Patagonia #2: Ushuaia / Argentina

19 08 2010

Translation from Turkish to English: Engin Özsöz

To see all the photos of Ushuaia:

20 – 21.04.2010 – Tuesday & Wednesday

Our trip for Ushuaia, which we expect to take long, is about to start but in order to catch the front seats of the bus, we have to go to Trelew first and to avoid any delays, we leave early for Trelew. We have got approximately 2 hours of free-time and while leaving Murat by the backpacks in the bus station, I go to a casino on the road, which eventually make me end up losing all the money that I set aside for this gambling – luckily just only 10 pesos 🙂

Our journey to Ushuaia is going to take about 35 hours. We took Andesmar Bus Company for the road to Rio Gallegos. It is just an amazing road that we travel ahead, the steps of Patagonia, guanacos, nandus, the birds of prey, the road trip all in all worth it and there is plenty of time for deep thoughts – I guess, we are experiencing one of the best impressive moments of our lives. In the meantime, our bus company does whatever it takes to keep us entertained; movies one and another, snacks and food and even Bingo!! 🙂

After arriving in Rio Gallegos, we continue with TAQSA-bus company- to the road-trip. Since some of our route goes through Chilean lands, we have to stop by the customs where our backpacks and all belongings are examined carefully before we head into Chile. The point where we pass through the Magellan Strait that connects the Pacific and the Atlantic is the point where we get further close to one of the many places that we would like to visit and see; and this finally seems to turn into an achievement as we arrive Tierra del Fuego aka the “Land of Fire”.  We finally literally made it to the “End of the World” or “Fin del Mundo”.

Crossing Macellan Strait: 

In 1520, the explorer Magellan, when first came this place and sees the natives across the shore that carry torches at their hands named this place as “Tierra Del Fuego” so called “Land of Fire” for Spanish. Once we go through the channel, we again cross into Argentina border and just to visit from one city to another in Argentina, our passports had to be stamped four times in a row. In Rio Grande, we are asked to make a mandatory bus change that we have not been notified previously but this lead us to see the icicles that hang beneath the bus and the workers who try to clean them off. The scene just terrifies us regarding how cold the weather could be in Ushuaia.

Fortunately, what we hesitate of does not happen as we expect and see that there is neither snow nor icy weather just only cold when we arrive Ushuaia.

21.04.2010 – Wednesday

Our first host in Ushuaia is Lucia’s where she lives together with her daughter. This time, our host is from Hospitality Club. Lucia greets us with hot empanadas and we are given the very warm room of the house where we have bunks to sleep in 🙂
We happen to see an interesting exercise here that we would later get used to it since it is a common habit in Ushuaia. The heating systems of the houses are inadequate here that people tend to heat up the oven and open the oven cover in order to heat up the house. All the houses are already made of wood and easily transmit the cold weather from outside. At these circumstances we can’t hold ourselves from wondering how they would survive as the winter really increases its pressure over here.
22.04.2010 – Thursday

The next day, we head for the tourist info booth where we are amazed and shocked to see how well prepared and organized they are. They are so well prepared that if we ask for one thing such as how to get to Punta Arenas, they hand us a list that includes all the bus companies, the routes and the fees that go even up to Bariloche – much further north more than we ask for or if to ask for a price of a city tour, we are provided with all the tours and their listing fees. It is so amazing to be well treated like this 🙂 Worth to mention that one can have their passports stamped with the stamp of “Ushuaia-Fin del Mundo” (end of the world) over at the Tourist Info.
The city center is very pretty and so European. One can see many tourists over here with Gore-Tex clothes that makes it a bit artificial. When you leave the center and head for the back of the center 1-2 streets ahead, you bum into old tin boxes as used as homes. The houses are very interesting. Next to a well-build 2-floor luxury-looking house you can see an adjacent house made of wood and tinplate. And considering the cold weather, one cannot stop himself from wondering how these people survive in these harsh conditions.
One of the best attractions in the town is the tour of the Beagle Channel and the most entertaining part of the tour is the penguins. However, since the penguins have already started their travel and left for North, we change our minds and cancel our plan of taking the tour.
One another amazing thing to do in Ushuaia is to go to the Antarctica; which is however, only possible between November and March and kind of costly as it takes minimum 3,000 – 4,000 USD to pay for. We have also learnt that another way of visiting the Antarctica is to work in ships that set sail there. Hence, we end up cancelling this idea of ours but definitely make up our minds to visit that part of the Earth when we have enough money some day.
23.04.2010 – Friday

In the morning, we prepare our hot dogs and alfajores for the road ahead of us, and Lucia takes us to Glacier Martial where we would climb. The ice over here is not in the form of glacier. There is only a mass of ice at top of the mountain and that’s the Glacier Martial.
The beginning is an easy one, and there is already a trail to follow. One can use the chairlift but we climb to the chairlift station at the top. The view as we go further up gets much prettier. There are different trails over here and we took the one that goes to the glacier. Sometimes easy but other times in a bumpy style we follow the trail but as we further go, the road becomes more difficult to follow. Through the end of trail, we are mostly in snow up to our knees and more. As the conditions get worse and we start to crawl within the snow, we come to a point where further climbing would not be possible without the proper equipment. But still, where we have managed to come and thinking the fact that just a month ago we were on the shore swimming, this icy mountain and experiencing the beauty of it; is just so exciting and the further up, the view is amazing, the Beagle Channel and Chilean lands.
When we approach to the end of the climbing, we notice how enjoyable this was despite the stress which was due to the fact that walking in and out of the snow all the time, which was up to our knees, our feet and shoes all got wet and cold. At home, we manage to dry our shoes up on the heater but even though Murat’s shoes were easy to dry, we interestingly happen to smell rubber when my shoes are drying, which eventually turn into a small fire. That small of rubber was the sign of the fact that my shoes were burnt. The next day, I notice that the pair of my shoes that got burned, got tighten by almost 2 sizes 🙂 which unfortunately force us to cancel our Tierra del Fuego plan and go for shopping. Actually, this does not come up as a bad idea because after all that climbing and cold, the ache that our body and muscles experience is unbearable.

24.04.2010 – Saturday

We literally spent the whole day looking for shoes for myself. The city is full of outdoor gear and sports utility stores. Finally, we are able to find suitable shoes for myself, which leads my old worn, burned orange shoes to pay a visit to the dumpster.

In the meantime, since almost everything is highly costly, the convenience and supermarket snacks and sandwiches became our sole food source.

We stroll through the ports during the afternoon in order to find a ship or ferry that may take us to Puerto Williams which actually is costly if to take a ferry. Actually, even though Ushuaia is identified by the “End of the World” saying, technically Puerto Williams is the tip of the continent-South America, but since Chile does not advertise the place highly and there is nothing much to do over there with almost a deserted place with few residential population, the majority come to Ushuaia to visit. One can even sent postcards from Ushuaia with the phrase of “Fin del Munto” on it. By looking at the souvenirs and stores, it is just unbelievable over here to see how this place turns into as an attraction place.

While we stroll through the port, we notice that the port is almost empty since the season is out and we are able to find only one boat, which unfortunately goes to Florianopolis leaving our hopes deserted!

25 – 27.04.2010 – Sunday – Tuesday

Tierra del Fuego National Park, which is located 12 km outside of the city, is the most important attraction part of Ushuaia.  Every year, thousands of tourists visit this place for trekking and camping. You can reach the park via shuttle buses from the city while Lucia takes us to go there. Inside the park, we stop by the ‘train at the end of the world’. This is a touristic train that follows a path inside the park. It costs 90 pesos per person, which is very expensive for us. We do not take it as we already know it is possible to walk along its railways inside the park. It was built by the prisoners at Ushuaia Prison that we are going to mention later on. Due to the steam locomotive, the view of the train within the mystic foggy environment creates like an ancient poetic view for us.

The entrance fee is 50 pesos per person for the park. As a resident, Lucia only pays 5 pesos while Agustina due to her student status enters for free to the park. We do not have to pay attention to the money we spent for the park and do not think it as an unnecessary expense, because fortunately we are going to able to stay as long as we want in the park. Lucia gives us a brief tour of the park while we follow the 3079 km long Ruta-3 that we have been following since Buenos Aires. The legendary road ends at Tierra del Fuego Park.

Since we do not have camping equipment and the weather is cold, we have decided to stay in “refugio” in the park. This complex looks like a combination of a hostel and tent. There is only one room with bunks in it. One needs to also rent a sleeping bag for the night in order to stay. Fortunately, there is a stove inside. After Lucia drops us at the refugio, we head for our first trekking. There are many trekking routes to take and all of them are marked at the map according to their difficulty level – given by the officials at the gates.

In just 3 days, we manage to complete all the trekking routes except one, which is an uphill icy route and requires pre-notification to the park officials if one wants to go. During our 3 days stay, incredible view and scenes, we have the chance to see. All the beautiful colors of the fall are together over here making us glad that summer has not arrived yet. Within our trip over in the park, we come across with various animals such as rabbits, horses, big birds, foxes and etc. There are many different forests over here and each is different than the other and may be scary sometimes. For the first time in our lives, we have the chance to see a true and natural dam built by beavers. In one of our routes, we come across the Chile-Argentina border sign that gives us the chance of hopping in and out of Chile to Argentine instantaneously. The forest, the lake and the mountain all three as if in one camera shot, not too many opportunities exist to see all these together at one place…  The trip is just too incredible that one cannot put it into words and we happen to experience this environment for 3 long days.

While we mention ‘alone in the nature’-we literally can say alone in the park. There is only one camp official that stays in the park, who is also responsible for the place that we stay in refugio. And even, there is not a single security officer attending at the park during the nights. The whole park belongs to us, literally. In the meantime, I should mention that the area that is accessible by the public within the park is around 30-40 square kms.

We leave the park that we walked like crazy, eat our sandwiches in front of significant views, and could not heat up the stove that we slept in after three days. Actually, Murat wanted to stay one more night in the park, but since I do not want to be freezing one more day, we return for the city.

On the way back, we hitchhike and one family stops to give us a ride to the city. The mother of the family without any hesitation nurses her baby right next to us; something that we are not very used to see.

Since Lucia had informed us earlier that we can only stay 4 nights with her, we leave her house in order to go to Raul’s house, which is only 2 blocks away. This house is one of the very few interesting houses that we see in our lives. Raul lives with his 5 enormous dogs here, but luckily, the dogs are very friendly and calm…

28 – 29.04.2010 – Wednesday – Thursday

Our last two days in Ushuaia and we spent it in Ushuaia prison. The ticket purchased at the gates is valid for two days and actually it is almost impossible to finish seeing all the interior of the prison just in one day. There are various museums and displays inside the prison. At the entrance the sailing museum greets us. There are 1/100 scaled ship models inside the museum that show the chronological advancement steps of the shipbuilding industry during the last 500 years. All the details are well-built in the ship models. Sailing industry is very important for Tierra del Fuego because until 1948, which is the year that commercial flights started here, the only transportation method was through the sea.

The latter part of the prison is turned into a touristic attraction spot. All important prisoners’ casts were put in here with their stories. Even the famous tango person Carlos Gardel is told to be a prisoner here for a while according to the rumors.

At this part of the prison, one can learn everything about the living conditions and the daily lives of the prisoners. Starting from the hospital conditions to toilets, one can learn all the details such as the prisoners were the ones who had to build the hospital, which is kind of sad. We have been told that this is one of the few prisons with the most difficult conditions to live in and actually this can be proved by only seeing one part of the prison, which was left untouched. The halls that the cells face up have only two to three stoves that are put to heat all the building. When the night came and the 9-square-meters cell doors were closed; this, unfortunately, meant to loss of the connection to the heat for the prisoners, unfortunately.

The prisoners were told to be put in various tasks and it has been conveyed that thanks to these prisoners, electricity, telephone, the train and even the first newspaper of Ushuaia were made possible. And that train is the steam locomotive in Tierra del Fuego… The prison is shut down in the year of 1947 and all the prisoners were transferred to different prisons.

At the downstairs, there is an interesting art gallery that the tourists can visit.

At the upstairs, there are galleries and displays for the Antarctica, the world’s worst prisons and Yamanas. When we take a look at the Antarctica part, we feel sorry for ourselves. Every major nation in Europe, USA, Brazil, China, India each has their own research stations in the Antarctica and even made expedition trips to the ice continent in early. We wish there was at least one research station that belongs to Turkey over there.

“The world’s worst prisons” section can’t beat the information that one can find online and the part from Yamanas is very inadequate that one cannot stop himself from thinking that these parts were only built or placed there just to keep these areas filled. But if one has time, it is still knowledge that is contained there and worth looking.

Yamanas are another example that shows the wildness, ambition of the “modern” Europe at that time. There is another museum in the city about Yamanas. It is also possible to get information at the Alakush info center at the national park.

Yamanas are the natives or in other words could be named as the Indians of Tierra del Fuego. These people set sail by canoes in the sea, fishing for various fishes, penguins and sea lions and use sea lions fur to protect them from the cold. However, these natives interestingly walk around naked at most of times. Even though they could be considered naked, somehow they manage to protect themselves from the cold. Once Europeans arrive here and tries to start modernizing these people, they start by introducing the clothes to the natives. However, since these people are not immune to the bacteria that are formed within the clothes, they suffer death one by one and their numbers diminish rapidly. Europeans take four of them to Europe for education. Charles Darwin at this point refers the Yamanas with his comment of “subhuman beings without a spiritual life”. The Yamana population, which was around 3500 in 1886, drops to 300 in just 30 years in 1916. Their existence which lasted almost 60 centuries just comes to an end in 30 to 40 years. These are hard to believe sad life stories of the Yamanas on the display and show the humanity that how “modern” people could be very selfish and wild when it comes to themselves and mess up a continent for their own sake.

Yamanas, wearing clothes

Our Ushuaia trip is almost over. Our next destination is Punta Arenas. We need to speak with our next host for the details and thanks to our handy, light netbook, we manage to find wireless internet in one of the hotels on the main streets and enjoy the chance of talking on Skype with our upcoming host just on the street, outside. Actually, since our two hosts in Ushuaia do not have internet, we have used hotels’ wireless internet for most of the time while we were here… God bless wireless internet… 🙂

writing blog under tough conditions 🙂

Translation from Turkish to English: Engin Özsöz

To see all the photos of Ushuaia:

Gülen & Murat





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