We leave the sleepy El Calafate and head West in direction to the snow-capped mountains.
The landscape surprisingly changes in a matter of a few kilometers.
I soon understand that the Patagonian landscape and climate are much more complex than what I had thought at the beginning, and whilst the cold Southern Antartic winds define the dry vast majority of the Patagonian landscape, the Western Pacific winds find their first obstacle in the Andean Mountains, creating the famous Chilean fjords rainy micro-climate on the West side of the mountain range and constantly feeding the high-altitude peaks with fresh snow which creates a fertile valley on the East.
A humid valley that, due to the rigorous and extreme Patagonian weather, only extends for a few kilometers from the mountains before blending into the dryness of the general predominant landscape.
This also means that fresh snow constantly compacts into massive ice bodies which slide downhill at a rather fast speed, creating glaciers which can be reached without climbing to a high altitude.
We pass through a stoned gate and we stop for a few minutes. A ranger enters our little shuttle and welcomes us to the National Park whilst charging us for the admission fee and explaining the dos and don'ts of this magnificent and protected landscape.
We have now entered the Parque Nacional de los Glaciares (Glaciers National Park) from its Southern gate and we follow a windy road bordering the murky white waters of Lago Argentino.
The white colour of the water, which resembles skimmed milk, is a consequence of the melting ice and its dust particles which, as the are lighter than cold water, float in the surface making impossible to see the development of the endemic trouts that here survive.
Due to changing weather, the itinerary has been inverted and we detour to a little dock where a white catamaran is waiting for us. Battling the strong morning winds and the turbulent freezing water the catamaran soon faces the Glaciar Perito Moreno, one of Argentina's main icons.
An outstanding 74-meter tall mass of ice which seems to glide its way down the Andean mountains and dazzles the view of every single person on the boat deck with its sparkling blue colour.
Flashes and pictures seem to never stop whilst we the boat rockets its way across the lake to a busy and improvised dock where we disembark and leave our heavy goods and food in a small and cozy wooden lodge.
We proceed to walk though an ancient woodland with the heart racing faster and the adrenaline pumping at its maximum, only to be stunned by the size of the glacier as we get close and surrounded by a landscape which is unique in the world.
I take a deep breath whilst contemplating the extreme setting in which I am: black volcanic rock beaches, splattered with crystal-clear pieces of ice, weak glacier waterfalls surrendering to the gravity of a steep and rugged landscape partly covered with the autumnal colorful foliage of the tall beech trees. It is freezing, extreme and surreal.
Crampons are fitted to our boots and we are good to go. The first step on the body of ice is somehow symbolic and deserves some respect. In the end, we are walking on ice and extreme caution needs to be taken with every single step made.
Ten steps later, the body relaxed and embraces the environment and that's when the real fun begins.
Several safe trails are carved in the ice by the experience guides whilst we climb up steep ice hills and get lost in an absolutely white and icy surrounding, oddly enough, thinking about the man's first steps in the moon and grasping enough air to make an out loud and obvious statement, probably fueled by the adrenaline which now flows through my body in enormous quantities: 'Look at me! I am walking on a glacier'.
An opportunity to understand the ice, the many dangerous deep fends which seem to never end and lose in the darkness of the deep ice, the light blue water streams flowing and constantly changing the shape of the glacier and puddles of fresh water which we are suggested to drink.
The sun breaks through the clouds and the ice turns into a deep blue color. A perfect setting for a whiskey on the rocks, with ice scrapped directly from the glacier to set the mood.
Time to go downhill and leave the glacier, after nearly three hours of ice walk. A very intense exercise despite any level of fitness.
The legs thank the gesture whilst the brain tries hard to process what just happened. It was a hike, a 'glacier hike'!
We eat our lunch, sheltered in the cozy wooden cabin and we are shipped back through the lake to the dock, from where our shuttle takes us to the terraces and wooden passageways in front of the glacier, an experience that serves to affix the idea in the head as we contemplate the magnitude of the size of the glacier from above.
A loud roaring sound is heard, just like a bomb explosion. It is the ice breaking and falling into the murky water creating some sort of mini-tsunami which creates ripples that seems to flow in slow motion and crash against the icy shore, breaking the peace of a landscape that seems suspended in time and place.
In the end, Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers in the world that grow in size, hence the rapid movement down the mountain and the constant ice breaking, which feeds the octopus-shaped Lago Argentino and the Santa Cruz River.
The weather rapidly deteriorates and heavy snow starts falling, closing the activities for the day and taking every piece of energy left in the body. I fall asleep and wake up when we arrive in El Calafate by the end of a sunny and clear afternoon in the Patagonia.
No time to be wasted. The journey must continue and , fighting the fatigue, my friend and I head to the outdoor shop in order to rent a tent and camping equipment for the next leg of the race.
It is a quiet evening at the hostel. Questions are asked by the fellow backpackers. Answers are given objectively, trying to content the excitement of what was an once in a lifetime experience.
Bed time for now. Rest is needed for what's coming next.