|Well, after our long and rather epic drive through Patagonia we finally reached Ushuaia. It is the most Southerly city in the world (although it feels much more like a town in size and population.) and people call it the end of the world, although it reminds me of Cornwall, in that the residents probably consider it the start of the world rather than the bottom. It’s a very scenic setting with snow capped mountains and glaciers behind it and the sea in front. You look out over the Beagle Channel and feel like you are staring into an arctic wilderness. This is the main stepping off point to Antarctica, although it’s still 1000 km away, but with nothing between here and there other than cold ocean, and the sort of icebergs that would sink steel hulled ships, you could believe it would be possible to reach out and stroke it.
The first thing we did was to take a boat trip down the Beagle Channel. It really gives a good perspective on things, with icy mountains on either side. It felt (and in reality probably was) the most isolated and out of the way place I’ve ever been. There are bucket loads of beauty in the sparse emptiness of things. We saw a cool lighthouse, naturally the most southerly lighthouse in the world – it would be easy to start a cheesy t-shirt business down here – which was excellent (Button on Lighthouses; who can explain my frankly inexplicable relationship with them. It is perhaps deeply Freudian, but I find their shapes and bold, powerful lines most uplifting, so to speak. Perhaps the only other worthwhile endeavour I could commit to in the travel arena, apart from getting a photograph of doing a handstand in front of every worthwhile thing on the planet, would be to visit every lighthouse in the world, perhaps even handstand them, or merely stroke them. Operation Stroke Would be an enterprise of the most worthy and upstanding fodder. Oh Lighthouse, brave and rigid, let me touch your power as we shine out over the cloudy world, stroke me back etc...).
After the Lighthouse we went to an island of Cormorants. They look like penguins from a far, but clearly are not. Watching them swooping and diving, cresting above the yawning beagle waves was a treat. Next up was a colony of Sea Lions. Awesome. An orgy of blubber, frolicking on the rocks. Some of them were huge, much bigger than a person. Their faces close up seem to be smiling, and when I saw the King of all the Sea Lions, dwarfing his blubbery brethren, then pushing a couple off his spot, all the time the bold lighthouse visible behind them, a quiet shudder slipped out of my mouth. Magic.
Last we went to a penguin colony. It was again very cool to see them so close up, waddling up and down the beach, diving into the water then waddling out again, presumably confirming just how cold it is to go swimming. All in all the sights and general background scenery of the Beagle Channel is probably the best place I’ve seen on the trip so far. Of course Iguaçu was a fearsome spectacle, but as a landscape with a pulse this was hard to beat (we´ve taken literally hundreds of photos - surprise surprise! - but it takes so long to download in crappy cyber cafe´s you´ll have to wait until the end to see all but a brave few for now).
We also went hiking in Tierra Del Fuego National Park. Interesting terrain, and very barren. We hiked through a forest that was so quiet it was eerie as if it’s too cold or isolated for wildlife or noisy birds (a contrast to the jungle in Brazil!). We then came up to jagged peaks of snow covered mountains and got some great panoramic views over the sea. Descending, we walked along the edge of various lakes with more mountains reflecting in them. It was very picturesque, similar in places to the Lake District but more wild and grand. Also, there weren’t half the crowds, in fact we walked for hours without seeing a single soul. There can’t be many National Parks like this is the world where that is possible, and it is all the better for it.
Overall, it has been everything I was hoping for in this most southerly of places. Of course, we certainly aren’t done in Patagonia yet. We are travelling through the mountains for a couple of days and then heading into Chile, to Torres Del Paine National Park. Apparently it might get colder and it is, at the moment, exceedingly cold. At night I dream of being buffeted in the heart of a sea lion orgy, their warm blubber burning my cheeks, as the illuminating beam of the erect lighthouse watches on in silent judgement...