El Calafate, Argentina; Parque Nacional de los Glaciares

Latitude 50.33727°S Longitude 72.26291°W

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

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There are no road or ferry crossings between the Argentine mainland and Argentine Tierra del Fuego, an annoying geopolitical fact which imposes on all visitors to Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego a passage through Chilean territory. For that reason, we decided to dodge the typical border-crossing hassles and the excruciatingly tedious bus ride from Ushuaia to El Calafate, and fly instead.

El Calafate, located on the south shore of Lago Argentino, is the gateway town for Argentina's spectacular Parque Nacional de Los Glaciares. The park comprises much of the land on the Argentine side of the great Hielo Continentales del Sur (the great southern ice field), the planet's 3rd largest ice field (after the Arctic region and Greenland) which straddles Chile and Argentina. Some 40% of the park is covered by ice fields off which tumble no less than 13 glaciers which feed the two great lakes Argentina and Viedma. It is a jewel of natural beauty.

We spent several days in El Calafate, exploring the southern regions of the national park: Lago Argentino; the glaciers Ventisquero Perito Moreno, Upsala and Spegazzini; Lago Onelli.

The weather was pretty terrible in the vicinity of the glaciers. Our days were invariably dark, cold and wet, with heavy clouds and mist descending from the glaciers right down to the surface of the lakes they fed. On one particular day we were subjected to ferocious gale winds so strong that they whipped up monstrous sized waves in the lake and almost blew us off the deck of the boat we were on.

However, the power and majesty of the glaciers summarily dismissed the weather into complete insignificance. The frontage of these glaciers was an imperious cliff of fractured, iridescent blue spires of ice, towering almost 100m over the surface of the water and stretching over 5km wide. Whether accessed by boat or land, clusters of tourists on viewing platforms gazed, mesmerized, transfixed by the power and beauty of the scene. All 3 glaciers were actively calving, and we were continually treated to the eye popping spectacle of seeing building-sized obelisks of ice finally nudged off the edge by the imperceptible but inexorable force of the river of ice behind it; split from the face of the ice with an almighty Crack! and tumble down in slow motion into the lake with tremendous splash and spray, giving birth to a new iceberg with a small tidal wave. Every 30 minutes or so there was such a display of this raw power of nature.

The Moreno Glacier was particularly special, as the position of its front near one of the shores of the lake had enabled the construction of wooden catwalks and benches a mere 100m from the face, from which its activity could be safely viewed. We pretty much spent an entire day seated before this glacier, with our picnic lunch, watching its never ending show, and when the time came to leave, we reflected that not a single dull moment had elapsed. The Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers were visited by boat, but were no less spectacular.

Photos: (click on images to see full size)

The Perito Moreno GlacierThe Perito Moreno GlacierThe Perito Moreno GlacierThe Perito Moreno GlacierThe Perito Moreno GlacierIceberg off the Upsala glacier
Iceberg off the Upsala glacierIcebergs of every size and shape in Lago OnelliTrees tormented by fierce winds in Patagonian forestIcebergs the size of small countries!An amazingly shaded and sculptured iceberg

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