We stopped in El Calafate for two reasons: it was on the way and to visit its famous and easily accessible Perito Moreno Glacier. We arrived in El Calafate after an 11 hour trip with two buses. We stopped at the border for almost two hours – the most inefficient system ever. Give your passports to the driver, wait 20 – 30 minutes, get passports back; think you’re good to continue – wrong. Wait in the bus for another 30 minutes. Then the driver tells everyone to get off the bus and bring all of their baggage (including checked bags). We then all piled into a small customs building and lined up behind an old x-ray machine which took nearly 5 minutes a bag – partially due to the ladies behind the counter squinting at a 10-year old monitor. Almost every bag was searched by hand; while at the same time there was no system to prove we even went through the x-rays. For example, we had left a carry-on bag on the bus my mistake – no one noticed. Some people walked through with their purses over their shoulder – some had to have them scanned. Oh, and the machine wasn’t even booted up when we walked in. Overall, we wondered why any of this was done when clearly none of it was effective – and all the cars that passed the border while we were inside didn’t even step foot out of their cars…
When we finally took off for Rio Gallagos it had been over two hours at the border. Arriving in Rio Gallagos ahead of schedule – and we were worried we would miss our connection – the ticket agency there offered us an earlier bus than we were scheduled for to El Calafate and laughed at us when he heard we had taken an El Pinguino bus (a Argentinian company) across the border. Supposedly if we had ridden with a Chilean company, those two hours would have been shaved off the trip.
We spent our first day in town exploring the few blocks that made up the main strip, drinking espresso (at a café with wifi), and booking more buses. Our hostel was the only one available at the time of booking. And let us say, it was an awfully weird lodge. The vibe just wasn’t there. And for the couple dozen rooms, there was one shared bathroom each for women/men. And a useless kitchen, that closes at 10PM (before most South Americans eat dinner). And the wifi never connected the three days we were there. Not recommended – Hostel de las manos.
On our second day in El Calafarte, we were picked up at 9AM for the trip to Perito Moreno Glacier that we had come for. It was a one and a half hour bus ride from town to the Parque Nacional de Glaciars where we paid the foreign entry rate (which was triple the rate for citizens of neighboring countries). The first view of the Perito Moreno Glacier from the bus (we came around a corner and the bus guide counted down “Tres-Three-Dos-Two-Uno-One”) was spectacular and we got our first glance at the size of the massive Perito Moreno Glacier. Our bus finally dropped us off at a centre point giving us ample time to explore the various viewing platforms. From there we could see the 60m tall ice walls spanning what must have been almost a kilometer across. The trails were not trails at all – elevated and maintained platforms with wheelchair accessibility. That said, the winds were so strong we could barely stand upright at some points. While December – February is the warmest weather in Patagonia, it is also the windiest season. Winds reached up to 160km/hr and we had to carefully time when we ate our leftover-pizza lunch as to not have all the toppings blow off.
We chose to take the optional boat tour to the south face of the Perito Moreno Glacier. We were taken there on a tourist-packed catamaran. Even given that it took a while to wiggle our way to a good viewpoint on the boat, the extra 20$ was more than worth it. Just being on the water and close to the glacier was amazing. Before we went to the Perito Moreno Glacier we talked about setting the camera to rapid fire to catch a huge chunk of ice falling. On the viewing platforms we saw plenty but obviously didn’t have the camera set to capture it. Once we had all the “typical” shots on the boat we devoted the remainder of our time to capturing an ice fall; where we stood for 20 minutes, eyes peeled, and saw nothing. After missing so many potentials this was near heartbreaking; however, it’s not always about the photographs, right?