September 3, 2007


Ushuaia, this is what I was waiting for...however, it started out with some uncertainty. I arrived here last night, and it was a perfect night at 9 pm. It was calm and about 35 degrees farenheit. I walked around the city for awhile and eventually, I decided to pick a random hostel. I don't know why I didn't leave it right away, but I was so hungry (only ate once all day at this point), I decided to just stay there and then go find food. The hostel was very smoky and had cats (the two things my body can't stand), plus it wasn't a youth hostel, I was easily the youngest person.

I ate and then walked around the city more. The city has a beautiful setting; it reminds of a larger version of Sitka, AK. There are mountains all around the city and even out in the ocean, the Beagle Channel, there are mountains. What is depressing is that this is the southern most port in the world, so it is the best place to catch a ship to Antarctica. For this reason, there is the typical main street you'd find in any cruise city. This street could be in Park City, Aspen, CancĂșn, Ely... It is also a big ski village so there are a lot of ski shops. The main drag is yuppie USA, not Argentina. Apparently, there are multiple flights from Buenos Aires each day (no one buses here but me and 5 others). Fortunately, a few blocks away from the main drag is a more real Argentina. I like that.

I went to bed a little annoyed with the city and a little apprehensive with my hostel. Fortunately, just like in Buenos Aires, that all changed as a better side of Ushuaia became clear. I woke up after 10 hours to the realization that I was given my own, private room (6 beds but only me). I got dressed to get breakfast when a young worker, Miguel, offered me some mate. It is bad manners to say no, so I joined him and we ended up having mate for well over an hour (may 2 or 3) in Spanish. Awesome. I've had a bunch of good talks here and that is what is great about traveling alone. With someone, you aren't open to taking a good chunk of your day to talk to someone random. We had a good talk about Argentina and tourism. Plus, the mate was the best I'd had yet. The concept of mate is excellent; it is like having a drink with your friends but you share the tea.

Eventually, Miguel had to do some work, allowing me time to purchase some groceries for a day out exploring the mountains. The city is very touristy with buses and even an overpriced train taking people to all the beautiful vistas. However, there are a set of 4 mountain trails that start in the city which are not the top destination spots of tourists, especially during the springtime like now. I decided to make a day trip of one of these, a route to a glacier.

The route was supposed to take 2-3 hours (one way) in the summer. It is closed in the winter and parts aren't advisable in the spring (this is according to the tourist office). Based on this, I wasn't sure what to expect from any of these trails, so I played it safe and brought my backpack with some survival gear in case I got lost or in case I had to spend the night out in the mountains. The trail more or less followed a glacier fed river up one of the countless mountains which surround town. After about five minutes on the trail, the trail became all ice which made it difficult wearing running shoes (not too ideal for this situation). Fortunately, the ice turned to snow after awhile, and snow is much better to work with because you don't slip around. Despite the snow all around me, I was sweating and just wearing a pair of cargo pants and a long sleeve t-shirt.

The view was excellent throughout the walk, and I'd stop ever once in awhile to admire it. After about 90 minutes of solitude, I ran into a road...of course they needed an easy way up for the lazier visitors. The road had a sign that said the overlook was accessible in 500 meters by road or by about 40 minutes by trail.

I obviously took the trail. Little did I realize that when coming off the road, I strayed off the trail and started following something completely different. Prior to this point, there was yellow paint every so often marking the way. Now, there was no paint, but I just assumed it was all under the snow. By now, the snow was about 4 feet deep, but there was a packed trail (perhaps an animal trail) which I struggled to walked on. This eventually led me to a frozen swamp which was completely surrounded by mountains. I continued through the swamp, but then started breaking through the ice...not a good situation. I reluctantly turned around, with my pants already a frozen chunk of ice.

It was quick backtracking because I could walk in my past foot prints. When I just about got back to the road, I found the real trail I should have taken. I jumped on the real trail and quickly noticed the yellow paint. I also realized it was getting later, and I couldn't afford to get lost. With the trail not obvious at all after awhile, I realized I better play it safe. I have read enough survival books to know how easy it is to get completely screwed in the wilderness (especially when you are somewhere that isn't very well traveled which I could tell by the lack of footprints in the snow that no one had been here in a long time). The trail was slow because with each step I sunk in a few feet. I continued for awhile until I reach a clearing. It was a magnificant vista with mountains on 3 sides and the Beagle Channel (traveled by Darwin) on the other. I admired for awhile and then continued up the mountain. By now the snow was very deep and I sunk up to my chest with each step. This wasn't good with my attire. It just wasn't worth it to continue. To prevent sinking, I'd have to roll up the mountain.

I decided to descend to the road and take the walk via the road. The way down to the road, however, was difficult because it was very easy to get lost..even with my foot prints. I found myself utilizing the sun and different techniques to keep my bearings. I didn't use my compass at all; I was saving that for desperation, but I was orienting myself ever 20 paces or so.

I still hadn't seen a soul and it looked like no one had taken this route in awhile. Eventually I found the road and quickly walked the 500 meters, a distance I had spent hours trying to take snowy trail. As always, a bunch of people in a tour bus were at the vista with me. Fortunately, the vistas I saw from the mountains were better than this one...or at least I wanted to tell myself that. I think I had the satisfaction that I got there on my own power. I was happy to be an endurance runner at that point.

Right now, I am having some wine and dinner. The wine is phenomenal. I had the waiter write down the name for me so I can buy it in Minneapolis. Tomorrow I'd like to walk one of the other trails but am certain I'll want a day of rest. If so, I"ll just see the local museums and wait until Wednesday. Francene emailed and said she may try to meet me here. If so, that would be great. However, I am 100% content right now. I'm going to have some more wine, look out the window, and watch the ocean.

One more thing...I love Charles Darwin. I think he had perhaps the most influential ideas in history. This city--despite being in Catholic Argentina--embraces evolution. I was happy to see a sign in the forest which pointed out natural selection. He traveled here, and I hope to find a statue or something of him. I'll ask around.

After thought: Right now I'm doing something tons of people dream of doing but just don't hae the means or the courage to do so. This is awesome. I'm fortunate.

Photo Info:
1. I had traveled all 3000+ kilometers on this road
2. Me at start of trail
3. Melted snow, exposing a bridge on the "real" trail
4. Picture from swamp
5. Movie from real trail
6. Me in deep snow
7. Sign about the natural selection of the forest

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