05.11.2010 - 13.11.2010
Our flight down here started hectically with the change of airport sending us to an unknown unmarked terminal that was difficult to find and nigh on impossible to navigate. With our deadline rapidly approaching we finally made our way to the front of the queue and after radio confirmation we were told that our luggage would actually get onboard the plane luckily as the woman behind us was actually lining up for the flight two hours after us! With luck on our side but time not we rushed through customs to make sure we got on the plane, sadly this resulted in us being minus a leatherman as Swainy had failed to pack it in checked luggage and they wouldn’t let him take it on, my garrote like lock however was not a problem – strange rules they have these days. Despite our urgency the Argentinean efficiency kicked in and we waited almost an hour on the runway bus to get onto the plane……so much for our urgency! Still the flight over would make up for it with the clear day providing some of the most amazing views over the Martial mountain range as we came in to land at the small little town of Ushuaia. The view was simply indescribable, since I had seen them before I asked Swainy if he could elaborate and he managed to come up “Mountains”, “Snow”, “Ice” and “Mountains” not exactly what I was hoping for but maybe he was in shock! It was simply amazing to just see layer after layer of mountains cutting this little town off from everything north (also referred to as the rest of the world!). It is one of those views that words just can’t describe and photos just don’t do justice, a common theme in this extremely photogenic part of the world. As we came in to land we were fortunate and had a rather smooth landing, not quite requiring of the round of applause that it got but each to their own. A couple of days later when the weather had turned sideways, snow and strong winds greeted us and we saw a pilot fishtailing in only to correct and dump it at the last second to land, now that probably deserved a round of applause!
Strangely for a place that is so isolated and supposedly has some of the harshest weather in inhabitated land the weather that greeted us was mild. For the most of our first weekend we were donned in little more than shorts and a shirt as 15 lovely degrees waited for us both days. Turns out the weekend was just the interview process and once we were “committed” we experienced the reality with 30+ km winds cutting a hole through us (this is the real cold part and when it comes it comes) and the town finally succumbing to rain before we were ultimately snowed into our hostel at night. You can say that in Melbourne you can see four seasons in a day but this was simply something else and Swainy and I were both in agreement afterwards, to hell with the weather forecasts and what you see now offers very little indication of what might follow. Perfect for planning!
After experiencing this we decided the next day to take a boat trip out into the beagle channel and see some of the abundant wildlife that is on display here (and in some cases only here on earth). Once again we were thwarted by the weather with the port closed due to dangerously high winds, disappointed we decided to console ourselves by climbing the nearby glacier – seems logical doesn’t it! The climb up to the glacier was a really interesting experiencing a walk through the poorer area of town before starting our ascent up the ski run towards the glacier. Once again there was a noticeable difference between being in the trees and being out of them as when the wind came it ripped through us forcing us to layer up with our gortex jackets.The climb wasn’t particularly in difficult but was steady and as we reached the bottom of the glacier the noise that the wind made was simply incredible and we were well and truly rugged up at this stage. Still we couldn’t resist the opportunity to make snow corpses and throw some snowballs. Once we got our juvenile fun out the way we sat back and enjoyed the spectacular view that we had with the glacier completely on one side and bay unfolding in front of us on the other….a truly amazing site. With the climb complete we headed back down to the city to have the local delicacy king crab, as this is supposedly the best place in the world to have it.
Dinner did not disappoint at all with the crab for four people weighing in at about 1.7 kilograms and it was simply incredible and easily the biggest crab that I have ever seen. The legs themselves were around about an inch thick and full of plenty of meat! With the four of us well and truly satisfied we headed off back to the hostel to once again attempt the boat trip the next morning.
The next day we awoke to find perfect weather for our boat trip out into the beagle channel, with the sun in full volume, the wind still and the sea taking on a mirror like appearance. Our first stop on the boat trip translates to the island of sea lions and true to its name the place was full of sea lions. It was great to see these mammals in their natural habitat being playful with each other but also weary of our presence. We were lucky in that we booked a really small boat that only held 26 people allowing us plenty of room on the viewing decks in stark contrast to the other ships which were incredibly over crowded! The next stop saw us head to the island with the lighthouse, one of the icons of Ushuaia and a symbol of exactly where you are. Directly behind that was an island that had been covered in cormorants or atleast it seemed that way and it is amazing to see just how many birds can fit into the one space without much in the way of bickering. The really cool thing was to watch the way the birds landed diving in at a hundred miles an hour only to hover and descend vertically like a helicopter into their place. The other cool thing was watching them take off as they seemed to skim across the water for a few metres flapping their wings furiously to try and get off the ground. Last but not least we arrived at bridges island (strangely lacking in bridges!) where we got off and went hiking along the island offering up some lovely views of the city across the bay with the mountains in the background. For an organized trip this was a really great trip and well worth the money especially doing it with the smaller boat.
The following day we once again woke up to plenty of sunshine so we headed off to the national park that Ushuaia is famous for “Tierra del Fuego”. This translates to land of fire such was the vision that was presented to the early settlers by the native Yagan people who were known for constant fires and their nomadic life. The national park is really lovely to walk through and full of mountains, lakes and forrest trees. The remarkable thing is here you can see first-hand the damage that the introduced beavers have caused even if the furry little creatures have long since migrated elsewhere. These industrious little creatures build giant dams that act like tremendous filtration systems that completely stop the water system and also water life. It is an incredible bit of engineering but the effects that they leave behind are difficult to argue with, water systems completely devoid of life, trees dying through lack of nutrients and generally an environmental pocket that will take ages to recover. In fact in Canada I believe that they actually destroy the beaver dams after they are deserted. Sadly in Tierra del Fuego they remain even though the beavers have long since headed further south to Puerto Williams where apparently some 40000 beavers have taken over the island. Amongst the beaver dams there are some beautiful mountains and some great hikes through the forrest along the coast. Another highlight here is the southernmost post office where you can receive a passport stamp of “the end of the world”. Here we also met a big rugby fan and after discussing the pumas with him for a few minutes he produced a couple of small Jameson bottles for us to share, capping off a great day.
The next day was the big one where we finally committed and paid for our trip down to the final frontier, my seventh continent and a place that nearly everyone wants to go, Antartica. This was a complicated process for us as dealing with the payment issue in Argentina is not really as straight forward as it should have been but none the less we worked it out. Next on the list was too beef up our wardrobes a bit to include some thermal gloves and socks just in case it gets a little cold down in Antarctica. With our tickets in hand we headed down to the duty free store to pick up some supplies for the trip.