Wow! Wow! Wow!
Even on a rainy day, the glaciers in southern Patagonia are absolutely spectacular. Perito Moreno glacier took my breath away with its sheer size; people appear like tiny ants on the surrounding 4 km of catwalks that offer superb opportunities to watch and listen to the glacier which regularly 'calves', sending huge chunks of ice into the surrounding glacial water. Perito Moreno is one of the few 'stable' glaciers, not receding as is now the norm. In size, it is about 30 km long, 5 km wide and about 60m high.
We have had three nights in the town of El Calafate, which is the jumping off point for the glaciers, some 80km from Perito Moreno glacier. I had expected the town to have a frontier-feel, but it is really charming. There are many lovely stone and carved timber buildings; and the shops are filled with high quality crafts handmade locally including beautiful textiles, carved wooden products etc. Our hotel had a spa/jacuzzi and sauna which we spent some time in the first day after a 'hard day' touring the glaciers!
We have had two full-day trips exploring the glaciers. The first day we took a bus to Perito Moreno glacier, followed by a 1 hour boat trip that takes you to 100m in front of the south face of the glacier, followed by about 3 hours walking on the catwalks and balconies near the glacier. The second day was a 7 hour cruise on a catamaran that wended its way in and out of various channels to bring you face to face with about 5 glaciers, as well as sailing through icebergs. Glacier Spegazzini has an ice wall that is 35 stories high!
Our cold/wet weather gear has had full use over the last two days. While it is summer, it is probably about 10 Celsius, but that is before the wind chill. So, it has been two layers of jackets (rain, wind/warm jackets), beanies, gloves, other clothes and fleecy underwear.
When we landed in El Calafate, I was struck by how similar the light was to the sharp light of the Australian outback. The Patagonian steppes (flat plains) are mainly treeless, with the main vegetation being the 'calafate' bush (a prickly shrub). There are some rugged mountains; the countryside reminded us somewhat of the beautiful desolation of Iceland.
Tomorrow, we have a 5 or 6 hour local bus trip, crossing back from Argentina into Chile to Puerto Natales, where we will spend one night before heading into Torres del Paine.