Day 16 Flight to El Calafate
After breakfast, we walk across Ushuaia's harbour to take some early morning mountain photos during a rare break in the clouds, this time marinated in sunblock.
We sit watching people doing their £100 8 minute helicopter flights around the Beagle Channel, observing what an efficient way of spending money this is, before we blow more Pesos on tat in a souvenir shop. We walk back to the airport to weakly endorse our backpacker credentials, and fly back to Calafate.
It is a relief to see the sun again when we touch down, and Calafate is quite the setting - a mountain-pocked desert, dotted with the most turquoise lake I have ever seen. After dumping the backpacks at our hotel, we head into town for some empanadas and locrum (both delicious), and our first alcohol-free day since we left London. This feels worthy of note, so we congratulate ourselves a lot.
Day 17 Zip line
Early into town this morning, and we sort ourselves out with some organised adventure. People come to El Calafate usually to see one of the glaciers here (it has an abundance thanks to the Patagonian ice shelf shared by Argentina and Chile along this stretch of the Andes) or to do one of a diverse array of other outdoorsy things. Ruth, it transpires, has always wanted to try horseriding which is a revelation to me, since even pet cats give her the willies. However, since we can also go on the longest zip line course in South America here, we decided to do this instead and save the horseriding for later in the trip (preferably somewhere I can sit in a bar and watch).
Just out of town by the lake is a bird sanctuary which we walk around as a diverting way to spend a few hours before we get to throw ourselves off a mountain. Never before have I fancied myself as a wildlife photographer but 400 photos of flamingoes and geese later, I think I might be pretty bloody good (a depressing edit this afternoon disproves this groundless notion).
We walk back to the hotel via a Panaderia (bakery) and buy a sad £6 sandwich on dry bread. On the way back, we discuss why bread is so expensive and largely underwhelming, whereas the wine is dirt-cheap and so damned good. Do another batch of DIY laundry in the hotel to leave a load of pants drying from the shower curtain rail as we head off to the zip slide.
It is windy. Diego, our cheerful instructor ("You are English?", "Yup, sorry", "Hey, don't be sorry!"), hands us a wooden "brake" which sits on the cable and has a cord which straps to our waist and advises that "if we see him waving, pull down on the "brake" as we're going too fast and may fly into the end of the wire.
The zipping is fantastic though. Zig zapping down a mountain over herds of cows ("they shit on my brake ropes") with Diego and Daniel, his co-instructor, in late afternoon sunshine is a hoot. Leaping off the side of a cliff, and shooting down a windy valley relying on a piece of 2x4 to stop, is fantastically exhilarating. We talk about food ("Argentinians might eat a lot, but have you noticed we're not fat like North Americans?"), reminisce about Buenos Aires, and look at the plains below us, with the frosty looking Andes on the horizon, gauchos herding cattle in the distance. It feels like the Old West here.
Afterwards we head into town and more by accident than design, head into a restaurant overlooking the lake playing Argentinian covers of British pop songs. We guess the likes of Chris Martin and Bono charge a hefty royalty fee for their portfolio, so it's amusing to hear a South American troubadour singing "And it was all amarillo".
Impress ourselves, if not the waitress, with our Spanish ordering of meaty tapas and a carafe of vino tinto, before we head back.
Day 18 Perito Merino
"You are the ooooonly English people on the bus" is our welcome on the trip to Glaciar Perito Merino this morning. Language disappointments aside, our guide Maria is lovely, and full of facts and beans for the landscape around her, in spite of an odd "You are from London? Take my keys! We can swap houses and I live in yours" comment.
The only way to see the Glaciar is with one of the many agencies in town since we don't have our own car, so we are on another minibus with a further batch of people who would rather not get out of it. We drive 80 miles up lake El Calafate which our glacier drains into, providing that fantastic hue. Rounding a corner an hour later, we catch a glimpse of the thing, and it is awesome. And by that, I mean I am childishly full of awe. 5km wide and seeping down the Andes, it is ghostly blue sitting in a lake of its own turquoise meltwater. I prepare my camera for a barrage of almost identical photos.
We have a boat trip which takes us up to the wall of the Glaciar. it is possible to walk along the top of it further inland, but having done this before elsewhere we have opted not to. It does mean we are on a boat with the sort of people who like their culture brought directly to their eyeballs, which makes for a frustrating wait while they jostle and scramble like they're in a ration queue to get the best seats on a boat which offers a view from all sides. Ruth observes, not for the first time, how intolerant of tourists I am, given that I am one.
Once everyone has realised that they will all get to see it and settle down, the view is astonishing. We glide among icebergs alongside a towering blue wall, trying desperately to snap the bomb-dropping blocks which periodically carve off and thunder into the water. If ever there was a case for lyrical hyperbole, this is it. It is utterly spectacular.
Afterwards we are let off on the opposite shore to further clog my camera's memory card and walk opposite the length of the wall, joyfully snapping away when another gunshot-crack goes off and icebergs plummet into the lake. Nature has been good to us today.
Tonight is our last night in Argentina and inadvertently we go out the way we came in: sweating in a palace of meat called Don Pichon, over a bovine carcass that we barely finish, followed by a long period of overfed remorse. Argentina, like our bellies, you have been swell.