The long and winding road ............ yes, I realise that it is quite straight in the photograph above, but it did get very winding a bit later on when we reached the mountains. We had finally left the dull, featureless and endlessly boring grasslands behind us. Ahead of us lay the snow capped mountains and ice fields of Southern Patagonia. I breathed in lungfuls of gloriously fresh air, each breath tinged with a nip of cold, hinting of cooler climes and alluding to the snow and ice in anticipation of our destination. For we were on our way to the Perito Moreno Glacier, located in the Los Glaciares National Park of Southern Argentina. On our way to the glacier, we passed cobalt blue lakes, fields of buttercup yellow overshadowed by towering mountains of white and slate blue-grey and delicate anemones in all their creamy white finery. We even stopped at an old homestead that would sell you any number of dead things, including sheepskin rugs, goat skulls (horns and all), fox and puma pelts and rhea eggs. Suffice it to say, I did not get much Christmas shopping done there!
We then hit the winding part of the road. As the road ascended, the trees appeared to age before our eyes. Once tall, straight and strong, they began to shrink and wither, their backs bending in surrender to the cold harsh winds, becoming emaciated, twisted and deformed. They finally submitted to the merciless forces of nature and the scenery changed to one scattered with small, hardy shrubs. The most dramatic of these shrubs was the Chilean firebush, whose bright red flowers burst into flames, dotting the landscape with miniature conflagrations. After each twist in the road, there it was ............... another twist in the road and then another and another. Oh come on, where is this glacier, already? Anticipation was building, the bus was getting restless. It has to be round the next bend. A hush fell over the bus; we all held our collective breath. And then .........................
Cue the music:
And there it was..............the Perito Moreno Glacier – 30km long, 5km wide, 60m high above the surface of the water, total average ice depth of 170m, maximum ice depth 700m i.e. it is HUGE!!!!! And it is AWESOME!!!! I would even go so far as to say F!#$%^&G AWESOME!!! Now that is a word (the awesome, not the other, I use that one far too much) that I hardly ever use, but on this occasion it did seem entirely appropriate. As we rounded that last bend in the road and were confronted with this massive ice monster, I was left speechless. Oh, it was big, but the true scale of this moving escalator of ice did not really hit me until I saw the size of the boat in front of its sheer face. It was so tiny, like a miniature remote-controlled toy. Which you would be able to see if it wasn’t for the fact that I spend so much time ensuring that there is no human presence in any of my photos. Perhaps this was one occasion where having a person or a boat in view would have been a good idea. Well, I just did a bit of CSI-type investigation into my photos and, after a lot of zooming in and sharpening, I realize that I do have a boat in one of my photos. I have labelled it for your convenience, since it is pretty hard to make out otherwise. Now, this is not a small boat. It can hold over one hundred awe-struck tourists, along with enough hot chocolate and alcohol to keep them all warm and happy.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world that is not retreating. It all begins with heavy snowfall over the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. It is here that the glacier is born and where it begins its relentless journey down from the mountains. As it crawls down from the snow fields, it matures and ages. The ice thickens and begins to crack. Small creases become large crevices; its smooth surface breaks up into wrinkles, fissures and furrows. The glacier starts to creak and crack, sounding like an old man as he struggles from his armchair after an afternoon nap by the fire. The glacier is a very vocal entity, to be heard as well as seen. Along with the creaks and the cracks, you can hear the ice moaning and groaning. Then you hear a pistol crack and a shotgun boom. The old man has made it out of his chair and is now scaring off the rabbits from his vegetable patch. The large booms are made as the ice breaks apart as it nears the end of its long, inexorable journey. When this happens at the face of the glacier, huge slabs of ice split away and slip, slow motion, into the frigid, steel blue waters that lap against the glacier’s base. This is known as calving and it is the beginning of the end of the glacial ice. It now begins its final journey, floating across the lake as a miniature iceberg, slowly shrinking and melting, its identity lost as it coalesces with the lake.
Finally, for those of you that are interested in discovering the identity of the latest unknown from my previous post, here it is. A glyptodon. This mammalian Volkswagen was an herbivorous mammal common on the Patagonian grasslands until approximately 10,000 years ago. It is related to the modern day armadillos and was covered with a bony armour plating that provided it with protection from many a marauding predator.