After jolting our adventure back to life like a defibrillator to the chest, pulling us back from the brink, we are making the most of our only full day in this town. The journey north up the spine of the Andes will complete the long held desire to travel the length of this great range as well as the nine year courtship to see El Calafate’s reason for being on the map. Since being in Chile nine years ago and not making it here it’s been a pebble in the travel shoe that we haven’t been able to dislodge, today is the day that we finally tread a path free from the discomfort of that persistent nag. Boarding the punitively expensive bus we are not thinking of money right now, we’re full of giddy excitement, this day has waited long enough.
We skirt the glorious turquoise lake, weave beneath mountains that are eerie, ominous and awe inspiring; and all flavours of immense. Amazing on any other day but only brief sideways glances are permitted today, eyes fixed ahead in tantalising anticipation. After about an hour on a winding road we catch little glimpses of the proverbial pebble in the shoe, weaving its way through the valley. Involuntary exhale.
Get out of my way, dawdlers on the bus are not welcome, we’re the adult version of the greedy kid with an unattended bowl of smarties.
Maybe not entirely adult to be fair. A quick impatient walk to the boardwalk and it’s just a little but dumbfounding, it’s right there, we’ve found it already and it’s far closer than we expected. Perito Moreno has been on a nine year build up, a weight of expectation swelling for nearly a decade ready to burst. Zero, I repeat, zero disappointment . It’s 5km wide, 257 sqm in area, 60m high and right there, just in front of us, it’s akin to a childhood fantasy long forgotten that is now all too real. Rushing back from mythical obscurity to be all too real this glacier is the one we’ve wanted to see for so long. Far from creating dumbstruck awe we feel well acquainted, this long awaited first date is all bubbling excitement. It’s finally real, it’s here, we can see it and it’s beautiful.
Barreling down the boardwalk we’re blissfully free of hoarding crowds, clear vistas are all around. From the higher reaches we can see above the leading edge into the distance, a bare fraction of the glaciers depth slips into the mist beyond, giving a sense of scale more in what we can’t see than in what we can. The jagged and contorted shards that make up this beast are skyscrapers, all the worlds cities appear swept together to contort and bunch up in compressed version of natures blue-white current day urban Pangea. I think superman lives here. Descending to get closer and closer we hear gunshots, roars, groans and thunder; and so far we’ve only described volcanoes as active. It seems activity ranges from molten lava to frozen wonderlands. The glacier advances at 2m a day in the centre and just 40cm a day on the edges giving it a hallmark arrowhead shape. Reaching 180m deep underwater it’s gargantuan and very much alive.
There is one feather in the cap we are also hoping for, if we’re lucky we’ll get to see a house size chunk of ice dislodge and crack into the water, the hope for anyone visiting the glacier.
We stop constantly on the descent down hoping for a rupture, the activity in this monster is unbelievable, constant, loud and ominous. We were hoping for this meeting to be beautiful and awe inspiring but we didn’t account for childlike excitement, our pulses race to each shifting sound. Through the extensive network of paths and viewing platforms we venture to take in every possible angle, slowly dipping below the upper limits of the facade to stare upward at the face that drops to the water with ominous severity. The dividing line here is another stark shock: beyond the wall is a foreboding inhospitable terror, on this side it’s windy but on our side a cool temperate national park like many others, inviting. The glacier seems to stake it’s territory and makes a communicable statement, we are to stay this side.
We soak up every view possible marvelling at every turn but we’re yet to see a show, we’ve heard the groans and snaps but haven’t seen the crash into the water yet. We’ve heard a deafening roar and seen a small tsunami through the lake, we’ve even dashed along a part of the path without a view only to see the remains of a big collapse, but to date we’re without a cherry. Deciding to pause we take in some perspective, relax and look, just look on without a single design to do anything more. From this viewpoint the fluidity of the beast is a real highlight, this seemingly stationary hard block flows and sweeps like poured honey between two mountains, vast time granting a motion to inflexible immobility. This contrast coupled with the scale imbues a slow shake of the head in admiration, it really is that good.
And we wait, this day is a booming success already but we want to see a collapse. The busted up ice bergs of previous collapses litter the lake like the worlds biggest gin and tonic; enough to keep three ex-pats appropriately incoherent for nearly a year. Small silly flights of fancy are a little unavoidable, this is like nothing we’ve ever seen before, there’s no neat box to place it in. The sun drifts overhead and towards it’s home for the day, this imposed passivity creating a vacancy to be filled with appreciation. As time pass… BOOM!
Jolted from our awestruck wonder a car sized sheet of ice falls off the face just to our left. Charlie is Annie Oakley with the camera and snaps away. Amazing. Outrageous. Unbelievable. Then it goes beyond my words, the Volkswagen Polo we saw was a precursor, a flake as a whole spire like the top of a tall apartment building cracks like thunder and starts its slow motion descent. In an eternal instant the demolition is complete, the crashing froth has fallen and the waters are again still to the occasional cheer of onlookers. It’s high five time as we process what we have just seen. If this was a nine year wait for a blind date we’re now panting, our eyes are wide and our pulses are definitely racing; I think we just proposed.
And the date is complete. We have only one day here before we move on and it was all about seeing Perito Moreno. From a more leisurely stage of our journey into the unromantic dash for cash we are now invigorated by our most obvious driver to travel; to be inspired by our world. There really is no replacement for immense power and beauty wrapped together. It’s been a long time coming and a wait well worth it; Perito Moreno you are a star and reason alone to travel the world.