Vietnam in 15 Instagram Photos

I’m currently hard at work sorting through the 4,000+ images I snapped during my visit to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. However, while the final “National Geographic Standard” shots are starting to go up on flickr (view them here) I’ve been posting Instagram edits taken during the trip. For those that follow my photography, for Instagram I post unique images, a blend of dSLR and iPhone 6 captured shots and/or HDR edits of the photos you’d see on flickr in a more true-to-life format. So, without further delay, here are 15 of my favorite Instagram shots from Vietnam.

 

The mighty Mekong | Vietnam

A photo posted by Alex Berger (@virtualwayfarer) on

 

Planting cow grass in a freshly harvested rice paddy one stalk at a time. #vietnam #mytho

A photo posted by Alex Berger (@virtualwayfarer) on

 

Snow Covered Copenhagen

Snow Covered Copenhagen

How do you take a picturesque city with beautifully colored buildings, elegant canals, and wide pedestrian streets and make it even more picture perfect?   You add snow.  At least, that seems to be the approach Copenhagen takes a couple of times a year.   Despite its northern location, Copenhagen’s close proximity to the sea and placement along the Gulf Stream keeps it surprisingly warm and snow free for most of the year.   Over the last week, however, a cold spell hit the country dumping more than 20cm of snow across parts of Denmark.  While it also meant that temperatures plunged below 0 Celsius, the result has been worth it!

Eager to enjoy the city before the snow melted or got too dirty, I bundled up and headed out into the cold to capture these photos and shoot the above video.  As I walked the city center the snow periodically alternated between large light snowflakes and small slow-falling flakes that were few and far between.  Combined with the colors of the streets, the warm yellow glow of the street lamps, and the overhead lighting of the holiday lights that decorate many of the larger pedestrian streets, the snow left me feeling as though I’d been transported into a magical snow-globe. Pinch me, I am really here.

Snow Covered Copenhagen

Despite the cold I still found the streets crowed with tourists wandering the city and locals out doing their shopping. A few of the buskers had suited up and decided to brave the cold, casting the haunting notes of clarinet, accordion, and violin drifting across streets that date back to the 1400s and 1500s. In other areas the rich smells of freshly made crepes (pancakes as the Danes call them) and caramelized almonds offer a feast for the senses that leave passerby’s stomachs rumbling.

Snow Covered Copenhagen

Despite the snow and black ice most Danes still bundle up, layer on their scarves, and then hop on their bikes. It’s an amazing sight to see and definitely more than a little inspiring. I guess it makes sense, if I’m silly enough to enjoy walking around in the snow, biking in it isn’t all that different…right?

Piled Bikes in Snow

Still, not everyone is up for a snowy bike ride home, especially after a night out at the bars, which contributes no doubt to the piles of snow-covered bikes that line the city’s streets. This dogpile was especially messy. Apparently a few bikes had been double-parked during the weekend and then fallen over, knocking the others into a giant confused and snow-covered jumble.

Copenhagen Christmas Market

Copenhagen takes its holiday decorations seriously and has beautiful heart-shaped lights that hang over most of the larger streets. It also has a collection of wonderful Christmas markets. The one located near Christiansborg Slot at Amagertorv is one of my favorites! You can also find other markets in nearby squares and along Nyhavn.

Copenhagen Christmas Market

The market stalls in Amagertorv are solidly built, have beautiful facades, and a wonderful traditional holiday feel to them. They’re a mixture of random goods, warm-weather gear, food, and of course, Gløgg/Mulled Wine.

Copenhagen Christmas Market

I found Danes and tourists alike huddled together, hands wrapped around smoking cups of Gløgg, eying hot dogs and other delicious meats as they cooked in nearby stalls on circular suspended grills.

Copenhagen Christmas Market

The market even boasted a tiny Santa ride for little kids. Little more than a giant train set, the ride made a very tight circle around the Christmas Market’s central Christmas tree. What the ride lacked in size, it made up for with ornately decorated cars and a vibrantly decorated tree.

Snow Covered Roses

Another thing that always surprises me is the flower stalls. Despite the cold weather, there are several small street stands that stay open year round. In the photo above you can see the wide variety of roses and flowers they offer, all beautifully covered by a soft layer of snow.

Snow and Flowers in Copenhagen

Beyond cut flowers, they also offer live flowers waiting to be planted. Perfect holiday gifts which are somehow perfectly resistant to the cold weather and damp kiss of half-frozen snow.

Danish Bakery

I finished my stroll with a quick walk past a traditional Danish bakery with its windows full of stacked fresh bread, deserts and delicious Danish treats.

Danish Bakery

Cold, and ready to retreat back to the warmth of my apartment, I found myself playfully walking through the snow…a light near-skip to my step. There’s something about Copenhagen that always leaves me charmed. The more time I spend here, the more I fall in love. It is an amazing place and an incredible feeling. If you get the chance, don’t just assume that Copenhagen is a summer city. It has a lot to offer no matter what time of year it is!

Budapest’s Royal and Regal Palaces and Castles

Around Buda Castle on Castle Hill

Hundreds of years of history, empire, wealth and culture shape the now unified sister cities of Buda and Pest. In my previous post, A traveler’s journal: meandering Budapest’s Streets, I took you through some of the city’s more off-beat, religious and cultural attractions. In this post let’s dive into some of the city’s better known and more visible attractions.

Around Buda Castle on Castle Hill

Buda Castle & Palace

While not what you might typically consider when thinking of a traditional castle, Buda Castle and the Castle Hill/Castle District is actually a small city in its own right located on top of one of the plateaus overlooking the Danube.  The Castle and Royal Palace cover the southern end of the hill and are composed of a sprawling mixture of fortified walls, large palatial buildings, beautiful fountains, and royal monuments.   While the current incarnation is much more modern, regional royalty have been using the hill since the mid-1200s with the first royal residence built somewhere around 1260 AD.

The Buda Palace and Castle

It wasn’t until 150 years later that the oldest sections of the current castle (now little more than the foundations of an old Castle Keep) were constructed.  In the early 1400s King Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, made significant additions to the Palace as befitted the city’s role as the heart of the Holy Roman Empire.  In addition to enhancing the palatial sections Sigismund also made major enhancements to the castle’s defensive walls and apparatus.  Later kings, including Mathias Corvinus and Vladislaus II continued to expand the palace over the next hundred or so years. The Ottoman army conquered the Kingdom of Hungary in 1526.   Over the following century the Ottomans occupied Buda and fended off a number of Habsburg sieges until the Siege of 1686 which did extensive damage. This led to the Habsburgs taking control of the city.  Unfortunately, the siege destroyed the majority of the medieval palace, the remainder of which was temporarily neglected, while repairs were made to the fortifications.

Buda Castle in Budapest Hungary

More recently a series of baroque palaces were constructed starting in the early 1700s.  Many of these were damaged by wars and large fires – though each of these left its mark on the castle and palatial layout of the area.  Eventually the palace was re-built in the mid-1800s before being heavily renovated around the turn of the century.  Small tweaks were made until WWII when the castle was ravaged by the war and faced extensive damage.   Fascinatingly the re-building which took place in the 50s and 60s gave us the hybrid structure that we now see.  A mixture of the castle and places as they existed across history.

Buda Castle in Budapest Hungary

Without learning the history behind the castle and palace you would never suspect that it had such a turbulent and destructive past.  The modern buildings look pristine, well-preserved, historical and beautiful.  As I strolled along its cobblestone streets, through large heavily-worked gates, and from open courtyard to courtyard, I felt as though I was walking through a fairy-tale palace. All it took was a little imagination, closing my eyes, and a thought to strip away the cars and tourists… to trade them for romanticized visions of formal events attended by beautiful people in regal evening attire arriving in carriages, accompanied by the delightful rhythm of a Viennese waltz drifting to my ears from one of the building’s many ballrooms.

CopenhagenDinner-0529

During my visit the kiss of fall was visible everywhere.  Even the light had a soft amber hue to it, which only served to set off and accentuate the golden leaves and deep red hues of the numerous hedges, trees, and vines that stand, lean, and crawl across the castle walls.

Buda Castle in Budapest Hungary

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for cats, so perhaps it is no surprise that one of my favorite decorations around the palatial grounds were the guardian lions.  Beautifully carved in a style I love, these regal stone creatures stand guard throughout Budapest. However, of all of the lion statues in the city – those on the Chain Bridge, etc. – the lions around Buda Castle are my favorite.

Buda Castle in Budapest Hungary

Unfortunately, due to time limitations we didn’t make it into the interior of the Castle, which apparently boasts a number of impressive rooms and displays in the Budapest History Museum, situated in one of the Castle’s wings.  It’s definitely something I’d love to return to the city to see, as the history of Budapest and to some degree Buda Castle has played such an influential role in the shaping of our modern world.

Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

Fisherman’s Bastion & Mathhias Church

Located on Castle Hill, Fisherman’s Bastion is a fortification built and finished in 1902 that overlooks the Danube immediately beside Matthias Church. The series of seven towers were designed to represent the seven tribes that initially settled the Carpathian Basis around 900 AD.

View From Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

The bastion boasts a unique architecture that feels distinctly Hungarian, but also borrows from more eastern inspirations and manages to pull off the appearance of a defensive structure while maintaining an almost ornamental feel. This comes largely from the large archways and pointed domes that decorate the bastion. It’s somewhat odd and arguably ill-fitting name makes significantly more sense in context. Historically, the Fisherman’s Guild had the replaced and manned section of the Bastion’s walls though I don’t believe they were involved with their defense by the time the walls were re-built and dedicated.

View From Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

These days the Bastion’s main draw and purpose is as a partial cafe and scenic overlook. The walls of the Bastion offer a spectacular view out over the Danube and Pest side of the river. It’s also one of the best locations to view Hungary’s ornate Parliament Building, which features a Gothic Revival style.

Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest

Visitors to the Bastion will also note a large regal statue of Stephen the 1st of Hungary mounted on a horse which depicts him as a saint. It is placed on top of a large carved marble monument. For visitors interested in one of the best views in Budapest, I’d suggest exploring Castle Hill during the day and then planning on winding down the visit right around sunset along the Fisherman’s Bastion.

Around Buda Castle on Castle Hill

The third structure of note in the immediate area is Mathias Church. An impressive Gothic structure that dates back to the latter part of the 14th century. It replaced its Romanesque predecessor built more than 400 years earlier. During the Ottoman period, the church was used as a mosque before being re-claimed as a cathedral after Christian’s re-possession of the city in 1686. More recently, towards the end of the 19th century, the building was renovated with several more modern aspects added, such as the ornate tile work on the roof.

Around Buda Castle on Castle Hill

The Cathedral is one of the most easily recognizable and prominent buildings located within the Castle Hill District. It is an easily recognizable landmark visible from just about everywhere in Budapest. It features a mixture of art in the form of the Ecclesiastical Art Museum and serves as home to replicas of the Hungarian royal jewels and a variety of other sacred relics.

Around Buda Castle on Castle Hill

One thing that really stood out for me about the Cathedral was its tile work. While many Gothic cathedrals feature copper or slate roofing, the 19th century renovation of the Cathedral replaced its more traditional designs with colorful and ornately patterned roof tiles. These caught and reflected the sun while adding an unusual level of character and personality to the building.

Buda Castle in Budapest Hungary

Castle Hill

While the Bastion and Cathedral are both technically part of the Castle Hill District, I want to make sure to take a few moments to talk about the area as a whole.  Stretching along the top of the plateau, the district is a mixture of hotels, museums, tourist shops, restaurants, and housing.  Despite its fairly touristy nature, the area still retains the feel of a smaller medieval town, likely due to the age of the buildings, cobblestone streets, and cramped quarters.  I felt I was walking through a small town and had to remind myself that I was standing in the heart of Hungary’s capital city.

Buda Castle in Budapest Hungary

The whole area is rich with history and derives most of its charm from the small details. Historical interiors glanced through windows, blooming flowerpots, street artists, old wrought-iron lamp posts, fountains and wonderful stone carving after carving.

Around Buda Castle on Castle Hill

For those up for a little walk, it’s also possible to leave the castle walls and explore the beautiful ring road which wraps along the back side of the hill. Built along a steep incline, we enjoyed the traditional architecture and beautiful tree-lined lane covered in fallen yellow leaves. There were also a number of steep staircases that careened down the side of the hill towards a large park at the base. While not as picture perfect or historically significant, we thoroughly enjoyed the walk along Castle Hill’s back side. One item worth noting, we passed a war hospital museum during the stroll which looked fascinating. Unfortunately, by the time we stumbled onto it they had already closed for the day.

Heroes Square in Budapest

Heroes Square & Vajdahunyad Castle

Located on the Pest side of the city, Heroes Square is a cultural center and gateway to one of the city’s largest sprawling parks. The Heroes Square is a large open space with a semi-circular monument and pillar.  On one side of the square you’ll find the Museum of Fine Arts. On the other you’ll encounter the Palace of Art.  Both buildings are beautiful and well worth a visit.   While the monument sits at the park side of the square, the world’s second oldest metro – the Millennium Underground – dead-ends at the park after traveling underneath Andrassy Avenue, an iconic tree-lined historic boulevard that serves as home to several other museums and embassies.

Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest

The park behind Heroes Square serves as home to Vajdahunyad Castle. Despite possessing an incredibly difficult name to remember and pronounce, the castle has a picturesque quality to quickly make you forget any challenges you may have faced trying to find it.  It’s located in the heart of the City Park and is surrounded by a large moat.

Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest

Despite an historical appearance, the castle is relatively new and was built between 1896 and 1908.  The design of the building is based heavily on Transylvania Castle in Romania, which you may recognize from vampire lore. Interestingly, the original building was built for the Millennial Exhibition and was little more than wood.  However, due to significant interest and the complex’s popularity, it was eventually rebuilt out of stone in its current incarnation.  In addition to strolling the complex and enjoying the beautiful buildings, water, and park’s lush vegetation, make sure that you pause at the statute of Anonymous.  While the history of Anonymous as a 12th century historian who documented ancient Hungarian history is fascinating, the statue itself is beautifully done and has a very unique feel.

Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest

Despite touching on a few of the major buildings in Budapest, there are many others to see. You’ll note that I only briefly mentioned the Parliament Building in this post and my previous one on Budapest. Unfortunately, due to the weather and renovations I didn’t get many good shots of it. When I was there, they were celebrating Hungary’s Independence Day and large parts were off-limits.

One thing is for certain – Budapest is a fascinating city with an incredibly rich and storied past. When you visit, make sure to give yourself ample time to explore. The city has served as home to a number of vastly different cultures and empires over the years – from the ornate Ottoman empire to the stoic Soviet period. You’ll need at least a week to explore it properly and a comfortable pair of walking shoes.

Have a favorite place in Budapest? Make sure to share it with me. If I missed it this trip I’d love to make sure I see it when I find my way back to the city.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Sunset in Belize

Barrier Reef - Sailing Tour - Belize

The beauty of a seaside sunset is pretty hard to beat.  Especially when that sunset is from a tiny island in the middle of Central America, just off the coast of Belize.  I snapped today’s Friday Photo from a small wooden dock on the  island of Tobacco Caye.  The island/caye sits just off the tiny coastal city of Dangriga and is situated along/just inside the world’s second largest barrier reef.  The snorkeling off the coast of the island was unreal and full of incredible reef life which ranged from large barracuda to spotted eagle rays.

If you have the opportunity to visit Central America and want something a little less polished than the finery of Cancun’s hotels, I suggest you consider heading further south to Belize and its amazing series of small islands/caye’s  (keys).

To view previous posts in the Friday Week Travel Photo Series click here.

Special thanks to Waikiki hotels for helping make this post possible.

Revisiting 17 of My Favorite Photos From My 2007 Europe Trip

September 11th 2007 I caught a plane to Europe with a one way ticket and and the butterflies of uncertainty fluttering away in my chest.  What followed was a three month trip that started in Scotland and wound its way down through Europe to Crete before looping back up to fly home from Athens on December 12th of that year. At the time I shot on a Canon Powershot G6. I was recently looking back through some of my old photos and decided to touch up the color on a few of the shots and re-post them.  Here are 17 that made the cut.  Enjoy!

Glencoe

Number 1 – Glencoe Valley, Scotland

Scottish Castle

Number 2 – Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

 Scottish Waterfall

Number 3 – Unknown Scottish Waterfall, Scotland

Big Ben in London

Number 4 – Big Ben, London England

German Fairytale Castle

Number 5 – Neuschwanstein, Fussen Germany

German Foggy Forest

Number 6 – Woods Near Neuschwanstein, Fussen Germany

Swan Lake in Germany

Number 7 – Swan Lake near Neuschwanstein, Fussen Germany

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Number 8 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Number 9 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Number 10 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Number 11 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Rome

Number 12 – Roman Cathedral, Rome Italy

San Marino at Dusk

Number 13 – San Marino Castle, San Marino

San Marino

Number 14 – San Marino Castle, San Marino

Florence

Number 15 – Ponte Vecchio, Florence Italy

Cinque Terra

Number 16 – Cinque Terra, Vernazza Italy

Cinque Terra

Number 17 – Cinque Terra, Manarola Italy

Always fun going back through old photos and posts and remembering past adventures and magical places!  I hope you enjoyed the shots!

Lands of Ice and Snow – The Perito Moreno Glacier

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

**This post is Part III in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Rewind to: Part I or Part II.

One of the most exciting stops along our route was a brief pause at a large waterfall in the middle of the glacier. Easily 8 feet across, the waterfall carved a trough along the surface of the glacier before diving deep into a dark blue hole. As the guide turned and motioned for me to ease towards the lip of the hole, I was thrilled. With him securing my safety harness, I eased up as close as I could to the edge, then leaned out and stared straight down, my eyes hungrily following the water’s course as it splashed of rich blue ice walls and carved away at white crystalline walls. The roar of the falls was mesmerizing and the cool, humid air spilling up and off the waterfall crisp and clean.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we wound further onto the glacier, we passed a number of large crevasses. Some of which we would skirt, others we would walk along, and yet others – those small enough – we would carefully jump across, all the while with a large lump in our throats and a sense of controlled adventure in our hearts.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Eventually we reached the half-way mark and the group settled in for our pick-nick lunches. The spot we chose? A small hollow which blocked the wind and some of the light rain. As most of the group casually sat on the ice, enjoying the protection of their waterproof paints I dug around in my bag and fished out a bag. It held a massive, bright orange carrot that stood out in an explosion of color against the grays and blues of our equipment, the sky and glacier. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I saw eyebrows raise, and heads tilt. The thoughts racing through their minds were obvious, “who is this kid, why the hell does he have a giant carrot and how’s he going to manage without waterproof pants – is that really all he brought?”.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As I contentedly finished my carrot, I took the plastic bag it had come in, kicked out a flat space in the ice, set it down, and then plopped my body down on top of it. Next up? Lunch meat. As I sat there with numb fingers, I set to trying to open two plastic packages of lunch meat I’d purchased. Largely unsuccessful, an idea eventually struck. Before long I’d leaned forward and impaled the plastic wrapper on one of my crampon spikes and had set upon the small pile of lunch meat with a voracious hunger.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Ever one to be inclusive, the third and final course was a large bag of baguettes. True, I could have taken the effort to combine the meats and bread, but my approach seemed more fun and convenient. Especially in light of the chuckles I was getting from other group members who had purchased pre-packaged lunches from the local supermarket. I quickly gave away a couple of the 6 or so loaves of bread that had come in the bag, and chewed away contentedly. As we prepared to move on, one of the guides poured a tin of sweetened matte which he passed around and a few of us shared and enjoyed. It was the ideal desert and re-heated us as we prepared for the trek home.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we wound back along the ice we paused briefly for a rush of excitement as one of the group members failed to step far enough, tripped and almost fell into a crevasse. One of the guides as on hand, stabilized him, and helped him the rest of the way across.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The hike back towards the mountain trail was every bit as good as the trip out to the center of the glacier. Where the view before had been of ice, white, and distant mountains, the view on the return was constantly framed by the imposing presence of the mountains.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Each new view dragged my mind further and further into a fairytale. With fresh air in my lungs, spectacular sights bombarding my eyes, and clean rain drops decorating my face I had one of those incredible moments and relished every ounce of the experience. As the thought echoed through my mind I smiled and whispered, “This…this is why I travel”.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Eventually we found our way back to the base camp where we shed our harnesses and crampons, and then wound back along the path. The end of a hike is usually somewhat boring. Not so in this instance. After the lifeless beauty of the glacier, the wealth of blooming flowers and booming thunder of large waterfalls drew my exhausted feet forward.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The view of the glacier where it gave way to rain slicked rocks was also completely different. Given the honeycombed nature of the glacier, the ice formations looked new, fresh and unique as we revisited them from a different angle.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we wound back down toward the lake, we enjoyed a great view of the glacier’s forward face and another reminder of how small we truly are. Can you spot the ferry, and people out on the glacier in the above photo? They’re both there!

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The trip had been expensive by backpacker oriented day-trip standards but if looked at from a purely value oriented perspective, it had been dirt cheap. My only real regret was that there wasn’t more time.

The Photographer, Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Eager to keep us together and safe, our guides ushered us along as a fairly constant speed. While this allowed us to see more and was good for the non-photographers among the group, it left me as the constant straggler. Pausing here and there for a quick shot, or a bit of video often set to the background of one of the guides impatiently encouraging me to hurry up and stick closer to the group.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Still, it was only a small annoyance and cost to pay for the opportunity to see, experience, and capture the Perito Moreno Glacier in all of its beauty.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Argentina is about much more than just tango and great steak. If you have the opportunity, definitely add Perito Moreno and the Glaciares National Park to your list of must-see destinations.

**This post is Part III in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Rewind to: Part I or Part II.

Enjoyed this post? Please leave a comment, share it, and consider following me on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

Middle Earth? Nope, Just the Perito Moreno Glacier!

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

**This post is Part II in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. View Part I or skip to Part III.
As the ferry blasted across the lake’s smooth surface, deftly dodging floating icebergs with the appearance of giant sized ice cubes floating in an oddly colored martini, I had to chuckle. Our dock, if it can be called that, was little more than a rock outcropping with a series of old tired tires chained along its face. I watched our approach, pondered briefly the probability that I’d end up getting shipwrecked again, then shrugged and went back to staring at the glacier.

Landing On Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Our docking procedure was as flawless as one might expect. Closely watched by our guides we transferred onto dry land, formed up for a brief orientation and then split into smaller groups. We bid goodbye to those going on the minitrekking trip, and our smaller and more dedicated band set off towards the glacier.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The glacier was massive. It is a glacier after all. That said, it wasn’t until we paused and watched small groups of people make their way out onto the ice that it really struck me just how massive and awe inspiring the glacier was. From afar the groups of people looked more like small specks of dirt than people.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Our trail led us down and across the coast towards the glacier. The path wound over rock outcroppings  and along stone beaches backed by a few skeletal trees with rich forest and vegetation further inland. In the distance incredible snow capped mountain walls faded away into the clouds.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

It’s hard to say why, but the clean white and rich blues of glaciers always surprise me. Given the pollution caked onto and often staining the white marble of major Cathedrals and statuary the fact that the glaciers manage to remain such a pure white excites me.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

While not always ideal for photography, I love seeing certain types of locations on misty days. A periodic light rain, and the lack of wind is ideal for wetting down rocks and vegetation while leaving things with a richer look and feel. My voyage along and eventually out onto Perito Moreno was one such occasion, though for obvious reasons the rain didn’t do much to bring out the color once actually ON the glacier!

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

After reaching the base of the glacier we passed a larger base camp where the minitrekking people were suiting up and preparing to head out onto the ice. We paused briefly, then turned and began up along a small path, just wide enough for one person. It traced its way up along the glacier’s edge and alternated between being sandwiched and carved into the cliff face.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we wound along the path I was taken off guard by the number of waterfalls which were visible. In retrospect it makes sense, with snow melt up on the mountain’s peaks, the water would have to melt and run down. Still, with snow and ice surrounding us I was taken off guard by the large falls each crowed by lush vegetation and blooming flowers which cut across our path.  Though not tramping through snow, I could not help but fancy myself climbing into a dangerous mountain pass as part of an intrepid company of stalwart explorers of Tolkienesque fame.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

A mile in our trail climbed up and into the moss covered vegetation, but not before a steep and muddy switchback. At the top we found a small base camp built to survive hearty weather. Our guides quickly explained that we’d be donning our safety harnesses and would be issued our crampons before heading back down and out onto the ice.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

What is a Crampon? It’s a re-sizable metal shoe, not unlike strap on roller skates. You sandwich your shoe onto the top of the crampon, then carefully strap and clamp it down. The crampon itself is little more than a flat shoe base with large spikes protruding down and out from it.  Made for icy conditions, they allow you to dig into the ice and turn otherwise difficult walking conditions into leisurely strolls.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Crampons attached, we struck out and began our trip across the ice. As we prepared to travel up and out onto the glacier we split into smaller groups of 8-10. Though wearing harnesses we did not need to tie ourselves together or ever really approach anything nearly dangerous enough to feel as though it was necessary.

The path our guide took us down wound up along the edge of the glacier for a while and then down through large fields of dirty ice that looked like massive ant colonies.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Our guides explained that what we were seeing was the stone which had been carved off of the mountainside, then gathered together as the top levels of the glacier melted. As other parts of the glacial ice melted away, the areas underneath the accumulated stones and dirt remained protected and cool creating small rock covered ice hills. All in all a pretty fascinating process which left deep blue, rock hard ice underneath the stones.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

After getting accustomed to the ice, our crampons, and the rules of the road we struck out along a smoother area on the glacier. With gentle rolling ice hills it still offered access to a plethora of small crevasses and min ice-falls, but lacked the jagged, shark tooth like feel I had expected after seeing the glacier from afar.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Along the path we wound past, over, and along a series of small surface streams which cut their way from tiny pool to tiny pool before eventually diving into a crack and cutting their way down into the glacier’s inner bowels.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we neared the halfway mark I paused briefly and turned around. As i did so, I stumbled slightly and let out a sharp intake of breath. The view back the way we had come was incredible. It was one of those moments that feel straight out of the movies. Fairytale crafted into reality so powerful, so magnificent it takes you several moments to accept it as real. Was this middle earth? Perhaps not, but it sure was indistinguishable from it. A long expanse of ice, stretching out before me towards charcoal grey mountains, thousands of feet tall stretching in either direction like a massive wall. A wall cut and carved by giant waterfalls tracing their way down from the snow capped peaks and periodically crowned by small mountainside forests of a rich green so dark that it almost blended with the gray-black of the mountainside. Words fail to describe the majesty of the experience.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The falls, cliffs and general feel of the experience reminded me heavily of the Norwegian Fjords. Though in this rare case the falls were larger and the backdrop more impressive than what I’d enjoyed in Norway. Truly, this was the Andes and southern hemisphere in finest form. The fact that I was at a similar latitude to New Zealand’s south island and exploring a similar backdrop was not lost on me. I will say that for those who have a deep desire to explore New Zealand’s natural beauty, adding Patagonia and southern Chile to your list is an unanticipated must.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The ice itself fascinates me. Clean enough to drink straight off the glacier (and believe me it was delicious), it is crystal clear but with a deep blue tint to it. In some places small pools have formed on the surface creating spaces that give the illusion of walking on water. The trick quickly became judging just how shallow (or deep) that water was and where solid ice began.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

I mentioned earlier the role rocks play in protecting certain areas and raising small ice mounds. In other areas the opposite would occur. Note the above photo where a large rock is gradually sinking down into the ice. You can see that the pool forming around it is roughly shaped in the same size as the rock itself.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we neared the center of the glacier, the ice fields were something to behold. Despite the light rain the reflection off the ice and clouds was extremely bright creating an odd type of light that was half middle of the day and half twilight.

**This post is Part II in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Rewind to: Part I or fast forward to Part III.

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Hiking the Perito Moreno Glacier – The Approach

**This post is Part I in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Fast forward to: Part II or Part III.
The adventure began sometime between 7AM and 8AM when a small 16 person van pulled up in front of my hostel.  I’d been briefed quickly the day before by one of the hostel staff while investigating various ways of exploring the nearby glaciers. They’d shared the three primary options available from El Calafate: A basic bus trip out to the “balconies” AKA a long boardwalk that stretches along the lake shore opposite the face of the glacier. A more advanced middle of the road option called minitrekking which tours the balconies, then ferries across to the glacier for an an hour and a half hike. Lastly there was the third and final option, the “Big Ice” tour.

The Countryside - El Calafate, Argentina

At over 7 hours long it included the balconies, ferry ride over, and then another 4 hours spent hiking along and out to the middle of the glacier.  As I read over the pricing and descriptions I groaned slightly.  The minitrekking tour was about $150 USD, the Big Ice tour right at $200.  Both of which are expensive for day tours. Still, as I thought about it, the glacier was one of my main reasons for heading south. Then I saw it – the Big Ice tour, in addition to spending 4 hours on the glacier and covering 6km, had a suggested age range of 18-45 vs minitrekking’s 10-65 age range. Game on. An extra 2.5 hours on the ice and a more rigorous adventure for an extra $50? You bet! Was it worth it? Oh, you better believe it!

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Unsure just what I was getting myself into I packed warmly with all of my backup layers stashed away in my day pack along with a picnic lunch (despite the price it was BYOL). Our shuttle took us out of town to a large 50 person bus and then sorted us out into different groups. From there it was an 80km drive through the Patagonian country side and along Lago Argentin0 to the Los Glaciares National Park.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

A unique glacial blue the lake is truly gorgeous to behold, especially dotted as it is by small icebergs and set against the backdrop of the Andes on one side and sweeping open flat lands on the other. In many ways it looks like a jagged castle forged by the gods for Titans with the mountains serving as the castle wall and the lake a long, serpentine moat.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Once at the park we headed straight away for the boardwalk where we disembarked as a group and set out towards our first glimpse of the glacier. The walk wrapped around the water’s edge and was a stout wood and steel raised walkway.  I paused often during the 30-40 minutes the walk took, and snapped photos greedily.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

It was my first glacier. At least up close. I had seen them in the past from above and from afar but never from within a stones throw, despite my trips to Norway, Scotland and above the Arctic Circle in Alaska.  In researching the Perito Moreno Glacier while stateside, I had only come across info from people who had done the boardwalk which had led me to believe that was as close as I was going to be able to get. The knowledge that the boardwalk was to serve as little more than a table of contents for the day’s adventure left me with a giant foolish grin on my face.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As I walked the giant circuit, I led the way with the guide. Immersed in conversation she shared exciting pieces of information about the glacier, the region and her job.   Eventually, however, I slowly drifted towards the back of the pack as I paused to take photos, video, and watch the clouds gently roll over the snow capped peaks surrounding the glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The sky had traded the morning’s cloudless existence for good visibility and medium cloud cover along the mountains.  It suggested rain and mist further up the valley, but left us with a great view of the glacier’s jagged face along with a beautiful view back towards the area I assumed we would be hiking.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we strolled casually along the path and stretched our legs we would pause often.  Heads would whip around, ears perk up, eyes frantically searching and photographers drawing cameras to eye at the booming crack of ice giving way as the glacier shed a layer off its forward face. I got lucky with the above shot which features falling ice in front of the small cave.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we reached the end of the boardwalk and prepared to head back to the bus I paused and took in one final view of the glacier as it stretched away to the right and out into the lake. The scale and size is incredible. The rich blues and majesty captivating. I felt torn, eager to race towards the ice and to scale it, but at the same time caught in the moment and left wistful that I didn’t have longer to relax and watch the lake’s still waters gently tease away pieces of the glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The bus whisked us down and around the point to a small bay on the lake. There we disembarked and boarded a mid-sized ferry with a warm interior and exposed upper deck. Eager for an unobstructed view I headed to the roof with several other group members who I had befriended: An Israeli backpacker my age and an American couple from the east coast. There we watched as the boat wound past small icebergs and cut in front of the far side of the glacier towards an area which had been invisible from the observation platforms.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The view from the water helped drive home the sheer size of the glacier, but it wasn’t until we started to see people hiking up on it, and decorating it like small specs of dirt that the true size and scale struck home.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

**This post is Part I in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Fast forward to: Part II or Part III.