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Days 28-32: El Calafate

February 12th, 2011 by *MoonDogg*

We left Esquel on Monday. We were planning on visiting El Chalten next, but there was not a bus going there with empty seats on Monday. We could, however go to El Calafate, which was a few hours further south. Seemed logical to go there, instead of waste a day, and then backtrack a little to El Chalten after. So we jumped on the bus. 

What I did not fully appreciate at the time, is that there are two ways to get from Esquel to El Chalten / El Calafate. The first takes the famed Ruta 40. The second takes Ruta 3. Ruta 40 is pretty much a straight shot south, while Ruta 3 is near the coast, on the opposite side of the country, and I’m guessing a 50% longer trip, distance wise. However, much of Ruta 40 is unpaved, so time wise, the trip is just about the same.

So, imagine my surprise when, in the middle of the night, I woke up and checked our location via GPS on my trusty Evo 4G (don’t hate) and discovered we were at the beach! My first thought was we got on the wrong bus, followed by we bought tickets for the wrong destination. Then I remembered people talking about the unpaved roads, and how the buses go the long way around. I went back to sleep. Only to panic briefly again, early in the morning when I realized we were still on the coast, but a lot farther south then where we were supposed to be heading. I decided it didn’t matter where I ended up, I just wanted to sleep. And sleep I did. Well, sorta. Sleeping on the buses is usually much easier than most of the planes I’ve flown, especially if you get the ‘cama’ seats. They are sort of like ‘first class’, and they recline very far and are wider than the normal seats. But still, it’s loud, there are lights, and you aren’t completely flat so it’s hard to sleep in more that just one position.

We ended up in El Calafate eventually, on Tuesday about 20 hours later, and found our way to our hostel. At first glance it seemed like the coolest one yet, and it turned out to be nice, but it still amazes me how poorly designed most of these places are. The kitchen and dining area, for example, was on the top floor, where all the heat collects. The dining room was solid windows, and the sun was intense, and it was baking in there. The problem? None of the windows open! We went one night to cook in the kitchen, and there were already several people cooking, and the place was blazing. Not to mention smokey. There were two windows in the kitchen, but only one opened. Seriously? Ventilation anyone? 

On Tuesday we decided to go see the glacier Perito Moreno. There are several options for doing so, and we chose to simply walk the viewing platforms directly in front of the glacier. We were there a couple of hours, and most of that time was spent waiting for large ‘calving’ events, where pieces of the glacier break away and fall into the lake. I did end up seeing a few and getting them on video. It’s a pretty amazing site, and the glacier is just enormous, going as far as the eye can see

On Wednesday we went to the Glacier Museum. That was actually quite interesting. We had been wondering how glaciers had formed, how they worked, etc. All our questions were answered there. It is actually a quite dramatic and spectacular process, and I’m really glad we spent the day there.

Friday, we went on the ‘Big Ice’ trek. We took a boat across the lake, then hiked for 45 minutes through the forest. After donning harnesses and crampons we headed out onto the ice for over three hours of ‘trekking’. We had been hoping to actually go ‘into’ the ice, like into some crevasses or caves, but alas we were only only able to walk on it. Don’t get me wrong, it was still pretty amazing, and I really want to spend some more time hiking, climbing, and descending into glaciers in the future. They are beautiful and awe inspiring. The most amazing thing to me were the rivers ON TOP of the glacier. And even small pools of water. It reminded me of a water park. You could literally grab a inner tube and ride down the river and into pool of water. There were a few small holes where the water running on top of the ice would suddenly descend down into it. I would love to repel into one. I found one that was only about a foot in diameter, and did not have water running into it, but I could hear water running. I peeked down into it, and maybe 20 feet down could see what looked like a raging river of water. Glaciers have a network of rivers, streams and lakes inside them, constantly changing and morphing, and to go inside and explore them would be so awesome.

Saturday, we were planning on moving on to El Chalten. While having breakfast in the lobby of the hostel that morning, I met Sandra from Switzerland. She had been traveling for only a week with a companion, who at 2AM the previous night, when arriving at the bus station, told her he was going his own way, and bailed on her. Super lame thing to do to someone who I discovered as time went on was a really cool girl.

 We talked a couple hours about our travels, about life in Switzerland, etc. She was heading in the opposite direction, so I gave her my recommendations of going to Chaitén and Futaleufu. We said our goodbyes, and we hopped on the bus to El Chalten.

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