El Calafate, Argentina
In venture capital, we have a term for start-up companies with a promising, yet highly limited product or service — they’re called one-trick ponies. If El Calafate were a new venture, it would clearly fall into this category. But what a one-trick pony it would be.
Our wake-up call came at 6:30 a.m. this morning. Still groggy after a whiskey nightcap with some well-traveled Brits at the hotel bar, we opened our shutters to a sun that was just starting to break across the horizon. Rebelde had a simple breakfast, just some café con leche and a croissant, before the bus picked us up for our trip to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and the awe-inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier.
We had signed up for the “Big Ice” tour with Hielo y Aventura, which I’d read was well worth the steep AR$520 price tag. The hour-long trip to the park entrance brought us past desolate estancias, ranches long used for raising sheep. We paid the entrance fee and then made our way for our first look at Perito Moreno, which is 260 square kilometers in size. A series of nearly empty catwalks provided a tremendous introduction.
We watched as huge hunks of ice calved off the glacier face and splashed down into the Canal de los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel). The serene rumbling — truly witnessing Mother Nature at work — begged for a moment of contemplation.
The bus took us down to the port of Bajo de las Sombras, where a boat whisked us across the Rico Arm. Seeing the glacier from the water provided us with a whole new appreciation for its tremendous size — heights of 110 meters at some points — and made our tour boats look like toys. Can you spot the one below?
We were met at the shore, brought up to a base camp and introduced to our six guides: Luis, Luis, Luis, Javier, Javier and Juan. “Tres Luises, dos Javieres y un Juan,” Burt said. “That’s original.” The team then outfitted us with harnesses and gave us pairs of crampons before we began our trek, passing waterfalls and wild flowers, onto the moraine, the edge of the glacier.
After about 45-minutes, it was time to tie on our crampons and begin the 4-hour ice trek. They provided amazing stability and allowed for easy movement across the otherwise slippery surface.
Our destination was the glacier’s center. Under absolutely beautiful skies, we passed deep crevasses, jagged ice peaks frozen in time and unbelievably blue lagoons — one of which offered an opportunity to fill up my CamelBak with clear, freezing cold and delicious glacial water.
Toward the end of the trek, we stopped at a 100-meter deep gorge where a tremendous river of runoff flowed. On belay, we all (Burt included) got a near-death peak over the edge.
Feet starting to ache, we made our way back to the moraine, removed the crampons and walked back to the base camp. Back on the boat, we got a final look at the truly massive Perito Moreno, before clinking back whiskeys with hunks of glacier ice floating in them.
The day was not without its mishaps. My poor Kangol hat was whipped out to sea shortly after this picture was taken (may it RIP). Burt also forecasted some intense foot soreness from an afternoon with the crampons. And, my not reapplying sunscreen (sorry Grandma), coupled with wearing sunglasses on the ice, would result in some serious raccoon eyes. But still, it was well worth it.
Back at Rebelde, we had some down time before dinner at another parrilla, Mi Viejo. There were Patagonian lambs of barbecue roasting in the front window — it worked on bringing us in. The meat was tender and we were more than overjoyed when the cap of our saltshaker fell off while spicing up our fries. More salt, no problem!
Burt claimed that the best part of the lamb was its cheeks, which was gladly ceded to him. “Tasty, me gustan,” he said, chomping down on them. But we couldn’t linger long. Our flight to Ushuaia was early the next day and we still had to pack.