Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

Easter Island 2006

Southern Andes, Tierra del Fuego


Due to unforeseen circumstances I didn't manage to get away anywhere in 2005 so decided to go back to South America for four weeks in February/March 2006. Then I decided to keep going a bit further, to Rapa Nui (Easter Island). I also planned to try and make it to Robinson Crusoe Island in the Archipelago Juan Fernandez (the actual island where Alexander Selkirk, a thoroughly unpleasant and cantankerous Scotsman, who after falling out with his captain, contrived to get marooned by himself for four years in the seventeenth century - he later became the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe). However this proved impossible to organise in the UK although I decided to give it a try when I got to Santiago, Chile.

Unlike on most previous trips I actually managed to keep a day-to-day log beyond the first few days: what follows is a slightly tidied up transcript, minus most of the sweary words.

Saturday 11th Feb: Arrived at Edinburgh Airport in plenty of time. Check-in was no problem and the flight to Paris was on time. Transferred and flew out to Santiago.

Sunday 12th : A long, tedious, thirteen hour  flight. However I did manage to get some sleep despite the seat in front being on recline for the full duration.. Arrived in Santiago at 09.15 in the morning. It tSantiagoook ages to get through the immigration queue. Got a door-to-door minibus to the pre-booked "Chilhotel": the reservation was OK - room small but comfortable. I decided, as it was Sunday, to go to the Parque Municipal. All the shops were shut. I walked around for ages to find an ATM machine and get some currency. Took the funicular railway into the park, and a succession of cable car through the hills - great views of the pollution below. Took some photos and video and managed to drop my lens cap into the abyss. Later I had a meal then went back to my hotel and checked my luggage. Found I'd left the adaptor for my mobile phone charger at home. Oh dear!

Monday 13th: Went to the Tourist Office across the road and enquired about a flight to Robinson Crusoe Island but the woman just smiled sadly and shook her head - I decided I'd have to admit defeat onSantiago that one! Took the Metro (v. clean and modern)  in the wrong direction, then back in the correct direction to the "Plaza de Armas" - walked around, looked at historic buildings, the cathedral etc. Also did some shopping - v. clean and modern shopping precinct. By luck I found a phone shop that sold a 3-pin adaptor for my mobile. Had lunch. Got Metro to the main bus station but after a lot of hassle they wouldn't sell me an advanced bus ticket to Mendoza for next week. Got another Metro back to the city centre where I noticed a sort of citadel cum giant rock garden which I later found out was built on the spot of the first dwelling in Santiago. A fun structure, spent ages climbing up and down the winding paths and stairs to the top for a view of the pollution. Decided to walk Chairlift above Santiagoback to the hotel and on the way espied a branch of "Tour-Bus" - in two minutes I had an advanced ticked to Mendoza for the following week - so that was one up on the bus station. AND they sold me the seat with the best view for going through the Andes. Back at the hotel I arranged a taxi to the airport for the morning. Repacked my bags and found the 'lost' mobile phone adapter under the bed!

Tuesday 14th: Up at 06.30 hrs, paid the bill and booked in again for two nights  when I return from Rapa Nui. A beautiful morning, quiet streets and Jimi Hendrix at full volume in the taxi all the way to the airport. Actually I normally hate Jimi Hendrix but somehow it fitted in with the laid back atmosphere of the cab. Checked in on time, then the flight was delayed for three hours due to fog. Eventually it left at 12.45, no window or isle seat but two centre rows all to myself. Programs were handed out for the annual Easter Island "Tapati" festival which I had thought was over. Had a read: Unfortunately I'd missed the sliding-down-a-near-vertical-slope-at-60-miles-an-hour-on-a-banana-leaf-sledge-wearing-only-a-loin-cloth competition, but not it seemed the children's Polynesian language poetry contest. Well at least that was something to look forward to. A spectacular landing, as suddenly we swooped over land at low level, and I got picked up at the airport and taken to my hotel. Friendly, English speaking owners; hotel in a 'jungley' sort of garden. I unpacked and took a walk around Hanga Roa, the island's only town, then along the coast the see the big Moi (stone statues) and Ahu (the platforms the statues are mounted on) at Ahu Tahai. Back in Hanga Roa I found a working ATM machine and then got some dinner. Back at the hotel I  arranged an all day tour for tomorrow. Big problem - no adaptor to charge my camera or video camera. Fortunately one of the hotel staff went outOrongo, Easter Island on his motorbike to see a friend who lent me a very large industrial transformer which I installed in my room. Helpful people! At 22.30 went to an open air concert of traditional music and modern Polynesian rock-music on a huge stage built for the festival, in a field, as did 99% of the rest of the population. It finished at exactly one in the morning which was just as well for at that moment torrential rain started, sending everyone running back to the town.

Wednesday 15th: Up at eight for breakfast. The all-day tour was due to start at nine so in typical Parade in Hanga Roa, Easter IslandEaster Island fashion we set off at ten thirty - myself, a Czech guy, a silent Chilean lady and Carlos our guide. Visited several Moi sites and also the Moi quarry at Rano Raraku on a volcanic slope - lots of semi-completed and abandoned Moi. We climbed up the volcano to its rim to see the lake in the crater. A beautiful deep blue colour and half covered with reeds that I was told only grow here and in Lake Titicaca in Peru (interesting)! After another Moi site we went to the beach at Anakena. Then Carlos realised he had left his irreplaceable personal dossier at the previous site, we drove back at top speed to get it but it had gone. We drove back to the beach, Carlos obviously very worried, and were hailed by the Parque Police who had foundReed Lake, Easter Island it.. Returned to Hanga Roa. Oh dear, despite splashing on gallons of sun blocker I seemed to have got sunburnt! In the evening I got to grips with the Internet cafe across the road and sent emails home. By now my arms were turning an alarming red colour.

Thursday 16th: Out again with Carlos, the silent and nameless Chilean woman and Anne from Australia, for a half day tour of the South of the island. Visited one Ahu site then onto the Rano Kau lake crater, very similar to the one we saw yesterday. After that we went onto the cliffs at Orongo, a Moi and Ahu, Easter Islandceremonial village where the birdman contests were held. Brilliant views; took lots of photos and video from the cliffs. We decided to go back to the hotel for lunch and make it a full day trip. Back out again at three (after worst of sun) and went to the Top-notch Quarry at Puna Pau, then to the caves at Ana Te Pahu. We stumbled for three hundred metres in almost total darkness through the caves where I managed to crack my head spectacularly on the ceiling. So I now had a wound on my head as well as having lost about half my skin through sunburn. We got back at seven for the highlight of the festival - a parade with floats depicting traditional culture and activities etc, the displays were mounted on everything from tractors to JCBs. Many locals, male and female were war paint and little else so I had to divert my gaze. The parade made its way down to the seafront to dancing, spear waving and singing. Then there was presentations and prizes and the serious dancing competitionsEaster Island began. However felt very tired and went back to hotel at about half past eleven which was just as well because as soon as I got back the whole town had a power cut. The sunburn and assorted wounds are getting rather painful. According to my journal "I am writing this by torchlight".

Friday 17th:  A quiet day due to 1) sunburnt arms, and, 2) being very tired after the last two days. I got up late, had a wander round Hanga Roa, checked out the souvenir shops, bought some provisions and sent some emails home. Had a siesta and wrote postcards in the afternoon to avoid the sun which was getting fiercer by the minute. Went out later and had dinner, bought water and razors. Moi Quarry, Easter IslandManaged to have a shower without loosing too much of my remaining skin. In the evening the hotel was screening the laughably bad Kevin Costner film "Rapa Nui" [a romantic, historic (?) "epic" about the Easter Islanders, rightly slated at the box-office, and completely wrong in every historical and scientific detail possible]. Decided to get up early the next day and arrange some sort of activity.

Saturday 18th: Couldn't arrange a tour or horse riding, so headed south on foot to Turtle Bay and the airport, then back north to see more Moi and Ahu sites. I visited the local church; Roman Catholic, Polynesian style, with a Moi on the alter and beaked, bird-man angels. At night  it was the last day of the festival. Everyone assembled in the field beside the stage. It started with the final of the children'sMoi, Easter Island Polynesian poetry readings which was less than riveting, but  then it got lively with bands, singing and dancing. It ended with a grand-finale with at least a hundred dancers and singers on the stage, getting faster and louder before finishing with a firework display. Brilliant! Got back to my hotel at one thirty in the morning, and got to sleep at about six after the disco down the road finally stopped

Sunday 19th: My last full day. Went out and bought my souvenirs in the morning (small, hand-carved, stone Moi and T-shirts). Couldn't sent email due to a telecommunication failure but did manage to get my digital photos burnt onto CD. Had a last walk round Hanga Roa and walked to the museum which was closed. At five in the afternoon I decided against (supposable) better advice to walk back to the cliffs at Orongo. Couldn't find a direct route over the cliff head but luckily I got a lift all the way from a passing jeep. I then had  forty minutes on the cliffs with the whole place to myself - absolute magic. Entrance to subterranian caves, Easter IslandHowever at seven twenty I decided it would be possible to make it back to the Moi on the far side of Hanga Roa to photograph the sunset at nine. An epic route march, a good six or seven miles, but I didn't stop once, just strode on and on and made it to Ahu Tahi only just in time; covered in sweat, but I didn't care, and I got my photographs. Back at the hotel I was too tired to pack or write my log and went to bed very early.

Monday 20th: Up at eight thirty. Had breakfast, packed, paid account and got a lift to the airport. Business class flight back. At Santiago Airport managed to circumvent the immigration queue (why do they have immigration considering that Easter Island is part of Chile?), and got the minibus back to 'Chilhotel' by nine pm.

Tuesday 21st: Didn't' sleep well, got up late. Went to the local internet cafe to check the last few days emails. Got the metro into the city centre, had lunch, then visited the Museum of Colonial History and Culture which was ok-ish but not very inspired. Went to the bus station and sussed out the layout for the Mendoza journey tomorrow; seemed straightforward enough. In the evening I went back to the internet cafe and got the last of my Rapa Nui photos transferred to disc, and did some research on the web re, flights to Ushuaia in Southern Argentina. Got packed for the morning, watched some TV then off to bed.Chilean Andes

Wednesday 22nd: A bad start. Unfortunately still had my alarm/mobile phone set to Rapa Nui time (Chile/Argentina Andean Bordertwo hours behind) and slept in and missed my bus. Damn! Decided to try for a later one; went to the bus station and got booked on the 13.40. Four hours to kill with my ruck-sack, got some lunch and whiled the time away. The bus journey was very good, spectacular scenery although I fell asleep and missed the best bits. Argentinean Customs was in a huge drive-in shed on top of the Andes. Got into Mendoza about nine at night with no accommodation booked but I got a reasonable room in a private B&B from a guy at the bus station for a couple of nights.

Thursday 23rd: Out after breakfast to book a flight to Ushuaia, the start of a mostly frustrating day. Found the 'Southern Wings' airline office OK, but the guy inside refused to unlock the door. Went back several times but the moron was still sitting with his feet up, on the phone, drinking coffee and refused to open up. Went to the Aerolineas Argentine office but no flights to Ushuaia till Monday. Damn! Also 'Southern Wings' no longer fly to Ushuaia. Then everything closed down at one o'clock [I didn't realise that this is standard practice in Argentina - they close for the afternoon and open again in the evening]. Well pissed off! However my luck changed at five when everything opened again but then I couldn't find the airline office again. I amTrees Permanently Twisted by the Wind, Beagle Canal beginning to dislike this city. Went into a travel agents but now no tickets anywhere till March 4th! Fortunately she was able to do a deal for me. 1) Mendoza - Buenos Aires (day after tomorrow), 2) Del Lighthouse del Fin del MundoBuenos Aires to Ushuaia (one day later) and the return to Buenos Aires a week on Sunday). The return is from somewhere called Rio Gallegos which is somewhere on the coast but I'll worry about getting there from Ushuaia later. Really relieved I'm not going to be stuck in this hell-hole for the next week.. Packed that evening so I can check into a more central hotel tomorrow as the flight leaves at six thirty a.m. on Saturday morning.

Friday 24th: Had breakfast and got taxi to Hotel Venus in central Mendoza. Unfortunately it was full up but got a shoe-box like room in the hotel across the room, but only by lying I was staying three nights.. In the afternoon I got a taxi to Mendoza's showpiece 'Museum Fundamental' which was total rubbish. [Its supposed to be a history of Mendoza from the Big-Bang to the present day. Intrigued by the promise of this fifteen billion year extravaganza I was a mite disappointed to find it comprised mainly of glass tanks containing  plasticine dinosaurs and toy conquistadors. Also some not so old glass bottles, one of which had Coca-Cola engraved on it. Actually I just made up the Coca-Cola bit but you get the drift]. Afterwards went across the road to see the Ruins of San Francisco. Rubbish also - looked like a derelict house covered in scaffolding. Perhaps I'm getting a bit jaded with thisImperial Shag Colony, Beagle Canal place? However the park was nice.

This country was a total nightmare for change - even trying to spend a twenty Peso note could be a problem and no-one had change of a fifty. Unfortunately the ATM's only issued fifty and one hundred Peso notes.

Saturday 25th: Got an early taxi to the airport no problem and the flight to Buenos Aires went without Sealion Colony, Beagle Canala hitch. However the tourist info. at the airport didn't book accommodation and advised me to walk with my ruck-sack "10 minutes" to the main hotel area despite it obviously being three miles on the map. Then they tried to get me to go to the Claridge Hotel (5 star, most exclusive hotel in BA)!? Gave up on them, got a taxi to bus station, left my rucksack in left-luggage, got the metro into the city centre, eventually booked into 'Hotel Splendid', had lunch, got another taxi back to the bus station, picked up my luggage and then got a third taxi back to the hotel. Not in very good mood. Time was getting on so I went to an internet cafe to check/send emails and to find out where Rio Gallegos was and how to get there from Ushuaia. It seems that it is a real hell-hole and unless I can get a flight it involves a twelve hour bus journey through featureless tundra and a ferry crossing. Oh well. Back to myCentral Ushuaia hotel for an early night but impossible to sleep due to the mad locals having an all-night rock concert and firework display in the street outside my window.

Sunday 26th: Checked out at half four in the morning after two hours sleep. Made a reservation for when I get back from Ushuaia. At the airport I was accosted by the Tourist Information (?) idiots again. This time were adamant I was at the wrong airport. They were wrong, and had "assumed" that because I had a rucksack with me I was flying home. These people are dangerous! Business class seat to Ushuaia, with the seat next to me free also; I crashed out before we had even taken off and was Imperial Shag, Beagle Canalawoken by a nice hostess as we approached Ushuaia four hours later to a cooked breakfast. A bit "iffy" getting accommodation at Ushuaia airport, but the man at the taxi-desk took pity on me and fixed me up in a guest house not too far from the town centre. A good room with bathroom and TV. In the afternoon I went on a five hour catamaran trip up the Beagle Strait, stopped off at islands with sea lion, imperial shag and penguin colonies. Took a lot of photos with my 400mm lens and also some video. Afterwards I went for dinner with a Puerto Rican guy I met on the trip, then walked back to the guest house..

Monday 27th: Had a lie-in till half nine to catch up on my sleep. Walked into the town centre and enquired at the Aerolineas Argentine office about getting a flight to BA or Rio Gallegos. I was told they were all fully booked  for the next two weeks but I was getting wise to them so  just walked across the road and bought the required Rio Gallegos ticket in a Travel Agents - and only USD $40! In the afternoon I went on a minibus trip to the Tierra del Fuego National Park with a party of Portuguese. It was raining and cold but also very invigorating, that and the scenery reminded me very much of Scotland which meant I could have saved money and just stayed at home, but enjoyable none the less. Afterwards had dinner - the largest steak I've ever had I think. Afterwards I sent some emails and had my photographs burnt onto CD. Very cold in the evening.

Tuesday 28th: Went into town in the morning and booked a full day 4X4 trip to the lakes for Thursday and horse riding for tomorrow morning. Got a taxi to theMallaganic Penguin 'Tren del Fin del Mundo ['Train at the End of the World' - a narrow gauge railway that follows the route of the convict railway: Ushuaia was originally a prison colony for politicals and so called 'incorrigibles' It was Malleganic Penguinreally touristy, but fun and good scenery. Back in Ushuaia visited the museum in the old prison - really interesting, wish I'd had longer. After dinner (another monster steak) did some research on the internet re. going to Uruguay for a few days which seems feasible..

Wednesday, March 1st: Picked up at 10.00 and taken to the riding stables. Some rough terrain; 45 slopes, a lot of sliding about in the mud, riding through the woods and  through rivers. Even went riding in the sea. I must admit considering the fact I've only been taking lessons for three months I was surprised at how good I was! Back on the road it was suggested I go for a "fast trot" - this turned out to be South-American-speak for a gallop but I didn't fall off despite loosing my stirrups. In the afternoon I took another trip on the Beagle Canal. Spent ages trying to find an ATM to get some pesos for the 4X4 trip tomorrow. Had dinner in the best restaurant I could find - another massive steak for about the equivalent of twelve dollars.

Thursday 2nd: Picked up by land rover at 09.00. Set off up route 3 into the Southern Andes, then dropped off to hike down to Lagos [Lake] Escandido. Picked up at the bottom by Bismarck, our driver, then on to Lagos Fagnano, driving throughShags and lighthouse the water when the track petered out. Stopped off at cabin where Bismarck made excellent lunch of (surprise) giant steaks. Had to rescue the driver of smaller vehicle who had got stuck in the mud - towed him out with the winch. Visited other lakes then back onto Route 3 and back to Ushuaia for dinner. Afterwards spent a couple of hours burning photographs to CD and checking/sending emails home. Tomorrow, I decided to see if I can get on sea-kayaking trip and small boat trip to land on the mysteriously named Island "H".

Friday 3rd: Went to "Canoefun" Office in the morning but the kayaking trip was fully booked and Southern Andes from Beagle Canalenquiring at the harbour, the weather was too rough for an "Island "H" landing. Nothing else to do so went riding again - still loosing my bloody stirrups on the canter! Later still too rough for "Island "H" landing, so gave up on that one, and went out on the "Barracuda" to the sea lion colony. Took a lot of photographs and video. Back in Ushuaia tried to find the "Beagle Experience" exhibition - tried everywhere for an hour but couldn't find it. Had a last walk round Ushuaia and a last steak dinner. Got lost in the dark and ended up in a menacing housing estate getting back to hotel and it was late when I finally found it and everything was locked up but I shouted at the window and got let in.

Saturday 4th: The curse of Aerolineas Argentine struck again! Paid the hotel bill and got a taxi to theHorse Riding outside Ushuaia airport. The flight to Rio Gallegos took 45 minutes. A tiny airport and no left luggage, so I  got a taxi to the bus station, but still no left luggage. Got another taxi back to the airport resigned to an eight hour wait for my flight to Buenos Aires. It's true from what I could see this place is a dump - the scenery outside resembling a cross between the Russian steppe crossed with the 1930's Depression American Mid-West. Spent the afternoon doing soduko puzzles and had a horrible meal then was none too pleased to find that my flight to Buenos Aires went...  via bloody Lagos EscandidoUshuaia! And it was half empty! Didn't Aerolineas know where their own bloody planes fly to/from? A whole day wasted in this hell-hole only to be flown back to where I started from! I was not a happy bunny! The flight eventually got into Buenos Aires at half past midnight, then Aerolineas put the cherry on the cake and lost my baggage. Fortunately for them it had only been put on the wrong belt. Finally made it back to "Hotel Splendid" at 01.30. At least they had remembered my reservation.

Sunday 5th: Got up late. Nice day. In the afternoon went for a walk round the city centre and down to the Parque Ecological on the River Plate which was less than exciting, in fact extremely flat, featureless and dull. Walked back to City Centre; getting to know my way around now. I rather liked Buenos Aires. In the evening I went to the Internet Cafe and did my emails and some research into ferries to Montevideo (Uruguay) - decided to go there on Tuesday.(Nearly) Stuck in the Mud

Monday 6th: After breakfast I walked down to the ferry terminal and bought a ticket to Montevideo for tomorrow. Then I walked down to the bus terminal and got the metro to Centro. Had lunch, then walked to the Rocoleta Cemetery, which was strangely impressive in an exclusively rich sort of way. Had decided to avoid Eva Peron's grave in case someone thought I was an Andrew Lloyd-Weber fan but it was on the route anyway. Afterwards had a hell of a job trying to get an empty taxi to take me back to my hotel, but managed in the end. Went for a steak where a sadistic waiter tricked me into Central Montevideotaking the house-special which seemed to comprise of half a roast cow, but forced myself to eat it all just to spite him. Went to bed early suffering from chronic cholesterol overdose.

Tuesday 7th: Up at six. Reserved a room for two days time and deposited most of my luggage with reception. Then I got a taxi to the ferry terminal. Embarking the space-age looking ferry was more like going through airport security, but I suppose it is an international crossing, although the trip across the River Plate was frankly disappointing - everyone was allocate an aeroplane-type seat and there was no decks outside to go on. Come to think of it I never even caught so much as a glimpse of the river. Slept the whole way. Uruguay Customs was a formality. I took the courtesy bus into the centre of Montevideo. It took ages to find an ATM (no bureau de changes open?!), and also a pain finding a hotel; eventually got a room in an exceptionally dingy establishment but it was only for a couple of nights. Had a walk round Montevideo but compared to BA this place seems a bit dilapidated and even slightly threatening at times. Also, IBuenos Aires discovered I was in a different time-zone and had lost an hour. Decided to get out of Montevideo tomorrow so eventually found my way to the bus station and booked a ticket to Punta Del Este  - a rich persons' resort or something, for the morning. Sent some emails, lost my hat and went to a supermarket but was told to leave for taking in my day-pack. Still didn't have a clue what the Uruguayan exchange rate was.

Wednesday 8th: Got up at six thirty,  got a taxi to the bus station and caught the bus to Puerto del Este. Had problems at first getting by co-ordinates, but worked it out eventually and had a walk round the marina, this was the rich-set's playground round here, but quite pleasant for a relaxing day in the sunshine. After lunch (eventually) manage to get a local bus (only ten minutes) to Maldonado, a sleepy but attractive old colonial town. Spent a couple of hours looking around and taking photos then I got the bus back to Puerto Del Este in the afternoon. Had dinner, then killed time sending emails till my bus was Maldonado Cathedraldue back to Montevideo. Rashly decided to walk back to my hotel, took a wrong turning and spent an hour hopelessly lost in a very poor part of the city - was relieved when I finally emerged near my hotel. Kept awake by morons on motorcycles revving and roaring round and round the city centre until two a.m. when there was an almighty screech and a smashing, crashing noise ... ...then silence.

Thursday 9th: Got up latish, checked out of the hotel and got a taxi to the ferry terminal. Either the ferry was late or the ticket was in Argentinean time but was it delayed for some time and the crossingPuerto del Este was extremely rough thwarting my plans to have a meal on board the most boring ferry I have ever been on. Back in BA took the Metro back to my hotel and checked in again. By now it was getting late so I had yet another half-cow for my dinner then went back to hotel and read.

Friday 10th: Slept in - laziness/time adjustment/four weeks of constant activity? My last day and had a few things to do. Got lunch. Went for a walk and took photographs (Obelisk, Avenue de Mayo, Avenue 25th Julio etc. Then I changed my Uruguayan currency into dollars. I happened to be passing the Palace Paz on Plaza San Martin as an English language tour was starting so did that but not particularly interesting. Then I bought some souvenirs, had a last steak dinner then went back to my hotel and packed for my return home tomorrow.

Saturday 11th: Did a "dry run" to the airport bus station in the morning to make sure I knew where I was going. The I went back to my hotel, had some lunch, checked out and got a taxi to the bus station and the bus to the airport. The flight back to Paris was long, boring and uneventful. The news from Charles de Gaulle airport wasn't good, due to freak snowstorms all Scottish airports were supposedly closed. Fortunately Edinburgh Airport was clear and I arrived back in the UK at around five p.m. on the Sunday evening - fifteen hours later I was back at work.

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