19
May
2004
James

Ushuaia, the end of the world

Hey, two days in Ushuaia were just enough for us… We arrived at night and found a hostel where there were actually a couple of people staying despite the frigid cold. We figured this place would be deserted because its really between seasons. (summer travel season and winter ski season) It might have been because the hostel actually had heated floors! WOW that was nice… but you had to walk outside on a boardwalk to get to and from your bungalo dormroom and to the shared bathroom :/

We drank some beers with some porteños (people from Buenos Aires) staying in the hostel and I picked a little bit on the six-string for them and the night was good. The next day we woke early… a-hem, 11:30-ish (but hey dont blame us… the sun doesnt even rise until 9:30 either). We took an afternoon boat tour out into the Beagle Channel which provided excellent views of the port city which is situated below the very end of the Andean-patagonian mountain range. The chofer drove us past a couple islands out in the channel, one of which was inhabited by lobos del mar, literally translated as sea wolves, but we call them sea lions in Enlish, (FFTKATAP). All day long the wolves lie about, “howling” and fighting between themselves in persuit of a superior position on the rocks for soaking up what little bit of the 6 and a half hours of sunlight there is… It seemed to be a pecking order of sorts, with the biggest, meanest, and by far ugliest of them all at the highest point on the small outcropping. The brownish muddy color of the wolves’ fur coat appeared to be a perfect camoflauge against the island’s weathered surface which appeared quite rounded and smooth but also strained and cracked, a result of being at the bottom of an ancient, 1000-meter glacier that filled the channel eight thousand years ago. (I’ve been reading too much Hemmingway) So all the mountains and ridges are quite rounded and smooth, up to about 1000 meters, after which they are sharp, scraggly, and foreboding, a very interesting contrast.
After viewing another island filled with comorones (some sort of sea bird) and a very old lighthouse, the boat tour ended up on yet another larger island where we could get out and hike around for some great views of the surrounding area. We took the tour with three Germans, one of whom (a free spirit) brought along a didjeridoo (basically, a long hollowed out pole that he would blow into and make farting noises with) and ran around playing it to the four corners of the earth, and to the sea wolves earlier too. He apparently thougt these farting noises would attract the animals, who would thus come up to our boat and bond with us or something. I’ll let you take a wild stab in the dark as to how succesful he was… The chofer meanwhile back on the shore at a small refugio cooked up some sausages and we had an afternoon snack to finish off the trip. The sun gradually set behing the snowcapped mountains as we rode back into port; the mountains took on a pinkinsh hue, and the water turned lovely shades of purple and azure (more, a la Hemmingway).

Day 2, we climbed up the valley behind the city to the ominous peak that is home to a ski lift and three small glaciers. The glacier wasn’t the stereotypical big wall of ice like you’d imagine sinking the Titanic, it was pretty much just a slate mountain that stays partially covered with snow all year. On the lower slopes of the glacier is “The Southern Most Ski Resort in the World” (pretty much everything in Ushuaia is the southern most something or another) consisting of one chair lift, and one slope, not open yet. We took a wrong turn passed the ski lift (following footsteps in the snowy ice or was it icey snow?) and ended up missing the summit route in turn for a route that leads to a high mountain pass in the ridgeline that connects two opposing valleys. After a failed attemt for the summit we decided to head back down and slipped and slid our way back to the town.

We went back to the hostel, savored some large steaming cups of tea, and relished the divine comfort of the heated floors once again. Our room was warm enough to walk around in shorts and a tee-shirt. Walking around town however, shorts and tee-shirts just weren’t quite enough. We never got snowed on while we were there, though the roads were rather icy, making walking home up the steep hillsides somewhat difficult at times.

(FFTKATAP = Fun Facts To Know And Tell At Parties)

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