Learning to walk on the ice – in El Calafate

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Having concluded our boat holiday in Puerto Chacabuco, we did an overall uninteresting journey to get to El Calafate (original plan had been for El Chalten but there is only trekking to do there and as it was forecast to bucket it down we skipped over and may return later).

Disclaimer: I will now describe said uninteresting journey in a teeny but of detail so I don’t forget what a pain it was. Please skip this paragraph.
Just one shuttle from the ferry and then a further bus took us to our first stop, Coyhaique. Sadly, one night there, (in what I have to admit was the most comfortable bed since we left we UK) was so expensive we nearly booked flights home then and there. So we revised our plan to travel in a leisurely fashion taking 5 or 6 days through Coyhaique, Chile Chico and Los Antiguos and instead we left Coyhaique, got a mini van, boat (had to wait 5 hours, first one full, very windy), taxi to get across the border, and then an overnight bus down to el Chalten. Accomplished in 1.5 days rather than a week but less fun exploring. Also, that was our first overnight bus, and having continually boasted of my ability to sleep anywhere, I found myself incredibly restless on the last comfortable bus of the trip so far. Disappointing. Egg fared a bit better in pleased to say.

And just like that we were in El Calafate, a city which generally accepted traveling wisdom has it that you can do in one day. Not being ones to follow such nonsense, we passed a leisurely four days here, and greatly enjoyed them. I reckon people underestimate it.

Generally, the thing to do here is drop off your bag, get on the first bus you can to see the glacier, and then get on the first bus out. And whilst I will admit the town itself is really none too charming (unless you adore postcard shops and overpriced ski wear) there was enough to keep us happy.
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Our first day we went out to see the glacier, Perito Moreno. It is awesome. 4 hours watching, and it was a nippy day, and we were transfixed. It is part of the southern ice fields, which make up a large chunk of our freshwater reserves (I think third biggest after Antarctica and Greenland for you fact hunters) and is the only one in the area that is considered stable and is still advancing, the others supposedly falling victim to global warming.
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Every day huge sections of the glacier break off and plunge into the lake below, making it not only an incredible visual spectacle, but also an extraordinary auditory one as well.
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Second day we had some time to do some less visited things: in the morning the bird reserve and beach around the lake
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, and in the afternoon the world’s first glacial ice bar! Strangely egg was happy to visit the ice bar, but would not let us go to the attached museum. Think of all the fun things we will never know about ice!!!
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The bar was a strange experience, I suppose not really designed with us in mind. We enjoyed the outfits, and the animals and the ice glasses, but rather less the disco lights and club music which are a bit at odds with the children running around. Really, it is designed for people who want to spend the entire time posing for photos. We managed a couple, right around the time they announced our time was up. Still, good way to enjoy ice cold amaretto and we tried liqueur of calafate, the local berry, pretty similar to blueberry.
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We also had the treat in the evening of seeing Daniela and Tomas again (you know, from the first farm in Argentina). It was really nice to see how they were getting on and did not seen like 4 months has passed at all. Also funny, terrible service in Librobar, trying to get the bill for half an hour, finally guessing the money and just leaving only for them to suddenly be attentive and catch up with us on the street demanding 4 pesos more (that’s about 30 pence). Shame, as the place is so nicenice but the staff really are awful.

The final day is really what we came for. BIG ICE. I hope that was as dramatic as I wanted. 7 hours of glacier trekking on Perito Moreno.
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So first you get the boat across, then you hike up through the first for an hour until you reach the middle of the glacier…
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Then you strap on crampons, pull on a woolly hat and stride up on to the ice…
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And then you walk for two hours past the bluest water
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Fresh water streams
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And just amazing landscapes
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until you reach the summit where you lunch (and take panoramic photos)…
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Afterwards we all wandered back via a different route
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Saw a different type of waterfall
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And got to see this really deep ravine
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And then we even stopped by an ice cave
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On the boat back we were treated to whiskey and then we received a little present for making it safely back to the bus. Egg things it is just something extra to carry, but I was happy with my little gift.

It was an incredible experience.
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