Our time in Rio Gallegos was spent visiting mechanics, spare parts stores, Mike working, visiting pet stores, and local parks, and recovering from bad chest colds. The saving grace was a supply of delectable pastries from the many panaderias in town.
Once again we were impacted by Argentina’s “money game”. We had run out of the Argentine pesos that we had changed for US dollars in Buenos Aires, at the rate of 13.3 pesos to 1 USD. If we withdraw pesos from the ATM the rate is 8.3, a significant difference when you are talking large sums of money. Kaj and Carina were facing charges for car repairs so they were in the same situation. Luckily, Kaj and Carina were able to get money sent via Europe to a bank in Commodoro Rivadera at the rate of 12.5. This was not straightforward and required a lot of research on their behalf. So Kaj made an overnight bus run and got money for us all. It will definitely help our daily expenses.
Finally after 11 nights and 10 days in Rio Gallegos, we were back on the road, with both vehicles running well. (Or so we thought)
We were all happy to be back in our vehicles, back on the road and back camping. We had all missed the freedom, the outdoors, and our vehicles, which have now become our homes.
We headed to El Calafate. Kaj and Carina provided a ride to a hitchhiker from Chile, Felipe. Hitchhiking is very common in Argentina both for locals and foreigners, and appears to be safe from what we have heard.
El Calafate is a tourist town, providing a base from which people go to visit “Los Glaciares National Park”. It is a very sweet town with lots of trees, and after graffiti and garbage ridden Rio Gallegos, was a pleasure to visit. Although it could have done with a few less chocolate shops and helado stores. We must give Rio Gallegos some sympathy on one thing, as we quickly realized that a lot of the garbage resulted from the strong winds just blowing things away and around. We learnt this first hand as our shopping bags and receipts went flying across the car park as we packed our groceries in our car. The Patagonian winds at work again.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is 40 kms long, 5 kms wide and about 60 meters high, and is one of the few glaciers in the world that is not receding. It grows by ~2 meters per day. There is ice that also melts and breaks off daily. There are 13 glaciers in this national park.
There are definitely no words to describe the vastness, the rawness and the beauty of the glacier. Majestic may be a word that could be used, although it does not encompass the awe that you experience when viewing this glacier. There is an ear shattering thunder that echoes through the area when a piece of the glacier separates and plummets to the lake below. It causes huge waves to form over the lake’s surface. The lake is dotted with a variety of sized icebergs, creating a surreal landscape.
The glacier has jagged peaks, and deep crevices, which creates a bumpy texture in its overall appearance. It is a mixture of sapphire blues highlighting it’s crevices with pure white accents, and the occasional veins of browns and blacks through its outer surface.
We spent 3 ½ hours in the area, just staring at the glacier and willing the sun to warm it’s surface, so we could experience its shear force as a piece broke off and formed another iceberg.
We spent the following 2 nights at a free camp in the national park, surrounded by snow capped mountains, and a pristine lake. Large red foxes came through our camp in the early morning and white geese and condors flew overhead. We experienced all 4 seasons in the day, applying sunscreen, only to apply fleeces and coats 1 hour later and then to reverse the process again.
In El Calafate, we had the pleasure of meeting up again with the Snaith family, Gilly, Steve, Alisha (age 9) and Lucy (age 6), the English family we met originally in Ushuaia, and had bumped into again in Puerto Natales. The girls were instant friends from the first day they met, so we spent the day together at the glacier (it’s amazing how many majestic places that Keira has played “tag”) The Snaith’s are an amazing family. If you would like to look them up, they also have a blog: www.overlandingfamily.com
Mike was happy to have a fishing companion in Steve. They caught 2 decent sized fish that we cooked for dinner that night.
As you know we have been travelling with a German couple, Kaj and Carina, who have been wonderful traveling companions. We have shared many amazing experiences and have faced many challenges together, including a recent infestation of head lice. I think we may be hearing from their German lawyer! Their website is: www.travelrunplay.de , only catch is it is in German!
As for the vehicles, mmm, well let’s just say the mechanics in Rio Gallegos weren’t as good as we first thought. We had a fan belt literally sliced in 2 after ~ 600 kms, and Kaj found several things that had been replaced incorrectly. The result was us towing Kaj and Carina about 40 kms on slick, muddy roads in the pouring rain, hoping our fan belt had. One of the many challenges of life on the road that are easier dealt with when there are a group of us working together.
So we are now back in El Calafate and will seek out another mechanic in the morning. We are hoping to complete repairs for the last time before we move on to El Chalten and the Carretera Austral.
UPDATE: cars are repaired and we are heading to El Chalten.
I decided to add to each blog a highlights and lowlights section. I will try to go back and add it to some of the previous blogs, if you want to take a look. I thought it would be fun and a way for us to recap too.
Highlights/lowlights of this area:
Most valued possessions: jetboil (fast boil stove used for boiling water for tea); rice cooker (yes we did bring one, it allowed us to prepare some simple meals in our hostel room); a spare pair of fan belts; princess dresses again
Best experience: Mike- catching his first fish in a glacier lake; Keira- meeting up with Alisha and Lucy; Riss- experiencing the Perito Moreno Glacier
Worst experience: Mike- car problems; Keira- having a bad cold; Riss- looking after 2 sick “kids” in Rio Gallegos and trying to entertain a 4 year old in that town
Best food discovery: Mike-little cakes, donuts and baked goods from panaderias (bread and cake stores); Keira- “candy”; Riss- soy milk – we bought 10 packs, and oatmeal made by Carina and served to us in our tent during torrential rains
Worst food experience: Mike- “being ignored at food stores and passed over for locals”, Keira- “anything not candy”; Riss- getting rather tired of rice cakes and all the food has so much sugar in it.
Best camping spot: free camping in Perito Moreno Glacier National Park
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.