Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Land of Ice

Hey everyone! :)
This will be one of the last posts done "on the road", and hopefully one that will cool the hot summer days of all of you back home ;)

We arrived to the last stop of our journey - a small town called El Calafate.
Even though this trip was done between Chile´s Puerto Natales and Argentina´s El Calafate - both very popular and well travelled tourist destinations not too far from each other - the road connecting them just had to be... "special":

With sheep:

Yes, we're definitely back in Argentina :)

Anyway, to El Calafate. The stories we heard beforehand told of it as a very expensive place, but it is just another average Argentinian town (cost-wise). Maybe a little more on the expensive side, being that it is a big tourist destination, but nothing too extraordinary.
We arrived yesterday afternoon and got to love the place right away.
Our hostel is very decent, with (finally) real 24/7 warm water/showers, floor heating, provided soap/shampoo and organized excursions to nearby places of interest. No breakfast is included, but there's a real good kitchen here, and for all above we're paying 35 Arg$ per night (that's around 12US$).
They even threw a third night for free if we go with them to Perito Moreno glacier (which we did today :))
Anyway, I'll post some hostel/agencies reviews and recommendations once we return home, so there'll be more on that later...

Lately glacier-oriented tourism made this town's population bloom. It has more than tripled in the last seven years (is somewhat above 20k now), and all this growth surprisingly made for a really nice place.
There are shops, restaurants and cafes all around, but unlike the other tourist-oriented places we've visited on this trip, people here are very polite. No one is stopping you on the street to try and sell you something. When you leave a shop and say "Gracias" (Thank you) you even get a "De nada" (You're welcome) in return. This is actually the first town I hear this in since this trip started.
There is a much better driver culture here as well. Personally, this is the nicest place to be in of all those we visited on this little tour.

All the shops and restaurants accept US Dollars and Euros in addition to Argentinian Pesos, which is very helpful when you've just arrived in town. Also, unlike the places so far - the exchange rate is pretty much set at 1:3 (the real exchange rate of US$ and Arg$), and people are not trying to cheat you out of your dollar value.

So, on the afternoon of day one we just scouted the town, the shops, and the excursions. We came here with two goals in mind, and two days to fulfill them.
First of them is to visit the Perito Moreno glacier, and that is what we did today.

Perito Moreno is one of the (if not the one) most famous glacier of the world. Unlike many others which are shrinking, this one is constantly growing. It is sliding down from the Andes at a rate of approximately 1 meter per day, and pushing through the Lago Argentino ("Argentine Lake", the biggest lake of Argentina, and third biggest in South America) towards the opposite shore.
Once it reaches the opposite shore, it creates a natural dam which splits the lake into two. One part of the lake then rises and creates pressure, which drills the "ice dam". In a process taking an unpredictable number of years, the dam is drilled, a hole is created (and therefore a natural ice "bridge" as well that connects the land and the glacier), and it collapses. Last such collapse occured in this July (2008), and before it in years 2006 and 2004, but before that the times between collapses were quite some years longer. When the next collapse will occur, no one knows.

However, let's arrive at the glacier first.
On the way there, we stumble upon some eagles sitting by the road observing the dawn:

The road west of El Calafate towards the glacier:

...and finally, first sighting of the Perito Moreno glacier:

A closer look as a chunk of ice breaks off:

...and a closer look at this a 16 km long, 5 km wide beast of a glacier:

There was also a boat ride included, from which we could see the glacier from up-close, with the mountain range that generates it in the background:

One last look at the glacier before setting off back to town:

Allright, I'll have to stop writing now as other people at the hostel are in need of the computer (and I'm already embarassed as to how long I'm occupying it to write this and select the pictures lol), so this will have to do for now...
Cyas! :)

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