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Saturday 22nd May - Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
By Claire
Sunday, 23rd May 2004 21:00

Early mornings! I can't cope. Mikey set the alarm for 5.30 so that he could turn the heating up for an hour to warm the room before we got up. A quick breakfast and then back in the bus, this time with only three others from the hostel. We took much the same route as yesterday, but on entering the park we stopped at a border crossing and went into Argentina. Which looked much like Chile, except that the roads were more often paved. The minibus was stopped twice by Argentine police roadblocks, and then we were moving again. It was a much clearer day than yesterday, we were higher in the mountains too, and the views were wonderful. We saw huge kestrels and other birds of prey, more guanacos and a large herd of a type of ostrich either called a rhea or a ñandu. Herd of ostriches? Course I've...

The driver had brought a whole load of cassettes for the radio, after a day of silence in the park yesterday. The first one was a bunch of ballads, and, only three minutes into Argentina the song 'Hotel California' came on, much to our delight.We have heard that song in every country we've been to so far, in buses and shopping malls and lifts and restaurants. It's become the theme to the trip. We still haven't heard it in Chile though!

The first town in Argentina was a place called El Calafate and it was markedly different to Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas. It was obviously a tourist destination, all the shops were built to resemble log cabins, but the general houses were all made of something more substantial than the Chilean Patagonian portacabins and plasterboard. The houses had gardens and fences round them, some with trees. The roads were cobbled and the verges were landscaped. It was very pretty. We watched a giant Old English sheepdog chase a milk float at about 20 miles per hour and then stopped at an ATM to get Argentinian pesos. The bank machine worked for the first time in a month - the Nationwide had to re-register the card or something so we couldn't access the account online. It's nice to be able to get money again!

The two girls on the bus left us at Calafate and it took another couple of hours to get to the glacier. On the way we stopped at the side of the road to take pictures because we were on a hill looking over a fog-filled valley, with snow-capped mountains in the distance. It was beautiful. Unfortunately we were going to be entering the valley where the clouds lived, and our view disappeared completely. We arrived at the glacier and the driver pointed into the fog. 'There it is.' There was absolutely nothing to see. We had two hours of standing in the cold until we'd leave for the six-hour return journey.

The Glacier National Park had paths and view points all the way through it. We took the trails down to little platforms but we could see nothing at all. Occasionally we'd hear a crack or a crash as parts of the glacier detached and fell into the water to create icebergs, but other than the occasional sighting of soupy green water below us, there was nothing to see.

After an hour I was getting very cold. The fog wouldn't clear and it was obvious that we had come a long way to hear icebergs being made, which was nice, but could be done from the comfort of the bus. At that moment the sun poked through the cloud and fog and an outline of the glacier appeared. As we watched, the glacier was revealed slowly, a blue edge here and there, an immense white cliff looming out of the water. The echoes of the ice cracking and growling came through the clouds and we were all watching silently, our patience rewarded. It was quite magical. After about twenty minutes the sun was out, the sky a flawless blue and the whole landscape of icebergs and mountains and glaciers stood before us. It was about ten miles long and the jagged top of the glacier ran back between the mountains. We eventually headed back to the bus, just as the next band of fog and cloud rolled in.

My camera suffered from the cold and the motors and batteries both decided to give up temporarily. I asked the driver to stop when we got to Calafate, and I ran into a supermarket for batteries. We've been able to get a good view of a country by the range of products and prices in a supermarket, and Argentina seemed a very respectable, inexpensive place. The small supermarket had a massive range of everything, which is always a good sign. While we were there we bought sandwiches, fruit, chocolate and drinks for supper in the bus, and then followed several people's clues to find a shop that sold batteries. Ten minutes later we were back at the bus, and back in Puerto Natales by 10pm, having heard 'Don't Cry for me, Argentina' on the radio.

Back at the hostel, the lady (we still don't know her name) had cooked us a chicken casserole which was very warm and welcoming and we watched the Spanish royal wedding while we ate.

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