Landing in the tiny airport at Calafate from Buenos Aires, the most striking feature is the impossibly blue water that forms the lakes and rivers at the base of the various glaciers. A twenty minute drive sees us arriving at the Che Lagarto hostel in the town of Calafate. We check in with the obscenely helpful staff while the eldest boys hustle at the hostel’s pool table. While on the topic of over the top helpfulness, special mention must be made of Sebas who to the delight of the boys is the spitting image of Shaggy from Scooby Doo, and more usefully for us, was able to sort out anything from hostels in other towns to hairdressers masquerading as barbers at no notice. Essential as my hair was starting to develop a comb-over. Aware of how much to do and how little time there is to procrastinate, we book a trip to our first glacier, Perito Moreno, for the following morning. It is supposed to be the most dramatic of the Patagonian glaciers.
And it is. Glaciers start to impress from quite a distance. As you approach from far away, you see an unimaginably wide river of ice, weaving between mountains. The scale of it is incomprehensible, that all of this mass is a slow moving and constantly replenishing block of ice several hundred metres deep…
We all boarded a boat that took us across the lake towards the face of the Perito Moreno glacier. You are aware going in that it wouldn’t take much of a block to come off it to send a wave that would probably tip us over. With the approach, the face of it just keeps getting bigger and bluer. It towers several metres above our boat, and several hundred metres below. We navigate backwards and forwards along the face of it, to give the official photographer an opportunity to take identically posed pictures of as many punters as possible, before coming back in to land.
The Argentinians have built an impressive network of balconies facing the glacier that allow you to take in as much of it as you can as you descend opposite. Befitting a spectacle of this magnitude, our youngest slept through as the rest of us climbed down in the hope of seeing some ice calving off the glacier. Omar and Alvaro, our two eldest boys, were not disappointed.
Perito Moreno is a rare glacier these days, in that it is still advancing while most others are in retreat. Our meeting with it was the first we had with a glacier, and was also probably the most impressive we were to see. We’ve been fortunate on this journey to have seen many scenes of nature beautiful beyond description. But to see this enormous flowing sheet of ice is not just to see beauty. It is to see a statement of nature’s sheer scale and power.
Which, of course, the aggregate consumption of mankind is helping send into retreat with global warming.
We stay in El Calafate twice – once either side of visiting Chalten. In our second visit, we dropped by the Glaciarium, a museum about man’s early attempts at flight. As if. This is a real visual treat of a museum dedicated to glaciers and related topics. The focus is on the vast ice sheets of Patagonia, and the various glaciers that these sheets feed, and which we have been and will continue to visit for a few days. In common with many of the museums we have seen on our travels near to big or endangered nature, the messaging is none too subtle, and the video that shows the earth self-destructing as a consequence of our insatiable consumption nearly has some of our kids in tears. It does, however, provoke them into asking the questions that leave you hoping things will not be as bad for them as the predictions based on current trends, and vowing to do something different to help. As we continue a few days later to the 16th of about 20 flights the six of us are having these six months…
El Calafate has the feel of a large alpine village in the summer. Except for the ever-present ice cream parlours. And what it lacks in a McDonalds (thankfully) it makes up for in a restaurant that has a decent sized play area for the kids in the back. It is an area that would be well worth a visit also without a young family, as the opportunities for hiking, climbing, cycling and a whole host of other pursuits had us drooling. Some may ungraciously say that we were grateful that the kids were here as an excuse not to do all those things. But that would be harsh. Paola was itching to put on her boots again.
We left Calafate as we came in, by airplane to Buenos Aires. Actually, it was supposed to be to Trelew, but an ugly volcanic ash cloud saw to it that we carried on in the plane out of Patagonia and back to Buenos Aires for a night.