After wearing thongs up and down the slippery slopes of Easter Island I was pleased to be in my hiking boots!
The trip from Buenos Aires was really pleasant. The long wait in the queue passed quickly as I chatted to a nuclear scientist ahead of me who was returning to Patagonia after a conference in the States. It was great to talk to him about the merits or otherwise of nuclear power; particularly given his knowledgable of the Lucas Heights Nuclear Reactor. Despite his attempts at persuading me on the safety of this power generation method and waste disposal options I walked away unconvinced!
I digress – Tierra del Fuego, land of fires – named so by Ferdinand Magellan after he saw the smoke of the Yamana natives coming from the trees while he was sailing into what is now Ushuaia.
I managed to wake just in time for the stunning views of the Andes from the plane. This time ice-capped mountains surrounding us as we swooped into Ushuaia, the most southern town in the world. Quite amazing when you see on a map its latitude compared to that of the southern most part of Australia!
The start of a new leg of the trip. Lovely group on my tour – Shea, Nancy, Margrit and Leo from Australia; Claudine, Jo, April, Sharon and Paul from Britain and Australian expats living in London – Lee and Mia. We had a Dutch couple, Marcia and Marten, as our guide and driver respectively.
My Spanish was improving by day two in Argentina – managed to pour myself a glass of hot water – I will forever know that caliente is hot – and more importantly a wine glass is el copa!
Ushuaia is an interesting (and very cold) town. It’s the launchpad for cruises to the Antarctica. It has substantial similarities with Sydney (putting aside Sydney’s lovely beaches, fab food and bars) in that it was a penal colony (modelled on that of Australia more than a century later) – the prison opened in 1906. This approach was taken to address the severe overcrowding of the prisons in Buenos Aires.
In similar style to Australia, a substantial number of the indigenous people managed to be wiped out during the settlement although it appears it wasn’t intended. The settlers were perplexed by the scant clothing of the Yamanas and so in a charitable gesture offered to clothe them. Unfortunately, after living such a pure existence, the Yamanas had insufficient immunity to ward off the disease carried in the clothing and blankets and the tribes slowly died out to the extent that some are now extinct and some only having a few representatives today.
After visiting the very informative Ushuaia museum/prison we went on a cruise of the Beagle Channel where we viewed colonies of Southern American Seals (technically their ears on the outside and ability to walk on all four flippers makes them sea lions) and flocks of Imperial and King Cormorants. It was interesting to hear proclamations about ownership of the Falklands by the Argentinian guides and to watch the facial expressions of my British fellow travellers – still a sore point after all this time.
The next day we ventured to Tierra del Fuego National Park. I chose to take the very touristy train up to the park entrance; others took the bus so it wasn’t just me being lazy! I did the Costela walk with Jo; a lovely four hour walk around the lake.
For dinner I convinced a few others to come along to a groovy local bar/restaurant I had discovered the night before. Early indications that perhaps I may be the lush in the group! We got back to the room early (for Argentine standards) and at 11:30pm I heard rhythmic drums playing down on the foreshore. I was keen to go and check it out but I took note of my mature room buddy’s observation that the streets were pretty deserted; so I stayed in my PJs in the safety of my (very warm) room. I wonder what was going on? Perhaps preparation for a festival?
We had an early start out of Ushuaia (in Frankie – our wheels for the next two weeks) for our entry into Chile and Southern Patagonia. It was at this time, precisely while the guide was talking us through the days that lay ahead that I realised that in my haste to book the trip I may not have read the dossier sufficiently to understand the extremity of the hikes ahead of us!!! Stories of only half of the group being likely to make it to the end of the walks had me a little concerned. Thankfully it became apparent Marcia meant that those who couldn’t make it would turn back not that they’d be given some sort of nature burial! So at the next stop I packed away the summer dresses and sandals and prepared a pack of rather androgynous trekking gear – okay I might have kept out a pink scarf for some colour!
We ventured on, leaving behind the turning autumn leaves, cementing the memory of the land of fires!