Thursday, February 18, 2010

Perito Moreno. Coolest Man Ever.

So after a month and some change in Argentina, we're beginning to notice some repetition in names of streets, parks, and other places- every city's major avenue is Ave Liberador Jose de San Martin (liberator of Argentina, Chile, and Peru. The coolest man ever- yes I recognize the inconsistency- more on him at some point), with surrounding streets named after Mitre, Cordoba, and Maipu (you better believe a great deal of not-very-funny-jokes were made about Maipu Street). Down here in Patagonia, you have Bernard O Higgins National Park, the Fitz Roy Range, and then the biggest enchilada (or should I say, empanada? Buahaha. When in Rome) of all- the Perito Moreno Glacier (also the town of Perito Moreno, which we'll be visiting tomorrow, and I think he has a river and a lake somewhere too).

There's a lot to tell about Perito Moreno. The long and the short of it is that Francisco Moreno (history calls him Perito, which means expert) was an explorer, a trekker, a collector, a philanthropist, and lots of other great stuff. He was a key player in charting, mapping, and claiming Argentine territory from Chile at the end of the 1800's. He is especially well known for his challenge of Chile's theory of 'divortum aquarum continental,' border definition (essentially means the headwaters of a Pacific flowing river or lake should be in Chilean territory)- he rerouted the Rio Fenix to an Atlantic-bound direction in order to claim it for Argentina. When the government rewarded him with hundreds of acres around Lake Naguel Huapi (the lake on Bariloche), he only donated it back to form Nahuel Huapi National Park, the largest national park in Argentina. He helped found the Bariloche Climbers Association (I think that's the name)- sounds trite, but in an area that is all about trekking this is just about the coolest thing you can do. Oh- and he also led the first trek to climb Cerro Fitz Roy in El Chalten, a 3400 meter climb of a sheer rock face surrounded by glaciers (we camped out there last night, more on that to come with our El Chalten post). And he scaled about a billion other mountains. And founded the Argentine Boy Scouts Association, and hung out a lot with Teddy Roosevelt (if that gives you an idea of how he rolled). The legendary figures all seem to be a bit taller around here.

So yeah. That's Perito Moreno. And his larger-than-life stature is almost big enough to do justice to the hulking glacier that takes his name. The Perito Moreno Glacier isn't the biggest one in the area (second biggest. there are something like 300 glaciers that form an iceblock 90km long by 50 km wide- thats 450 SQ KM- humungous!!!!), the third largest aside from Antarctica and Greenland) but it's still huge! It sits on the edge of a lake, and while you can see 80 meters of a sheer ice wall above the water, the glacier extends 120 meters to the ground below. THAT'S A TWO HUNDRED METER GLACIER! (As our friend Paul noted- this being said with an outrageous Australian accent- ¨almost as good as the pingüinos!)(I disagree. Way cooler)!!

And Perito Moreno, aside from its gigantic-ness, is definitely the most awe-inspiring. Because it's only one of two glaciers in the world that is still moving forward (by 1-3 meters each day), every ten minutes you'll hear something that sounds like the loudest thunder you've ever heard, and then chunks of glacier 40 meters wide will smash into the lake, sending huge waves crashing on the shore (or the boat, when you're riding in one). So it's huge, loud, and also really old- the ice (which is simply super compounded snow from the 'accumulation area' in the mountains) takes 12-18 years to form- and then three hundred years to reach the front of the glacier, where it too will crash into the lake. Yeah. Jaw-dropping, breath-taking, choose whatever phrase you like. It's unbelievable.

And yes, we went glacier hiking. Unfortunately we still can't upload pictures, so you'll just have to take my word for it. But it was a blast- and at the end of our hike, they led us to a snowy enclave (mind you. still on a thousand year old glacier) where they had a table of alfahores (think a little chocolate cake with dulce de leche in the middle) and whiskey waiting for us, which we drank on the rocks. From the glacier. Glacial ice cubes. Sigh. It was the coolest.

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