Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ushuaia 4X4

Curious as I am, I did want to see what it is like in the surrounding mountains.
Hiking was totally out of the question, the ascents are steep, the distances huge, the ground muddy or even still frozen way up above the tree lines. We looked for a 4X4 tour company and found Canal Tours. Unfortunately we were stood up at pick up time. It was some communication error about the pickup time but Canal Tours did refund our money.

To find a ‘replacement’ tour for the next day was not easy but we found the company “Nunatak Adventures”.
This was our very last day in Ushuaia and the weather was in our favor. This time the pick was flawless.

We took Route 3 North for about a half an hour before we left the main highway to stop at an Inn that specializes in winter activities. This far south winter lasts from May to October. Here you have snow of about two meters each year covering a plateau 26 km long. This plateau is only 700 meters above sea level and almost totally flat. A perfect place for cross country skiing, people come here to train from all around the world.
Besides those skiers, the locals train dogs to pull Antarctic sleds.
We visited a place that trains 60 dogs as sled dogs, but were told that many more such places are spread along this lengthy plateau.
Tourists can take a sleigh ride in the southern winter. Argentineans are very adept at finding ways to make a living.
After a few more miles along Route 3 North we left the paved highway and entered the forest. And what a forest it was. Very few roads were cut into this part of the National Forest and all of the roads are just for true 4x4 vehicles. Our driver drove a Range Rover Discovery vehicle and this truck had to really prove it could handle this terrain.
On some slick hills, with good tires, the truck spun out sideways. We were up to the doors in mud and slime.
We bounced over rocks, logs and through troughs of water. Ruts and fallen trees had to be avoided. Our trip took us to areas we would not have been able to reach on foot in such a short time. The landscape around us was that of a primitive forest. While not a ‘virgin’ forest, it was a forest that had been left alone for years and years. The high winds that sweep through these mountains created disasters for the shallow rooted trees.
Many were toppled over, their flat roots exposed. A helter-skelter of trees, limbs and debris littered the forest floor. I felt like an intruder; intruding into a space reserved for goblins and wicked gnomes. This southern forest, this Patagonian Place is a rough place to visit and no place to live. There are no large animals to hunt. The fox, I believe, is the largest animal to live here. And they are rare.
Canadian Beavers were introduced years ago by misguided well-thinkers. This rat has altered the landscape drastically; it has no natural predators here and is booming across Southern Argentina and Chile. By eating young sprouts of trees, by felling healthy trees that take a long time to grow in this cold climate, it does not help the forest. The beaver destroys more than it helps create.
We stopped for a Parrilla, a gaucho kind of barbeque for lunch. Oh, what a treat.
Big slabs of barbequed meat were served along with sausages, wine, salad, and even cookies for dessert. What a treat.
A fox came to visit, waiting for a handout. The locals shared their Mate if you wanted to drink this herb. The plates we ate from were disks from cut tree trunks.
The wine was served in plastic cups. Yes, life is good.
Our view included a huge sweet water lake, created by run offs from the glaciers higher up the mountains surrounding us. We were at the bottom end of the large Andes Chain, the Mountains that run from here all the way to Colombia, heck even the Rocky Mountains are actually part of this huge Range that runs along the western part of the Americas.
After this great lunch we walked for a bit along the rocky lakeshore before our car picked us up again. We found Calafate Berries while walking and had them for an additional dessert.
These berries look like egg shaped blueberries but grow on a very thorny low bush. Sweet and delicious, crunchy inside, they were a new experience for me. They are just hard to pick without getting pricked by those thorns. Our ride back along the shore of the lake brought us ultimately back to the ‘old’ Route 3.
This section of the old Route gave us an idea what it was like to travel here only about 50 years ago. This old Route 3 was a simple road, cut into the woods, much like the wood cutters road we just came from. Ok, a little better but not much better.

I felt jarred and rattled once we returned to our Apartment. I had an insight into the mountains, and yes, I believe it was almost impossible to cross them on foot. No wonder the Jail in Ushuaia had no perimeter walls. Who would want to end up in those mountains years ago? And I know from visiting the land beyond the mountains, there is just desert-like scrub and not much more. Patagonia they call this area, where even today you will find no living people. Patagonia is a lonely place, beautiful to look at but inhospitable to most animals, including man. Yet I am glad I just visited and saw it myself.

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