Tom and I left our hotel at the lovely hour of 3:30 a.m. for our 6:00 a.m. flights. It had been absolutely fabulous having Tom along for the past two weeks. We said goodbye at the airport as he went to catch his international flight, and I went on to my domestic flights first to Buenos Aires and then to El Calafate.
The flights went off without a hitch, but I began to feel sick on my flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate. I had grabbed some breakfast (a yogurt and breakfast sandwich at the Salta airport) and clearly the breakfast had not agreed with me.
By the time my flight landed and I found a cab, it was all I could do to hold it together. Then, as luck would have it, the hotel had lost my reservation and I had no room. Fortunately, I had my confirmation number and evidence I had paid a deposit. A few minutes later they were apologizing and offering to put me up in their last room, a suite, at no extra cost. Sounds good to me.
Finally ensconced in a room, I fell on the bed, pulled the covers over me and slept for three hours. When I woke, I still felt crappy so guzzled a bottle of water with some electrolytes and went back to bed. I woke up to my alarm at 6:00 a.m. and felt like a new woman. So those of you counting at home, that would be food poisoning number 3 on this trip.
Anyway, I was thrilled to be feeling normal again since the plan was to visit Perito Moreno Glacier and then spend the afternoon kayaking near the glacier thanks to the lovely folks at Mil Outdoor/Viva Patagonia. Anyway, the little mini-bus arrived at just before 8:00 a.m. to take me to the glacier under brilliant blue skies and little wind (always good when kayaking). It turned out that there would be ten of us kayaking: two young guys from Scotland, one guy from Wales, a guy and gal from Spain, four gals from China and me. It turned out to be a really fun group.
After an 80 km drive, we arrived at the Los Glaciers National Park just after 9:00 a.m., which turned out to be just perfect. We were given about 2 hours to visit the glacier via the long walkways, which took us in front of the glacier at three different elevation levels, before we had to meet back at the entrance to get ready for kayaking. Now, normally, the walkways are packed with tourists, but the bus groups don’t arrive until around 11:00 a.m. so this meant that we had virtual free reign of the site.
Now a little bit about Los Glaciers National Park and Perito Moreno Glacier. The park is the third largest park in the world (behind Yellowstone and Banff). The park is home to four glaciers: Perito Moreno, Upsala, Viedma and Spegazzini. The park was established to preserve a portion of the Andes, the glaciers and the forest. The park was also declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1981. I would be visiting (and kayaking around) Perito Moreno today, and tomorrow I am taking a boat to see Perito Moreno, Upsala and Spegazzini.
So once in the park, I set off with my kayak partner, Paul from Wales, who turned out to be a lovely fellow. (A teacher who is taking a few months off work.). Anyway, as we began the hike down the catwalks we could hear what sounded like thunder in the distance. The sound we could hear was “calving”. Calving occurs when a piece of ice from the glacier breaks off and crashes into the water. Now when I was in the Antarctica in 2015, I had heard the sound before so knew instantly what it was.
And the “thunder” was only the first of many rumbles we heard as we walked. It seemed that the good weather was causing a lot of activity at the glacier. Now my first view of the glacier was from the bus, and it was one of those “holy moly” moments. However, it was nothing compared to the first view up close and personal. The glacier was gigantic! (Perito Moreno is the size of Buenos Aires and is most famous because it is easily accessible by bus or car.)
Anyway, Paul and I wandered around the mid level of the catwalk up and down stairs always on the lookout for calving. (Rare to see let alone capture on film.). We could hear the glacier cracking and groaning and periodically we would hear a crash and see new chunks of ice floating, but nothing in front of us. We then walked another path, which took us further down towards the water and then to the right. As we stood their watching the glacier we saw a small piece of the glacier break off and fall into the water. Yay! I’ll take that.
We then walked further towards the front right side of the glacier and up a set of stairs when … calving number 2. I could hardly believe it. This one was also small, but hey how many people get to see a glacier calve. And damned if we didn’t see a third one. It was simply amazing. And there was virtually no one around to see the action.
We walked back up a set of stairs to the middle of the glacier and ran into a couple girls who wanted to know if we had seen the calving. We told them what we had seen and they immediately headed to the right side of the glacier after I said that it seemed very active over on that side. They had been waiting and waiting on the left side and saw nothing so they took our advice and went right. Bad decision (or bad advice).
As we wandered over to the left side, we heard a huge cracking noise and rumbling, but saw nothing. I turned on my camera just in case and as we walked I saw some chunks of ice fall, trained my camera on the spot and … yep, a massive piece of the glacier came down. I just kept snapping pictures without a clue if I was capturing anything since I was actually looking above the camera thrilled to watch the event. It was absolutely spectacular as the waves bounced the new icebergs around in the water and the delay in the sound of the crashing rumbled our way. And when I looked at my camera, I realized I probably had some pretty special pictures. Turns out I captured the whole event. It was something I will never forget.
But just when we thought we had seen it all, we saw two more small calving events. Incredible. Six in all. And even as we started to walk back on the catwalks through the trees we cold hear the glacier groaning, creaking and crashing. What an amazing couple of hours.
Once we caught the bus back to the entrance to the Mil Outdoor/Viva Patagonia offices, we met up with our guides Santiago, Andres and Martin, all from Buenos Aires. The guys fitted us with dry suits and boots and then it was time to change. Now there is nothing like putting on a dry suit. The arms and head portions have rubber latex bladders through which you have to fit your arms and head. You insert your left arm, then you contort your head and body to squeeze into the upper portion of the suit and finally you bend your right arm and thrust it through. The head portion is the worst and is the equivalent of fitting a round peg into a square hole.
Anyway, once the acrobatics were done, we were fitted with the skirt (which will cover the kayak to prevent water from entering the kayak) and then we were fitted with life jackets. Next we were handed our paddles and then we set off for the kayaks.
Once in the kayaks, we were given some instruction, Martin then pushed our kayak into the water, and Paul and I were off. Fortunately, the wind was still calm and the sun will still shining. We began to paddle and immediately dodged some icebergs before heading out into the open part of Lago Argentino.
Now paddling towards the glacier was a thing of beauty. Not only was the glacier gorgeous in the sunlight, but we were suddenly joined by two massive condors who circled in front of the glacier and then one flew directly overhead. Fortunately, Martin and Andres were taking pictures for us and captured the bird in full flight. It was simply awesome.
So we continued paddling towards the glacier and periodically we would paddle off course. The water towards the glacier became a little rougher and the wind had started to pick up. Uh oh. However, we continued towards the glacier reaching the limit of the zone where we were permitted to go and then turned to the right paralleling the glacier.
Periodically, we would stop paddling and simply let the water take us along for the ride as we watched the glacier. I saw one small calving, but nothing compared to what we saw in the morning. We also heard the occasional “thunder”, but the glacier was much quieter than it had been in the morning.
Eventually, it was time to turn around and head back. Now this proved to be a much tougher challenge. The winds had really picked up and were pushing us away from the shore so we were really battling to move the kayak in the right direction. Eventually, the winds died down again and we were able to paddle back towards the icebergs and near shore.
Once we were close enough in, Martin grabbed the rope on our kayak and pulled us up to the beach. Success! We had conquered the kayaking at Lago Argentino and it had been amazing. In honour of our feat, the boys pulled out a bottle of Calafate liquor (a local berry used to make alcohol) and cracked some of the several thousand year old ice floating in the lake to put in each glass. And with that, we had a toast to a wonderful, beyond imagination day.