Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ice, Ice, Baby

      From Chiloé, we crossed into Argentina to Bariloche. Bariloche is located in the Argentinian lake district, situated within Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, on the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi. This town is the tourist hub for the Patagonia. I have been really excited to go to Bariloche, but because of our awkward timing with the weather, I was a little disappointed to not be able to hike around the lakes and mountains. It was the end of Autumn while we were there. The worst kind of Autumn weather: cold and rainy. I think to be able to really enjoy all that Bariloche has to offer, the weather either needs to be clear or snow. Clear enough to hike and enjoy the lakes, or snow in order to ski. We still managed to enjoy ourselves. How could you not when there´s chocolate to be eaten and Argentinian wine to be drunk? The best thing about downtown Bariloche is that it is lined with chocolate factories.

      One day we decided that we would brave the weather and hike up Cerro Campanaria and then rent bicycles to ride the short circuit around a couple small lakes, rain or shine. No more wasting time indoors. Cerro Campanaria is known for its beautiful 360 degree view of the lakes. National Geographic even rated the vista as the best view in the world. (I feel like I keep coming across things ranked as ¨best in the WORLD¨). Hiking up was alright. It was only sprinkling and we had good tree coverage. When we reached the top and stood at the vista point of the Best View in the World, we saw... fog. So anti-climactic. Then the light rain up there started to feel more like light snow. It was cold. We gave up on our bicycle plans as we didn´t want to be miserable bicycling through snow-like rain and the cold. We managed to console ourselves with the best hot chocolate I have ever had at one of the chocolate factories downtown. I think the chocolate alone made up for our poor weather in Bariloche.

So much fog

      Next, we took the longest bus ride we have ever taken (28 hours!) to El Calafate. I´m talking deep into the Patagonia. Snow everywhere! Our hostel looked like a cabin and even had heated floors. Ironically enough, the coldest place we went to was the warmest I had felt indoors because our hostel was so cozy. The highlight of El Calafate is the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and of course, the glacier, Perito Moreno. We arrived just in time to book the last day of the season to do the ¨mini-trek¨of Perito Moreno. We bussed to the national park, took a ferry across the Brazo Rico of Lago Argentina, and hiked through a little bit of forest, strapped on some crampons, and climbed onto this incredible glacier and hiked like a group of penguins in single-file behind our guide.

We love crampons

       The Perito Moreno glacier is so blue. Everything else seemed gray that morning, except the glacier. I don´t understand how it is so blue. The Patagonia ice field is the 3rd largest ice field in the world, behind the Arctic ice field in Greenland, and the Antarctic ice field in Antarctica. Perito Moreno is the third largest glacier in the Patagonia ice field. It is certainly the most accessible. Perito Moreno is a very unique glacier. First of all, unlike the majority of glaciers in the world that are receding, Perito Moreno is stable. The rate at which it is melting is the same rate at which it is growing. Every year it grows towards the Magellan Peninsula, creating a dam in the Rico Brazo of Lago Argentino. The water erosion creates a tunnel in this dam. As the weather gets warmer, the phenomenon called, the rupture, occurs and this natural bridge of ice collapses, leaving a giant block of ice at the tip of the peninsula. This block of ice is so big that it doesn´t melt all the way. The one standing there today was from the rupture last season. The center of the glacier is 700 meters thick. The edge on which we were hiking is 200 meters thick.

Where the glacier dam ruptured at the tip of the Magellan Peninsula

     There were a couple pleasant surprises during our ¨Mini-trek¨. First of all, it was our guide´s last day of work so he was especially happy and goofy that day. The first surprise was getting to drink fresh glacier water out of a water hole in the glacier. He said the water in that little hole was 45 meters deep. As the surface of the glacier melts the water collects in all the nooks and crannies, or crevices, within the glacier. These crevices, most noticeably the surface ones, are created because of the uneven growth of the glacier. Towards the lake the glacier grows at 2 meters per week while towards the peninsula it grows at 20 cm per week. So, the glacier cracks. Anyways, the water that fills up the spaces creates a network of interglacier rivers! The water was delicious, btw. The second surprise was getting to slide down a slope of the glacier. It was really carved out like a slide, with snow at the bottom to stop us. It was vital to keep your feet up so that your crampons wouldn´t get caught and break your ankles. For the third surprise, our guide picked one of us to be the leader (he chose me), and said just follow the trail, we´ll meet you up at the top of this rise for a surprise, and don´t forget to lead in Spanish, too. We walked the trail for not even 5 minutes, haha, and at the top there was a table with glasses and a couple bottles of scotch whiskey and a basket of alfajores (amazing shortbread cookie sandwiches with dulce de leche in the middle, covered in chocolate). My job as leader was over after I passed out the alfajores, lol. The guides used their ice picks to chop up some glacier ice to put in our glasses of scotch. I can´t say I like scotch, but it warmed us up, and it wasn´t as bad with the chocolatey alfajor to chase it with.

Scotch on the rocks, glacier rocks.

     After the trek, we got back on the ferry where we got to take photos up closer to the glacier. Then we went to the balconies where you could see the south and north faces of the glacier. From the ferry we could only see the south face. I have never taken so many pictures of one place in my life. I took 155 photos. That´s a record for me.

More chunks of ice from the ¨rupcion¨, and the north face of the glacier.

It´s a big glacier


    Mission accomplished: we reached the south of South America! We decided to cut Ushuaia (aka ¨the End of the World¨) out of our route because winter that close to antarctica is too cold to try to bus through or for us to hang out in, not to mention the money we´ll save. Adios, Patagonia! Next time, I´m definitely going to explore the Patagonia during summer.

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