Sad to leave the gorgeous Torres de Paine National Park, we boarded the bus to El Calafate, about five hours away. Partway along our route we left Chile, but we had to stop at the small, non-descript check point and go inside and show our exit visa. That took about 30 minutes. Then about five miles farther down the road we stopped again to show our passports by going into the Argentine check point where we had to show the expensive visas we had purchased before leaving Texas. This was another half hour but we were able to buy sandwiches (jamon & queso…surprise, surprise!) for the ride. We arrived at El Calafate after 9 pm, but it is not dark till nearly 11 p.m. in December. A van was awaiting us on the road and we were transferred to our Hosteria Cauquenes de Nimez, about 10 p.m. We learned that Cauquenes are the pairs of large water fowl we have seen in many places. This hotel is right on Lake Nimez in El Calafate Ecological Reserve, adjacent to the huge body of water, Lake Argentino.
The next morning we were transported by a tour company in a small bus to Glaciers National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site where thirteen large glaciers comprise the gorgeous scenery. During an hour ride we learned all about the area and glaciers from our bi-lingual guide. We arrived at Perito Moreno Glacier where we boarded a large catamaran cruise ship with comfortable seating inside a glass cabin, and our group got a table for six by a large window.
We cruised very close to this enormous glacier to get the feel of the 80 meter high ice walls which extends 5 kilometers wide. The Perito Moreno Glacier is a 30 kilometers long river of ice. This is one of only two glaciers in South America which is advancing instead of retreating. The enormity of it is amazing. The deep, rich blue colors within the ice reveal that it was formed centuries ago, as scientists can determine partly from the hues.
The day was very cold and windy, but we were well bundled and loved every minute of the spectacular cruise. We could see the calving periodically when huge chunks of ice broke loose from the glacier and floated free. One edge of the glacier is constantly moving against a huge boulder along the shore where the depth of the water changes significantly, creating a unique effect.
Then we walked for several hours on the miles on the steel platform along the shore. I counted 650 steps divided in groups of six to twelve, which we descended as the sturdy pathway led to many different views of the glacier and through lovely shrubs and trees. Then we had to climb up these hundreds of stairs (or there is an elevator for those who need it) to get to the cafeteria, which resembled a ski lodge. We took hundreds of photos and were thrilled with the day.
Returning to our Hosteria Cauquenes, we enjoyed local wine and played board games, watching the large trees just outside bend almost double in the high winds, typical of this area. Promptly at 8 p.m. dinner, a delicious Argentine Stew typical of the area, was served by the hotel staff in a prix fixe menu of three courses. We all really like this small hotel, with its friendly staff who make you feel like guests in their home. The rooms are small, very clean and comfortable, and each one is different. The town of El Calafate has only 20,000 residents but welcomes and cares for 350,000 tourists each summer season. There are many small hotels and good restaurants.
If You Go: http://www.cauquenesdenimez.com.ar/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perito_Moreno_Glacier http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g312851-d605459-Reviews-Cauquenes_de_Nimez-El_Calafate_Province_of_Santa_Cruz_Patagonia.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patagonia