It works out that it is as cheap to fly in Argentina as it is to take a bus but with the advantage of saving days of time so off I went to the End of the World. Ushuaia is the southern most city in the world only recently gaining city status. Ushuaia is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (land of fire) bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle channel. The British ship HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy, first reached the channel on January 29, 1833, during its maiden voyage surveying Tierra del Fuego. The city was originally named by early British missionaries who to be honest caused the native Yamana to become extinct as they provided clothes which caused them to stay cold and not dry out. Disease spread and the population largely died out. Darwin described them as the missing link between man and ape. Obviously not true but just adapted to the environment in which they lived. It was incredible to stand on Bridges Island in one of the circular plots where they would have created their huts feasting on clams and penguins looking out onto the Beagle channel.
The wildlife was stunning with seal ions albatross and colonies of cormorants. It has a really special feel knowing you are only 30 hours on a boat to the white continent Antartica. Needless to say the wind blows strong and it is pretty cold. I loved the fact that it was sunny and cold but didn’t get dark until 8.30-9pm. On the first afternoon I visited the prison which opened in 1896 mainly for re-offenders and dangerous prisoners transferred from Buenos Aires, but also some political prisoners. A separate military prison opened in 1903 at the nearby Puerto Golondrina but they merged in 1910. The city centered around the prison built by the Argentine government to increase the Argentine population and to ensure Argentine sovereignty over Tierra del Fuego. The prison population became forced colonists and spent much of their time building the town with timber from the forest around the prison. They also built a railway to the settlement now a tourist attraction known as the End of the World Train (Tren del Fin del Mundo), the southernmost railway in the world.
The prison operated until 1947, when President Juan Perón closed it by executive order in response to the many reports of abuse and unsafe practices. There were some pretty interesting tales of people who stayed there from young serial killers to poets and authors. It is now the maritime and prison museum and a navel base.
The following day I walked to the Base of the Martial Glacier to a lovely little tea house where we indulged in a tea and coffee. It was ok but the view was great. The start of much walking with my new found friends from the Antartic hostel which provided good breakfast including fresh eggs. It was almost an awkward moment when I went to crack what I thought was a hard boiled egg which I was informed was raw (just in time) Oops. Anyway free eggs meant free egg sandwiches that we ate for the next few days. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth right….free food and Argentina ain’t cheap and neither are the activities. Later in the afternoon I took a boat trip around the seaweed laden islands of the Beagle channel. I just loved being at one with nature and soaking it all in. Big ships are not able to navigate between the islands due to the seaweed so it was great to be able to walk on one of the islands and learn about the fauna and flora of the area as well as the wildlife. We finished the day by splashing out on Beagle Trout and King Crab. Delicious!
Day 3 was the national park. Tierra del Fuego National Park is studded with mountains, lakes and rivers, which form deep valleys. It is bounded on the west by the Chilean border, on the north by Lago Fagnano, and on the south by the Beagle Channel, which forms the shoreline. It encompasses an area of 63,000 hectares (160,000 acres) and represents two ecoregions: the Altos Andes and the Patagonian Forest. While the former ecoregion is made up of hill ranges and slopes, the latter has high and jagged mountains, glacier valleys and semi-deciduous forests. We packed our egg sandwiches and walked along stunning lakes and through amazing forests spotting woodpeckers, foxes which we named after the German guy who spotted it (Lucas) and a beaver along with a host of other bird species such as upland geese etc. We stopped at the end of the lake on the boarder with chile (you shall not pass) created a zen garden with pebbles and sticks and ate our sandwiches. We then walked around the various other treks around the park. We thought the bus would pick us up at 5pm but works out we may have been in the wrong spot so walked the long road back to where we were dropped off ready for the 7pm bus back. We had walked over 15miles that day so we got to the bus pick up spot and sinked a much needed beer. Interesting fact that there are no amphibians in this region.
So I managed to loose my towel again. I don’t know how but think somebody must have taken it as they provided free towels in the hostel. More to the point though who took the Moomoo. This is an orange nightshirt with white dots and lace neck. Hard to miss I hear you say. Well somebody took my friends moomoo and it didn’t turn up. Saddened by the loss we had chocolate liqueur for Sunday breakfast. I had it in coffee whilst Lucas had it on his cereal. Yummy. Unfortunately one of the ladies who was travelling with her friend developed chicken pox and was unable to take her trip to Antartica. She waved goodbye to her friend to only be reunited with her on Monday. The ship had set sail and developed a fire on board causing it to return. The friends were reunited and we kept our fingers crossed that the chicken pox had improved enough for the doctor to allow her on the ship. A real emotional roller coaster for them both. I really hope they made their trip of a lifetime together.
On Monday I arranged my flights to El Calafate the hub for Perito Moreno located in the Los Glaciers National Park in southwest Santa Cruz Province. I arrived in the town at 4pm and booked onto a tour the following day which took a different route through the mountains and farmland where we saw condors etc. The Glacier was awesome 250 km2 (97 sq mi) ice formation, and 30 km (19 mi) in length, is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes. This ice field is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water.The glacier is named after the explorer Francisco Moreno, a pioneer who studied the region in the 19th century and played a major role in defending the territory of Argentina in the conflict surrounding the international border dispute with Chile. The Glaciarium does a great job of explaining the science behind the glaciers and the explorers to whom we owe our gratitude.
The things that I took away from the day was the experience of hearing the glacier face carve and seeing it up close falling into the water. It was like a thunder clap creating huge waves. I was on the boat when a whole piece of the glacier carved off into the water. Imagine a 20 storey building made of ice just crumbling into the water. Just awesome! The colours were also incredible created from the blue wavelengths having more energy and penetrating the ice causing them to look like they are painted with blue poster paint.
I then took the 3 he bus to El Chalten a small mountain village located in the riverside of Rio de las Vueltas, within the Los Glaciares National Park at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains. The village was named Argentina’s Trekking Capital or Capital Nacional del Trekking. It was built in 1985 to help secure the disputed border with Chile. Today the sole reason for its existence is tourism. A blessing I think as it is free to get in the walks are clearly marked and they are incredibly careful about the environment and protection of the park and it’s crystal clear glacial waters. It was a,aging to be able to fill your water bottle from the streams and natural pools.
I arrived at 11 to a beautiful view of Mount Fitzroy and decided to do a 3 hr hike to Leguna Torres. Stunning and was blessed to see a Huemel deer which are nearly extinct with only 16 known in the park. I got to the end of the hike to a beautiful view of the Laguna and sheltered from the wind to eat my boiled eggs I had done the day before and a pastry type bread I had purchased from the local bakery. To my delight the eggs were soft boiled and oozed over my bread as I watched a yellow headed caracara try to stay in the sky against the blustery winds. I don’t think I could have had a better day for my 1 month travel anniversary. The following day I woke to wind, snow and rain so reported my deer spot and booked my bus back for the following day as I had an open ticket. By this time the sky’s had cleared and I started my trip towards FitzRoy on the Leguna Torres tres trek. The last part is a bit of rock scrabble for an hour but well worth the view where I found the Laguna to be covered in snow from the night before. I went the long way back resulting in clocking up 55km over two days. Stunning scenery.
I caught the 1pm bus back to El Calafate following route 40 with stunning views all around me dozing off every now and again in the afternoon sun. On my return I decided to try and book my bus to Puerto Natales (Chile) as I plan to get a boat through the fjords of the ice fields up to Puerto Montt. Unable to get the bus on Sunday as it was full I’ve opted to get it at 8am on Monday. I’ve not booked the boat as I’ve been trying to get my discount from hosteling international but not with much luck. I will therefore wing it and try and get on last minute or alternatively spend some more walking time in Torres del Paine before getting it the following week. Yep it takes 4 days and goes once a week. Wish me luck!