Arriving in Punta Arenas in the middle of the night gave me a bit of a shock.... I had assumed that being an airport there would be an information stand and a queue of taxis awaiting me. I found out that this is not the case in Punta Arenas when you land at 1 o'clock in the morning - welcome to more rural Chile! After a brief panic being the last one to get my luggage and not sure how to get to my hostel who had rather kindly sent me an email saying they would be in bed but leave a key under a flower pot for me, I noticed there was a minibus outside was filling up with locals from the plane, and was a collectivo (12 seater taxi) so quickly headed over to it and bagged the last seat on the bus, finally making it to my hostel at 2am to fumble my way around in the dark getting through the front door and tring to find the empty bed in the dorm without waking everybody up in the process (not sure how successful I was on this last part!).
I only stopped briefly for 2 days in Punta Arenas which was enough time to see the town and to take a day trip out to Bahia Inutil (which translates as Useless bay!) to see a colony of King penguins. This turned out to be a rather long way away too, and I spent15 hours that day travelling by boat and bus to Porvenir and down to the colony, but it was definitely worth it. The penguins weren't exactly active whilst I was there but were fascinating to watch. The stars of the show were a new couple and a rather jealous male, who demonstrated to us what happens in a penguin fight over a girl... it goes something along the lines of standing directly opposite your opponent, belly to belly with very small gap in between, and seeing who can stretch up to be the tallest, before lifting one of your wings and swinging your entire body to slap your opponent as hard as you can, while the female being fought over stands closeby refereeing - not too dis-similar to humans on a Saturday night out really!
I got really lucky on my bus ride from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia as the bus was virtually empty apart from 4 Argentinians, and a tour group of Brits/Aussies doing a 2 week whistle stop tour of Patagonia, who had the most helpful Argentinian tour guide that gave me loads of maps and tips, not just on Patagonia but the whole of Argentina, so I now have a good plan to work to for the next couple of months! Although most of the trip was on a bus we got to get out for the ferry crossing over the Strait of Magellane into Tierra Del Fuego, and had a dolphin show with some Tonina dolphins swimming alongside the ferry and performing a couple of jumps for us,
and the nature show continued for the rest of the bus ride - by the time I had got to Ushuaia I had seen geese, swans, flamingoes, condors, sheep, cows, horses, fox, guanaco, ostrich..... better than being
sat on a bus with nothing to do for 11 hours!
Ushuaia took me by surprise, as it's huge! Well, huge compared to what I had expected from the world's southernmost city which is miles and miles away from anything else. I had read from so many websites and heard from other travellers that you get a real sense of being at the end of the world in Ushuaia, but to be completely honest I didn't feel that at all, probably because of its size and also because it is completely set up for tourists, with 2 rows of tourist booking huts lined up at the waterfront, a high street full of tourist restaurants and outdoor clothing shops for the under prepared tourist, plus the fact that the first 3 days I spent there were overcast and cloudy (and a little bit wet) so I didn't get to see the famous mountainous backdrop until my 4th day there. Everyone in Ushuaia will tell you that you will get 4 seasons in one day here, and that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, but my first day there was one season.... rain! Heading out on my second day in perfect sunshine to walk up to the Martial glacier I remembered this and at the last minute ran back inside my hostel to pick up my sunglasses, a spare sweater, my gloves, and a second jacket, and I was so glad I did as by the time I had taken a short taxi ride to get to thestart of the hike it had actually started snowing and was blowing a gale, which later turned into rain and then finished the day with some beautiful sunshine again, albeit laced with a freezing antartic wind.
Nevertheless I carried on with the glacier walk as was only a short 2 hour return hike, and met an Argentinian on the way up to practice speaking Spanish with, and another Brit at the top who had also been to the sameSpanish school I went to in Cusco last year and wanted to practice Spanish too, so the three of us then walked down together and chatted about the profesoras we had both had and then warmed up with a coffee at the bottom, all the time speaking in broken Spanish which must have been very amusing for Enrique listening to 2 English girls trying to have a conversation in his language!
Being the complete tourist in Ushuaia I did what every other tourist does whilst there, and went to visit the old prison musuem,
took a trip to see a colony of very cute Magellanic pengiuns, visited the Haberton farm, went to the Tierra del Fuego national park and took the train at the end of the world (the prisoner train),
took a horse riding tour up a mountain to see some pretty views looking back down into the city and channel, spent an evening beaver watching,
and took a boat trip on a yacht along the Beagle channel where we saw a colony of sealions sharing their island with cormorants and got off at a small island known as Island H for a little nature walk with some more great views of the channel and islets.
Our guide on this trip was fantastic, and knew so much about the Patagonian flora and fauna without being boring, so pointed out lots of things to us and showed us how to make seaweed into a spa
treatment, and even found us some baby king crabs - he took them away with him saying he was going to release them into the channel a bit futher up but I reckon he kept them for his dinner that night!
I had been really lucky and met some great people at the start of my time in Ushuaia so we ended up doing most of these trips together and had a great laugh. The horseriding started off hilarious as Fabio had been so scared of getting on the horse, and looked panic stricken for the first hour of the trip which was even funnier! The course took us up a mountain to get some amazing views back down into Ushuaia and then back down and accross a river.
For some reason I managd to get the horse that couldnīt be bothered to do anything and stopped every time it saw something edible, which normally resulted in me being shouted at by our guide to yank up on the reins and kick the horse hard with my heels to make it go again. Iīm sure something was wrong as this never worked, and I came away with bruise on the inside of my lower legs form the amount of kicking I had been doing... I donīt even want to think about the bruise the poor horse had in its ribs from me kicking it! But the horse got its revenge towards the end of the course when our guide shouted out "watch your leg going around that tree", followed with a "F##K" screamed by me 20 seconds later as my leg got squashed between the horse and the tree (the horse won) and Fabio shouting exactly the same 10 seconds after me! Its now one and a half weeks ago, and I still have a sore lump on my shin with a indent directly underneath it - this is what happens when you kick horses that want to eat!
The evening looking for beavers also turned out to be another comedy night. We arrived at the lodge of our hosts, where we got kitted out with wellies and thick socks and a headlamp each, ready to go off on our search in the dark. When we got to the furthest dam away our guide produced out of nowhere a flask of mulled wine and some pannetone to warm us through, perfectly timed as 2 beavers swam past.
At this point it started to rain, and then Fabio fell down a hole which filled his wellies up with water which reduced the rest of us to tears with alcohol induced laughter, and it was time to head back to the lodge. Wading back through swamp like fields in the dark and heavy rain suddenly took me back 20 years to memories of trudging through similar conditions for a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, only this time I got to finish inside a warm lodge with a 3 course meal and wine instead of putting up a tent in the freezing cold!
So, after a few more days (and a few nights out!) in Santiago and Valparaiso just up the coast, I started on my journey to the most southern point of South America, Patagonia. Rather naively, I had no idea that Santiago was still such a long way as looking on the map it's half way up the country, so had a bit of a shock when the pilot welcomed us aboard the plane and announced that my flight to Punta Arenas was another 3.5 hours, which I then followed with an 11 hour bus ride to get across the Argentinian border into Ushuaia, known as the southern most city on the world, or as they like to advertise it on every souvenir going "fin del mundo", end of the world. I later found out that if you lie Chile on its side it would stretch from Madrid to Moscow - huge!