Ushuaia, Argentina. The southern most city in the world (except if you side with smaller Puerto Williams camp). Home to the southern most National Park...Tierra del Fuego, with it's 160,000 acres of spectacular scenery including snowcapped mountains, glaciers, lakes and rivers, waterfalls and the Patagonia Forest. Before we left the states, I had contacted a company called Canal Fun, whose office is just a few blocks from the port and arranged to have a guide take us into the park and on several hikes. On our way to the office, I had to buy a couple of postcards to send from the little Post Office on the pier where the postmark reads, "Fin del Mundo"... which translates to "the end of the world."
Our trekking guide, Florencia, was a bundle of perkiness. She loaded us into a large van and introduced us to Pepe our driver. On the drive to the park she pointed out various local highlights such as the worlds most southern golf course. She told us that if you lose your ball in that rough, you don't want to go looking for it. Mike has played golf in Alaska and agreed that you don't want to stir up the mosquitos, that hang out in the rough. They are the size of small birds and have a voracious appetite.
We first drove to the southern most (I've used that word combo a lot in this post) place in the park so that we could see and take pictures of the park sign. The vistas were pretty amazing here too. Afterwards we hiked about a mile up to a viewing area that had the snow-capped mountains in the background with their glaciers and the ocean on one side and a lake on the other and the forest in between. Yep...postcard material.
Once back in the van we drove further into the park. By the ranger station we saw a red Andean fox. He was tall with long legs, very skinny.He was hunting for mice around the Gendararie station. Beavers had been imported about 10-20 years ago and had made a mess of the park. Rabbits had also been imported which had caused a lot of problems. They had arranged to serve us lunch before our big hike. AFter being on a cruise for 5 days, none of us were very hungry. We had a nice tent to sit in which was handy since it started to rain. It had hailed on us during the first hike but we all had rain jackets and beanies so we barely even noticed. Our first course was dry sausage and cheese followed by grilled chicken and a potato souffle. Dessert was a dolce le leche and banana cake that I think Pepe's wife made. It was all very delicious. The cara cara's were hopeful that we would eventually share with them if they hung around long enough.
Enough lollygagging...time to get moving. Pepe drove us up to the trailhead and we began our main trek. Within the first 200 yards we spotted two very large Magellanic red-headed woodpeckers. Well, the male was red headed, the female is all black. They were unconcerned with our presence and kept up their steady drumbeat while we delved deeper into the forest. We noticed that there was a fungus that had attacked a large portion of the trees. Florencia pulled a couple of these pods off and presented them to us with instructions to eat them. They are called Indian's bread. The Yaghan tribe, of which there is only 1 documented surviving member, used to eat these pods to ease the empty feeling in their stomach. They are tasteless and have no nutritional value. A little while later, she would pick some berries for us to try. They would be the same berries that the sheep farmer in the Falklands would tell us that he made jam with. At the end of the hike we felt we had used all of our senses to experience Tierra del Fuego.
Our hike would end up being about 5-6 miles of moderate terrain. Every couple of miles we would exit the forest and come out onto the coastline. For the first part of the hike we encountered other hikers every quarter mile or so. For the second part of the hike we didn't see anyone. The scenery was again postcard worthy. We saw lots of waterfowl including black necked swans, upland geese and their little goslings, kelp geese, cara caras and quite a few more that weren't identified. When Florencia mentioned how long it normally takes to hike this route, Mike was determined to beat that time. She offered to stop and make us some Mate, but he kept a steady push to make sure we were the fastest group she had taken through. We did stop once when we came upon a beach filled with perfectly shaped skipping stones. Spencer couldn't resist and Mike and I followed his lead.
We finished our 3 hour hike in 2.5 hours. Even though none us of felt that we had exerted ourselves much we all slept very well that night. On the ride back, Florencia did make some Mate that she shared with us out of a communal mug and straw. I'd have to put sugar in it to make it a palatable drink for me. Too leafy. Ski liked it though. I think he'd acquired a taste for it in Peru and Bolivia though.
We said goodbye to Florencia and Pepe. They dropped us off several blocks from the pier so we could shop. The rain and wind started up again so we all abandoned our desire to shop and headed back to the ship. We did stop at the little giftshop and pick up some Argentinia candy to send to McKean and to try ourselves.