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Published: October 16th 2016
Hola chicos! (as they seem to say around here...)
We write on a lazy Sunday afternoon looking out across the snow-capped Andes from our hostel in El Calafate, on our last full day in Argentina. We are in great spirits, particularly on hearing about Wednesday's big win at Huddersfield earlier this afternoon.
We arrived here last Tuesday, following an hour long ferry to Buenos Aires from Uruguay. With more than 14 million inhabitants, 'BA' is the second most populous city in South America after São Paulo, and Lonely Planet's take on it as "cosmopolitan, seductive, emotional, frustrating and chock-full of attitude" is probably a fair summary of the place and its people. The traffic alone makes central London look serene - one of the main thoroughfares has 18 lanes! Conversely, our itinerary here was leisurely and ad hoc, and we spent a lot of time walking around the city's streets, soaking up the history and culture of the place.
We continued our South American trend of high meat and Malbec consumption at some of the city's steakhouses (Don Julio - great recommendation Joe and Becks!), and also took a liking to empanadas - a South American version of a Cornish pasty. The evening highlight though was learning the Argentine Tango in a Tango club. After being established as the only English in a group of about 50, we were firmly and rightly placed in the beginner's group. As swapping dance partners was the done 'thing', Dom did his fair share of tripping up over the feet of local women ("lo siento señorita"), whilst an elderly chap called Pedro took a liking to Vicky. A video of the final product was taken and distributed to a controlled audience, but is not fit for Facebook upload!
The capital and country's past is both tragic and fascinating, with neither of us knowing anything about it before we arrived. We were given an overview of all of this on a free morning walking tour which took in some of the major landmarks. The 20th century has been particularly tumultuous, with regular bouts of hyperinflation, social unrest, military rule (inc. mass state organised kidnappings) and political instability - even as recently as 2001/02 the country saw five presidents in a fortnight and citizens were banned to withdraw more than $250 per week as the peso was decimated.
A key figure in this story was Eva Perón, better known to us as 'Evita', who became the country's First Lady after marrying the President in 1945. To this day Evita's legacy is both idolised and detested, as she did much to empower the poor working classes and develop the welfare state whilst at the same time fiercely confronting the rich. Tragically, she died from cancer aged only 33. We were able to follow her story through visiting a museum dedicated to her, and also found her grave at La Recoleta cemetery. We thought of the quirky coincidence of Mum typing the original lyrics to the associated UK hit musical in the 1970s when working for Sir Tim.
A 2am start on Friday saw us take a flight to El Calafate via Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world. From a warm and sunny capital, we were given a shock on arrival of only 7 celsius and are now very glad that the thermals were packed! Our visit here has been focused on a day in the glacier national park, where we took a tour to see the Perito Merino glacier, which has always been on the geography bucket list for us both.
Magnificent doesn't do the glacier justice. Spanning 5km wide and more than 70m tall, the sheer scale of twisted and crevassed ice that rises up from Lake Argentina is mind boggling. Under perfect sunny skies we took a boat to about 50m away from the snout, and watched as huge chunks of ice cracked like gun shots and then cascaded into the lake, creating huge waves that rocked our vessel. This was followed by walking on a series of paths built into the forest, where we were able to get some stunning views of the glacier and lake over our packed lunch.
Tomorrow sees us take a five hour coach journey over the Chilean border where we are spending a night at Puerto Natales, before travelling onwards to the Torres del Paine national park for some Andean based trekking (we'll see if we can still call it that afterwards!).
Sending much love to everyone back home.
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