Advantages A Unique Experience
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5 am in the morning.A morning that began around 10 pm the previous night.
We arrived at the Glaciar Perito Moreno much later than anticipated, due to atrocious weather and an extremely luckily avoided certainly fateful car crash due to my ex-partner's excellent driving reflexes, when our car very nearly skidded off a turning and into a rather pronounced ditch (we were not even driving at 50 mph).
Upon our arrival the place was deserted, there was no soul to be found. No guides, no guards, no humans, no other forms of animal life…. But an overwhelming and breathing ice presence!
Our son was safely and warmly asleep in the car and it was not long before my ex-partner fainted into the land of dreams or utter exhaustion, after our almost deadly drive.But my usual obstinacy compelled me to communicate with the glacier!
Ommmmmmmmm….So I donned my sacrificial outfit, cleansed my soul (or rather attempted to, it is far too dirty!), made a couple of prayers to any likely gods or spirits guarding the place, and left the car. My sacrificial outfit consisted of a down parka and woolly hat plus 3 pairs of socks magically fitting into leather boots. In fact, it was not that cold. It was early January, summertime in that austral magical land and as it had been raining, the temperature was on the mild side.
The first thing I saw when I left the car was a sign saying that you are not allowed to spend the night in this place. We were the only car parked in the purpose built small parking facing the glacier at a higher level.
Hmm… There was no way I was going to risk waking my ex-partner up; especially that, considering the state he was in, not even the unlikely sudden collapse and melting of the glacier would have succeeded in the attempt. Besides, there were no guards and no apparent danger, and this being Argentina, laws are made to be broken, and we were not going to be the improbable exception to this rule. Not this time anyhow.
Was I about to risk my life in an endeavour to commune with Glaciar Perito Moreno by (invisible) moonlight?Well of course I was…
Feeling the sides of the guardrails with both my hands and carefully placing my feet on each stair, I managed to get to the front "balcony" facing the glacier. The silence was complete and only perturbed by the animate and regular breathing of Perito Moreno. Some louder cracking noises, akin to welcoming groans convinced me that the massive ice form was indeed offering me its particular salutations and I bowed!
Its mountainous stature was obvious, though all I could really see were some glittery bits here and there. Comforted by my nightly communion with a live glacier, I decided to make my way back up just as a soft drizzle began to veil the little that could be glimpsed from the scenery.
*******************************************Part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, which was founded in 1937 and declared a Natural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1981, the Glaciar Perito Moreno is one of Argentina's most famous attractions and considered by some as the 8th wonder of the world. I subscribe to this point of view! You may have seen images of it sprawled on advertisements for travel to Patagonia. The Glaciers National Park is located in the Province of Santa Cruz in Argentinean Patagonia and covers an area of more than 600,000 hectares (1,482,000 acres).
Discovered in 1879 by the Chilean Army Officer Juan Rogers, the glacier was renamed (not sure what it was called to begin with) Perito Moreno in 1899, in honour of the passionate and relentless Argentinean Naturalist and Explorer Francisco Pascacio Moreno, nicknamed Perito (1852-1919). Dr. Francisco P. Moreno (Honoris Causa) was the first Argentinean to travel in this area of the world and "bequeathed" (for having discovered it) the Nahuel Huapi area of Argentinean Patagonia, with all its lakes and wonders. Paradoxically, Dr. Perito Moreno never actually got to see the glacier named after him, but many sites in the Patagonian area, apart from the famous glacier, are named after him. It is said that he died penniless and without a parcel of land!*********************************************
One of the few advancing glacier in the world, with a surface of a bout 250 square kilometres, length of about 30 kilometres and a present maximum height of up to 60metres - 196 ft - above water level (although some sites claim that it's up to 80 metres - 262 ft), Glaciar Perito Moreno is probably one of the most impressive sights the human eye is likely to set itself upon on this planet.In 1947, the glacier crossed the Canal de Los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel) and its constant advance ravaged many of the local forests when it crawled over solid ground on the edge of the Península de los Magallanes (Magellan's Peninsula). Its constant expansion has throughout the years cut off the natural drainage of the southern side of Lago Argentino (Lake Argentino), known as Brazo Rico (Rico Arm), virtually turning into a natural dam and causing the water level to rise by up to 25 metres (it is currently predicted that the next water rise will reach 30 metres). The pressure caused by the trapped mass of water eventually becomes untenable for the glacier (or rather, the melting ice below it), and as the water filters through the ice, causing fractures and hollowing it out, inevitably, the dam collapses in a spectacular detonation of water and ice. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to predict when the caving in of the dam is likely to occur, nonetheless, many visitors go there with the hope that they will be lucky enough to witness this unique cataclysmic event, at a time when the situation is "ripe".
*************************************************5 am in the morning and the sun is yawning behind Fitzroy Mountain and Cerro Torre, the mountains crowning (or even circling) Glaciar Perito Moreno.
The same yawn stretches my jaws and my muscles alike (as much as possible when sleeping in the back of a car) and I waste no time in making my way out of the vehicle. The others are still fast asleep.The sky is pink and gold, with mists of blue promising to enter the scene within the following half hour. I quickly go back to the car to pull out camera, tripod, lenses and film.
The firmament has now begun to glow in earnest and the peaks of the mountains are almost literally aflame. I stand on a vantage point near the parking, and from here can see that the crests of the glacier are shimmering like diamonds. It is not an exaggeration, the spectacle is such that I am dumb founded and nailed to the spot with fascination, hardly believing my luck at awakening in this enchanting place beneath such fine lighting and weather.I am only stirred from my motionlessness by the approach of another car, from which a gentleman erupts, camera and monopod in hand and starts to shoot (images) frantically like something just out of a cartoon.
"Oh yes, of course! I should take pictures!" - I remember.Crazed, dazed and irreversibly amazed, I lovingly frame the beauty that lays before me, finding it extremely difficult to find a point of focus in this sea of improbably sculpted ice.
Several photos later and the gold in the sky threatening to depart at any minute, I walk back, through little paths surrounded by the bright red flowers of the Notro and the purple berries of the Calafate trees, towards the purpose built "catwalks/runways/stairs", without the need to hold on to anything now, because I can see quite clearly.It is a simple but very effective design of wooden stairs and vantage points in the form of balconies, running in different directions, so you can view the glacier from different spots. I am not sure which way to run - I am literally running, trying to catch up with the light - and I simply take as many pictures as possible from as many angles and viewpoints as possible. Wide angled, close ups, some with nothing but ice, others with the mountains, the trees, the debris…
As I press the shutter once more, I realise that all traces of gold have vanished and that pink and blue are now waltzing above me interlaced with soft veil like cloud formations. Glaciar Perito Moreno has revealed enough secrets for one dawn and is now rousing by emitting blue radiance from its very insides.*************************************************
To put it less poetically and in more glaciological terms, the intense turquoise blue emanating from some glaciers is due to the fact that the ice within them is very compact. The areas of a glacier that still contain air bubbles, allow the long wavelengths of white light to be absorbed, and we see its colour as white.
Where the ice is extremely compressed, the short wavelengths of blue light are transmitted, allowing us to view it in that colour. The more compact the ice, the longer the light has to travel, the shorter the wavelength and the bluer the appearance of the ice.
But at that very moment, I excused myself from practical science and saluted that of the occult by bidding the majestically overwhelming poise of the ice towering ahead of me good morning. Now, in bright daylight, I could seriously contemplate the true size of Glaciar Perito Moreno. As far as the eye could see, ice, ice, ice and even more ice stretched ahead. Solid, compact and very much here to stay. The more I looked, the more awe-stricken I grew.I was standing on the lower balcony of the walkway; below me glistened the iceberg laden waters of the Canal de Los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel). Even the balcony that is closest to the glacier is a very safe distance from it, just in case!
I felt as though I had receded in time and was standing in the middle of the previous ice age. My imagination - which is slightly more developed than most - could hardly encompass the sheer volume of solid water present around. Again due to its regular expansion, when the glacier presses against the solid ground at the edges of the mountains circling it, it causes pressure within its mass and the result is towers of ice pointing in all directions on its surface, as if attempting to reach the sky or free themselves from the glacier.As I stood there and watched, the most lurid feeling I sensed was brought about by the resonance produced by the steady cracking of the ice and the eventual subsiding of hefty lumps of it diving into the channel. It is not easy to put into words and I will not attempt to, but as my ex-partner - who had joined me with our son by then - pointed out, as a sizeable portion of the glacier threw itself in the water in a thunderous splash and ripples that reached the shore below us: "No one ever sees the same Glaciar Perito Moreno, it is in constant metamorphosis."
That much is true indeed. At the very least the front of the glacier is forever re-sculpting itself in shapes of eternal wonder.*************************************************
To reach Glaciar Perito Moreno, the best starting point and the one that most excursions start from, is the little town of El Calafate.
There are many expeditions on offer, ranging from just a bus ride to visit the glacier, or boat rides (always sailing at a very safe distance from it) and even the chance to walk on the glacier, accompanied by a specially trained guide.
Depending on the season, prices vary, but a simple boat ride can cost as little as $10, while a full excursion that includes a trek on the glacier may cost up to $168. Had we had the time and money, we would most certainly have done that, but it is not very practical with a very young child.
As far as we were concerned, we "hovered" around the glacier until well past noon, finding it very difficult to leave. Not many tourists arrived, strangely, although we saw two (tourist) buses. There is a little café / restaurant by the parking, with clean toilets, We did not sample any drink or food.We left, as we have left every single place in Patagonia, with a mixed feeling of fulfilment, happiness, sadness, amazement and everlasting longing…
As we drove off, Glaciar Perito Moreno shone on, breathed on and beckoned us to return at the first opportunity that may arise. Return we will, the opportunity can always be created!
© Lola Awada 2006
PS: Apologies, but I have reposted the same images I had used for my Patagonia review, as my scanner has decided to stop working again!!
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