El Calafate, Argentina: A Brief Glimpse at Patagonia

As I walked away from the Ocean Diamond in Ushuaia, the super yacht that had been my home for the past three weeks, I experienced a feeling of disbelief.  It couldn’t be over – not yet.  I had been soaking up the experience of living in a magical bubble, completely disconnected from the outside as I explored the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica and I wasn’t ready to embrace reality again.

Later that day, after taking a nanna nap, I found myself floating in that moment between sleep and wake where reality becomes distorted.  I looked out the window, saw an iceberg float by and rapidly woke up in excitement, ready to don my yellow parka and rush outside with my camera.  As my eyes began to focus, the iceberg morphed into a car and the water it was floating on was in fact the hotel car park.  The final jolt of reality was that the swaying I was feeling was my sea legs, not the ocean, and I was now standing on land.

My heart sank – I wasn’t ready to return to reality.

But fortunately I still had a few more days before I flew home and my half-way house was situated on the southern border of Lago Argentina in a quaint little town called El Calafate.

El Calafate is within easy reach of Glacier Perito Moreno and is conveniently situated between El Chalten and Torres Del Paine.  It is a popular stop for travellers exploring the incredible Patagonia region and as such, caters to the backpacking community.  With only three days up my sleeve before the inevitable return to reality, it was the obvious location to end my Antarctic adventure.

Glacier Perito Moreno

80km away from El Calafate is one of the most popular attractions in Patagonia and my key reason for visiting the town.  Glacier Perito Moreno sits within Los Glaciares National Park and its accessibility and unique features make it a spectacular day out.

“See It”

I was feeling a little concerned that my recent Antarctica adventure had ruined all my future travel experiences and I would find the Glacier somewhat underwhelming.  As if he read my mind, the tour guide on the bus turned up the volume on a piece of music as we approached our first panoramic view.  Unfamiliar with the piece, I can only assume it was the Argentinian version of the Star Wars theme song, belted out to emphasise the magnitude of the scene in front of us!

The glacier stretches 5km across Lago Argentino, 30km back into the mountains and is 60m high.  Hues of blue and white bounce off the icy peaks, changing with the light throughout the day.  The glacier’s ease of accessibility creates a number of viewing points, each presenting a different perspective of the glacier.  Our first panoramic view of the southern side was from the road and emphasised the incredible width of the glacier.  As we approached it shortly after on a boat, the light bouncing off the ice enhanced shapes and colours that were not visible from the road.  When we visited the viewing platforms on the other side of the glacier later in the day, the depth and overwhelming size of the glacier was hard to miss.

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“Hear it”

Perito Moreno is an active glacier that moves 2km a day, resulting in chunks of ice breaking away from the glacier to become new icebergs floating on the lake.  The calving announced itself with a thunderous roar, allowing me time to look up and watch the ice crash into the water.

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“Walk on it”

The southern viewpoint highlighted the width of the glacier, the view from the walkways emphasized its overwhelming vastness and a third option presented the glacier in a different light altogether – the opportunity to walk on the glacier itself.

After enjoying the boat ride across the lake, we crossed over a rocky beach to enjoy a close up view of some well-timed calving.  We strapped on our crampons, had a quick lesson in how to walk on ice and followed our guide towards the spiky, jagged chucks of ice, stretching towards the sky.

Walking on the glacier illustrates how deceptive the views can be from a distance.   The icy peaks that look as sharp as glass appear more rounded and gentle up close.  The colour of the glacier when you first spot it is a dominant blue and yet I found myself walking on white ice, with splashes of brown and grey thrown onto the palette.  And the ice and snow that looks like spiky carpet from a distance is in fact interrupted with crevasses, caves and other glacier formations.

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Laguna Nimez Reserve

Arriving in El Calafate in the morning left me with a free afternoon on a sunny day that I couldn’t bear to waste.  Within walking distance of my hostel was the Laguna Nimez Reserve and as I was still obsessed with the wildlife I had seen in Antarctica, I was keen for a little exercise and bird watching.  Having the place essentially to myself, I followed the well-marked trails, enjoyed the sights of flamingo on the lake and different birds flying around me, and just soaked up the sun.  A thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours if you are an avid bird watcher or simply keen for an uninterrupted, relaxing walk.

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Cerro Frias

My final day in El Calafate was a short one, with a flight out that evening, but I still wasn’t ready to bid my holiday adios.  And a 4×4 jeep drive to the top of Cerro Frias felt like an appropriate way to end it.  It provided me with spectacular panoramic views of some of the places I wanted to come back to explore, including Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy.  I felt I was looking out at a landscape painting and I ended my first experience of Patagonia with a promise that I would return one day to give it the time it deserves.

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

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