Aa! Cat! Flee!
El Calafate appears from the airport road as a ramshackle, and somewhat bleak, collection of houses colonising the banks of Lago Argentino, in the shadow of the Andes. While it is better in town, that is largely due to the homgenising effects of being geared for tourists (not that we´re different).
Its prime attraction for travellers (if you bunk off work for more than 3 months you get to call yourself a traveller - they even stamp your passport. More than a year and you just get go right over the line into being a hippy where dreadlocks become mandatory) is the proximity to the Perito Moreno glacier. However, before we took the daytrip out there, we thought we could squeeze in some sunburn and so visited the local nature reserve sans sunblock. The reserve is largely for birds - unfortunately, it was not the right season for the flamingoes, although we did manage to get dive-bombed by a female harrier when we got too close to the nest hidden in the reeds. She was none too keen on the Bob-Marleyesque stray dogs tagging along beside us in the hope that we might drop chunks of steak in their path.
For those of you wondering, the eponymous calafate is a stubby bush with edible berries and it makes an ice-cream much like fruits of the forest - mighty fine with rich, dark chocolate.
An early bus took us to Perito Moreno in Los Glaciares National Park. Big open skies and Patagonian steppe gave way to snow-capped Andes flowing with glaciers at the park entrance (at which someone who shall remain nameless forgot to bring the entry fee. The kind ranger allowed us in on Argentinian Student tickets and so we ended up with change for our not enough money!). And soon we came to the star attraction, the Perito Moreno standing 60 meters tall and stretching for 5km across its face. It is the biggest of 48 glaciers stemming from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the world´s third largest reserve of water. It is 30km long, climbs to 700m at its deepest point and advances by 2 meters per day. Periodically the sound of rifle reports fill the air as another chunk of ice has calved off into the green spangle of Lago Argentina.
P.S. It was R...like you couldn´t have guessed.