Argentina is a huge country divided into 8 geographic regions and 23 provinces (states). The Andes mountain range runs from north to south along the country’s western border, separating Argentina from Chili. The county’s national park system is huge, accessible and very well-managed.
We flew from Buenos Aires to the small city of El Calafate, gateway to Parque National Los Glaciares (Glacier National Park), picking up a rental car upon arrival. El Calafate reminds me of a ski resort city. Lots of shopping and restaurants along the main drag. But instead of ski gear, young people haul fully loaded backpacks. We stayed in a vacation rental, walking distance from the heart of town. Then again, most everything was within walking distance in El Calafate.
In El Calafate there are dogs roaming everywhere. Most seemed healthy enough. That didn’t stop me from wanting to take them all home for TLC and a visit to the vet for a quick fix job. The entire region is windy. Really windy. So windy the rental car company warned us about the danger of our car doors being damaged by gusts. The skies are huge, with magical light and unique cloud formations. And, great sunrises and sunsets. There is a wonderful bird sanctuary called Laguna Nimez Reserva Natural. It boasts a 1½ mile circular path around a lagoon with views of a glacial fed lake. The cost of entry is $10US with all proceeds going to sanctuary preservation. Conde and I battened down our hatches and checked it out. Part way into the walk I was joined by a canine companion. Whenever I stopped to gander or take a photo, she would lay at my feet, jumping up when it was time to move on. Just before the end of the trail she silently disappeared in the bushes.
Jody, with her amazing nose for the finer things in life, tripped upon a hotel and wine bar while out for an evening stroll. Turned out they served excellent food and a heck of a mountain view with Largo Argentina (Lake Argentina) as a front drop. We took our time with dinner at Los Canelos, absorbing the 180 degree sunset views. My hunger and soul were sated.
Glacier Perito Moreno is in the southern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and a 1½ hour drive from El Calafate. The roads are undivided two-lane highways with very little traffic. Cross winds are the biggest hazard. At the park entrance you have to get out of the car to pay. One person stays in the car snaking forward with the line, while another goes inside and pays the $20 per person entry fee. We parked in the lower north entrance lot. After a short walk, it was easy to set out along a complex series of steel catwalks running 2½ miles. One can access multiple views from both the glacier’s north and south sides.
I managed to catch a calving in action. I heard the boom, zeroed in and set my shutter in motion. Note the clear blue surface after the face of the glacier has severed.
Before leaving the park, we needed a bite to eat. Heaven forbid 4 hours might pass without a meal. We popped into a restaurant at the north side with a spectacular view. A fair fixed-price lunch menu was offered. We had hearty lamb and lentil stews with dessert and coffee. It was enjoyed by all. The waitress even brought us a bucket of glacier ice for chilling our mineral waters. Talk about the lap of luxury!
On the way back to El Calafate we stopped at the oddest place. The Lonely Planet guide gave the Glaciarium a big fat one star. It is a museum showcasing glaciers. When we arrived in the parking lot, the wind was gusting so hard, I was pinned by the car door as I tried to get out. My shrieks for help were lost with the wind as I pushed with all my might to free myself. Success ensued. The Glaciarium is reputed to have an ice bar. No kidding. The bar is maintained below freezing and drinking glasses are molded from ice. Fur coats are provided. The bar wasn’t operational when we stopped. We pondered over whether to visit the exhibit anyway. The staff at the front desk was indifferent. We decided against the steep entry fee and made free use of the impeccable rest rooms. Tour buses were pulling into the parking lot as we battled our car doors against the wind before escaping.
The next morning we loaded up the car for a 2 hour drive to the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We scheduled a stop for lunch in El Chaltan. From there it was a 30 minute drive along a dirt road to our hotel, El Pilar. Along the way (okay, maybe 30 minutes after we set off) we needed sustenance. Good thing we had leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Something about snarfing down food from the trunk while standing on the side of a deserted highway makes it special. Life is good!
El Pilar is run by Cristina and Guillermo. In Argentinian Spanish, the double “ll” is pronounced “jee” – can be a bit of a tongue twister. The hotel is wonderful and has great food. There are no wi-fi connections. Guests congregated for cocktails around the fireplace before dinner and chatted over coffee and breakfast in the mornings. There were folks from all over the world. Before we set out for our 10 mile trek, we were provided with a sack lunch. It was not raining, which is a great thing. The wind was driving little pellets of frozen ice, but it was intermittent. The snow-capped mountains with glaciers tucked in their crevices surrounded us. I loved it!
It’s impossible to capture the beauty and magnitude of this hike. We passed through groves of trees and wide-open areas with everything in between. Sometimes we were in sunshine, at other times in the fog. The wind was intermittently intense. Here are a few things we saw along the way.
The next morning we were greeted by rain and winds. Given the conditions, I passed on the opportunity for another hike. As we drove from the area, we moved into sunshine. Another lunch in El Chalten, then back to El Calafate for a good nights sleep and plane trip back to Buenos Aires. Steve and Jody returned to Washington DC. We hopped a ferry to Uruguay.
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Thanks for joining my adventures. See you next time!