Vern: We flew from Ushaia to El Calafate, and unfortunately got stung with the hidden costs of flying: shuttles to and from the airports, and an airport tax which annoyingly wasn't included in the ticket. Nonetheless the alternative was a multi-day bus trip and we were pleased to have avoided this. After finding our hostel, we ventured out to explore town. The powerful cold winds battered our North Face jackets as we kicked stones down an incomplete concrete road to reach the town's bay. It was hard to get an unobstructed photo of the pretty opaque blue glacial lake as where a beach would be was a building site. All over town, in fact there are tiny little building sites. Unbelievably with vacant land in every direction, it seems that the developers are putting up and selling tiny 20 x 15 feet cabins all over the place.
El Calafate is a one-horse town, and the pony only has one trick: the Perito Moreno glacier.
The glacier is named for a famous Argentinian (we know this because there was a copper bust of a man in a traffic circle with the same name). Oddly, if you add one 'r' to make it 'perrito moreno' it translates to 'dark puppy' which is a funny name for a snow-white ice mountain.
At one point the entire area was covered in ice and the glaciers moved around sculpting the landscape (for clarity, this was several hundred million years ago, rather than at one point in our trip, as this would probably have made international news) but it got a lot warmer and the glaciers now dominate Patagonian canyons. Icebergs bobbed past us on the river next to the road as we drove into the park, these having broken off the Parque Nacional los Glaciares's many glaciers.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is 30km long, up to 6km wide and 70metres (20 storeys) sits above water level with another 150m below the surface. It is the park's fourth largest glacier, but it is the only one which is advancing (getting bigger) and is the most accessible. 4 hours worth of walkways have been built into the opposing mountain side to provide visitors with different viewing points of the other-worldly surface area of the glacier. The front was a wall of white and baby blue, with erosion lines similar to a sheer cliff face and the top was like army of close-marching Ku Klux Klansman stretching out to the horizon. As the sun hit different shards at different angles, the peaks turned from ice-cream, to crystal to aqua-marine semi-precious stone.
The air shook with thunder every few moments as massive ice blocks detached from the main body of the glacier and smashed into the water below. Luckily it was a beautiful day, and the sun was beaming down on the glacial face causing tremendous theatrics.
We heard a loud crack and were rewarded when our eyes found the source; miliseconds later a chunk of ice the size of a Boeing carved off the glacier and, like a falling chandelier, it's extremities bulleted into the water's surface, while the body of the chunk disappeared into the lake, only to break the water's surface again, re-emerge and burst skywards like the Titanic's hull's last hurrah. The resulting iceberg drifted away to freedom.
Four hours was a long time to look at a giant ice world, but all my verbosity does nothing to describe this natural phenomenon so I'm affraid you'll have to get down here to see what I've been rattling on about.