El Calafate looks like a typical mountain resort town: handcraft shops, homemade ice cream stores, souvenirs, chocolate shops and food. Everything looks like a new and shiny attempt at evoking the historic: expensive restaurants, clothing stores and swanky hotels with glistening interiors flickering from rustic exteriors.
This is not to say it isn't a pleasant place. It is relaxing to sit on the wooden deck of a cafe, sipping espresso and watching the people go by. And when you get off the main drag, you can see the snow tipped mountains and walk along the glacial turquoise lake (though in the morning it is more of a mundane lake blue).
Yesterday, in the morning, we took a walk around Nimitz Lagoon: a bird sanctuary full of blue billed ducks, black faced ibises, as well as many others.
It is a tranquil walk, except for the parts of the path that go a little too close to the nests of some birds-of-prey. Then the birds swept down towards our heads, swooping back up at the last minute before circling back to make another attack.
For lunch we tried an Argentinian all-you-can-eat place with parilla (grilled meat). I didn't care for it much: greasy food, fatty meat. However, the peaches with whipped cream were good.
At 3 we caught a bus to Perito Morena. The bus traveled along a lake. We ascended a little from the dry steppe and as we turned a corner, the weather got misty and rainy. The hills became greener with heartier trees. It was as if the weather was setting the scene for the presentation of something amazing off in the distance: the ominous change in climate that turns out to be caused by the breath of an ice giant.
In the distance we could see the white triangular shape of the glacier cutting a path between the mountains. The lake was almost green. The observation area was crowded when for miles around there was nothing but nature. Stairways led to different viewing balconies. The glacier was a huge jagged mass of white and blue.
Mammoth, it stretched from where it had dammed the river/lake, ice scraping the rocks on the shore into black sand, back across the lake until it disappeared into the mountains like an army of pointy headed soldiers, frozen as they rushed through the pass at the start of an epic battle.
Or perhaps it looked more like the result of an overzealous, over creative giant housewife whipping up a blue meringue pie. What do you do when faced with a massive river of ice? You stare at it. You watch it for hours wondering if it is the cause of the chill that permeates the air.
Occasionally there is a loud crack as a piece of ice falls off and lands with a louder crash when it bursts through the ice sheet covering the water below. You wait for a large icy spine to crash or an ice plate to slide off the face, crashing and shattering into little icebergs below. You watch the giant shedding its skin, self-destructing as it grows. And since you have 3 hours before the bus back to town, you watch it hoping for a dramatic explosion caused by one huge piece breaking.