Days: 348-350 (8 June 2015 – 10 June 2015)
Total distance travelled: 73,422.86 kilometres (45,604.26 miles)
It was dark, and after about ten hours on buses weaving our way from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia, we were done.
Only problem was, we had expectations that we’d be dropped in a specific location (we’d checked this information when buying the tickets)… it wasn’t where we now found ourselves.
Normally, as long as we could figure out where we actually were, we could care less.
When however, you arrive in a new town where there’s a very high chance of snow and you’re supposed to be meeting someone at the aforementioned ‘other’ location, then it can be a little annoying.
Thankfully, we quickly got our bearings, shouldered our packs and soon enough got our arses to where we needed to be.
Who you ask?
Why our hostess for the next couple of nights, sister to a wonderful Argentine woman we met way back in Mexico… and had never met (this sister that is)!
She whisked us away over the icy roads to the warmth of her suburban home, where after a quick growl from Laila, her fierce (okay, not really) dog, we settled down for an evening of getting to know one another.
It was a task more difficult than it sounds, as unlike her sister (Carolina), Daniela has no English, but we managed, thanks mainly to the wonderful efforts of Sarah!
Ridiculously, in a real example of Mi casa, su casa (My house is your house), she’d even surrendered her bed to us, and despite our protestations, would not accept otherwise… this from a woman we had just met!
As such, it was having had a beautiful nights sleep that we woke the following morning, to both a fresh covering of snow and a surprising amount of sunshine.
We’d been left a set of keys, but try as we might, for some frustrating reason we couldn’t get the door open from within!
Fortunately, a ridiculously large window sat right beside the door, and practicing skills that hopefully didn’t draw too much attention from any neighbours, Sarah was able to slip out and open the door with the use of the keys.
Finally outdoors and layered up, we then began the walk that would hopefully lead us to town, but the truth is, we didn’t know exactly where we needed to go.
Cue a lot of dumb luck, as we managed to somehow find our way without the need for any backtracking!
The luck however, was fleeting, as not once, but on two occasions did I find myself suddenly on my arse, a victim of the icy conditions and the lack of grip on my footwear.
Still, no serious damaged was done, so with little more than wounded pride, we sauntered on.
It may have been cold and the walk longer than we expected (likely a result of us now walking quite gingerly over the frozen ground), but we certainly weren’t complaining.
The views around were something exciting and new (come on, remember snow is a complete novelty to many Australians), and with the backdrop of snow-capped peaks and the romance of being at the worlds most southern frontier, all this combined to create an amazing experience.
Following a rather busy thoroughfare with views of the nearby sea took us close to the Aeropuerto Internacional Malvinas Argentinas, and it was as we passed one of those large, reflective street signs illustrating the turn-off that I noticed a figure rushing towards us.
It was Daniela, who having realised that she’d accidently locked us in, had been on her way back to serve as our saviour (before thankfully spotting us on the side of the road)!
We all shared a laugh, as she ferried us the rest of the way into town.
The plan was to take the local bus service to the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, however upon seeking further information at the sole tourist information office we could locate, we soon discovered that the buses presently didn’t run every day (being low season, we’d have to wait until the following day).
It was suggested we could hire an overpriced taxi for the day, but that certainly didn’t appeal, so we instead sought other ways to occupy ourselves.
We thought we’d instead use our time wisely arranging ourselves some local cash (we’d brought plenty of US dollars into the country to exchange), as well as tickets for our onwards journey.
Our expectations of money changers on many street corners, eager to accept our dollars and offering the unofficial ‘Blue Rate‘ (you can get roughly 30% more for your exchange rates using these types of people and high denomination bills) were left unfulfilled, as in fact not a single one could be found… nor could an official Casa de Cambio (Money Changer), the only shopfront we could locate closed for renovations!
This left the banks, and as their exchange rates were abysmal, we decided that whatever money we may need whilst here, would best be acquired simply through an ATM withdrawal.
Next was our seemingly ‘brilliant’ plan to organise our bus tickets for the following morning.
Okay, so there was nothing truly exceptional in this plan for me to label it brilliant, but as you will soon read, it was as much a facetious line, as anything else.
You see, there were no buses tomorrow, in fact none until Friday (today was Tuesday)!
We tried another, still no buses tomorrow, although they did have a service on Thursday… we investigated flying, but that was just a bit too expensive for us to consider at such short notice.
This low season Argentina experience had not started well!
Ultimately, with no other reasonable option, we ventured to the ATM to get sufficient cash to feed ourselves for a couple of days, as well as purchase for ourselves a couple of tickets on that Thursday bus.
We just now had to hope Daniela would be kind enough to host us for an additional night (we needn’t have worried, she was too lovely a host to care)!
We figured an additional day would give us the chance to hopefully get out to the national park, or worse case scenario, Daniela worded us up that there was a local pond that at this time of year served as an ice skating rink.
That sounded pretty fun.
Winter had other ideas for us however…
The previous days blue skies, were lost to a day of almost continuous snow.
We abandoned thoughts of venturing to the national park, then any thoughts of ice skating were also shelved, a walk into town looking pretty foolish… finally, when the snows slackened somewhat, we made the much shorter trek to the supermarket, the conditions, well you can see them above.
The highlight (perhaps highlight is a poor choice of wording, maybe most notable event works better) of an otherwise quiet day, watching a local bus slide it’s way back down the road, stopped only when it collided with a telephone pole just outside the house!
Daniela was kind enough (or should that be crazy enough) to wake at the ridiculous hour of 4am the following morning and ferry us into town for our 5am bus departure, an act for which we were ever grateful!
It was brief, it was beautiful… that was our time at Fin del Mundo (the end of the world).
* Forget looking for the ‘Blue Rate’, we couldn’t even find an official Casa de Cambio in Ushuaia (there was one building, however it was undergoing renovations).
* UPDATE: Since our time in Argentina many months ago, the government has lifted el Cepo (the clamp) on the Argentine Peso, by all accounts effectively eliminating the ‘Blue Rate’ and the black market it had created.