Argentina / Chile

Perito Moreno glacier: Icing on a layer cake

I was going to call this post “Dengue or not dengue – what was the question?” because for a couple of days in El Calafate, I was convinced I had dengue fever. I changed my mind about the title (but not the diagnosis) because I’d rather you remember Perito Moreno glacier than my rare hypochondria (I, like, never get sick). But before we get to Perito Moreno, only the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen – one of only three advancing glaciers in Patagonia – I have to be honest about how grumpy I was for nearly a week, otherwise you’d be tempted to think these travels have been all fun and games. I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression.

El Calafate scene

El Calafate scene

It started in Punta Arenas. That night of the big ceviche party I got a pretty bad headache (seafood karma?!). Nikki and the others kept dragging me to my feet but every fibre in my body moaned, “We can’t do it Captain, we just don’t have the power.” They wouldn’t listen, though, thinking that my hesitance meant I wanted to be coaxed. I didn’t.

El Calafate itself is pretty wet and green, and has a bunch of lagoons on the outskirts, I even spotted a flamingo. But look how stark the area around the town is

El Calafate itself is pretty wet and green, and has a bunch of lagoons on the outskirts, I even spotted a flamingo. But look how stark the area around the town is

By the time Nikki and I found ourselves on the side of the road again after the weekend, hoping for a truck to take us to Puerto Natales from where Nikki would head into Torres del Paine and I would head back into Argentina, I felt the flu coming on, I felt the urge to cry, I was in a bad, bad mood. I did not have the patience to wait for a truck. (Truckers in Chile seem to travel in pairs, which meant that most of the vehicles that passed us were full. I also think the arm of the law is considerably stronger in Chile than it is in Argentina.)

Also El Calafate

Also El Calafate

After looking miserable for a few hours and sighing heavily (not my proudest moment), Nikki caught the drift and we went back into Punta Arenas to buy bus tickets like civilised people. Arrived in Puerto Natales late, after dark in the rain, and I was feeling seriously kak. The only good thing I did that day was choose a hostel that turned out to be right next to the bus terminal. Yay me. I made a video for Celeste who was getting married in little more than a week, started the upload to YouTube, and passed out.

I was in El Calafate during the week - Tuesday to Friday - but every day looked and sounded and felt like Sunday

I was in El Calafate during the week – Tuesday to Friday – but every day looked and sounded and felt like Sunday

The next day Nikki and I said goodbye; I was feeling sick – powerless, headachy – but other flu symptoms like a runny nose or a rattling cough hadn’t started happening, and this is when I first suspected I might have something other than the common cold. The goodbye was quick and curt, probably for two reasons: one, goodbyes are shit; two, I was being a shit. “See you soon, alright, take care” and off we went in separate directions. The good news is we had a crazy-fun reunion a few months later, in Santiago.

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I was not quite done with Argentina… Don’t think I ever will be. El Calafate is famous for its proximity to Perito Moreno glacier, the third-largest fresh-water reserve in the world.

When I arrived in the town (an odd, green thing smack in the middle of driest, brownest Patagonia) I naturally went to the cheapest hostel, but it was a total dump (no lockers, no keys) with the least friendly staff I have encountered yet or since (and I have been in Chile for four months) so I ended up having a bit of a barney with the woman at the front desk. Once I found the better place to stay, for not much extra, I promptly left a scathing review on TripAdvisor. And googled the symptoms for dengue fever.

Pain behind the eyes: Check. Severe headaches: Check. High fever: Check. Severe joint and muscle pain: Yes. Mild bleeding, such as bleeding gums: Yup. I didn’t throw up but my stomach was hurting. And still there was no coughing or snot as you’d expect from the common cold.

I slept for most of that day and through the night. Then, the next day, my computer crashed. Blue screen of death. Nothing backed up. I could start the thing up in Safe Mode, but that meant no Skype – and I had a date with my parents. The hostel I was at was great and all but they didn’t have Skype either, so tail between the legs I had to go back to that first hostel and beg them to use their internet and computers. They charged me ARG$20 (about ZAR40) for the privilege of half an hour.

No computer, and dengue fever. I went back to bed.

On my third day in El Calafate I finally made it onto the bus at 06:00 to go to Perito Moreno. Anything I could ever say about this phenomenon is contained within the photographs.

On the bus ride on the way to Perito Moreno. I was already pretty wowed at this stage

On the bus ride on the way to Perito Moreno. I was already pretty wowed at this stage. But then …

The glacier covers 250km2, and is 30km long and 5km wide. It is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, part of the Andes system.

But then ... you go around the corner

You go around the corner

I expected it to be breathtaking. What I didn’t expect were the loud bangs every few minutes, like guns or cannons going off, emanating from random points far away on the stalagmite-like carpet of ice. As water freezes, when it becomes ice, it expands – what I was hearing was the sound of ice pushing ice aside, making space for more of itself. An inexplicably strange experience, which I genuinely feel more complete for having had.

A milky blue glacier-fed lagoon, like the lagoon we saw down un Ushuaia

A milky blue glacier-fed lagoon, like the lagoon we saw down in Ushuaia

el calafate el calafate perito moreno

We had the whole day up there next to the glacier, so after the boat trip I did all the walks, and I took roughly 800 photographs (two memory cards and two batteries). On the way back I had a full-on conversation in Spanish with an Italian, about agricultural science and food politics. At least, that’s what I was talking about.

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The computer fixed itself three days later, back in Chile. I switched the thing on in Puerto Varas and it was as if nothing was ever wrong. Same with the dengue fever. Both ailments left as surreptitiously as they had arrived.

Los Glaciares National Park is exceptionally well run and exceptionally beautiful

Los Glaciares National Park is exceptionally well run and exceptionally beautiful

perito moreno perito moreno perito moreno perito moreno

perito moreno

Look at those fools

Look at those fools

perito moreno perito moreno perito moreno perito moreno

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3 thoughts on “Perito Moreno glacier: Icing on a layer cake

  1. Pingback: A helluva detour to Puerto Varas | cape/caracas

  2. Pingback: Blue-footed boobies at Poor Man’s Galapagos | cape/caracas

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