We pored over guidebooks planning our route around Latin America and marvelling at what we might see: the Perito Moreno glacier; whales; and the southern tip of the world, at Tierra del Fuego. But away from the constant hum of London, with its crawling traffic, circling aeroplanes and 12 million people, it’s the sounds and not the sights on this trip that have made some of the strongest impressions. These are the most memorable so far.
1. It was barely nine in the morning and the minibus pulled up on its first stop of the tour. We scrambled out onto a desolate beach and were told to look out for whales – southern right whales to be precise. The sea was calm and the sky grey around the Valdes Peninsula. About 100 metres out to sea, marking its presence with a fountain of spray, we spotted the unmistakeable hump of a whale. I was scanning the horizon and counting the whale humps, when I first heard it. Just like someone putting effort into blowing up a huge and hollow balloon – I heard a whale breathing out. We got much closer to other southern right whales during the day, as these sociable creatures swam to investigate our boat. They leapt fully out of the water and glided past on the water’s surface, with an elegance surprising for something so huge. But if I close my eyes and remember the encounter, it’s their occasional, deliberate huff that I hear rather than remembering their acrobatics in the water.
2. A couple of days ago, we visited the Parque Nacional de los Glacieres, near El Calafate. Most people visit for one reason only, to see the Perito Moreno glacier. It may only be the third largest in Latin America, but it is the most accessible and magnificent in its blue, jagged dominance, at the head of Lago Argentino. I could have watched it all day, waiting for a piece of ice to calve and crash into the milky blue water below. What I wasn’t expecting was the short sharp rifle shot made by the the ice as it sheered, followed by the thunder-like echoes as the sound rumbled around the glacier’s crevices and surrounding mountains.
3. Although we came to Latin America with a list of sights to see, it turns out that my children have also become something of a sight themselves. From Ruaridh’s bright blond crop to Neamh’s ash blond bob and Ishbel’s curls, their blond hair is a novelty over here and they attract considerable attention. “Que lindos. Que hermosos” (meaning how beautiful), is a refrain which is following my children everywhere they go, uttered by teenage girls, grannies and elderly gents alike. We’ve been out walking and cars have slowed in the street and rolled down their windows to look at my kids’ hair. Despite Michael’s claims to have hair which is ‘cemetery blond’, his doesn’t seem to be having quite the same effect.
4. Most nights we’ve been sleeping in the same bunk-bed stacked room, in one hostel or another. It’s been a novelty to share one bedroom and not something we’ve done since the children were babies. I have loved the sleepy exchanges we’ve had (Ishbel rolling her eyes at me about her dad) or overhearing conversations not meant for my ears (Ruaridh whispers to Neamh after seeing the Perito Moreno glacier: “This has been a boring day. A really boring day”). I remember years ago, as each child got to the ripe old age of 6 months, settling them into a bed in a different room from me and Michael. I hated it and blew the whole thing out of proportion, melodramatically grieving over this ‘separation’. I wish I could have told that old me about the extra hours I would have to listen to their deep and steady breathing now.
Picture: SoundClash Records tote (Norwich)