This excursion consists of going by boat on Lake Argentino until you see the Uppsala glacier, the third largest in South America, and then visit the Cristina stay, a huge historic ranch where various activities can be done.
The excursion begins in the small port of Punto Bandera, next to Lake Argentino. To get there from El Calafate it takes about an hour by car or you can hire the transfer with the same stay. We board the catamaran at eight o'clock in the morning and take a seat along with many other tourists. The ship's staff welcomed us and the ship sailed.
Then they handed us some bracelets to identify each person with the package of activities they had reserved. In our case, the package «Discovery» it consisted of a visit to the glacier and the Cristina room like everyone else and, in addition, a 4 × 4 excursion from the room to a viewpoint where you can see the Uppsala glacier from above. Other possible activities are a walk to a waterfall or a 14-kilometer trek to the fossil canyon. In addition, it is also possible to stay at the Cristina stay hotel and go horse riding and other excursions from there.
After receiving the bracelet, we went to the catamaran deck, where the strong wind of Patagonia shook us. In fact, we had feared the possibility that in the end the excursion would be canceled by the force of the wind, but luckily it was not so and everything went smoothly. The catamaran is very stable and, although there was a certain swell, it almost didn't show.
On the way to the glacier, our guide Silvia was telling us interesting details. For example, Lake Argentino is the largest in the country with 1560 km2. It has an average depth of 200 meters and flows into the Santa Cruz River. The light turquoise color of the water is surprising. Stresses a lot on the arid terrain of Patagonia. We imagined that the ice would have something to do, and the guide told us: the color is due to the so-called "glacial milk", that is, the microscopic sediments that the glaciers are dragging and that end up pouring into the lake.
From the lake we pass the Uppsala canal through the Boca del Diablo Strait. And at the end of the channel the front of the Uppsala glacier. Although the Perito Moreno is the most famous glacier, Uppsala is three times larger with 840 km2 and 54 km in length. It has two tributaries and a height of 40 meters above the water surface. Below the surface, the glacier extends an additional 700 meters. The area of the glaciers from which the Uppsala, the Perito Moreno and dozens of other glaciers arise, is the third largest body of water on planet Earth, behind Antarctica and Greenland.
After an hour and a half of sailing we saw the first icebergs. These large pieces of ice break away from the Uppsala glacier and float through the water, showing only 10% of its full size on the surface. Their whimsical shapes and electric blue and white tones accompanied us as we approached the glacier and became larger and more numerous. Finally, the ship stopped some distance from the glacier and we couldn't get closer because of the icebergs barrier we had in front of us. It was too risky to try to dodge them to keep going because, even if the captain managed to sneak between them, as the icebergs drift by the waves and the wind, it could be that the ship could not get out of there. We settle for observing the huge icebergs in front of us, all different in shape and blue tones. Despite the icy wind, we took hundreds of photos, like the rest of tourists.
Upon entering the catamaran again, we were very grateful that teas and other hot drinks were served, accompanied by a crescent. Then the ship resumed the path to exit the Uppsala channel and take another channel that led to the Cristina stay. Along the way, we chatted with a couple from the Trinidad and Tobago group, very funny.
After an hour, we disembarked at the pier of the Cristina room. By standing on the ground, it seems that you have reached the end of the world. But it is an end of the world that looks a bit like the Swiss valley where Heidi lives. It is a huge terrain flanked by distant mountains with meadows that extend to infinity. And a few hundred meters from the pier, the buildings of the room itself form the only trace of civilization in this remote area. Right there they divided us into groups and together with the guide Sabrina they showed us the stay and its history.
This ranch or ranch is inside the Los glaciares national park and has an extension of 22,000 hectares. At first glance, we found it even bigger than the Harberton stay that we had visited in Ushuaia. We enter one of the buildings where objects of the family that founded the room are preserved. And there Sabrina was telling us her story. The original manager was Percival Masters, a British sailor who, hearing that the Argentine government offered land at a good price, decided to go there with his wife and start a new life. They spent eight years in Punta Arenas learning the trade of sheep farming and then, in 1914, they acquired the farmland and moved there with a wooden boat, a canvas tent and several sheep. During the first year they lived in the canvas tent, inside a forest. Later, they managed to build a stone house and later a larger house. Ten years of hard work later, his eldest daughter died of pneumonia and then they changed the name of the stay to the current one: «Cristina». According to government regulations, villagers had to live 30 years on the land before they became their property. However, when they lacked little for that, the government decided to create the national park and the stay was within the limits, so the Masters family would never become the rightful owner. However, they were allowed to continue living there until the death of their last heir. As if that were not enough, the 12,000 sheep they had managed to obtain until then had to disappear to properly conserve the national park. In this way, the family changed the sheep business for the tourist with the creation of a bed & breakfast for mountaineers who explored the nearby mountains. And when the last heiress finally died, the Argentine government ceded the exploitation rights of the stay to a private company that manages the place.