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Trip Report Argentina and Chile, Part 3: El Calafate, Perito Moreno, All Glaciers

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For the first part of our trip, Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires, Santiago and Punta Arenas, search BillJ under Latin America for
"Our Quick trip to Argentina and Chile."
Also, you may be interested in Part 2;
Argentina and Chile, Part 2: Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Fin del Mundo

Sunday: Bring the rubber band car to the service station in Ushuaia on the way to the airport. Gauge still shows full, but . . . . Takes 10 litres. Went 93 km. Service stations are all full service, and I got burned once in Mexico by a quick fingered guy, so I watched him like a hawk. No funny business. So all the way to the airport we´re trying to do the math converting to gallons and miles, but still it doesn´t compute. So I tell the guy in the Hertz office his car has a bad gauge. Gave him too much gas. All of a sudden his English wasn´t so good. So maybe I´m out a few bucks. Didn´t make a big deal out of it.
Off to El Calafate. Flew up the east coast of Argentina. Thought I spotted the entrance to Magellan Strait. Not much to look at until we turned inland and trailed along the River Santa Cruz, which is the outlet for both Lake Argentina, the largest lake in Argentina, and the lake to the north. The country side is totally devoid of vegetation. Looks like flying into Vegas.
Our cab driver (80 pesos into town) was Juan Fangio reincarnated. (If you know who Juan Fangio is, you are a solid Argentinian, and-or you are showing your age.)
"Good car, good road, good driver. Perfecto." as he topped 150. DW´s knuckles were white on the handle over the door.
Juan took a short cut once he hit town, and we found ourselves on a runway. Yes, a bona fide airport runway, with the stripes still on it. And house built along it. Seems it is the old municipal airport, and now part of the city.
Checked into the Linda Vista Apart Hotel. With the three of us, finally found a hotel that met DW´s minimum standards that wouldn´t crowd us, thereby allowing us all in one room. This one is the best value hotel we had on the trip. Nothing fancy, no robes and slippers, and bring your own shampoo. But clean and neat. Zuk, the proprietress was a sweetheart. She helped us immensely. Room has a bedroom, a complete kitchen, kitchen table and sofa-bed, one bathroom with shower over tub. Son stayed in the loft upstairs (two beds). All for $105 US per night.
El Calafate is a new town, in a manner of speaking. Only 5,000 people 5 years ago, now about 20,000, and maybe about a million tourists every day. Most of the buildings are new. The main street, Avenidas Libertador, is short easily walkable, with all manner of shops, internet, banks with atm´s, and restaurants and cafes galore. Linda Vista is one block off the main street, near the center of everything. The hotel´s computer is mostly down, and when not down, agonizingly slow. Son used the internet stores up on main street.
While we walked around, I stopped in at two travel agencies to scope out the Perito Moreno Glacier, and the all glacier tour. I also stopped at the Parque Nacional Glaciers information center and got more info.
Perito Moreno trip is generally 80 to 110 pesos per person by bus. Leave 8, return 3. With three hours on the ground at the glacier. I found a car rental agency, Fiorasi, across from the park info center. Volkswagon is 236 pesos (including all insurance), good for 250 km. Moreno is 160 km round trip. Can leave later in am, not so rushed, spend more time on the ground, more freedom, etc. Pick up car at 8PM, return by next evening at 8.
So a no brainer. Rent the car. Easy decision. Road is good, some construction en route, some part of road is dirt, but well packed.
Park entrance fee is 60 pesos per person.
Dinner that night at Pura Vida, in the DK book and Son´s Lonely Planet. Just absolutely outstanding, the first of three totally excellent dinners in El Calafate. Kind of a funky place about 2 blocks from hotel.
Monday: Son´s birthday. Beautiful day. Had a decent breakfast at Linda Vista (she will cook eggs if asked) piled in our VW and off we went. The road is fine, no problems.
There are two boat tours you can take at the glacier; north side, and south side. I was told the north side is primarily for the tour busses, so we planned on doing the south side. You pass the take off point along the road. We stopped there. Sailing was at 1015 and 1130, we happened to get there about 1115. so just right. This is well worth it. The boat just gets up close and personal with the south side of Perito Moreno glacier. You can hear the cracking and moaning, and yes, calving. There was just a few little calves the day we were there. Everyone piles on top and jostles for position to take pictures, but the boat driver knows this, and stays in one spot a long time. So not to worry, you end up getting your pictures, and have marvelous conversations with the others all along.
After this little cruise, we got back in the car and headed up to the top. There is construction going on, so we park down below and shuttle busses take us up. There is a cafe and we had lunch.
Then we walked down the elaborate walkway system they have built. There are several lookout points along the way. Me and DW aren´t so good with lots of stairs anymore, so we only went down to the second one. Son went all the way down, but said the second one was almost better, as you got a wider view.
People at these lookouts are just sitting and listening. The glacier talks, moans, cracks, and sometimes hisses as water and ice boil up from below. It is almost spiritual. People are generally very quiet.
Then all at once a huge chunk of ice breaks off, with great splashing. Sound reaches you a few seconds after you see it. Sounds like guns going off, and echoes around for several seconds. And these were just little ones. Wow!
DW is excited. So am I. This is great.
We took our time seeing stuff, got home about 5 PM. Son had some computer business to take care of, I took the car back. Later gave Son his present, a poetry book by Neruda which we picked up while in Santiago. He really liked this since he is a bit of a poet, and is aware of Neruda´s work. The book is a collection of his best, in Spanish and English, though Son reads Spanish pretty well.
Dinner that night was a full fledged Parilla, at La Tablita, probably the best dinner we had while in South America. It was outstanding. This is a favorite of the locals for special ocassions and tourists alike. Gotta love meat!

The next day we had booked through the hotel the All Glacier Tour for 335 pesos each. You can upgrade to CAptains Club for another 110 pesos when you get there. Bus picks you up at 0730. I think we could have saved a few pesos by keeping the car and driving ourselves to Puerta Banderas, where the boats take off. But I didn´t think about that and do the arithmetic. Its only 40 some km to Puerta BAnderas. Also, when we got there, we were the last on the boat, so the Captains club and upstairs were full. Turns out was just fine. You´re up on deck looking at things so much, doesn´t matter where you sit.

On the bus ride out, you are informed that the boat will not be able to get close to Upsala Glacier due to heavy calving, and too many large ice bergs. They offered your money back and a quick ride back once we got to Banderas. Don´t think anyone took the refund. Glad we didn´t.

The boat is well appointed with airplane like seating. The first stop is Spegazinni glacier. There are lots of ice bergs about, but the boat gets very close to the glacier. Again, we can hear the thing creaking, moaning, and cracking. Some small calving. The boat drove right up to some icebergs, allowing people to break off chunks. There was great revelry on deck as people passed around a piece of 3,000 year old ice and bit off a chunk or two. Would like to have had some whiskey to put some in. DW is ecstatic. This is fantastic. But the best was yet to come.

Next we drove over to Upsala, stopping a couple km´s short due to glacial log jams. But oh WOW! These bergs are bigger than the boat. All shapes sizes and colors, especially the crystal neon blue. Again, lots of jostling on deck for pictures, but captain stayed around each spot and no problems getting your pics. DW took about 100 pictures. My camera´s battery gave out.

Son has been working in Antarctica and on ice breakers in the Antarctic seas for about 4 years. He told us this was the best glacial experience he has had outside of Antarctica, including New Zealand and Alaska. Truly awesome!

We then motored over to Onelli Bay and docked. We walked through a beautiful forest area to a small lake at the foot of Onelli glacier. There is only a small river connecting Onelli to Lake Argentina. There is a cafe about half way to the lake, but it is closed for business, though seemingly open if you want to go inside and have your box lunch. Most people walked on to the lake and laid around on logs and rocks, listening to the glacier speak some ways away, but still loud.

We had gone to a grocery store the night before and bought some deli items and had eaten our lunch on the boat on the way to Onelli. There is a small snack bar on the boat, but it didn´t look too appetizing, though their hot chocolate was good. They have an assortment of beverages, snacks, candy, etc.

It was a grand day, the one that DW will remember the most. It was good to do both as they are different experiences.

I´m going to end this now and post what is here. There is more, but I have to get ready for the taxi to the airport to take me back to reality. I will complete the report in a few days, hopefully.

Also, if you have any questions, let em fly.

Love this board.

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