Sunday, May 2, 2010

Calafate and Perito Moreno

Calafate is the gateway to the Perito Moreno Glacier in the providence of Santa Cruz, Argentina. This glacier unlike most other glaciers on earth is growing and is to Argentina what the Masai Mara is to Kenya as a tourist attraction. Most visitors will stay in Calafate and visit the glacier for the day. As a result, the tourist accommodations are booming at an incredible pace. I was there the first time in May 2009; and returned in February 2010, I was amazed as to the number of new hotels and lodges rising along the shoreline of the lake on the road to the glacier. The old sleeping town is gone. Still much of the old charm is still left as illustrated above.
I have previously visited glaciers in Iceland and Alaska but none compares in majesty and awe to Perito Moreno. The iceflow covers approximately 100 square miles and has and average height of 200 feet where it flows into Lago Argentino. One of the major attractions for this glacier, is the fracture. This occurs when the ice flow creates an ice dam splitting the lake in two. When the dam is eventually broken it causes a spectacular water rush. This event is not easily predictable and not an annual event. Just watching and listening to iceflow moving is most interesting. One hears like rifle shots as the ice flows and chunks of ice break and fall into the lake. This process of large pieces of ice separating from the glacier is called calving; these calves then float about the lake pushed by the winds and water current until eventually melting away.

As tourism increases in Perito Moreno, the government activities to accommodate the influx of people is impacting this natural wonder. An extensive elevated metal trail and stairs ways is being completed. No doubt this will expedite the movement of visitors but at a cost of impacting the beauty of the area. They have constructed several “orange colored” rest stops along the trail that ruins the view. Could have they done this in a more subdue way? Is there a need for these structures in the first place?

The hand of bureaucracy using the excuse of “safety” has struck again in Perito Moreno. When I was there in 2009, I was able to access the shoreline in the area where the ice dam is formed (see image below). Now the old elevated trail that provided access to the shoreline has been closed.
No longer will visitors be able to experience to be close to the iceflow from land, see the deep blue/cyan colors created by the light filtered through the cracks in the clear ice from ground level, or touch the milky blue waters. Yes, there are boat tours that take you close to the iceflow or trekking on the glacier, but another experience to enjoy the glacier has been lost. Where else in the world could one experienced standing near the base of such a massive wall of ice?
I found that renting a car to visit the glacier for the day is more cost effective plus gives you the flexibility of staying at the glacier longer and stopping along the road to take landscape photos. One thing about Argentina that is more extreme than in other countries that I have traveled, is their gouging of tourists. You will pay ten times more for entering the national parks than a local citizen; but their practice of charging higher airfares to foreigners I have never experienced before. And is you are a US citizen and fly into the country, you will pay $130 fee, the good news, once you pay it, the passport is stamped and good for multiple entrances until the passport expires. In fairness this practice is not limited to Argentina, the same applies in Chile , but if you cross the border by land this fee is not charged, so walk or drive, don’t fly.


5 comments:

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

A beautiful post Jose. I agree, surely they could have found something to blend in better, then again, why do they feel it has to be "improved"? Surely its natural beauty is enough?

Like Botswana, so many places have now been closed off and future visitors there have lost the spectacular experiences gained by being able to get closer. Oh well, another place down the drain and to be scratched off the list!!

Chris Tennant said...

These are some beautiful photos Jose! Really nice.

jeannette said...

Was going to ask you about the Cerulean blue, but you already mentioned it -incredible!...Calafate...what a tongue twister...I first read Cafe Latte -you know what's on my mind!

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