After a stop over back in Buenos Aires – our last day of warmth for a while, we boarded the plane to Ushuaia – the southern most city in the world and according to their own slogan “the end of the earth, the beginning of everything”. And so our Patagonian adventures began…
Ushuaia is a fairly large touristy type town filled with hiking and snow wear shops, cafes and gift shops and unfortunately a few fairly ugly buildings, but this doesn’t take away the magic of the place! At only 1000km away from Antartica adventure is in the air! After landing at lunchtime, we made our way to our hostel where we were told in Spanish by the enthused reception staff that the president of Argentina was visiting, (the hundreds of policemen lining the streets all made sense now). All of the staff were gathered outside with argentinian flags and were clearly very excited. Unfortunately we had already told the staff we were from England, which made the situation mildly awkward to say the least as the president was visiting the area to commemorate the anniversary of the Fawklands war and rallying for the islands to be returned to Argentina. So as the presidents car drove past and the hostel staff ran after her, flags waving and cheering, me and Phil hung back and watched as they took it in turns to hug the president and present her with their children. We decided from that moment on to pretend we were Austrailian during the rest of our trip in the south (because no one has a vendetta against the Austrailians do they?). Unfortunately Phil turned out to be a particularly bad lier and continued to tell people we were from the UK.
After the presidential excitement, we walked down a long hill and headed into town to find an activity for the afternoon. Lining the port are lots of little huts selling tours – we picked one at random and fifteen minutes later we were aboard a small sailing boat with five others for our tour of the Beagle channel (named after the English ship HMS Beagle that explored the channel). After getting out of the harbour, the sails were hoisted and we sailed across the Beagle channel towards the nearby islands. The sun was beaming, but there was a freezing cold wind and we were glad of our layers! Fortunately, as we were on a sailing boat we could get close up to the islands to view the hundreds of sea lions, cormorants and other birds sun bathing! Sea lions being one of my favourite animals, this was quite the experience even if I couldn’t feel my toes!
After sailing around the islands we were taken to one where we were allowed off the boat to go on a walk. Landscape wise it was fairly barren, with small shrubs and grass – easy to see why nothing grows when summer temperatures rarely exceed 12 degrees. Our guide explained how the original inhabitants lived – they were traditionally hunter-gatherer nomads who traveled by canoe between islands to collect food. The men hunted sea lions and the women dove to collect crabs and shellfish and unbelievably until the Europeans came, they did this all naked, smearing themselves in animal grease to keep warm! I was freezing in my five layers complete with gloves and hat in the relatively mild autumnal 1 degree Celsius, so it is pretty amazing to think people survived there with just their birthday suits. After our windy island tour, we boarded the boat again and were shown where the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean meet – it brought it back just how far south we were! Freezing cold, we headed below deck for a warming coffee and dulce de leche biscuit as we journeyed back to the harbour.
The following day we headed on a 4×4 adventure amid lovely snowy weather. Our first stop was a husky sled dog kennels, absolutely lovely beautiful dogs but sadly in need of a little vet care and an upgrade in housing. We were lucky enough to see the dogs being hooked up ready for a sled run and boy were they excited to go! The speed with which they ran off was incredible! Even the local pet dog joined in the fun- see the dog at the front below!
We continued to climb through the mountains taking in spectacular scenery before visiting a lake area where we stopped for a coffee and cake break and some snow fun!
We were then taken on our off road adventure, heading up through the mountains on off road tracks, before heading back down to drive in the water along the edge of large lake and take in the scenery.
Our late lunch stop was in a wooden cabin where a log wood burner was started up and we were treated to wine with salami, olive, cheese and bread nibbles before a main course of barbequed steaks, chorizo, onions and potatoes. Yum! We then made the winding journey back through the mountains and to Ushuaia.