Argentina 10: To the End of the World – Ushuaia

  On the RN3 going South we made good headway , this road being the main connection to Tierra del Fuego and ends in Ushuaia. Turning off at Tolhuin we stopped at the Union Bakery – known for a good coffee and cake. Down the road was Camping Hain owned and run by Andres. First we thought we ended at the wrong place, part being an outdoor playground for kids, the entire camping site being built from recycled material and imaginary theme structures everywhere.   A helicopter, wigwams,  a viewing platform built from driftwood and scrap metal and plastic, a wooden cooking shelter with greetings from all the travelers that have visited. (The word Hain describes the lodge that the Indians used to build for their ceremonies and normally only men were allowed in). However, the showers were hot and ablutions were better than average. Here we met two overlanders with most unusual transport – two 3-wheeler model Apes of the Italian Piaggio manufacturer. They are delivery bikes converted completely with miniature kitchen and sleeping quarter. Ricardo Suter and Richard from Germany were also on their way to Ushuaia and the evening passed quickly with a lot of interesting tales. At 11:00 it was still light when we crept in and at 3am it got light again and it seemed the sun wanted to already rise. We had a good view over Lago Fagnano from our tent, a night without cloud cover, yet not many stars were visible (it never really got pitch dark). The morning was cold and windy and as we continued south the rain set in and we passed the two 3-wheelers that slow down to 20km when it goes steep uphill, their engines being around 200cc. Then RN3 before Ushuaia passes through some of the Andes, a scenic road all the way with a lot of indigenous forests and lakes. As we reached Ushuaia ( Fin del Mundo – End of the World) we looked around and had to negotiate a few roads under construction – the town is growing at a rapid pace. Down in the harbour a number of luxury vessels were moored, leaving from here into Antarctica. In town itself no camping could be found so we decided to drive west into Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. Entry not cheap at P350 pP ( being approx. R320 pP), however it allowed us to camp free for two nights in a beautiful forested area. The park can also be reached via a small train, which many day visitors make use of. The Alakush visitor and Information centre was worth of visit, giving interesting facts and information about fauna, flora and the indigenous Alakush that inhabited this region. We selected the open campsite on the shores of Laguna Verde and camped next to a German motorbiker, Hubertus from Berlin. As the weather remained cold, windy and rainy we set up our awning and tent and Hubertus was very happy to spend some time with us rather than remaining in his one-man tent that many bikers travel with. Over the next day Sven and Iris with their double storey Sprinter joined, as well as Willy Wabnegg with his older red Mercedes truck. We decided to stay and did short day hikes down to the Beagle Channel to observe some birds. During the night it had snowed, all peaks covered – yet it was at 4degrees relatively warm, as Hubertus was here for the third time, previously he always had snow right down to the camping site at this time of year. Despite this weather we got plagued by Mozzies and needed to spray to have a quiet night’s sleep. After two cold nights we could not start our Landcruiser – starter batteries were flat (the vehicle has two in parallel), it was the second time we had a defective battery ( we had bought an expensive set of Panasonic batteries in Arequipa in Peru exactly one year before). In the end the park rangers and the local police assisted to get us going again so that we could move back into town to celebrate New Year’s Eve. En-route out of the park we also visited the other possible camping site Rio Pipo – also a nice spot. Then we made a turn at the southernmost Post Office in the world to send off a postcard to our little granddaughters. In Ushuaia we visited the old prison – one of the old penal colonies that were established to banish murderers as well as political adversaries. Today it is a museum and gave us insight into the very harsh living conditions that prevailed. The Indians used canoes made of bark for fishing, which was exclusively done by the women, while the men did the hunting. Baby girls were taken into the icy cold water from an early age to make them used to the cold conditions. In the evening fires were lit to warm up and dry - the fires seen by the first seafarers who then called this area Tierra del Fuego - the land of fires. Prison conditions were harsh and hardly anybody managed to escape alive. The first prisoners had to build the penal colony as well as ensure a regular supply of wood to the early inhabitants – back breaking work in icy cold conditions – how much can a human body endure? Part of the museum complex is also the maritime as well as an art museum – a worthwhile visit while in Ushuaia. Works of the local artist Alejandro Abt appealed to us shown in the current exhibition. There is open Wifi at the museum complex – useable but not very fast.   Before we proceeded down to the promenade area to find a place to celebrate New Years Eve, we went to the café Tante Sara and spoiled ourselves with a decadent cappuccino and cheesecake -wonderful.   When we finally got down past the promenade, Sven, Iris and Willi already had parked their vehicles, we closed the ring and soon we had built a cosy and wind-sheltered ring of vehicles, tarpaulins draped to close the gaps to stop the wind. Soon the two 3-wheelers Ric and Richi with their Apes-Piaggios joined in the fun as well as Thomas and Karin from  Germany that also had booked a hotel room. Soon the Glühwein started flowing generously, the meat was on the coals and we huddled together celebrating the new year with a few bottles of champagne and a fireworks display across town. Although Sven and Iris as well as Rick and Richi had booked hotel rooms, nobody left and we celebrated until late and after a short night sleep, prepared a scrumptious breakfast. Although we blocked off half of the road with our camp the police came by, ensured all was fine and nobody chased us – it seemed like overlanders were a familiar sight gathering here at year’s end.   Before heading north again, we drove leisurely along the Camino Playa Larga parallel to the Beagle Channel until it ended and enjoyed the sight of Ushuaia from a different angle. Then we drove north via the RN3 until Camping Hain, where we decided to spend the night with a welcome hot shower which we had none to enjoy while in Ushuaia. During the afternoon it got overcast and rain set in – suddenly a knock on our window and Werner and Pia Rechsteiner from Basel invited us for supper in their large overlander vehicle truck. What a pleasure to sit in a vehicle with heating inside – so cosy and it made us wonder what is actually the ideal vehicle to travel in.   Since we disconnected one of the batteries and charged the other overnight, we did not battle to get started again but knew that we will need to drive back to Punta Arenas to find replacements. As we had to cross the border back into Chile, we gave away all the remaining fresh produce and departed. Before Rio Grande we turned off onto the “b” via Cauchicol to the small border post at Bella Vista, a scenic back road. This border post is only open during summer due to the Rio de la Turba. The stretch of road is ripio, a lot of corrugations on the Argentinan side. Snow on the peaks, impressive clouds and open spaces. Exiting Argentina was quick, we were the only vehicle crossing.   Entering Chile was not so smooth……     This post covers 29th December 2017 to 2nd January 2018