Tuesday, 15 April 2014


29th - 31st Mar 2014

End of the Perito Merino glacier
El Calafate (pronounced El Calafarty) is in the southern part of the Parque National Los Glaciares, and quite a charming little town, if somewhat touristy. The main street is dotted with restaurants, bars (didn't see an Irish one), souvenir shops and again, like Bariloche, lots of shops selling chocolates. These Patagonians really seem to go in for chocolate.

I took residence on spec in a smallish old hotel, La Loma. It helps that this is not the tourism high season as, so far, I have had no problems with fully booked hotels, and anyway there are so many to choose from.

Left: The lounge/dining area. The rest of the place was mostly wood panelled with ancient wooden floors which made alarming creaking noises when you walked on them. It was also very comfortable with free wifi (as in all hotels) and so cheap! £25 per night, including breakfast.

The main attraction around here are the glaciers which you get to see either by trekking across them or, if you are lazy like me, by a boat trip on the vast Lake Argentino. I booked onto one such 'cruise' and paid a little extra for the added comfort of sitting in the 'Captain's Lounge'. This boasted more comfortable seats plus complimentary snacks and drinks.

Right: The driver's seat. It was a modern twin-hulled vessel which took on board about 100 pax, at a guess.

We set sail from the port of Puerto Bandero at 0830hrs for an eight hour cruise around various parts of the lake. The scenery was rather stunning and fortunately it was sunny with blue skies. I came dressed for the cold. I had lugged a warm coat, fleece and sweater around for long enough without needing them and was damned if I wasn't going to wear them at some point. It was actually quite warm.

We were served croissants (stuffed with processed cheese and ham) and coffee or tea for breakfast. This was followed, for some reason but quite welcome, by a glass of Scotch whisky at NAAFI break! Self service after that. I presume this is a requirement for the more chilly days. Later in the day it was sandwiches (cheese and ham of course) and as much wine, coffee etc. as you wanted. Rather a good deal in my opinion.
I have yet to fathom out why 99% of all South American sandwiches consist of processed cheese and ham. The remaining 1% are cheese and salami. There must be a market for a bit of variety I would have thought. Never got an answer to that one (nor to the question of why there are never any plugs in bathroom washbasins for that matter). Research continues. 

Left: There were many icebergs floating around but fortunately no Titanic moments for us.

Most of the floating ice comes from the Upsala glacier (right). This is because the leading edge is lying on the water and bits keep breaking off.

Left: The skipper steered the ship into a raft of broken ice. Some of the ice was roped up and given as (temporary) souvenirs to punters who had their photos taken holding and licking the stuff.

Right: A smaller model, the Spegazzini glacier which we passed somewhere en-route.

As with drivers of all vessels and vehicles the skipper was constantly supping at his mug of mate. They can't operate without it. At least he didn't get stuck into the whisky.

Left: The 'hostie' passed around the mug (it's a sort of gourd actually) so  we could all have a suck. I can't say that I am likely to become addicted to it.

Then on to the 'big daddy' of the local ice-flows; the Perito Merino glacier (right). This one does not regularly shed ice, but has periods when it 'calves' and great walls of ice break off and collapse into the water which, apparently, makes alarming groaning and crashing noises. Nothing like this happened on our visit. The leading edge of ice here runs vertically down to the lake bed.

Left: Another view of the Perito Moreno. By the way, just in case you are interested, Perito Merino was a great 19th century Argentinian explorer whose major claim to fame was diverting the course of a river from flowing into Chile and thus stopping Chile claiming the headwaters. The unremarkable small town of Perito Merino (at which we stopped on the way down) is named in honour of this achievement.

I think we were told it is 250ft high above the water, and moves damned quickly for a glacier at 2 meters a day, or is it a week, or maybe a month. To be honest, I've forgotten.

Left: Not all of us were entirely enraptured by the views. Or maybe this chap had been over-doing the free hand-outs. In fact there were quite long periods when we were just sailing along with nothing much different to look at....and it had been quite an early start. 

Right: Another picturesque scene viewed from the stern.

We were even served champagne (Argentinian) on the final leg home. All in all a very interesting , relaxing and enjoyable day out. I think the bus dropped us off at our hotels at about 1700hrs.

The rest of my time in El Calafate was spent wandering around the town and enjoying on at least one occasion a very good supper. They do cook extremely good trout in this part of the world.

Right: Just in case you are wondering, the old chap on the bench with me is in fact a stuffed dummy. I was telling him all about my travels. He proved a much better listener than most of the other people I have regaled.

On further south next to 'El Fin del Mundo', Tierra del Fuego.

No comments:

Post a Comment