After our Herculean effort the day before, we spent our last morning at the Torres del Paine National Park in the car. Not quite what we had planned, but walking was not going to be on the agenda. We headed back to Puerto Natales and found a great little family run restaurant for dinner.
South America is not known for its vegetarian cuisine. In fact, it's beef done a million different ways. Julie was already aware of this before we headed overseas. Friends back in New Zealand had warned her that finding decent veggie options would be like a needle in a haystack. Tonight's venue, Cafe Kaiken, offered great looking dishes to suit both our tastes. I would get to try a Chilean beef speciality and Julie some good vegetarian fare.
The next morning we arrived at the Chile/Argentina border still shrouded in darkness. Despite being the first car there we ended up behind several locals who do this trip daily. Queue jumping down to a fine art. Getting our exit stamp was quick and painless. But we also needed to clear the car with customs and the customs guy was still snoozing in his warm bed. So there we were with a growing crowd of locals watching the minutes crawl by. When the ever-so-jolly customs official eventually rocked up there was no hint of an apology to the restless crowd.
The town of El Calafate exists because of the Perito Moreno Glacier. It has the feeling of a place built for a much larger population. There is a four lane water-front road that has more joggers than cars. The main street is a collection of tour companies, bars and more tour companies. Midday the town had the feeling of a morgue. Yet come 8 pm the town was buzzing. The tourists had returned from visiting the glacier and the locals had woken up from their siestas.
Having done our research we found a company to book our trip. First, we needed money. Despite several attempts at different ATM’s, we were struggling to get cash. Turns out we could only withdrawal small amounts at a time. Limiting the withdrawal amount is a great way for the banks to clip the ticket each time you have to use the ATM’s. Welcome to the world of currency exchange according to Argentina. Another vital lesson on the currency would come at our next stop.
The National Park is a 90-minute drive away so we were collected at the crack of dawn. We had booked a full day's tour including a glacier walk.
We had seen photos of the glacier but seeing it for the first time was incredible. In New Zealand, we had experienced both Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers from a distance. These are spectacular, but Perito Moreno is in a world of its own. One of only three glaciers globally that renews itself each year. Almost 5 kilometres wide and 30 kilometres in length this is a big daddy of glaciers. Every few minutes sheets of ice break off (calving). A thunderous roar has heads twisting in every direction trying to catch the show.
Our trip included a boat ride across to one edge of the glacier. The short journey providing a great opportunity for the obligatory selfie. On solid rock, we met our English speaking guide for the morning and received the lowdown on the glacier. Then we are off for a shoe fitting with a difference, crampons. Unbelievable they didn’t do purple crampons to match Julie’s walking boots. What's a girl to do.
We stepped out onto the glacier and like a waddle of penguins learning to walk for the first time struggled to keep up with our guide. Today’s lesson included how the various layers of ice are formed, crevices and calving. To wrap up our time on this frozen landscape we came across an ice bar. The only beverage on offer was whiskey. The ice for the drinks chopped off the glacier with an ice pick.
Have to give it to the Argentinians they have made the most of this natural wonder. Opposite the glacier face is several kilometres of walkways with fantastic viewing platforms. You could spend hours exploring and trying to catch a glimpse of a huge calving.
The tour had blown our budget for the next few days but it was well worth it. The Perito Moreno Glacier is truly spectacular. It's so hard to capture the fifty one shades of blue and the magnificence of the glacier in a single photo. So we took several hundred. Don't worry we won't subject you to all of them.
The following day was May Day and a public holiday in Argentina. The sleepy town of El Calafate retreated further into a coma. We mooched around killing time before jumping on a plane and heading north to warmer climes.
Next Stop, Buenos Aires and Spanish School.