Argentina: Ushuaia

Setting off from Buenos Aires a week later than we had originally planned, we knew we were heading into Patagonia for the very end of the season…meaning it was getting COLD.  Ushuaia, the southern tip of the world (they like to say), was our first experience in this new land.  We contacted a family before arriving to see if we could stay with them through Airbnb.com, but they weren’t taking anymore guests.  Instead, they offered to pick us up from the airport and make us a dinner during our stay.  Their instant generosity towards strangers surprised us.

Carlos was waiting with a “Josh & Laura” sign when we landed and dropped us off at the most comfortable hostel in town called La Posta.  Other than the location which was about a 20 minute walk from the center of town, it was just perfect.  We made ourselves at home and set out to explore.  We scheduled one day for hiking in the national park, Tierra del Fuego and another on a boat in the Beagle Channel.  As expected, several tours had closed up shop.  The penguins had left their nesting ground which was a major bummer for me.  No more boats were going to Antarctica.  Things were winding down at the end of the world.

Our day in Tierra del Fuego was picturesque.  Sunny and cold, but not freezing.

Our hike started at the post office “at the end of the world.”

We met four other travelers along the way and spent the day hiking with them through the park.  We traded travel tips and suggestions and learned about each other’s countries (Netherlands and Israel).

We walked through the woods, past lakes, around mountains, to the very end of the road in Argentina all in our tennis shoes.  There we found out that things are always more expensive once you get to the end of the road.  Hence, the $7 a piece celebratory beers.

More than once a fellow hiker asked why we didn’t have proper hiking boots.  We decided it might be a decent investment if we were going to do anymore hiking in the area.  We tried to go the cheap route and get boots on sale and instead ended up with top of the line Salomon boots.  We are trekkers with these boots.  It’s true!  We officially have the worst wardrobes in the southern hemisphere.

The Beagle Channel boat tour was better than expected.  It was hard to be optimistic after hearing the last of the penguins left the week before; but the prospect of exploring the channel that separated Argentina and Chile’s southernmost tip as well as the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean was promising.  We set out in the Channel with 6 others in the warm cabin of a boat.

Our guide took us to the most photographed point of Ushuaia, the lighthouse.

We traveled past a sea lion colony that hangs out all year.  At the same time, we were chased by another type of sea lion that loved to play in the wake of the boat, jumping and flipping in the waves.

The tour provided local Beagle beer on board the ship AND let me drive!  We ended the tour with a short hike on one of the islands that had previously housed nomads called the Yamana that lived in the area 6,000 years prior wearing nothing but a suit of sea lion fat.  Supposedly, the people had a higher body temperature than we have today.  Still, hardly believable.  There is also one remaining disciple that still speaks the native tongue of the tribe, and she lives in Puerto Williams, which is actually a bit further south than Ushuaia.  We say chamullo to the end of the world stuff!

After the tour, we jumped in a taxi to hike up to a mirador that gave views of Glacier Martial and the whole city of Ushuaia all the way to Chile on the other side of the Channel.  We raced home to prepare for our blind dinner date with Carlos and family.

Carlos picked us up from the hostel with his daughter, Jasmine.  He then took us on a short tour of everything that we were unable to squeeze in during the last two days.  Ushuaia started as a penitentiary colony, which shortly after, grew into a town due to the need for services to entertain the guards and feed the inmates.  When we arrived at Carlos’s house, we were greeted with our first Argentinean cup of mate tea.  Mate is a tradition here and is picking up steam with the youngsters.  It’s a social drink with its own set of rules and equipment.  There is a bowl-like cup and straw set.  The mate leaves are put into the cup and then hot water is poured on top.  Each person drinks the cup entirely and then passes it to the next person for their turn.  To me, it tastes a little like dirt and bitter green tea.

We spent time chatting with Carlos, Vilma, and their son Facundo.  Our caveman Spanish combined with their English proved to be a ball.  While Vilma took us on our night tour of the city where we saw the skyline, the old barracks and airport, and many of the other famous spots; Carlos slaved away on the nicest picada plate we would ever see.

Even the wooden dish that Carlos served the various meats, cheeses, olives, and other snacks was handcrafted!

The fernet and Argentinean wines were flowing as our conversation ranged from cultural comparisons and the difficulties of getting an American Visa, to Elvis Presley and famous American movies that they cannot believe we haven’t seen, all intermixed with many, many jokes.  They took us home when they could see our eyelids growing heavy from lack of sleep and plenty of wine, but before we even made it to the door they asked us to come again soon.  These are the type of people that inspire us to travel.

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