I would hereby like to apologise for any possible rants in this forthcoming post. Not that I’m saying there are any, because it seems entirely unlikely and not in my nature to complain about anything whatsoever, but were one to potentially occur, I, in theory, apologise for any possible such discourse. Entirely hypothetically, of course.
Saturday 13th February 2016 –
There was a sadness looming as I arrived in Ushuaia. As the bus descended through the valley the dreary city swung into view, and everything seemed as miserable as could be. Admittedly this may have had a bit to do with my tired state, and the shitty weather, and maybe more than a bit to do with the fact that the bus had been twisting round the mountain bends. I felt slightly sick.
Nevertheless, the feeling lingered as I got out and made my way to the hostel. Luckily, it had stopped raining, but at 9 or 10 PM the end of the world obviously got a bit more chilly, even in the summer. I was just wearing a jumper. I knew the road and house number I was looking for – it just so happened there were two of them in the city – both on opposite sides as well. Luckily, the French girls I had met on the bus had a guidebook which discerned it had to be on one side. Problem solved? Not quite. The road was “Peron Sur”, meaning South. I’d hoped this meant the difference between the aforementioned roads. It didn’t. Apparently here they just like to count in a different direction sometimes, starting in the middle of nowhere. No plaza, no main road, nothing to signify a reason to change road name. A while later I found it. Yay…
I was just signing in when Halabi spotted me. “Oh, this is the English guy you were talking about!” I heard someone exclaim. Me, really? No, someone else, surely? Having not eaten properly in about three days, I ordered some horrendously greasy pizza and spoke to these guys for the rest of the night, getting Ushuaia tips. I would see almost none of them again – they were all leaving the following morning – but it was a good start to Ushuaia all the same.
I woke the next morning in time for the last scraps of breakfast, with the determination to do nothing with my day. This plan was was scuppered however, on meeting Christina, a German with a wit as blunt as a stereotype will allow. She’d been on the overnight flight from Buenos Aires, and was still determined to go into Ushuaia, so I sulkily said I supposed I’d go along.
Christina had planned this out far more than me. I needed the bank, which I promptly forgot about, and to get some food. Christina had heard about a “Fin del Mundo” stamp for your passport in the tourist info office, a wholly integral part of a trip here, obviously. I forgot my passport. To be fair, I did wander in and get a stamp later.
The day’s energy reserves used by such an eventful time, I waited till the next day to venture anywhere else. I met up with Halabi, who had had to move hostel as La Posta had no more room (a common occurrence in Ushuaia). It was forecast to be nice weather for the next few days, so we used this first to go to the nearby glacier, Glacier Martial.
Halabi had climbed Cerro Guanaco, in the national park, the day before, so spent the day suffering for his exploits. I, on the other hand, was fairly refreshed, and it made for a nice afternoon hike. Unlike the rest of Patagonia I had so far been to, the area around Ushuaia had trees and grass, and altogether much more greenery. I like greenery. This made for a really lovely, picturesque early stage, at least before the trees disappeared.
I will say though, the glacier itself is neither here nor there. It’s more like a few patches of snow that curve around the mountain valley. Maybe it was impressive back in the ice age – not so much now. If you’re trekking for the glacier it’s not worth it. What is worth it, is the view. Beautiful, straight over Ushuaia and the Beagle channel. A couple of beers at the top doesn’t harm things, either.
I headed off into the national park the next day. Everyone had been talking about climbing Cerro Guanaco, at nine hundred and something metres, and the view from up top, but I fancied doing something different. Lucas, one of the guys working at the hostel, suggested a coastal trek, and, if I fancied it, a series of smaller trails afterward. Apparently, this would have more variety altogether.
This was a good decision, and a great day to make a good decision, as the sun peered out from behind the clouds as the minibus dropped me off. The view straight away was stunning, a panorama of the Beagle Channel, not grey like usual, but a beautiful azure. There were obvious tourist droves hanging around here though, so I pressed on into the woods, and along the stunning coastline.
Every corner resulted in an empty beach, or a picture perfect gap through the trees, and the hike was easy enough to skip along pretty merrily. Toward the end of the trail, as the path climbed away from the coast, the woodland opened up and the sun shone through. I was soon at the end though. The information given at the entrance may have said four hours, but I’d gotten to the end in two and a half. I hadn’t exactly been racing along, either.
I strolled down to where the next set of trails began, in the Lapataia area of the park. It started by crossing an island on the Lapataia river, a beautiful area surrounded by clear blue water, green lagoons and the most spectacular view of the mountains in the background. I was only in a T-shirt, and it was pretty hot now I was out of the trees. Gradually, I proceeded along the rest of the six trails, stopping to eat at the best viewpoints, including one over the entire bay. It was almost at the end of my time there when I arrived at what would be, as far as I am currently aware, the most southern point of my time in South America. I didn’t want to leave, but by the time I’d walked back to the end of the first trail, I was knackered.
After trekking up to the glacier again, with Christina this time, we had a parrilla in the hostel. Well, the actual parrilla was outside of the hostel to be fair, but we ate inside. A couple of German guys, Sebastian and Alexander, had organised it, and just told people to bring some meat along. I certainly didn’t want to have not brought along a big enough share, so I bought a massive slab of prime asado, at least five inches long, four inches wide, and one and a half thick. It was awesome. I split this with Christina when I recovered from my madness and realised I didn’t need ALL of it, but it was a huge wodge still.
While we struggled to keep the coals lit for long enough to build up the heat, Sebastian and Alexander had already pre-prepped some tasty rice, garlic bread and chimichurri for the meat. Once it got going, we left Alexander to tend to the parrilla, though we had to cut up my massive steak if I wanted to eat within the next week.
He did a great job, too. Perfectly timed, it was the best asado, best steak I think I have ever had! It’s actually making me hungry just thinking about it now! Along with Shelly and Christina, it was a really memorable dinner. On an important side note, that steak also served as sandwiches for the next couple of days. Perfect.
I’d decided to spend a few more days in Ushuaia than I’d originally planned, which isn’t as easy as it seems. Everywhere in Patagonia, along with being expensive, seems to get booked out way in advance – often up to two weeks. Luckily, I managed to reserve two more nights at La Posta. Unluckily, those two nights were not straight away – I had one in the middle where I had to go somewhere else.
I managed to book myself into another hostel for the night, and leaving most of my junk at La Posta, spent the day doing some chores around Ushuaia before checking in there. Then I did the same after checking in. Suffice to say, it wasn’t my favourite hostel. I went to bed late, woke up early, and came back to La Posta. Even a stray dog decided it was worth coming along.
Meeting back up with Christina and Eric, an American (sorry, United Statesian) traveller who’d arrived the day before, we forewent the standard trails and caught the bus over to the other side of town for a walk. We were a bit concerned about the heavy looking clouds, but thankfully the weather held up, and though we didn’t know exactly where we were going, we had a pretty good walk along the coastline. We were tailed by a friendly dog for most of the journey, unusual if only for the persistence that it showed I’m staying with us. Originally, I called it Trevor, though as we didn’t know the sex, Eric and I conceded a gender neutral name like Chris was more appropriate. Christina wasn’t impressed.
Pancakes were in order after dinner. Kindly made for everyone by Christina, despite threats that Eric and I wouldn’t get any if we continued to be mean, apple and cheese (and naturally dulce de leche) were added in apparent German style. They were tasty. I’m not entirely sure why people were eating pancakes though. Sure, it’d been Shrove Tuesday a mere day before, and I’d gotten given a pancake by an Argentine guy a couple of days before that, but apparently noone knew this. Shrove Tuesday apparently doesn’t exist outside of Britain, and nor does the concept of Pancake Day. But why then, were they being made? The answer is a mystery.
It was all a bit awkward though, mainly because another guy came to join us. That’s fine, usually, and he had originally seemed nice, but things rapidly devolved into weirdness. Firstly, he confronted everyone immediately, demanding to be wished happy birthday for four days previous. Odd, but ok, I guess. Then, he started to talk about the fact that it was awkward because there weren’t enough plates to indicate he would get a pancake. He’d only just sat down, but when he was subsequently asked if he would like one, he said he wouldn’t want to ask just like that. Just make it obvious and awkward apparently.
I woke the next day with an objective in mind. I’d tried to sort it out the previous day, but if been told, while fine, I’d have to return to finalise everything. Actually, I’d tried to sort it out before that, but Argentine holidays meant they’d been closed four days in a row. I’d been trying to sort out my bus ticket.
Remember? It’s the one that I booked in advance of arriving in Rio Gallegos, to get to Ushuaia. If not, you should probably go back and read my previous post. And all the others while you’re at it. Go on. Anyway, for those who have read (or are being persistent), I’d bought another ticket because the bus I’d meant to be on was going to be late. Very late. This, and the premise that my ticket would be able to be used as an open return.
So I returned on this, my last morning, at the expense of going to the national park again, or the nearby Laguna Esmerelda, on the understanding that my ticket need only be printed. Simple is not how is describe the next day.
After my half hour walk into town, I waited, patiently, in the queue. The woman who I’d spoken to previously wasn’t there, so I spoke to another. Now, my Spanish isn’t amazing, but it’s ok, so when she cut me off three words into my enquiry on account of me being apparently unintelligible, I knew it wasn’t going to fare well. After I explained everything she informed me they were not the bus company (despite the sign), just an agency acting on their behalf, so could not do anything. They could not print me a ticket. Everyone else, yes. Not me. Eventually she decided she might as we phone the company. Apparently, though, they were busy at the time. Then they were going on siesta. Great. I would have to phone myself, after 3PM. How generous of them.
I traipsed back to the hostel, angry. I didn’t even want to go to Rio Gallegos – I actually wanted to go to Punta Arenas – I just didn’t want to waste £40 of ticket. When the clock ticked past 3PM, I asked if Pablo, another one of the guys working in the hostel, could ring for me – maybe explain it a bit better. It seemed to go well – a little more cooperative, they said they, again, just needed to finalise the details with the company. Only, a few hours later Pablo came back. Not with confirmation, but apparently the bus had been cancelled. He couldn’t do any more – he was just the messenger and had tried his best to help – so I went into the office once more.
I was pissed off, and I believe it was visible, so after their excuses (bus not working) I told them I wanted my money back, or to be put on another company’s bus. They phoned the bus company once more, and I was told they’d phone back in five minutes. Twenty minutes passed. No phone call. However, suddenly I was given a time, a seat number and a hand written ticket. I asked what company it was. “The same.” How come? “The bus is sorted now.” Yeah. Believable.
There’s a moral of the story here. In fact, two. Don’t buy bus tickets far in advance, for starters. A sure fire way to shoot yourself in the foot. Secondly, don’t travel with this bus company. The name? Techni Austral.
Now, I would leave it there, for impact you know, but I felt after that rant that I do have to emphasise something. Ushuaia, the hostel and the national park are awesome, along with the people I met, too. That, and I had a really great time. See? Positive note.