After driving for miles through featureless grasslands, we came to Calafate, a cute little tourist town that reminded me of Swiss and Austrian tourist towns we have enjoyed. Nestor and Kristina Kirchner, who served as presidents of Argentina for about twelve years, came from this province and shoveled tons of money back home in the Argentinian way. It shows. The town went from 5,000 to 27,000 in about ten years and is beautifully landscaped. The roses are still blooming with gusto.
Calafate is the gateway to the Perito Moreno glacier, the reason all the tourists are here. The immense glacier is a small part of the Southern Andes Ice Field, the third largest ice field in the world after Antarctica and Greenland. Even though we are no longer that far south - Calafate is on an equivalent latitude with Vancouver, Canada - it is near a confluence of perfect conditions for glacier formation. An area of the South Pacific generates moisture laden winds that turn to snow clouds when they attempt to rise up over the Andes. It snows on the ice field 330 days a year. So even though the glacier is advancing six feet a day, the melting ice is constantly being replaced. Unlike many of the world's glaciers, Moreno is neither advancing or receding. There are over one hundred glaciers coming off the ice field, but Perito Moreno has been made very user friendly, unlike the others which require multiple days of hiking for a visit. We drove right up to the face of the glacier and hiked three miles of boardwalk around its face. Its immense size was unfathomable. The face was 250 feet high with another 500 feet below the water line. We could see fourteen miles of it going back from the water's edge. We saw fifteen miles of its face as we walked the boardwalk. The ice groaned and creaked as it flowed toward the water. We tried to photograph it calving, but by the time you hear the sound, the ice has already fallen into the water. We've been fortunate enough to see many wonderful things in this world and we're getting hard to impress. Moreno Glacier knocked our socks off.