Monday, 1 June 2009

Ice, Ice, Baby! Argentine Style

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.


Baino said...

You don't post often but when you do . .wow what impact. Gorgeous photos as always. Nice to know there's a happy solid glacier that doesn't seem to be melting away.

Cortes said...

I am really impressed with some of the photos, particularly the sequence of the glacier calving. Wonderful shots. However did you do it???

And ....... What the devil are Rhea eggs? Are they best scrambled, poached or sunnyside up? And how did you get that photo of Mr. DBM behind the bush with the spear?

Great story, and great photos, as usual.

Sistertex said...

Fantastic post! I love the color of glacial ice. It just has a blue caste that is gorgeous. Brilliant photography! Thank you so much for sharing it.

jay said...

Oooh, I think I saw a glyptodon in the natural history museum the other day. I must do a post on that place soon.

Lovely post, as always, DBM. I don't want to be cold and I don't actually want to travel in South America but I do want to hear the ice crack and groan.

You're right, sometimes a person in the frame can add awesomeness by giving us a frame of reference by which to judge scale. Good grief, I'm beginning to sound like a lecturer. I'm going now.

*Slinks off*

Don't Bug Me! said...

Baino: I would post more often. I always intend to post more often. I tell myself that I am going to post at least once a week, but then life happens, I get distracted, I wander off and forget what I was going to do and then, two weeks later I remember what I was supposed to be doing. Sigh.

Cortes: For the calving glacier shots, I just had to stand around waiting until I heard a big boom. I then rushed in the general direction as all the other rushing tourists and hoped I got there in time. We did actually see several lumps of glacier fall off, but I only managed to get one whole sequence on film.

Rheas are like small ostriches and I assume that their eggs are good served any way you like your eggs served.

The picture of Mr. DBM was shot early one morning before he had time to clothe himself fully. He is unaware of this picture, so please don't tell him!

Sistertex: Hello! Thank you for popping by. Just to let you know, I have more photos of another glacier that is even bluer than this one. So, please stop by again. BTW, I popped by your blog yesterday and shed a few tears for the loss of Monty. I have two cats, which I love dearly and I dread the day anything happens to them.

Jay: Oh, yes please, a post on the Natural History Museum would be great. I was also thinking, perhaps I could borrow a photo of Mr. Data and then I could Photoshop him onto the glacier so that we could appreciate its size. What do you think?

Moon said...

If that is Mr DBM .. who is his Gay mate ?

Kate said...

That was awesome !!!! With or without the expletive... And I wasn't even there.... but you write so well and I have a vivid imagination. Like Jay, I have no wish to travel there but there are some things I would love to see and this is one of them!

Mary Elizabeth said...

Just wonderful.
Your post is always amazing.
Thanks for visiting Now and Then.
Have a lovely weekend.

Don't Bug Me! said...

Moon: I do not ask Mr. DBM about his "acquaintances." There are somethings that one does not need to know.

Kate: Thank you! It certainly was worth all the effort to go and see.

Mary Elizabeth: Thanks for popping round again and for your lovely comment.