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Patagonia: El Calafate

It was a seven night hike through the majestic Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming. That was all it took. Trekking had me: hook, line, and sinker. That was ten years ago with two high school buddies. Since then, Southern Patagonia has been a locale I longed to experience.  Ash is warming to hiking.  Slowly, but warming.

El Calafate - LagoonSaying farewell to Buenos Aires was tough. But as we stepped off the jet bridge in El Calafate, we were greeted with a chilly breeze, wide open spaces, and crisp air. An adventure awaited us in this fabled part of the world. Matt and Laura patiently went Trick or Treating with us, hostel style. More tricks than treats until knocking on Che Lagarta’s door. It was the equivalent to a King Size candybar on October 31st. We cruised the small town of 10,000 then caught some rest. The next morning we sipped coffee then headed out to the lagoon just outside of El Calafate. With a backdrop of snow capped peaks and Lago Argentino’s glacial blue water, the otherwise barren land was quite enjoyable despite the cold wind.

All the stray rocks lying around produced visions of the Atlas Stones from the World’s Strongest Man competition. Playing the part of Magnus Ver Magnusson (5-time champion), I challenged Ashley to a friendly match of throwing boulders. Ashley clearly won…

El Calafate - Laguna - v8 El Calafate - Laguna - v11

PatagoniaOn to the main event. Just one of a few advancing glaciers in the world, Perito Moreno was jawdropping. Being cheap backpackers, we took the necessary steps to create an independent tour of this must see. The rural road looped through the barren Patagonia landscape with a quick pit stop to warm up and handle farm animals. Then it was into Los Glaciares National Park ($16 entrance fee) and immediately onto a boat ($12) to see the glacier up close. As if the sheer size of the glacier wasn’t impressive enough (almost 100 square miles), the creaking sounds of the icy mass expanding and contracting made us wonder what would happen next. Just then, we caught a jagged piece of ice fall into the frigid water below. With that, the one hour boat tour was over. Or was it? An iceberg had cleverly lodged itself near the slip, preventing the boat from docking. Like a cowboy lassoing a calf, a sailor tossed a hefty rope around the menacing mass of ice then the tourist ship turned tugboat drug the iceberg out of the way.

Big Boat, Bigger Glacier Moreno Glacier Ice Rodeo

The next vantage point were the balconies. We walked nearly every foot of these steel constructed pedestrian ramps and were afforded an array of angles to view the Moreno Glacier. The contrast between the evergreens, blue ice, rocky mountains, and the gray sky was incredible. We sat upon a particular lookout for about thirty minutes listening to the active glacier and hoping to see another piece of ice fall to its watery death. No such luck, though the sounds reminiscent of a shotgun blast were just fine. It was then back to El Calafate to catch a three hour bus to El Chalten, a hiking mecca of Patagonia.

Moreno Glacier Through the Trees Blue Eyes, Blue Ice

- Greg

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. El Calafate is one of Argentina’s tourist bastions because of its airport’s ability to handle large planes. Thus, many packaged tours run wild and the town can be quite expensive for dining. Luckily, there is a supermarket that offers fair prices if cooking is suitable.

  2. Two tours are offered to actually climb onto the Moreno Glacier: Minitrekking ($120) and Big Ice ($170). There seems to be a monopoly by one tour operator, so pricing is obscene and negotiating is fruitless. However, reviews of Big Ice are mostly positive and the experience is not sullied by droves of ice trekkers. You can piece together a similar trip (no ice trekking) for about $50 if on a tight budget.

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