Thursday, 17 November 2016

Ushuaia, 54.8°S – Days 59 to 64

Our trip so far: South & Central America

The Falkland Island conflict memorial, The writing under translates as: "The town of Ushuaia with whom... with their blood they watered the roots of our sovreignty over the Malvinas... We will return!!!"
The eternal flame commemorating the dead

SITUATION REPORT: It's not quite going to plan, we left Ushuaia on time to head to El Calafate, both in Argentina, but separated somehow from each other by a small piece of Chile, and that's the problem, apparently Chile isn't working, so we have been stamped out of Argentina, there should be 20 minutes of 'no man's land' before we go into Chile, but we are expecting a long wait! Normally this would just be irritating, but where this bus terminates isn't our final destination, we have an hour and a half before our connection to El Calafate, which is unlikely to be long enough, so our hostel in El Calafate will go to waste and we will all be looking for somewhere to stay, last minute, in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere!

1 of about 20 posters round the memorial depicting scenes from the conflict. The caption under this one reads: "The last advice. Tears on the verge of welling up and the younger brothers, who do not seem to understand the situation. The newspaper cutting reminds of an unwanted farewell
Anyway, the journey to Ushuaia went well, 10 hours of dozing and staring out of the window. A ferry crossing, some guanacos (llama like things) nandus (ostrich like things) I saw a couple of foxes, sheep and lambs (strange in November) cows and lots of geese. Along with some relatively boring, and some stunning scenery. It did extend to almost 11 hours due to the unfortunate case of the lady who couldn't find her passport, or her immigration card, we are not sure which. After much hunting, her case was unloaded and she was left behind! Her two male friends stayed on the bus, and that was that!

"In one of the first actions, commanders board several helicopters to act at the San Carlos Strait. With the Blow-Pipe land-air missile they have shot down some Harrier and helicopters. The full and varied equipment that they carry clearly shows how they are going to face the British"
Ushuaia and the winter skiing mountains behind
SITUATION REPORT: we actually got through first pair of border controls relatively quickly, though the Chileans are much stricter about what you can bring in, in the way of foodstuffs, bags were screened for illegal fruit and ham sandwiches! So I put this away as typing was impossible on the unsurfaced road. Yet here I am typing again, we made good progress to the ferry and are now in a very long queue as the wind is very high and the ferry isn't running! We have however had it confirmed that there is a 09.00 bus in the morning which they will put us on, for free, in Rio Gallegos. Those making connections with other bus companies will have to pay!

Waiting to board the ferry over the Magellan Strait to Ushuaia
I've been to the loo, taken an inordinately long time, returned and rifled through the bag to get the iPad all while the husband slept. The reason for the long toilet break was an old grey cat who really wanted some fuss, so with plenty of time on my hands.....

The Chile/Argentina border - somewhere over there
Anyway arrived at the bottom of the world, found that the Santander that will give us free withdrawals that we feared closed did still have an ATM, so hurrah, solvent again we hopped in a cab to our Airbnb, lovely lady called Carmen, with two small dogs and not a word of English. True to her listing she did provide a great breakfast, fruit, croissants, toast, cereal, muffins, toast, biscuits, cheese and ham, it was just a shame about the small cockroach like thing I saw running down the back of the fridge, oh and the one I killed in the bathroom, oh and the one I found this morning with its head in someone's orange juice, fortunately not ours as we were only getting some sneaky toast due to our early start!

The start of a 5, 10 and 21km run in Ushuaia
Went out to grab a quick bite to eat, to be horrified by the prices, so pizza and a locally brewed, very strong bottle of beer to calm the nerves! Back to find the room was coming down to a sensible temperature, the two houses we have now been in have been like saunas, so heating off, window open and door shut.

The train to the end of the world!
Up bright and early and off to have a look around, firstly to try and book our bus out! Went to the office to find it permanently shut, fortunately a lovely lady in one of the few open (it was Sunday) trip agency next door could tell us where it had moved to and give us a bit of information about boat trips, all as we feared too expensive. New bus office looked much more hopeful, but it was shut.

And there it is, with its little brother...
Found ourselves on the Main Street with local buses to the Tierra del Fuego national park, decided that despite the return bus and entrance to the park for both of us, costing the same as a boat trip for one of us, about £60 we had to do something! Ran back to the house to get the rest of the pizza, water etc, and ran back for the 11.00 bus, which didn't seem to exist, we eventually got bundled on a bus with a bunch of school kids and off we went. Quick stop at the railway at the end of the world, think one of the teachers was a train spotter, and off to the park. 

And the graveyard of some of its relatives!
Got dropped off to do a four hour hike along the side of the Beagle Channel through some woods. Started off slowly as return bus was 15.00 or 17.00, and predicted eta about 15.30! Did speed up after lunch however as the hail and wind started, before turning to rain which really looked like it had set in. We realised we were close to the road and our finish point at about 14.55 so ditching the track we walked along the road flagging down any minibus that came towards us, in case it was ours. 

Our walk through the National Park at Ushuaia
Third time lucky, just leaving the carpark at 15.15! Apparently Argentinian timekeeping is renowned, so they told us in Chile! Took a little walk along the seafront on our return to find the tourist information where we met another lovely lady who knew everything, including that the bus office would be open at 17.30. Another lovely lady (though whether the people queuing behind us thought so) sold us a bus ticket but also tried to plan our whole itinerary, though when the buses stopped going to places she was mentioning it all got a bit vague!

A small pier containing the 'End of the World Post Office'
Decided if Carmen would let us we'd cook up some pasta and managed to find a pasta sauce, and a tin of tuna, which cost the same as a pleasant bottle of merlot about £2.50 and back to the house we went.

SITUATION REPORT: we are moving towards the ferry which is about half way across the strait, BUT we have to be back in Argentina by 17.00 to stand any chance of our connection, it's a half hour crossing, don't know how far to the border, or whether the Chileans are working or not, or whether we'll even get on this one and.... It's 16.22

Walking along the banks of the Beagle Channel
Good breakfast again before trying to decide, taxi to the glacier and walk back in a less than sparkling weather forecast, walk around the harbour, or various museums? I rebelled at the glacier looking at the black clouds in its direction so we headed off towards the harbour. En route passing the only reference we have seen to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) conflict, a permanently burning war memorial and a number of carefully selected photographs blown up and described in three languages, Argentinian, Brazilian and American! It was quite moving and we certainly haven't found it a problem being British here. Sadly B came over all unnecessary (cockroach in the breakfast possibly) so a less than hasty retreat was made back to the house and the comfort of bed, made just before the heavens opened. Glad on two fronts we weren't up the glacier! 

I popped out to get a few snacks for today's journey before persuading B to at least come out with me while I got something to eat, though when the first open place we found (where open means the man got out the chair, turned the lights on and unlocked the door that I was trying) did egg and chips he discovered he was actually quite hungry.

Terrible nights sleep, well it always is when we have to get up early, but what else have I got to do all day but sit on a bus?

SITUATION REPORT: the ferry has been and gone, we are still sitting here and it's 17.10. How long can the bus keep the engine running for, to keep us warm, and not run out of fuel? If the answer is all night at least it would solve one problem!

SITUATION REPORT: it's now Wednesday morning and we have just left Rio Gallegos. We got on the second ferry, along with 5 other buses, so many people crammed into the seating area. Got to the second border crossing, and it was still looking vaguely hopeful, but that one was slow, though at least they were still open. We eventually pulled into Rio Gallegos as the sun was setting about 21.00 so missing our connection by about half an hour! 
Possibly albatross' in the harbour at Ushuaia
I was second in the queue to change our bus tickets for the morning, she vaguely pointed us in the direction of a hostal and we wandered off, shortly to be overtaken by a couple of French Canadian women, teachers in an international school in Geneva. "We found somewhere in the Lonely Planet, do you want to come?" The woman we had stopped to ask directions from wasn't helping much, so we quickly followed them. Arrived at the hostal, she seemed to have a room free for four people, so that was that, phew. Perhaps we should know each other's names? 
This trawler in the harbour at Ushuaia has been there a while!
Slept really well, and the room was fine as long as we took it in turns to move, and didn't actually want to get into our bags, even the two shared bathrooms between at least 11 of us seemed OK! Back to the bus station for 08.30, grab a sandwich and onto the bus, or not, our names weren't on the list, but after a bit of toing and froing we were given two seats that already had names by them. What precisely did the lady do last night? Oh well, we're on, and away we go. Shortly to be stopped at a police checkpoint where he compared passports with the list from the bus company. Could be interesting, but no, he just crossed the other names out and wrote ours in! At least we didn't get the enthusiastic sniffer chocolate Labrador aboard! Three hours left....

Waiting in the bus on Tierra del Fuego for our ferry back to the mainland. This is a zoomed in view of the ferry at the jetty on the other side and the long line of vehicles waiting to get over to our side
Sunset from the bus on the way to Rio Gallegos
Arrived in good time in El Calafate, and started the search for how to get to the glacier, the main attraction here, bus, taxi, hire car. Between four the latter two make more sense. We walked across town to our hostal, Aves del lago, out on the edge near the lake, good thing these wheeled bags to meet the lovely Lucia. Greeted with a kiss, and a thank you for messaging her last night so she didn't wait up for us, she gave us a lot of helpful information, left us to make our own bed and cancelled our booking for the previous night with What a sweetie, as much as it wasn't our fault, it certainly wasn't hers.
Birds (Ibis?) on the roadside in El Calafate
So we've got a taxi booked for the glacier this morning, our bus tickets to El Chalten and back to Puerto Natales are booked, we had a lovely evening with an Irish couple last night, the only other guests here, and a whole free day tomorrow!

A comfortable Jackie reclining on our bus from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate
Our unscheduled hostel for the night in Rio Gallegos


  1. Both, just caught up last couple of blogs after a busy couple of weeks. Seems you are doing a lot of travelling and hanging around! Hope you are still enjoying too! Sounds like you are both feeling better health wise? So all good there I hope. You ate gerbils...... maybe fry up the cockroaches?? Hee, hee! Xx