Saturday, 15 December 2012

Ushuaia – The End of the World

Ushuaia - nestled along the side of the Andes,
gateway to Antarctica
 My trip to Ushuaia began as many trips do in Argentina, with a delayed flight.  My flight from El Calafate to Ushuaia was supposed to leave at 11:25 am and I had hoped to arrive in time to do a cruise on the Beagle Channel to visit a penguin colony.  However, the penguins and I had to wait a little longer to meet as my flight finally left at 2 pm.  By the time I arrived in Ushuaia, made it through security with my luggage and checked in at my Tzion B&B most of the afternoon was over.  I used the rest of the day to check in with the tourist information agency, book my penguin cruise for Friday and find someplace for dinner.  When I booked my B&B on, the reviewers raved about the caring family who ran it but mentioned that it was located about 8 blocks from downtown.  What I didn’t realize is that Ushuaia is built on a very steep hillside leading up to the mountains, so whenever I left the B&B I walked 8 steep blocks down, only to return 8 steep blocks uphill later in the day. 

View from my bedroom window -
Mountains, town, Beagle Channel
On Thursday, I was up early to catch the shuttle bus to Tierra del Fuego National Park to do some hiking.  It was cool and damp when we left Ushuaia at 9 am and within a few minutes it began to rain, at first just a drizzle but then changing to a good steady rain.  As the driver dropped us off at the trekking station, he said “Pick up 3, 5, 7.”   So he was dropping us off in the cold and rain at 10 am and not coming back until 3 pm at the earliest.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into – how was I going to kill 5 hours in this park without freezing to death?  I envied the more prepared hikers with their weatherproof outfits and hiking boots. I had a nice fleece coat and rain resistant coat (I found out the hard way that it is no longer rainproof a few years ago), jeans and my sneakers. I thought to myself that more commercial operations would have equipment to rent – hiking boots and waterproof pants for unprepared tourists like me.  But there was no such kiosk here so I took my hiking map and headed off in the same direction I had seen a few other people go.  After about 15 minutes, I realized this wasn’t a trail for me – walking along a lake for mile after mile - boring, and turned back to go in the other direction.  As I walked, I noticed large noisy birds hunting for insects nearby and stopped to take some photos. 

Changing direction, I went south towards the National Guard station and a series of short hiking trails.  Trail #1 was supposed to be an easy 15 minute hike.  I must have taken a wrong turn as it took me about an hour.  Even though I stopped to take many many photos, even without stopping I couldn’t have done that trail in 15 minutes.  I had to scramble up and down steep rocky sections that were slick with rain and mud and at one point I slipped and landed on my bottom.  I thought I’d better head back to the main road and find an easier trail.  If I was to fall or twist my ankle, it could be a very long time before anyone wandered by and there was no cell phone service in most areas of the park. 

Trail 2 looked boring – a short hike to a lake so I wandered down to trail three which stopped at the end of Route 3 where there was a nice lookout area and busloads of tourists.  By now the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to push through the clouds and the rest of the day was overcast but dry.

Trail 4 was a beautiful hike through beech trees and a peat bog. Again I took many many photos of the beautiful scenery and interesting birds to share with anyone back home foolish enough to ask to see my vacation photos.

The views along trail 4

In the morning, I had thought that five hours was an eternity. Instead I found myself hurrying back to the drop-off point where the restaurant was now open and a warm fire was burning in the fireplace.  I had a cup of tea and chatted with some fellow tourists – a girl from Holland, a couple from Denmark, and another couple from France who were also waiting for the bus.   Once back in town I debated – do I hike back up the hill to the B&B, rest for a bit and shower, then hike down the hill for dinner and back up the hill for bed?  No.  Instead, I killed some time shopping downtown while hauling my backpack with me, had an early dinner, stopped at the grocery store to pick up snacks for tomorrow’s boat ride and then called it an early night.

Things I’ve noticed:
Unlike other areas of Argentina where we have lived and visited, there is no litter in El Calafate or Ushuaia.  Residents and tourists alike are vigilant about caring for the environment. 

My suitcase was definitely in the minority at the luggage carousel in both towns as most tourists here are hiking, trekking and into other outdoor adventures.  Big backpacks are the norm.  I felt a bit like Zsa Zsa Gabor in Green Acres as I wheeled my big suitcase out of the airport past the backpackers, but I’m heading home to Canada after our weekend in Buenos Aires so I’m packing a ton of stuff that I won’t need here but will need at home.

More gorgeous scenery

1 comment:

Thanks for posting on my blog!