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Published: March 5th 2015
And We're Off.
With Federico, Marla and Niki.
Federico Gargiulo wrote a book, ‘Walking on Fire’… It was a book of adventure and courage, as he, and two others walked for more than a month around the remote and fairly unknown Peninsula Mitre on the far south-eastern tip of Tierra del Fuego. Their adventure had them wading across rivers in storms, scrambling up unnamed peaks, getting trapped by the tides and running out of food. A harrowing tale of how three young men, just out of college, had a desire to head into the wilderness to explore the magnificence at the edge of the world…
Federico (Fede) is originally from Rosario, Argentina, but has lived in Ushuaia for about twelve years or so. I work with Fede - he is the historian on board Sea Spirit.
One sunny afternoon on deck 5 aft, Fede, Marla, Niki and I were having lunch and discussing options of what to do on our ten day break in Ushuaia. Fede suggested that we hiked the last section of the journey he’d done more than a decade ago. A 110km hike along unspoiled and rugged coast starting at the end of the San Pablo gravel road (Ruta Nacional A).
We were all thrilled with the chance to explore one of the least visited parts of the continent, so we started planning meals and logistics. By the time we got to Port Ushuaia the hike was planned – we had a ride for the four hours to the road end, we had a shopping list, equipment and a ride back at the end – let’s go!
An hour from Ushuaia is the town of Tolhuin and it would be a crime not to have stopped in to visit Panaderia La Union, a bakery with incredible goodies! We filled all the gaps in our fully laden backpacks with Argentine pastries and feasted on empanadas and tortas fritas all the way to Estancia Maria Luisa where we started the hike at noon.
The following daily entries are straight from my little note book that I wrote in each evening. I do not usually keep a journal, but I wanted to for this hike. I kept my writing time limited to only five minutes per evening, and I have not edited the entries. Day 1 – Maria Luisa to La Chaira (22km)
We left the estancia after chatting with
the owners and letting them know of our intentions and when we’d return. The scenery was stunning! Empty beaches, rugged hills, sea cliffs and forest all lay ahead of us as we charged forward enjoying the freshness of the sea air and the company of guanaco, foxes and a beaver, as well as many shore birds.
The weather changed late afternoon and the rain started coming, so we quickly hiked the last hour or so to get to La Chaira just before sundown at about eight-thirty. Hector was at the outpost and the fire was roaring! We offered to cook dinner, but Hector refused and he got us fresh meat from his stash and we cooked it up with some pasta and sauce.
Hector has lived at this remote outpost, accessible only by horseback (or an 8 hr hike) for forty years and he stays there all winter long too. He does not get many visitors and was genuinely happy to see us. Day 2 – La Chaira to Rio Bueno (31km)
The wind was blowing at 50 to 60 knots! It was really tough at times when we were fully exposed to the
Driftwood and Pebbles
A lot of the beaches were like this.
west. On the beaches we got sand blasted and on the ridges we would be blown to the side and almost knocked off our feet. The wind did die down in the afternoon but gusts persisted throughout the day.
There was a harsh smell of carcass as we marched across a pebbly expanse of coast! A rotten sea lion lay half decomposed on the sand and a few cow carcasses fermented in the coastal marsh nearby, then we found a live penguin! Late afternoon we had to cross the Leticia River, the tides were not entirely in our favour but it was doable – it meant getting wet thighs in ice cold water on a cold and windy day, then hiking two more hours to the Rio Bueno outpost. The final stretch of beach before the outpost was littered with marine mammal bones! A sperm whale skull and a rorqual whale skull of some kind, some baleen from a humpback and many, many vertebrae.
After eleven hours of hiking we reached Rio Bueno and Orive welcomed us with open arms as he had not had visitors for a couple of months. We were his guests, and he offered
Our first river crossing of the hike.
us bread, beef and tea. We accepted then feasted…
We warmed up by the fire and chatted until late… Most of the chatter was about food. Day 3 – Rio Bueno (8 km)
The weather in the morning was not visually inspiring! It was rainy, a few degrees above freezing, and high winds. We decided not to continue further along the coast, instead we opted to stay at Rio Bueno for a full day and spend a second night there. By afternoon the rain and wind had stopped and we were able to explore some of the local area. Fede tried his hand at fishing for trout - luckily we had a stash of beef in the cabin as the fishing was not too successful. We agreed that it was because that there no fish, not because of Fede’s technique. We talked about fairies and trolls a lot! This is a fairy tale land of legends and myths.
After our afternoon of strolling in the area, we headed back to the outpost for dinner that Orive had prepared. The food was fresh and tasty. Thanks Orive! Day 4 – Rio Bueno
Vamos a Matear
Drinking mate was a a daily ritual.
to La Chaira (32km)
Back the way we came, although we did take a slightly different route because of the tide times. The beaches that we walked along on our way out were now flooded, and the beautiful inland trails were our only option. We did attempt do bushwhack through a thick tract of forest, but gave up as it was not just too thick, but the terrain was corrugated with very steep, treed ravines. We then had to go to the beach, but the tide was not in our favour – we staggered along boulders and slippery rocks and had to wade through water at the edge of sea cliffs to make it to the ranch by nightfall. We did not get caught by the tide but we were making contingency plans at one point. Condors soared above us and Commerson’s dolphins swam close to shore as we hiked towards the abandoned Leticia Hut. Even though the hut was in rough shape, it was a welcome rest stop. We had some snacks and whilst stretching out some of the kinks in our aches bodies, we happenstance upon a Yamana midden. The Yamana are native Fuegians and had lived
The Calafate Bush
A tasty treat along the way
quite happily on the island until the Europeans arrived. They lived off the land and they were almost always entirely naked. It is really hard to imagine how anyone would survive in these parts without clothes. There were a few artefacts in the midden, mainly shells and bones, but we did find some flint tools and lots of shards of stone. We left everything as we found it then we left the site.
It was an honour to stumble upon such a place. Day 5 – La Chaira to Maria Luisa (22km)
We said goodbye to Hector at La Chaira and set off on our last day of hiking. The sun was shining and a nice breeze blew from the sea as we headed west towards the road. The scene changed from beach to fields and forest as we moved inland towards Maria Luisa. It was a lovely walk and it was great to get to the road and take my boots off… My feet were on fire! They were red hot, and although they were tired feet, I did not get any blisters. Not bad considering I wore heavy Muck Boots for the entire
Horses near La Chaira
At the end of our first day of hiking
We waited on the grass at the road end by the Estancia gates for our ride back to Ushuaia – we laughed and drank mate…
We all managed to stay awake for the four hour car ride back to Ushuaia, which was astonishing, considering we were all exhausted and weather beaten. Most of our conversations were about food, so we decided to swing by the bakery in Tolhuin again to grab supper… Afterthought
We’d stop every day for mate and chocolate, and we’d chat about allsorts!
As colleagues who work in the tight confines of a ship, the 5 day hike was a wonderful bonding experience, we all know each other a little better and it was the first time we’d gotten to do anything together, other than work. The opportunities to get time off mid-contract rarely come up in this industry – most of us meet on the ship and then say farewell when our contacts are up then go home – we all live in different parts of the planet and cannot easily meet up outside of work.
I work with some really great people...
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