We´ve been in Argentina for 1 week so far but it feels much longer with all that we´ve done. First, 3 days ambling through the hot and crowded streets of Buenos Aires in a subtropical urban environment that felt very foreign and new. Then, to Tierra del Fuego and a landscape of mountains and a sub-Antarctic climate that feels much more familiar. Flying into Ushuaia, Markus and I were already giddy before we´d even set foot on the ground. Outside the airplane window we saw snowcapped peaks descending straight into the ocean: hanging glaciers, rocky towers, the yellow-green of alpine vegetation above the dark green of forest, and valley bottoms dotted with blue lakes and the red-orange of peat bogs. I have always loved flying into Alaska and this felt pretty similar. We had read up on all the established multi-day alpine hikes that could be done in the area and were ready to hit the trail that day.
In Ushuaia by 1pm, we headed straight to the tourist info office to find trail info and maps, with plans to hit the grocery store and then get on the trail by late afternoon. Once there, however, we were told that the Paso de la Oveja hike was closed by the national park due to an unusually heavy snowpack for early summer. Furthermore, the other hike we planned was also likely to have heavy snow and had experienced a major fire last summer that likely made much of the route difficult or impassable. Just as quickly as our expectations had soared looking out the plane window, they plummeted. Markus and I were both disappointed. But it was funny then and is even funnier now, because how often do expectations and plans actually come to fruition when you´re planning wilderness travel? It was a great reminder that ultimately the landscape and the weather are in charge. When expectations aren´t met, it opens you up to something different, and that´s what adventure is all about, right?
Going with the flow
We quickly deduced that Ushuaia was a tourist town where your money just seems to evaporate the longer you spend there so, being ultra thrifty and eager to get out camping, we decided to buy some food and gas and head out of town anyway that evening to someplace where we could camp for free. At 6pm, we took a bus to the edge of town, then hiked along the coast on a road that became a trail. It was sunny and practically hot with not a hint of wind and the view across the Beagle Channel was stunning. We hiked over green rolling cattle pastures interspersed with southern beech forests, watching seabirds circle over the glistening ocean, and found a place to camp. The next day it poured rain and the wind howled - we left our camp once to walk to the coast, where the wind was so strong we could lean horizontally into it. Needless to say, we headed back to the tent. I tried to read but kept falling asleep and each time I woke up, I´d say ¨we´re so lazy!¨ and then promptly fall back asleep. That evening, we packed up and hiked further until we came to an Estancia and met the caretaker, Ramon. My spanish is pretty rusty but Ramon was incredibly friendly and invited us to spend the night in the unfinished guest house. That evening,we hiked with Ramon onto the ridge so he could point out a historical cattle and wood-cutting trail that would lead us into the mountains the next day. He pointed out guanaco and condor scat, and we watched a fox trot slowly ahead of us. The next day we headed up into the valley, first following an established trail, later a network of muddy cattle trails, and finally bushwhacking slowly through a forest full of downed trees. We camped beside the river that night in utter isolation, except for a lone cow downstream who bellowed throughout the night, probably trying to locate some other cows we thought. Yesterday we hiked back to the coast, identifying birds like the Southern crested caracara, the chimango, and the rayadito along the way. All in all, it´s been a fantastic first few days in Tierra del Fuego and a great warm up for our muscles, our spanish, and our budget-minded brains to prepare for the months to come.
Love to all of you friends and family reading this back home. We´ll try to post another update in a week or so.