Unsurpassable Ushaia

Trip Start Feb 02, 2011
Trip End Mar 08, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  , Tierra del Fuego,
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From H's diary
A magnificent sight as we passed over the tail end of the Cordillera and descended into Ushuaia and it was quite cold on our arrival – 16 degrees. We were met by Andrea, one of the Rumbo Sur representatives and driven to our hotel, Les Cauquenes (The Inland Geese) which was situated on the western side of the bay in an area which is being opened up and which used to be a property which the owner divided up. As yet the roads are still dirt but there are quite a lot of very upmarket homes in the subdivision. Our hotel fronted the bay and the view from the front was of water and distant snow-capped peaks with glaciers on top. As we drove to the hotel Andrea commented that the Darwin Ranges in Chile were visible and were usually covered by cloud. These are the tallest peaks in the area. I have got past the point in the "Voyage of the Beagle" by Charles Darwin where the ship visited South America and there is quite a lot of relevance and resonance in what we have seen so far and what we are to see in the next few days. Les Cauquenes Has been operating for five years and our room was spacious enough but situated at the back of the hotel with a view of lupins outside the window and tall bare mountains. Lupins are ubiquitous flowers in Ushuaia and with the cool conditions lots of other showy blooms grow well here.

It was half past seven when we arrived so dinner was the order of the day and this we had in the dining room overlooking the bay. The food was good, with me having tuna and Sue had seafood bisque which she reckons was the best she has ever tasted. A very pleasant young fellow called Pablo served us and he is quadrilingual, speaking his native Spanish, Portuguese, French and English. They put Australians to shame by and large.

The mercury dropped to nine degrees overnight.

TUESDAY 22/2/2011

A very nice day all in all. After breakfast Andrea picked us up and took us for a drive through the city showing us the temporary / semi-permanent “sled-houses” put up by the new settlers who come from various parts of South America, predominantly Bolivia and Peru. In addition there are large utilitarian blocks of units built specially for those less fortunate and wealthy and they are apportioned on a social needs points system. They seemed to be fairly widespread throughout the city. She also showed us a large peat bog in the west of the city and told us that it takes something like 8,000 years for peat to mature to the point of being able to be used for fuel for fires. This one is a mere baby at 1,000 years. Next to the panoramic lookout on the hill behind the city, near a large hotel and on the road to the glacier whence we got a good idea of the city and the Beagle Channel in the distance. Into the city we descended for a view of the layout from the light aircraft club near the harbour. The houses in the city are constructed of wood and stone or corrugated iron, the latter being a throwback to the original housing a century or so ago. A lot of the materials were brought in from Canada, but the GFC stopped all that and now galvanised iron houses are al the fashion.

Andrea dropped us off at the Museo de Fin del Mundo where we looked around at the exhibits documenting the history of the area and also exhibiting an excellent selection of stuffed birds which we examined with interest. There was an excellent small library and there we looked at maps and books with photos of the Tierra del Fuego. We then proceeded to have a walk up and down the main street Rua San Martin which has an excellent array of shops selling the obvious tourist goods with a lot of upmarket outlets and a plethora of eating places, and it was to one of these, Tia Elvira, which Andrea had recommended that we headed for lunch. The food was superb and we both chose the black hake which she had told us about. Sue had it with lemon cream sauce and mine was in Roquefort sauce. It was the most delicious fish dish I have ever tasted. We were fortunate to snare a table right next to the window of this quaint restaurant which gave a view out to the harbour where the Holland America Line Veendam had just berthed. Ushuaia is the jumping off point for Antarctic cruises and there were already a few tourist ships in harbour as this is where they do a lot of their trade in the tourist season.

After lunch we did some more shopping and bought T-shirts for me and the boys. Sue wants to wait until Santiago to do more gift shopping. Rather than take a taxi we decided to walk back to the hotel which must be every bit of 10 kilometres from centro, the centre of the city. We slowly plodded along, asking  directions occasionally, until we came to the supermarket at the start of the dirt road and there we bought some sandwiches and salad for dinner and took  taxi the remainder of the way because of the dust thrown up by the passing traffic.

WEDNESDAY 23/2/2011

After a refreshing night's sleep we were picked up at the hotel for the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego tour which initially involved a trip on the train which ran along the line built by the convicts – the most nasty and recidivistic of the lot who were sent here a la Australia and New Caledonia - in the early years of the 20th century. The idea was to cut wood for the house-building but when the trees were cut down they didn’t regrow because of the climate and thus a large tree graveyard was produced which we went past in the train. As we boarded the train the ticket inspector spoke to us in English and when we said that we were Australian he said that he had visited Ipswich and loved the train museum. How coincidental! In the adjoining carriage there was a promotional video being made with a beautiful blonde female interviewer in an Akubra hat and a young fellow she was talking to. They had champagne and coffee at their tables. Sitting next to us were a lady and her niece from Buenos Aires and at the end f the trip they came up and gave us a double cheek kiss which was very nice of them.

A bus with our guide Osberto then took us to Lapataia at a lake which is the junction with Chile and where we were surrounded by Chilean country. We had a walk up to lookout over the lake and then down to the lake itself where an Upland Goose posed for us and a Condor floated on high as the photographic enthusiasts tried to capture its image. The temperature was ideal in the high teens and the humidity was very low. It is a lovely part of the world and on our way out of the park we drove past a hotel and a camping ground where there was considerable activity, and no mosquitoes to boot! The forest has been devastated in parts by introduced beavers which have gnawed down the trees and created patches of bare forest floor along with their small dams. They were introduced for their fur and as with most introduced animals the deleterious effects far outweigh their initial usefulness, as with the cane toad in our country. Most of the trees in the Fuegian forest were myrtle beech – Notofagus – related to the similar trees in Tassie from Gondwana days.

We were driven back to the city centre of Ushuaia where we had an hour to spare before the afternoon boat trip to the Beagle Channel. We had lunch of hamburgers at a very nice little restaurant bar called Cafe Banana. Then it was on to the Ushuaian Explorer,  a very comfortable catamaran for the two and half hour trip to the Islas do Pajaras (the Island of the Blue-eyed Cormorants), an island where sea lions lounged in quite large numbers, an island where the Southern Terns were nesting and then finally to Les Eclairs, the lighthouse in the Channel. Lots of photos were taken and some of them really turned out well. The Beagle Channel was originally a deep glacier which was filled in by the sea some 8,000 years ago when the glacier melted after the cessation of the Ice Age where all of this area was completely enveloped in thick ice.

We were met at the port by Elizabeth – an Argentinian soccer representative – and Nacho who drove us back to the hotel where we had tea / coffee and a lemon meringue pie whilst sitting in the lounge overlooking the bay. A Brazilian waiter, poured forth his views about the pollution, corruption and despoilation of his native part of Brazil. He had lived for 15 years in Colorado and was quite passionate about his strongly held views. Interesting chap.

 We had sandwiches and salad from the supermarket for dinner. Finally into bed with the next door telly interrupting Sue’s sleep through the intervening wall despite the fact that she knocked on the dividing door in the middle of the night. This produced only a reduction in volume and it stayed on all night until 6am.
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