It´s 9:30 p.m. and I´m very sleepy. Still trying to catch up after my overnight flight back to Buenos Aires from Ushuaia, Argentina, the small town in Tierra del Fuego at the very tip end of the world. They call it the “Fin del Mundo” down there in Patagonia, as it´s as low as you can get on any southern hemisphere continent.
Sorry I didn´t write very much during my time there, but I had limited access to computers. The Free Style Hostel had three internet computers, on coin-operated timers, but one was permanently off line. Another quit while I was there and the whole town has an endearing habit of winking off unpredictably, computer-wise. This was a boisterous hostel where everything happened right in the front lobby. Loud music, loud talking, eating, coming and going….making careful (or any) word composition “rawther” out of the question. Add to that mix the fact that my last roommate in the six-bunk dorm was a world-class snorer and you have a combination that works against anyone´s literary best.
By the time I recover from that lost sleep, I´ll be losing it again on my overnight flight early next week which brings me home after four months on the Backpacking Trail down here in South America. Ahhhh, my nice quiet bedroom, with its total darkness and my very comfortable bed, with its cozy down comforter and great mattress. I shall recover quickly. And then, it´s off to the races in a different way. I must amalgamate my writings and produce and market another book. One can work up a good tiredness just by staying home.
But, how can I quantify the Ushuaia experience? It wasn´t what I expected, as I wrote the last time, but it was good in its own way. It´s a very pretty place. The setting on the Beagle Channel is absolutely magnificent in all directions, especially when the sun shines brightly as it did about half the time. They love to paint their houses in bright colors, so you will see reds, greens, blues and yellows cropping up among others which are pretty funky with their galvanized tin exteriors. I compared it with Aspen, Colorado, in my last posting and that element is there – in the weather, the mountains, and the swanky shops on Calle San Martin, right downtown…..as well as in the cruise ship passengers who show up now and then, brightly dressed, just like the skiers do in Aspen. Ushuaia hasn´t lost its gritty, “funky vitality” yet and probably never will. It´s every bit a frontier town… but one that has taken good care of its tourists.
There is a prison museum there, with good stories about the inmates who were sent to this frigid outpost at the turn of the last century. There´s also a great boat ride to rocky islands in the Beagle Channel where we could spy on the South American Sea Lions and they could surf with us. When our boat intruded too close to the sleeping mama and papa sea lions´ rocky perches, they scolded us; but their teenagers gleefully dove into the water. As we left, they came along surfing our wake for miles. They looked like dolphins playing so happily and showing off for our cameras.
All penguins have recently migrated elsewhere, but tourist boatloads in other months, get to see them as well. Our boat tied up on a small island that once supported a tribe of practically-naked native Indians who built the fires for which Tierra del Fuego was named. It was mighty cold there due to the very strong wind. We all wondered how they survived with very little shelter available. Everybody climbed to the height of a rocky little pinnacle for 360 views and photographs as well as a study of the plant life.
Then, we were rewarded with cake and hot chocolate, coffee, or beer for the long ride home. As always, our group aboard bonded through conversation and became loving friends, if only for an afternoon, though most of us lived at the same hostel and could continue the friendship a little longer.
I had hoped to take a bus across the Chilean border to visit Puenta Arenas, but that proved impossible as those only run a few days a week and not while I was there. It would have been a seven-hour trip to a town with not a whole lot to see or do. It´s more of a jumping off place to the National Parks in the area, and this is off-season for those. So, on my last day there, I took a short bus ride to the Tierra del Fuego National Park to hike around in a spot that´s even lower on the map than Ushuaia and therefore, closer to Antarctica by about ten miles.
Again, imagined expectations did not play out. Cape Horn wrecks ships with its wild winds and currents. I was expecting wildness here in its vicinity. But no, it was rolling meadows and soft trails; red and yellow Fall leaves, and quiet lakes. Not even very challenging hiking…at least on the lake trails I chose. But, it was a lovely day and a great way to say goodbye to South America.
I had traveled the entire spine of the continent to the very tip end. Even that hadn´t turned out as I had planned, since Easter Week bounced me away from Chile entirely and my journey down to the bottom was by flight instead of by bus. Others who came that way – overland by bus through Chile – reported five days of bone-jarring travel, so I suppose I should be glad. Right now, I´m glad to still be healthy and in one piece as I spend my last few days getting ready to say goodbye to this most recent adventure. Dengue Fever has appeared in Bolivia and northern Argentina. I was just there two weeks ago and there was no word of it then. Now, even way down here in Buenos Aires, I see posters warning people about its symptoms. Don´t think I caught it, but I don´t know the incubation period. Can´t remember even seeing mosquitos since the jungle days.
But, if I can figure things out in a few minutes when I sit down with my Lonely Planet, I just might be able to squeeze one more country in before I fly away. Uruguay is just across the water, so I may ferry over there for a look see. More about that later.
What did I dread? Here´s what I wrote in my journal yesterday in Buenos Aires as I prepared to board the airplane for the small town of Ushuaia down at the end of the world, just a hop and a skip north of Antarctica:
“Well, the “dreaded” trip is finally here. Dreaded due to the anticipation of cold weather. It´s bright and sunny here in Buenos Aires and on a warming trend again after some cooler temperatures and wind yesterday. I checked the weather channel and Ushuaia might not be so bad as it seems to be in the mid-forties (13C) now, after being 6C, or 38 degrees the last time I checked. Partly cloudy today and tomorrow with sunshine Saturday and Sunday. So, I´m hoping that the old maxim: “That which one fears, never happens” will hold true this time too.”
Throughout my four months on the road, traveling all over the Andean side of South America, I have fretted a bit about my determination to get all the way down to the tip end of the spinal column in my wacky idea of comparing this cordillera to the human backbone. Most of the time spent at high altitude was just plain cold. I´ve been wearing layers of sweater, pants, long underwear, double socks, a neck gaitor, and sometimes, hats, gloves and scarves. I´ve even worn that to bed when my hostel room never warmed beyond sixty degrees. Bogota, Quito, and Cusco were too cold for my blood, even in their summertime. What was it to be like way down there so close to the South Pole?
In Puno, I bought a colorful wool jacket; in La Paz, a heavy fleece jacket. In Buenos Aires, a pair of mountain-climbing pants and finally, some gore-tex high top boots added themselves to the winter clothes I´d been buying all along just to survive. Still, I anticipated high winds, deep cold and maybe even snow. It is, after all, off-season here and the equivalent of mid-October, well into their Fall season.
My blood is Florida thin by now, even though I have previously lived in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in Aspen, Colorado. But there, I was well equipped to deal with it. What was I to do with only the supplies I could carry in my backpack? I was really thinking along the lines of those fur-rimmed parkas and a sled pulled by huskies, though of course, Lonely Planet didn´t describe Ushuaia that way. It did speak of its high winds and low temperatures though.
I wondered who would want to live there year-round. But, there they were, gamely holding up the necessary businesses at the “End of the World…” Fin del Mundo.
Ohmigosh! I love this place! It was warm and sunny today and soooooo much like Aspen with its ski lodge style airport terminal and its world class shops, hotels and restaurants. Absolutely charming and beautiful and the FOOD IS GOOD! But not cheap. I can eat snow crabs every meal, if I´m willing to pay for the privilege.
This is a year-round attraction, with lots of skiing and winter sports as well as summer trekking! Gorgeous. More later as my coin-fed computer is timing out. Just remember: “That which you dread……..”