Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Quick update

Writting from Puerto Natales a very quick post. Weather is being crazy today with lots of rain and unbelievable wind gusts. Internet is mostly down. Leaving tommorrow at 6am to Puerto Montt, on a gargo boat, getting there on Saturday (sometime during the day)
Lots of nice things during the last few days...will catch up when I get to my destination

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Ushuaia prison

Passage written in 1925 by Martin Chaves, one of the appointed prison guards

"Convicts had to undergo a medical examination. When the departure day came, watchmen were in charge of informing prisoners about this after supper. The whole Penitentiary experimented a silence full of fear, anguish and suspense. Finally, transfers depended on the number of 'chosen convicts' that could be lodge in the Prison of Ushuaia.
The next step was to get them to prepare a 'bundle' with their clothes and utensils to be then led to the grating yard where they were examined in case they carried forbidden articles such as weapons and tools. Once they went through this revision, shackles were put joined between then by an iron chain or bar- round their ankles so that they could not pace farther than 15 to 20 centimeters. Three hammer blows on every iron; nails must have been three heavy blows on the heart of every convict waiting in formation and on those that were waiting in their cells for a change of destination.
It is said that most hard and insensitive convicts looked at the blacksmith with arrogance while he was doing his work, but once they walked a few meters their spirit broke down as they begun to feel how iron hurt their skin, how limited their movements were and realized what their fate was"

Thursday, 24 March 2011

U$huaia National Park

My last day in Ushuaia, and I had to visit the national park. It is so heavily advertised, that is one of the must-visit places. It is 12km outside the town, but there was no public bus to get there. Only way would be either by taxi, or by minibus organized by the hostel. So I arranged for the minibus to pick me up from the hostel at 11am and after 20' we were at the entrance of the park. We had fairly detailed maps with us, so we got started after paying an entrance fee. 65 pesos for tourists, 15 for locals....hmmm. Transportation & Entrance total 140 pesos. A bit of a rip-off but anyways....I am getting used to it :)
Not really much to say about the park. Some spectacular views and the constant feeling that you are somewhere far far away from home.

This is the end of my stay in Ushuaia. A highly touristic, expensive (thus the $ sign in the title) place that sometimes falls short of expectations. Tomorrow morning I am getting on the bus for a 15h drive to Puerto Nateles....my first crossing to Chile....bye bye Argentina, for now !!

La ciudad del fin del mundo

That's what Ushuaia is known as. "The town at the end of the world", a claim that is 100% accurate since there is no other human establishment of any form after this point, just penguins, sea-lions, whales and other wonderful creatures. Just to get an idea, the distance between Ushuaia and Antarctica is just 700 miles.

Tierra del fuego: where Atlantic & Pacific oceans meet

That said, Ushuaia is also the departing port, if you want to get on a cruise boat for a usually 2-week excursion to Antarctica. That is of course if you can spare the 4-5k U$D for the trip, which in my current declining economic condition can only dream of. Donations accepted though :))
I arrived in Ushuaia 4 days ago, in a zombie condition, after a 5am flight from Buenos Aires. Didn't do much during that first day; just walking around in the streets and try to get the feel of the town. It's very touristic down here, something that I wasn't expecting to that degree. Travel agencies and tech-clothing shops all over the place. Hostels, pubs, coffee shops, restaurants, 3 casinos and a handful of strip-clubs complete the picture. All of a sudden I got the feeling that I should have visited this place maybe 15 years ago....at least there are no McDonalds, KFC etc. yet.

No, I am not in Vegas :)

Seemed though as a place offering a lot of things to do. . . . at a price, as discovered shortly after.
The hostel I am staying as of this writing, is probably the best in town and costs only 12 Euros so accommodation is pretty much ok. At the hostel's common area there are a lot of leaflets, advertising all kind of activities you can imagine. From scuba diving, to trekking, horse riding, kayaking, penguin watching at the Beagle channel, and then some. Asking around, revealed that more or less you need about 50-150 euros per day depending on the activity. To cut a long story short, I decided to visit the national park, which takes a whole day, and also go to Glacier Martial which is a glacier (obviously) located at the mountains behind the city, and is actually one of the very few things that you don't need to pay, a strong incentive indeed. So, I started from the glacier. If you are still with me, this is where the actual post starts, so keep reading...
Asked several people about how long it takes to reach the glacier, and everybody was saying about 2-2,5h. So, I left the hotel around 12.30pm full of energy and commitment to reach the glacier. I had a draft map with me which showed me the way up until to a certain point. Walking towards the upper part, revealed a totally different face of this, seemingly very touristic town. Take a look at the pics below. They speak for themselves...

I was really glad I did not take a taxi up to the point where the glacier path begins and had the opportunity to discover this part of Ushuaia. It seems that not everybody enjoys the merits of tourism and wealth in this town, which is largely the case in Buenos Aires as well. No sad faces though, and people always willing to assist you in whatever you ask....starts getting better !!
Reaching the town borders, and only thing could see on the road, was taxis going up and down. I was already walking for almost an hour and the glacier wasn't even getting closer. So, I prepared myself for a looong walk. Didn't want to get a taxi, because usually you lose those little details that actually help you get a better picture of the place and the people.
And indeed, after about 15' of walking along the main road, I discovered there was a little creek coming from the mountain and a detailed map next to it, of several footpaths inside the forest, one of which was terminating at the the same point where a taxi would get me. 2h one way...just what I needed

This is where I started....

.....and that's where I was aiming to get. Yeah, right !

Nature can make the greatest paintings

Red fungus. "Eats" the tree from inside out.....

....turning it into red dust, until it falls to the ground

Just the sound of the creek & the light whistle of the wind. 

Already 1h into the forest and still had not met anyone.

For most part, the footpath was very clearly marked

After a short break and a quick snack, started again to make my way to the end of the path which should  be no more than half an hour away. 

getting closer, but not quite there yet

another 45' ???...

was worth every bit of the effort
What a spectacular view !!!
now, I have to get back down before it gets too dark

I made it back to the hostel at around 10pm....what a day that was....

Buenas noches mi amigos. 
Hasta luego !!!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

El colectivo a La Boca

La Boca is a mythical barrio (suburb) in B. Aires, and of course the home of Boca Juniors football club, which is a legend on its own right. You can hear incredible stories about La Boca from several people. Good and bad ones. I had planned to visit La Boca a couple of times during last week, but for several reasons I didn't make it. Today was perfect. Sunny but not hot. After having a little chat with Adrian, the Hostel manager, I took colectivo No.53 and after 20' I arrived at REPUBLICA de LA BOCA.

lots of tourists in the bus

....but also local people

Republica de la Boca is an unofficial establishment that the locals have created in order to preserve their traditions and cultural legacy, initiated from Italian immigrants from Genoa mainly, sometime towards the end of 19th century. I am not gonna write about the history of the place although is very interesting. There are endless sources on the internet if you feel like reading more, but to be honest I can't be bothered replicating what others have written. Instead, I will try to give you my personal feeling about the place, mainly through some pictures I took, while wandering around.


Rules are different here. Even police presence is very limited. Besides the touristic area, which is just a few blocks around the La Boca stadium, things can get really unforgiving for strangers. The word "stranger" includes everyone outside the barrio, including Argentinians. Adrian, an otherwise very friendly and smiling person, got very serious when I told him that I wanted to walk to La Boca from the hostel. "But it looks really close to San Telmo, maybe 30' walk", I said. "You should better take the bus" he replied, "and stay within the touristic area . Don't go there carrying your backpack and your nice camera. You might be lucky 'cause you look like a local, but maybe not. Even if you go without carrying anything and someone talks to you on the street and they realize you are a stranger, you might get yourself into trouble just a few meters ahead" As insisting as I could be, I said "Could you possibly then, take us there? There are other people from the hostel who want to go to La Boca and would love walking there. You will be our guide"
His response, unexpectedly ended the conversation along with my efforts to change his mind.
"Sorry people, but I can only run for myself"

The touristic area of La Boca is very popular, but also so boring, loud and "touristic". Luxurious buses here and there with groups of tourists from all over the world, guided tours, street musicians, artists and Tango dancers willing to take a picture with you for a few pesos.

The touristic area of La Boca....

truly....unexciting !

Not what I was expecting really.....so I started walking around, looking for some original La Boca spirit.
Writing stops here. Will let you take a look at some pictures of the area and hopefully get an idea of the atmosphere of this magnificent barrio of Buenos Aires. Nothing happened to me, maybe I was lucky, as Adrian said.

very colorful place indeed

a half-open door, a nice dog and an alley....

.....got me into this fantastic back-yard

you guessed right... it's Diego

he is all over the place....a true living legend

nearly empty streets

Tomorrow morning at 5am, I am flying to Ushuaia. Zoom out on the map to see where that place is :)