El Chaltén was amazing but had wiped me out so after a leisurely start where my eyes decided they didn't want to fully open and embrace the world yet, I slept for most of the three and a half hour journey to the town of El Calafate, which was ok as most of the scenery was bleak Patagonian plains. When we arrived, I managed to haul myself and my things up a hill where we checked into our hostel and our dorm room. Yes, we had to check into our first - and only - booked dorm of the trip (the shared rooms on the salt flat tour were inevitable) as the town was so booked up due to it being high season and a music festival. Still it was only two nights and it was only a dorm for four people, which we shared with a nice Chilean/French couple, but it was still more expensive than most of our private rooms.
Feeling the need for yet more rest, I had a nap whilst Simon amused himself. I eventually managed to haul myself off the bunk and we went out into the town for a look round and to buy our bus tickets to the glacier for the next day. It was the first day of the annual music festival in town and it seems that the town had built an amphitheatre just for this purpose. We were told that the headline act for that night was a band that was really popular in Latin America although we haven't heard of them but loads of people were going. However it was pretty chilly, I was still exhausted, they weren't coming on stage until about 10.30pm and as we hadn't heard of them, we opted for an early night instead. Rock and roll. Despite our plans for cooking, the effort seemed too great so we found a pub where Simon tried the microbrew and we ate pizzas.
The next morning, feeling rejuvenated, we took a trip to the supermarket for lunch and dinner supplies. It seemed that the population of the town also thought this was a good time to visit. After making some lunch, we walked into town and spent some time in an internet cafe, making use of the increased quality of internet, although it was by far our most expensive internet cafe at over £3 per hour! After this we slowly wandered to the bus station and before we knew it, we'd found ourselves in a chocolate shop, purchasing a small sample of the stuff.
The main reason we came to El Calafate was to visit its famous neighbour, the Perito Moreno Glacier, so this is where we headed on a bus that afternoon. On the way, we drove along the lake that El Calafate is situated on and saw some groups of flamingos. Once in the Los Glaciares National Park (the same huge area as we walked in from El Chaltén) we spotted a condor flying really close, following the bus for a bit. The drive in was beautiful and then suddenly we caught our first glimpse of Perito, as I like to call him, in the distance. After being stuck in a traffic jam in the park for a while, we finally arrived and had four hours to spend marvelling at Perito.
Perito is huge and is, according to Wikipedia, one of three Patagonian glaciers that is still growing, apparently by up to two metres per day. It has a height of over 60m above the water level and is 30km long. When we arrived, and quickly made our way down one of the many steel walkways to the first viewpoint, my first impression was of a huge ice monster, advancing from the mountains: it didn't look like it should be there. The peaks rising up from its surface made it look like a frosted Christmas cake further back and like strange ice sculptures nearer the front. It is absolutely huge and for four hours, we could hardly take our eyes off it. In fact four hours wasn't enough, I could have stayed longer. We spent time walking around, viewing it from many different angles and taking masses of photos. When the sun came out, we could see the blue glowing from inside the peaks- really magical.
But the best bit was when huge chunks of it fell off the front, into the lake below. The sounds of the cracking, then of ice smashing into the water were incredibly loud and dramatic. Towards the start of our visit, Simon managed to video a substantial piece of ice fall into the water, along with the cheers of some enthusiastic visitors. It was awesome, in the proper sense of the word. After this we saw some more bits fall off and it became addictive, waiting for the next one. A couple of hours later we were rewarded with the most enormous piece of ice, probably the size of several buildings, breaking off and crashing down below, throwing ice for tens of metres around. (Thoughtfully, after 32 deaths in 20 years from people being hit by ice, the park decided to move back the boundaries of where people can stand.) It was so exciting to watch, just incredible.
Sadly, a little cold and windswept, we had to leave after four hours to catch the bus back to town, but we spent the time on the bus looking at our photos and deleting many of the duplicates. We had decided against taking a boat tour to get a bit closer to it and are happy with the decision as we wouldn't have wanted to waste time at the port and travelling on a crowded boat. But what an afternoon.
We got back to the hostel about 9pm so quickly cooked some dinner, made some sandwiches for the bus the next day, packed and headed off to bed. As we were just getting off to sleep, the wind suddenly picked up, assaulting the building to such an extent that the windows and even the wall shook. These Patagonian winds aren't famous for nothing!