Patagonia - El Calafate / by Mark Boyd

I bought some more camping or dormitory kitchen supplies before heading to the bus station to buy my ticket to El Calafate.   £20 seemed extortionate for the 3 hour jaunt.... But I was quickly recognising that in Patagonia buses do not necessarily mean good value, this one was better than most.... As we approached the border to cross in to Argentina a group of young travellers back up the bus were chatting about their friends getting pulled for not declaring that they were carrying  'organic matter' in their bags.... Oh bugger... I'd just spent £20.00 on organic matter... honey, fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese and salami.... I'd risk it and say nothing.  They mumbled about our bags being removed from the bus and scanned.... Was I going to be charged with smuggling groceries?  Keep cool Mark.... As it happened we passed through without a problem.... But coming back in to Chile from Argentina is a different matter (organic matter) altogether apparently!  I'd have to be careful.

The barren landscape was kind of surreal.  Flat as far as the eye could see, bordering the longest straightest roads I'd ever experienced.  I stared out the window.... watching for animals.  I saw a couple of huge foxes and a flock of wading flamingos! 

My hostel was a 25 minute walk from the bus stop at El Calafate... I dumped my bags then went to find a cash machine for Argentinian Pesos.  When I did find an ATM it charged me the princely sum of £7.00 and would only allow me the equivalent of £50.00..... Wow!!!  I needed to find a better value ATM.  Eventually I found a Santander ATM which allowed £100.00, which halved the overall impact of the hefty withdrawal charge.

El Calafate wasn't really my scene.  It was more like a glitzy, high end ski town.  Posh brands lined the high street hyphenated by fancy eateries.... The only reason I was here was to see Perito Moreno, the awesome glacier an hour and a half out of town.  I'd heard the return bus ticket was almost £40.00 so decided I'd hitch.

I rose early and walked for 45 minutes out to the edge of town where the road split in to one that went to Perito Moreno and one that looped back around town.  At almost 9am a car stopped to pick me up.  It was full of young, drunk guys.... even the driver.... damnit.  They conversed with me in slurred, extremely loud Spanish.... I tried my best to reply... and hoped we'd make it in one piece.  The driver's ability to take selfies whilst swerving all over the thankfully quiet road was second only to the lack of volume control on this passenger seat sidekick.  After an hour of antics we had reached the ticket booth where they dropped me and about turned.  It was very kind of them to go out of their way for me.


It was raining.... and it was still a long way in to the glacier.  About half and hour drive.... I handed over the equivalent of £25.00 to look at the hard packed layers of snow and continued to walk.... thumbing at cars as they cruised past me.... It was only 20 minutes before a lovely local couple, George and Sandra (recently retired and living within 5 hours drive) stopped and gave me a ride the rest of the way.  They really were lovely.  Sandra's English was very good indeed.  George's didn't exist.  Even though they'd seen the glacier on numerous occasions they still stopped to allow me to appreciate it.  They couldn't believe how much it cost as a 'foreigner' to visit the glacier.  It was free for them.


On reaching the car park we went our separate ways.  I followed the boardwalk out to the main viewing points.... Even from a distance it looked mighty impressive.

As I drew closer and one of the boats loaded with tourists approached to within a couple of hundred metres only then could you really tell how tall this thing was....

It was indeed massive!


I stood watching it from various viewpoints.  Listening to it's groans of pain and creaks of discomfort as large chunks readied themselves to 'calve' from the face of the glacier.... People would cheer as huge pieces collapsed in to the sea (these folks were no doubt headed off to cheer on some Brazilian deforestation next, or maybe chuckle at the melting of the polar icecaps (shutup Mark)) displacing vast amounts of water and sending large smooth waves in the direction of the tourist boat. 


The sky was dark and ominous, and drizzle filled the air.... It was difficult to appreciate the 19 miles that this glacier tracked back up the valley.... All in all the area covered is almost 100 square miles.... Immense.


At 2pm I decided it would be wise to start hitching again.... at 2.15pm it began to rain.... A few cars passed then one slowed down.... Sandra's smiley face popped out of the window.... Yay!  I'd gotten lucky.  They were staying in El Calafate too, so I got a ride all the way back..... Perfect. 

Tomorrow I'd head on to El Chalten, a smaller town in the mountains....