Patagonia travelogue 2009: glacier hike and el calafate

Day 8, in which glacier, town conquered

Perito Moreno Glacier is the big deal in El Calafate. It’s one of the last glaciers in the world acting like a real fucking glacier should, that is, advancing, not shrinking. We sign up for a full day guided hike on the actual glacier.

Another pre dawn rise. In the mess area, the other early risers notice last nights’ carnage. Statuesque emerges from the chill out area with bed hair. Time delay. Out comes Scruff McGruff. The staff is smirking their faces off– holy hell she hooked up with the hostel dishwasher.

Bus picks us up at 7am), and collects the rest of the group at their hostels. Surprise surprisese the americans quickly find each other and do hellos all around. Mel is much more social than I and befriends everyone. I am feeling salty and throw snide comments around whereever applicable. Mel later postulates that I still love attention but take some time to warm to new situations. I tell her where she can stick her opinions.

Lots of american Joes. Joe from Minnesota is a 33 yr old ex currency trader with a near constant mouth, in Argentina to see about a girl that didn’t feel the same way. We’ve met a few of these Americans types that are using the next great depression as an excuse to take time off and spend some of their money around the world.

Emily is an ex Teach for America blonde punky brewster that could befriend a log. I knew she was trouble when, after our main guide gives the opening speech, she says “hi yuni, my name is Emily.”. This girl has two modes: Ask Questions and Introduce Thyself.

Our group of 18 takes a boat across the shore, then hikes a mile along the morraine wall. We cross to the glacier and strap on clampons for traction. The guide gives advice: “Stay single file; don’t fall into crevices. Keep gloves on; some ice surfaces are like broken glass. Don’t cut your own leg with the clampons.”

The experience of walking on an actual glacier is not unlike a teenager’s first crack at love making. At first, you’re like, HOLY SHIT I can’t believe I’m doing this, this is amazing, so much fun, I want to tell all my friends. I am going to take a million photos. And then it’s like, okay, I get the gist, how much longer do I have to do this for, why am I sweating so much. And then you’re finally all like, when do we eat.

Sitting in the center of a fucking glacier, eating a salami sandwich and Argentinian version of cheese puffs = awesome.

I guess my problem with the ice trek is that we didn’t really achieve much. There was no destination. It’s a bit like, Oh these tourists want to walk on a glacier, okay, strap these on, and let’s babysit em for three hours while we walk in a meandering circle, and they’ll eat that right up, yes they will, look its blue, it’s a hole, it’s a cave, watch your step, are you having fun yet.

The head guide is Yuni, a free spirit with a shock of red curly hair. He is a near cartoon character, every statement halfway between deadpan and surrealism. He tell jokes whose punchlines are a two tone descending whistle (example: “to be good climber… Need strong and…<whistle> stupid.”. Video clip of his insanity to come.

Hielo y Aventura clearly enjoys its right as the only private company chartered to run these glacier tours. The Big Ice Trek runs $160/person for the whole day. At the end, as you are boating away from the glacier, they break out scotch on chucks of glacier ice. And hand out free bronze keychains as souvenirs. Any company handing out freebies by the end of the day is clearly taking in too much profit.

Back in town, Mel and I eat at La Tablita, which is recommended by every local. In descending order of tastiness: bistec chorizo, lomo (tenderloin), cordero patagonica (grilled lamb), lenguitas (lamb tongue). Five from the glacier group show up; guess they got the same recommendation. We merge tables and head to Borges y Almarez for drinks.

Joe and Karen, all Yale grads like Emily, drink scotch a plenty. I am delighted but out of pesos and nurse my beer, fearing the tab. Joe’s bursting with wit, makes cracks all night. I remark that he’s witty especially for an american. Barely registers at the table.

Tom and Ed are best mates from the UK on extended holiday. Ying yang. Tom’s an Irishman in finance with a bum knee; Ed’s from Manchester, black, was in finance, now in developmental education work but unemployed. They wrestle and hug with great affection. Tom is a regular ringleader, the one who modestly offers, “how about some shots, yeah?” and further suggests, “8 rum and coke’s for the table.”. I am ruby red but perfectly game. At some point we drop the apparent bombshell that Mel and I are not romantically involved despite traveling together. (Aside: this eyebrow raiser seems to be shared by everyone I told my trip about. Reactions range from a wink-and-an-elbow to an ever helpful “keep it your damn pants for everyone’s sake”). Tom takes it hardest. He proceeds to put Mel in a leg lock (the mechanics of which I will leave to your imagination), and Mel actually uses her juijitsu training to break out. Causing three chairs to knock over, stumbling into other patrons. Mel calls a cab and we’re out at 2am. Fun fact: we are all on the same 11am flight to Bs As.


  • angelle Says:

    omg. i have to say. your teenage sex analogy had me giggling out loud. that’s some superb literary wittiness right there.

  • katie Says:

    it’s great, all of it. your wit is inspiring.

  • mel Says:

    “I am ruby red but perfectly game.” –if by ‘perfectly game’ you mean falling asleep sitting up.. barely winking ‘sure’ when yet another rum and coke is placed in front of you.. and doing absolutely nothing to come to the aid of your friend who’s getting accosted by surprisingly spry brits…. then i concur.

  • Selfish Crab Says:

    Thank you all for the nice words. People are really enjoying the glacier/sex passage. You all have such prurient interests.

    Mel, you clearly could handle yourself. If I had come over, it would have made it a big deal. Did you really want a belligerent person to enter a confrontation?

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