves in. Being typically early, we wait a couple of hours and then check our luggage in. We get some horrendously overpriced airport food for lunch and head through security. By the way BA's domestic airport is as depressing as those we have previously struck through America and South American countries. I'm sure we have better airports with better facilities back home!
Our flight with Aerolineas Argentinas is fine, we even get a snack and drink. We pass over the flat and never ending pampas farmland south of Buenos Aires before we eventually ascend above the clouds.Later we drop beneath the clouds and are able to watch the beautiful Patagonian landscape pass beneath us. Towering mountains and aquamarine lakes surrounded by snow. Beautiful!
We land on a desolate runway and taxi in. The airport is about the same size as Invercargills! We enter the airport and are greeted by a cat lounging on the stairs. Eventually our bags come out, but Ryan's bag has had a pocket zip ripped off, padlock and all. He jumps through the luggage conveyor belt hole and security run after him. He's trying to find his zip, but who knows where it is - it could have come off back in B.A or on the plane. Eventually he comes back into the airport through a side door, security hot on his heels. The airport has emptied out now and with Ryan ranting about the airport staff this and that, we get onto finding how we get to El Calafate from the airport. Ryan balks at the 26 peso shuttle (p.p) but then realises this is the cheapest option. We pay up and put our bags in the shuttle trailer. We get dropped at our hostel and are greeted by some of the friendliest staff in all of South America!
They run through various tour options for the glaciers and El Chalten. We are shown around the hostel and to our room. Our four bed dorm is small but modern and has lockers. It also has its own toilet and shower. And underfloor heating is definitely the go!
We decide on our glacier tour - a guided tour to the glacier for 104 pesos each. The mini ice trekking tour was just too expensive - 600 pesos each.
We walk down to the supermarkets in town, wrapped up against the cold. Back in the hostel we cook a late dinner of rice risotto and fresh chicken milanesa around 9pm. Still early for Argentinians! We chat to the British couple we are sharing our dorm with.
The breakfast at America Del Sur is amazing, probably the best yet, or one of! Cereal, three kinds, bread, juice, hot drinks, including hot chocolate and cake. Our pick up is at 8am and we head off on the 80km drive to the Perito Moreno glacier.
Our guide is very good, explaining in English and Spanish, information on the glacier, other glaciers and ranching in the area. In the early - mid 1900's the government gave 30,000 hectares away to anyone. The catch was you had to live there for 30 years. Much of the land was overgrazed with farmers thinking stock ratios would be the same as elsewhere, but down here a sheep needs 1 hectare per sheep. Consequently the sheep overgrazed the land and the best soil blew away. These days the stations are around 1 million hectares each.
The landscape is amazing, yellow tussocks, blue lakes and snow covered mountains everywhere. There are icebergs, a brilliant blue floating on the lakes.
We stop for pictures of a condor by the roadside and see the granite peaks of Torres Del Paine in the distance. The wind when we stop for another photo opportunity is cold, fierce and biting. We are quickly back on the bus!
As we get closer to the glacier we can see the lake that periodically gets damned when the glacier grows and reaches the land. The water rose to around 29m higher than normal last time it happened and we can see all the dead trees high above the current lake shoreline. The glacier damned the lake in 2006 and 2008 but is yet to do it in 2010. We pay a 75 pesos entry fee to the glacier national park and soon come around a corner with the glacier filling the valley right in front of us. It is quite incredible! We both agree that Patagonia and the glacier are the highlight of our trip.
We pay 50 pesos for an hour boat ride. Once we are out on the lake we wrap up warm and head out onto the catamaran. The wind is biting but it dies down and then it's actually quite nice. We take a hundred photos of the wall of ice looming in front of us. We marvel at its jagged peaks and troughs, its icy blueness and sheer size. We see people trekking over the gentler slopes of the glacier at its sides.
Back on land our bus takes us to the main carpark and cafe block. From here we set out down onto the catwalks to take in the views of the north face of the glacier that we couldn't see from the boat. We head to one of the far platforms to view the northern face and have our packed lunch. Later we find another platform to watch the glacier from. We hear and see some big chunks of ice calve off and splash into the icy lake below. It's an impressive thundering sound.
As well as the glacier there are spectacular views away from the glacier, up the lake to a snow capped valley of mountains. After taking another hundred photos our three hours (11.30 - 2.30pm) at the catwalks is up and we get back on our warm bus. The wind at the glacier was generally pretty calm so we were lucky to be able to be outside for the whole three hours. I can imagine though on cold days a hot drink in the cafe would be very appealing.
Back on the warm bus my eyelids get very heavy and as much as I wanted to take in the scenery again on the return trip, the only scenery I saw was the insides of the eyelids! We pull back into El Calafate and have a look at thermos' in town, so we can have a hot drink while we are trekking in El Chalten. But they're over 100 pesos so we decide to go without. We get some pasta snacks for easy dinners in El Chalten and head back to the hostel.
We upload photos and book a deal with return bus to El Chalten and two nights in a dorm for 210 pesos each. We leave tomorrow morning at 8am. We investigate costs of doing Torres Del Paine but it's going to be too expensive. Accommodation in the park is horrendous - 30 quid each per night. Otherwise it's a two hour bus ride back to Natales, 8000 pesos on the bus each, then the cost of Natales accommodation. Plus the entry fee for the National Park. So we decide to forgo Torres Del Paine and spend longer in El Chalten. There the town is in the National Park, so there is no entry fee and accommodation is reasonably priced, at 40 pesos per person, per night. And we don't need transport from the town to the hikes.
Ryan whips up some cup-of-soups and fresh bread for dinner, but there are no coffee cups, so he makes it in a pot with a generous amount of water. Bit of Doug's water-down-the-tomato-sauce in him I reckon!