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  • Dawnelle Salant

The One Where I Cry Over a Condor

The main attraction in El Calafate is the Perito Moreno Glacier, and though I am interested in seeing it, I feared it would pale in comparison to Antarctica. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen and the sheer size and power it holds takes my breath away. Located in Los Glaciares National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, Perito Moreno is only one of 48 major glaciers here. The southern Andes are home to the largest ice covered area in the hemisphere after Antarctica. Perito Moreno is larger than Buenos Aires. The glacier is famous for its calving - it is the most active glacier in the world. At about 135 km long, it sprawls out as far as the eye can see. The ice closest to us is the deep dark blue we got so accustomed to seeing in Antarctica, while the rest of the glacier is snow capped and icy white. A set of metal stairs lead us to various viewpoints and I stop to take photos at every level. We hear loud creaks and groans and know that something is about to happen. Just as I get to a balcony, an entire portion of the glacier’s face calves off - I am talking chunks of ice 40 metres tall falling through the air into the water. The boom is deafening and even though it’s unusually warm here today, I get chills all over my body. After the ice has fallen, the lake continues to move for several minutes. Small icebergs bob up and down and large waves pound the shoreline.

I expected to be really far from the glacier so I brought my wildlife camera and zoom lens. After waiting for some more action, I give up and take out my other camera to take some close-ups; we are much closer to the glacier than I thought we would be. What happens next astounds me more than 40 metre high pieces of ice falling from the glacier. Out of the corner of my eye I see a huge, black bird with white on its wing soar in front of the glacier. Naturally I turn and start shooting, unaware at the time that this is one of the top birds on my life list of birds I want to see in the wild. I knew it had to be special, it was gigantic and it glided on the wind like it owned the place. And it kind of did - it was a condor. This was the bird that had actually drawn me to Calafate - the glacier was just a bonus. To see a condor in the wild is not an easy task, and to see one with this spectacular background was almost more than I could handle. Yes, I get that excited about birds.

I confirm with an Argentinian couple next to me that this is in fact a condor and I start shaking and have to wipe tears from my eyes. The gods are smiling on me today. In the distance, two condors soar high on the winds and one circles back in front of the glacier again. It is one of the highlights of my life. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so spectacular.

A few more small pieces calve off the glacier and I can’t believe how loud even the smallest pieces are. We go on a small boat cruise closer to the other end of the glacier and cruise by icebergs, bringing me right back to Antarctica. Except I am sweating, I am sunburned and the scenery behind the iceberg is lush green hills. Just as we turn back, another big piece calves off and a huge wave starts towards the boat. It looks dangerous, but it turns to nothing before it reaches us. I am more than impressed by Perito Moreno. If you are a traveller, you must add this to your list.



#dawnellessabbaticaladventures #peritomoreno #elcalafate #condor

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