So my second day in El Calafate was going to be spent on a gourmet glacier catamaran cruise on Lago Argentino on the MV Maria Turquesa. The cruiser holds 180 people on the main deck and 16 people on the private upper deck. I had signed up months ago for the private upper deck trip where a gourmet lunch would be served. Now the strange part of this is that my kayak partner, Paul from Wales, who I met only the day before, had signed up for the exact same trip. What are the odds of that?
Anyway, I had received a note the night before from Marpatag (the boat owner) that the mini-bus would be picking me up at exactly 7:35 a.m., and sure enough the mini-bus picked me up at my hotel at exactly 7:35 a.m. to transport me to the dock on Lago Argentina. And when I got on the bus, there was Paul my kayak partner. I just laughed when I saw him, sat down and immediately started talking about the wonderful day we had the day before.
And before we knew it, we were at the dock at Pt. De la Cruz. Now yesterday we had brilliant blue skies and virtually no wind, which is nice when you are on the water. Today, though, was different. While we still had brilliant blue skies, it was very, very windy. And while my sea legs are OK, I was a tad nervous about the sea sickness issue while looking out at the rather choppy waters. My concern, however, soon passed. Once the vessel pushed back and we were in the open waters of the lake, the stabilizers did their job until we hit the first straight (Boca del Diablo) where the water smoothed out considerably.
Now the private room we were given on the vessel was just perfect. Lots of comfy chairs and two tables with one table taken up by a group of seven (including a guide) from France and then at the other table, me, Paul, a fellow from Italy now living in Liechtenstein, two couples from France and a couple from Alberta, Canada. Everyone was absolutely lovely except the Canadian woman. I couldn’t decide if she was shy or just a really miserable person. I eventually chose to ignore her.
So the cruise was going to take us from Pt. de la Cruz on Lago Argentino up north to the Canal de los Tempanos and to the west up the Boca del Diablo straight past the Pt. Del Quernado and Brazo Norte (brazo means arm in Spanish and refers to a small branch of the lake) to the entrance of Brazo Upsala. After a short stop at the entrance to view the icebergs and Upsala Glacier we would head south on the Brazo Spegazzini to the Patagonia Icefield, Seko aka Totalizador Hanging Glacier, Heim Hanging Glacier and Spegazzini Glacier. We would then turn around and head back up the Brazo Spegazzini to Pto Las Vacas where we are making a stop for a short hike. Then it would be back to Brazo Upsala to visit the Upsala Ice flows before heading back along Brazo Norte before turning south down the Canal de los Tempanos to Perito Moreno Glacier. Then it would be back up Canal de Los Temanos to Pt. De la Cruz and our dock. The entire trip was going to last almost 12 hours.
Anyway, it wasn’t long into the trip before we saw our first iceberg. A gorgeous floating blue “chip” off the Upsala Glacier near the intersection of the Canal de los Tempanos and the Boca del Diablo straight. Now a couple years back the area near Upsala Glacier experienced a massive landslide, which caused a tsunami of sorts. There is fear the event will occur again so, as a result, the closest boats are permitted to the Upsala Glacier is about half way down the mouth of the Brazo Upsala. Initially we were only going to pass by the mouth of the Brazo Upsala and then take a closer look after visiting Spegazzini Glacier.
Now as I mentioned, the trip on the lake was a little rough to start with the waters continuing to be fairly choppy until we hit the Brazo de Norte. So taking pictures of the icebergs we began to see in the Boca del Diablo straight was a bit of a challenge. However, once in the Brazo Norte, the waters smoothed out and we did not have choppy waters for the rest of the day.
And the scenery could not have been more spectacular. We were surrounded by beautiful blue skies, snow capped mountains and the periodic floating iceberg. (Yes … I did yell “iceberg straight ahead”).
About an hour and a half into the trip, we reached the mouth of the Brazo Upsala and we could see the mighty Upsala Glacier in the distance. In addition, we could see numerous icebergs floating in the waterway. We would come back to that later.
As we passed the Brazo Upsala, we hit the Brazo Spegazzini and this is when the “real” scenery began. First up was a massive melting iceberg. Now quite frankly, it was not that pretty, but the captain maneuvered the boat in a semi-circle so that everyone on the boat could take a look. And since the novelty of icebergs was new to most on the boat, people above and below us on the ship were snapping photos like crazy. Fortunately, we had so much space on our private deck that we did not have to jostle for position. It made the trip so enjoyable.
Next up was the Patagonia Icefield. And quite frankly, I had no idea what the difference was between and icefield and a glacier. However, one of the lovely guides on the boat explained that ice fields are formed by a large accumulation of snow which, through years of compress and freeze thus turning to ice. Because of ice’s susceptibility to gravity, ice fields usually form in basins or atop plateaus allowing the ice to accumulate over time because it has nowhere to go. A glacier, on the other hand, is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight and forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds the melting ice. Ice fields can become glaciers. OK then.
And before we even had our fill of the icefield, the magnificent Seko aka Totalizador Hanging Glacier came into view. Now this thing was a beauty. The glacier was wedged between two mountains and literally looked suspended in the air. The glacier does not calve like the glaciers that meet the water hence the name hanging glacier.
I could not take enough pictures of this glacier. It fascinated me. Sadly, the captain did not stop in front of this glacier, although he did slow the boat. And before I could even finish enjoying the first hanging glacier, a second hanging glacier, the Haim Hanging Glacier came into view. Now I did not think this hanging glacier was as pretty as the first hanging glacier. One of the reasons was that this hanging glacier actually wrapped around the Spegazzini Glacier so the initial view of the Haim hanging glacier seemed to me to be simply a massive snowfield.
However, my opinion changed once we reached the Spegazzini Glacier where the Haim Hanging Glacier began to look similar to the first hanging glacier giving the appearance that it too was suspended in the air.
And the Spegazzini Glacier could not have been more beautiful. First, it was clear that there had been a lot of recent calving as the exposed ice in many places was a gorgeous sky blue. (The sky blue colour comes from the lack of oxygen available to the ice. Once the ice is exposed to oxygen, it gradually turns white.)
Second, the Spegazzini Glacier had these really unusually formations with lots of jagged peaks and large holes (almost like ice caves).
Last, the Spegazzini Glacier was framed by a fabulous twin peaked Andean mountain and the Haim Hanging Glacier. The contrast between the blue/white glacier, the dark mountain behind and the brilliant blue hanging glacier made for not only fantastic pictures, but wonderous viewing. I could have stood on the deck all day and stared at the glacier.
Now fortunately, the captain must have liked the glacier too because we passed back and forth in front of the glacier a number of times. In addition, the captain paused the boat right in front of the glacier for maximum viewing. Really, really gorgeous.
Eventually, the captain put the boat in gear and we began to move away from the glorious Spegazzini Glacier. Next stop was to Pto Las Vacas. And this part of the trip seemed surreal. After we have been surrounded by mountains and snow and ice most of the morning, the captain docked the boat on the little point where we disembarked and took a hike around the very green, tree lined point.
However, a meandering iceberg that had apparently lost its way from the open waters had found a home in the little bay and was floating right in front of our path around the front of the point. The contrast between the iceberg and the point made for some great pictures.
The hike proved to be a lot of fun. We walked through trees and over little streams to an old house that was long since abandoned. Apparently, a Finish man used to reside there after he had been hired by the Argentine government back in the early 90s to eradicate the area of cows (which had run amok). Initially, the man was retained for one year, but the job turned into a five year affair. The task proved to be impossible, and after five years the man’s services were terminated. There are now over 5,000 cows in the area making a mess of the beach and reeking havoc on the flora and fauna. As a result, the government has retained three gauchos to capture and move the cows. So far, the total moved to date is 60. At this rate, it is going to take years and years.
Anyway, we finished up the hike and were allowed to wander the beach back to the boat. I took my time hiking back along the gorgeous beach and by the time I reached the boat and our private room, the waiter had begun to serve lunch. Fine by me. I was starving.
Our first course featured a trout mousse with warm rolls. The trout was captured in Lago Argentino and to say the starter was superb was an understatement. I could have eaten a whole meal of the mousse. And of course, no Argentine meal would be complete without wine so I opted for Argentina’s well known and outstanding Malbec, which turned out to be wonderful.
The second course featured a pumpkin soup with some olive bread (delicious … but no Cheryl it was not as good as the pumpkin soup in Vienna). The main course featured lamb with a fig crust and roasted eggplant. Again, very good. For desert we had a lime soufflé with a berry tart and dulce de leche (carmel) topping. Superb.
Now as we were eating the pumpkin soup, we entered the Brazo Upsala and were almost immediately surrounded by a number of icebergs. Of course, this interrupted the lunch as everyone rushed to the deck to take pictures. And these icebergs were something else. Some were massive while others had clearly been in the water for a while as the shape had started to disintegrates creating massive openings in the icebergs. There were a couple of icebergs that were easily two stories tall and appeared to be recent calvings given the brilliant colour of the icebergs.
Now as the top of the iceberg disintegrates the lower part of the iceberg begins to moves above surface. And the colour of these parts of the iceberg are the most vivid blues. And we saw plenty of these ice formations as we moved around the Brazo Upsala.
By 2:30, we were done with lunch (but not the wine) and were heading out of the Brazo Upsala and on to Brazo Norte before turning south and heading down the Canal de los Tempanos to Perito Moreno Glacier.
Now I had obviously seen Perito Moreno Glacier up close and personal the day before. However, I was hoping that with the approach to the glacier we might be able to see the side of the glacier that is not visible from the walkways or from the kayaks. And I was not disappointed. The approach towards the glacier allowed us to view the far side of the glacier, and I was surprised to see that the glacier and the land on the right (as you face the glacier) actually meet.
Anyway, I am happy to report that Perito Moreno was still as glorious as the day before. And if the glacier wasn’t enough, the two condors we had seen while we were kayaking also made their appearance flying over the glacier, in front of the glacier and right over our boat. And damned if I didn’t put my camera away just at the condors flew over the boat so missed the picture, but have the memory.
After one pass at the glacier, the captain took the boat to the dock near where we had put in our kayaks the day before to let off some passengers who were going to walk the catwalks. Then we made two more passes in front of Perito Moreno before the captain put the boat in gear and we began to head away from the glacier. Goodbye glorious Perito Moreno.
And the remarkable part of the entire day was that we did not see any calvings at the glaciers. And I say remarkable because I was so fortunate to see and capture in pictures the calvings at Perito Moreno the day before. Even the sounds of the creaking and groaning and thundering noises were absent from all of the glaciers. This just confirmed how lucky I had been the day before to see the gloriouness of those giant pieces of ice falling from the glacier.
The trip back to the dock was remarkably fast. I said goodbye to my lovely (except for the Canadian lady) tablemates and then hopped on the same transfer bus with Paul that had brought us to start this glorious trip.
I eventually said goodbye to Paul and promised to keep in touch. Great guy. And with that, my time in El Calafate and Patagonia had come to an end. On to Ushuaia at the bottom of the world.