Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego


Last Sunday morning, I woke up at 3am to fly to Tierra del Fuego, which is the area at the southern-most tip of South America, and thus containing the southern-most pretty much everything. I happened to be going to Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world (not to be confused with the southern-most town, Puerto Williams, Chile: population 6,000). The brilliant thing about this trip is that no one could go with me, so I decided to go by myself. It was a really good, and really interesting experience. I, of course, had a romanticized image of what it would be like: something along the lines of being destined to go by myself to discover something (or someone?) wonderful. And even though it wasn’t what I expected, it was definitely worth going.

On Sunday I just walked around and figured out the town a bit, it is on the water, a calm bay where you can see tons of islands across the way, surrounded by mountains on ALL sides. It’s the end of the Andes (Andes = amazing) which are across the water too. The islands are a mix of Chilean and Argentine (coincidentally, 2 of my favorite countries). I think the great part about being there was just how beautiful and how obscure of a place it is. It is pretty much isolated, just a few feet away from Antarctica.

Although I was sooooo close to it, (50km closer to the South Pole than to the northern border of Argentina!) I did not go to Antarctica. That will have to wait for another adventure. By the way, this is a good time to mention that it was SO cold there. Pretty close to the coldest I’ve ever been. That might be because I didn’t have gloves though. I left a glove in Chile and refused to buy more, so I just kept my hands in my pockets :) Anway, enough rambling. Someone told me that it never really gets above 15 degrees C there, and it was 7 on Monday. But on Wednesday, it was full-on SNOWING, and I had to email my literature professor and tell her I might not make it for my presentation the next day. No worries though, the plane left relatively on time. I guess that’s the upside of a lack of regard for unsafe weather conditions (totally kidding, mom and dad!).

I have to say that the highlight of the trip was the penguins, of course. They are so amazingly cute, I just wanted to frolic with them all day. Yes, I did frolic with them for about an hour, and it was superb. I had been reading online about possible excursions, etc. to go see them, and I even told my roommate before I left that there seemed to be a disheartening lack of excursions that included frolicking, dancing or snuggling of any kind. Luckily, I happened upon the only tour agency that has permission to be on the penguin island. 15 of us took a boat over there Monday morning, and first sat on the beach with them, and then walked around a bit more inland.

There was one penguin right in the designated human-path, so we all took photos with it. Then, further ahead we went into a grassy area with a lot of low bushes, and it looks really plain at first, until you stand still and you notice little pinguinitos peeking out from behind the bushes at you. I just about died of cuteness.

There was a couple from Philadelphia there on their honeymoon, and I walked around with them for quite awhile when we got back to the mainland and they told me some pretty funny stories of them trying to be outdoorsy and fit in while they’re in Patagonia, and trying to get around using what little Spanish they know, supplemented by a lot of hand gestures. They were my favorite people that I met, along with the guys that helped book my excursion, this SUPER random Argentine guy who was on the penguin trip, and a girl from my hostel who is from Tierra del Fuego.

O, and I briefly considered moving there to become a guide. I think Patagonia just has that affect on me, because I actually almost didn’t leave Bariloche when I was there in August. My penguin guide was this really awesome girl in her 20s, and there were 2 more girls there who are studying to be guides—which is a 5 year process. So that changed my mind a little bit, but I am working on pushing back all previous career goals, life plans, future hopes and dreams, etc. about 10 years so I can guide penguin tours for awhile. Maybe I could combine it with mountain climbing and kayaking….

Overall, it was great. I got to see a place I may never get to see again, and it was my first trip all alone, which was SO good for me. Even though I got lonely sometimes, now I know that I can do it. And I wouldn’t have wanted to sit at home this week, thinking about how I should have gone, you know? I needed to go and see it, as a part of the growing and learning about myself process. AND I found a place that has a really good American-style breakfast, and I just about cried it was so good.

There are just those times when you think life sucks, and then it gets better. Who doesn’t love that feeling? At one point, while I was walking alone through the National Park, and the wind was blowing so hard, and it was freezing, I thought to myself “WHY AM I HERE!?!?” But then, a little while later, the wind stopped, the sun came out, and tucked away behind the trees was a beautiful view of the water, and it was totally worth it.

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