Thursday, June 20, 2013

Icicles and Berries in El Calafate

(Trip date: January, 2013)

As our plane flew over the snow capped mountains on our way to El Calafate in the Patagonia region of Argentina, my heart skipped a beat at the site before my eyes. I had always wanted to visit Patagonia, to travel to the end of the earth and see how nature presented itself in a totally different environment so far away from the rest of the world. The mountain range grew bigger and more majestic as we finally touched down and the adventure I’ve been waiting for finally began.

The town of El Calafate is very small, there’s one main road lined with restaurants, shops, hotels and travel agencies. We got there in the evening and went straight to the travel agencies to book our tours for the next couple of days and learned a very valuable lesson I’d like to share with anybody who is going to El Calafate: book your tours way in advance!!!! All the hiking tours to the Perito Moreno Glacier, the main reason everybody comes to El Calafate, were all booked solid for two straight days! Terrified that we were going to miss out on the amazing experience we travelled so far to see, we ended up paying for a private driver to take us to the glacier and fortunately there were a couple of spots left on the hike itself. However it wasn’t just the Perito Moreno Glacier hike that was booked, all the other hiking tours were booked up as well. We had wanted to see El Chaltan and missed out on that too.
We ended up spending our first day in El Calafate checking out the town, walking along the main road, doing some shopping, enjoying some wine and local cuisine. The food in El Calafate is amazing and I had some of the best meals I’ve ever had. I don’t eat red meat but had some of the best chicken ever! Check out Rick’s, it’s one of the best restaurants in El Calafate. You can also find amazing chocolate, decadent ice cream, the best jam and delicious pizza around town!

The next day we were picked up by our private driver who was awesome, he barely spoke any English but he made sure he showed us all the well known stops along the way, including a stop to show us the Calafate berry, which is where the name “El Calafate” came from and is commonly used to make jam. An hour and a half drive later we were at our final destination and boarded the boat that took us to the glacier. The scenery was spectacular as we glided alongside the glacier, so massive and majestic in its beauty. Once we were off the boat, we met with our group, ate our lunch, and made our way over to the glacier…with many photo stops along the way, of course!
After being fitted with our crampons, we started our hike up the glacier. It was a little scary at first, but after getting used to the crampons (“trust the crampons” as our guide would say!), it turned out to be a fairly easy hike surrounded by the most breathtaking scenery. Every direction looked like a postcard. The snow-capped mountains in the distance hovering over the pristine lake, surrounded by rolling hills of various terrain, the contrast of brown rock formations against the icy blue glacier. We walked up and down the path of the glacier, digging our crampons into the soft, icy ground, stopping every few minutes to take in the scenery and snap photos. The sun was shining, our skin was warm, the air was fresh… top it off with a glass of ice cold whisky at the end! It was truly a magical experience that I will never forget.

After the hike, we made our way back to the port and our driver took us to the “balconies”. We had no idea what this was and thought he was crazy when he told us we would need 2 hours here! We definitely should have trusted him more as this turned out to be another incredible experience! We walked along the several boardwalks that take you to several “balconies” overlooking the Perito Moreno Glacier giving us a totally different view of the glacier – from actually being on the glacier to admiring it from afar. The view is absolutely spectacular as you get a panoramic view of the glacier, yet somehow feel so close. But the most amazing part of this experience was listening and watching parts of the glacier fall off! The roaring sound was like thunder breaking the silence as the warm sun broke gigantic pieces of ice off the glacier and sent them crashing into the ocean. 

Our one magical day touring the Perito Moreno Glacier was worth traveling to the other end of the world for. It was everything I had thought it would be, and more! The beautiful and contrasting landscapes, eerily quiet with every breath of fresh air, so majestic, raw and untouched, enhanced by the sparkling blue icicles shining off the glacier. It may seem like a cold site, but it can’t help but warm your soul.