El Calafate – ice cold and hot buns

The bus is leaving Ushuaia for Rio Gallegos at 5am. As the Haush Hostel is only a five minute walk from the petrol station where the buses pick up we set our alarm for 4am and have an earlyish night.

We wake up at 4:42am. After a snap decision that we can still make the bus, we get dressed and pack and stumble our way out of the hostel and run down the hill. I’m sure we woke the other guests in our hostel but I’m also sure they found it amusing, it must have been obvious we were very late for something.

It’s sub-zero outside and we fall into the unheated bus dead on 5am, ready for our 12 hour journey back to Rio Gallegos and then onwards a further four hours to El Calafate. Our first near miss, but it’s not as if our schedule is inflexible. We laugh it off and I promise myself to buy an alarm clock.

El Calafate

El Calafate sits on the edge of the Andes next to a number or large glacial lakes (Lago Argentino being the largest lake in Argentina). Although the glaciers have always been here, it’s only in the last few years that the town has exploded, with many new chalet-style restaurants, bars and shops. Again we have booked accommodation online on a recommendation from the Danish couple we met in Bariloche. Its a great hostel and you couldn’t do better if coming here, the couple who run the place are uber friendly – it’s like staying at a friend’s. We have two plans for the weekend, a trip to see the glaciers and an attempt at making hot cross buns. It’s Easter and we are a LONG way from home, so we are going to do battle with Argentinian supermercados and try to recreate a bit of Blighty.

Perito Moreno is the main attraction here, it’s one of the world’s only ‘stable’ glaciers, meaning it’s still advancing at 2m a day rather than melting a bit each year, not exactly a poster child for the climate change clan. Maybe they’ve not heard of this place or just don’t do long bus journeys. Hmmm.

On the way to the glacier parks

It’s a 140 pesos and a 3 hour bus journey to Perito Moreno through the mountains and past glacial lakes. The lakes are milky in colour due to the glaciers constantly grinding away the bed rock, the particles being so fine they remain as a suspension, a kind of rock soup. The whole area is now a national park and the entrance is 100 pesos for gringos (40 for South Americans). The driver stops a little short of the destination at a corner that gives us the first view of the glacier. Although this is the smallest of the three primary glaciers here the size is still impressive – in fact it’s as big of Buenos Aires.

Perito Moreno at distance

We opt for a boat tour out on the lake to see the ice up close, it’s a tad touristy but it’s low season so there appears to be no smaller outfits and it’s busy. Taking our queue from German sunbathers we ensure we’re at the front of the line and head straight up to the top deck, rooting ourselves to the best spot. The glacier is an awesome sight, yet difficult to gauge its size as there is no point of reference. It’s not until we spot some glacial hikers making their way across the ice that we can truly see how big it is.

Perito Moreno from the boat

The sun is out and it’s almost warm but there is not a lot of activity from the ice. If you are lucky it is possible to see huge shelves of ice fall away creating mini tsunamis across the bay…maybe later. After the boat we make our way along a huge network of viewing platforms. You can actually get closer to the ice here than on the boat, and now we start to hear the cracking and creaking of ice, firing out like gun shots. It really is an incredible experience. Leah found a nice quiet spot on one of the lower walkways which was deserted and we set up camp with a nice cup of tea. Over the next few hours we were treated to a number of ‘falls’, where the ice breaks away as the glacier advances into the sea. The sights and sounds are truly awesome – we really went out of way to get here but it was well worth it. Everybody says it’s a highlight, not wrong.

Perito Moreno from the lower balconies

For the next few days we take some time out. The hostel is like a home from home so we take advantage. We spend our time around town and down at the shores of the nearby Nimez Lagoon, where there are flamingos and other feathered things to spot.

Nimez lagoon - Flamingos
Nimez lagoon - Flamingos

And as I said, it’s Easter so I’ve decided I’m going to make hot cross buns. Not an easy task, but after shopping around local supermarkets and spice shops we manage to cobble together a home made mixed spice and with a bit of flour and fresh yeast (three failed attempts with the yeast but we got there eventually) we turn out some very respectable buns, complete with that white cross on top that means something, I forget what.

Nice buns

I also had plans for some Easter eggs but the ATM networks are down so we have no cash and end up leaving this great place with about £30 in our pockets and not a single working credit card. We have a four hour bus followed a nine hour wait in our beloved Rio Gallegos before  a three hour plane to Buenos Aires. All part of the fun.