it's the end of the world
I have made it to the end of the world. I've dropped off the mainland American continent, and am now on the Isla Grande of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), in the Argentinian city of Ushuaia. It's been a lot of fun getting here.
After leaving El Chalten, all grubby and tired from SuperTrekking, we headed to El Calafate, a tourist town that has sprung up due to it's proximity to the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is one of the largest glaciers in the world that lies outside of the poles. It is huge. Unspeakable gigantic. And even more fun than being a giant chunk of ice, it actually calves off hunks of ice into the lake on a regular basis, so there were tons of icebergs (ice cubes for those who had been down to the Antarctic) in the glacial lake, and every so often you would hear a huge crash as another piece came heaving off the glacier. This made for exciting watching, and we spent a pleasantly warm (a surprising state of affairs in Patagonia) lunch watching the iceberg, in the hope that another piece would come of. Of course, I managed to betray my Northern Irish roots by suggesting we chucked on a molotov cocktail to speed up the calving process, but thankfully no one took up my suggestion. We also took a boat ride out to the glacier to get a full view of the front of it, which was beautiful - lots of clear, blue ice in incredible formations, betraying any sense of gravity or other natural powers. What must have been truly amazing would have been to dive under the water and see the glacier from below, but of course, that is manically dangerous, what with the potential of an iceberg landing on your head.
After Calafate we crossed the border and went back into Chile, stopping at Puerto Natales, another little tourist town. The main attraction of Puerto Natales is the fact that the Navimag, a boat which sails the Chilean fjords between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales arrives here, and the proximity of Torres Del Paine National Park. Torres Del Paine is probably the most famous national park in the Patagonia region, and rightly so. It hosts not only fantastic scenery, but some amazing hikes, including El Circuito, and the "W". I did two legs of the "W" whilst I was there, unfortunately leaving out what looked to have been the most spectacular leg (I do have to say that our Tucan guide has not impressed me with her information, and I ought to have relied more upon my old friend Lonely), which was the Frances Valley. Having said that, the first hike we did was the hike to the Torres themselves, which was a lot of fun. It started with a pretty tough hour, then an easy hour, and then a 45min scramble up some boulders to make it to a fabulous viewpoint which is so close to the towers of granite that you can almost touch them. By the time we made it though, the weather had closed in and it was snowing, so we headed down. However, for some reason we decided that it was clearing, so we burned up the scramble again for a second summit, which wasn't really worth it from a photographic point of view, but certainly made me feel that I was at least deserving of large amounts of South American Dairy Milk.
Something in me said that double summits were not enough physical punishment for my body, and I signed up for 8hrs of horse riding through the park the next day. What an amazing experience, alhtough I am still aching from it today! We had an amazingly, authentic gaucho guide, complete with red beret, fabulous leather boots (something that I was deeply envious of, because I have permanent bruises on my calves from my stirrup straps), and a beautiful multi-coloured woven belt. We went trekking through the forests and lakes and rivers of the park, doing a couple of river crossings and several fabulously long canters, on horses that certainly knew their way around the park, although it didn't always make for easy riding. Still, the entire day was absolutely amazing, and at the end of it, we were taken back to the very humble home of the gaucho for coffee and bread with rhubarb jam, which was a sharp reminder of how touch gaucho life seems to be.
Our own campsite was far from tough. Unlike the freezing night I spent SuperTrekking, this time I was using my own sleeping back, the fabulous and faithful Blue Kazoo, so naturally I was toasty warm all night, although the air mattress I had been given had a leak, which did nothing for my already tortured back. I have been plagued by a sore back since I fell off the motorcycle, but I think it is more a case of bad beds and constantly dragging my backpack places. Hopefully it will settle down when I do. The campsite was also complete with the usual tightrope, which I had a go on, and did a little better than last time, managing a whole two steps before having to grab the boys beside me and getting off. We also had generous amounts of wine and food, and were basically well taken care off. Even the weather wasn't horrendous, only raining on the last day. Oh, the final day in the park we did a walk out to the Grey Glacier, which was good, but having seen the opening of the Frances Valley, I know that I would have preferred that leg of the "W". However, transport in the park was problematic, being both expensive and not running the ful timetable, meaning that some hikes were not very accessible whilst we were there. IT was funny though, because Patagonia so far had been pretty empty until we got to Torres, which was positively heaving. I am not sure I would even want to be there in high season.
After Torres, we drove down to Punto Arenas, with the intention of checking out the penguin colony. Penguins proved to be as stupid as I had thought they would be. I wonder if they get frustrated with falling over all the time, and their pathetically short legs. I know, they are extremely graceful when they are in the water, but watching them on land is just too funny for words. I could have done it for hours if it hadn't been so windy that it actually hurt my ears.
And so from Punto Arenas across the Magellen Straits, some more driving, and then Ushuaia, the most southerly city inthe world. The city has a great feel about it - good time tourism is the main order of the day. It is the jumping off point for Antarctica, and right now the boats are empty due to an airline strike, so berths are going very cheaply. Still not cheaply enough for me to jump aboard, but it is extremely tempting. There is also meant to be a deluge of outdoor stores here, but I haven't spotted a bargain, so maybe not. It's a shame, because I was going to get everyone something North Face for Christmas, since I knew that would bring a smile to some faces. Instead, you are all just going to have something strange and colourful from Peru. That is, assuming the airlines stop striking, and I'm not stuck here for ages.