As I might have intimated in previous entries, I am visiting Tierra del Fuego as it is slipping into low season for tourism. Being in the southern hemisphere, it has just turned to autumn here; the summer crowds have drifted away and the Antarctica tours are coming to an end (as it is fast approaching winter on that frozen continent). Traveling off season has many, many advantages, especially considering that you don’t have to jostle with hordes of other tourists. The boat that I took for the Beagle Channel tour was less than half full (or half empty, depending on your predilection); the mini-bus to the National Park had to consolidate with three others to get enough passengers together to make the trip. The hiking trail in the park was nearly empty of other human beings. So far, so good.
All that said, traveling this time of year in Tierra del Fuego offers some challenges - especially for the solo traveler (me). For example, I really want to visit Estancia Harberton, historically one of the most important ranches in the whole region. During summer, there is a regular mini-bus that takes passengers the 85km and back. But, at this time
of year, they will only run if there are a minimum of two passengers. Well, there’s just me. When I enquired into how much it would cost if I paid the equivalent of two, it seemed too extravagant. Not one to give up, however, I looked into the cost of renting a car for the day and, voila, it turned out to be a bit cheaper than hiring a mini-bus. So tomorrow I will have my own wheels to tool around Isla Grande, dropping in at Harberton and wherever else strikes my fancy.
Just as I figured out my “program” for Friday, it began raining. Since my plan for the afternoon was to hike up to Glaciar Martial (in the mountains directly behind Ushuaia), I was a tad concerned. It wouldn’t be worth it to make the trek up the mountain if I was going to be engulfed in clouds. Now, I am very likely going to jinx myself by saying this (not that I am superstitious or the like), but the weather gods have been looking upon me rather kindly since I got to Ushuaia. Perhaps they are feeling guilty for the wet welcome I had to Buenos
Aires. Whatever the case, the weather seems to be coordinating nicely with my daily schedule - at the time I had planned on setting out on my upward journey, the sky began to clear. It still looked iffy, but I decided to risk it, keeping my fingers crossed that the weather would get better as I neared the top.
And it did. As if the heavens were parting just for me, the rain clouds vanished and the sky turned bluer and bluer as I huffed the 7km from town to the base of the mountain. Normally, at this point, there is ski-lift to whisk tourists up the slope, but, being off season, it was not operating. If you want to get to the glacier at this time of year, there is only one way to go: hoof it.
The weather got nicer as I began the second, somewhat more arduous leg of my ascent, which first wound through dripping forest and then broke through the tree line. By that point, I was actually drenched in sweat from the climb (“I swear I hiked uphill, both ways!”); it was odd to be surrounded by patches of snow and feeling
overheated. Still, this was not the end. I had further to go, an increasingly steep climb on muddy trails, and then over rock and scree,up to the mini-glacier near the top of the mountain.
At the top, wobbly-legged, I reached out to touch the fragile ice and looked back at distant Ushuaia. I had a hard time believing I had made my way by foot from the shore of the Beagle Channel all the way to the near summit of this mountain. And I had it all to myself. There was not a sound. Just a gentle quiet. I found myself thinking: traveling solo in the off season definitely has its advantages.
Just minutes after I reached my destination and got my eyeful of the gorgeous views of the channel and the Chilean islands, a thick cloud rolled over the summit and began wafting its way towards me. The weather gods were telling me: ok, time to go!
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