Week 31 - Ushuia to Salta

Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
Trip End Dec 19, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  , Northern Argentina,
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Feb 29th - Ushuaia (The end of the world)

I've only got two full days here so chop chop with organising stuff. At the tourist office I checked on some penguin tours (always wanted to see and meet penguins in the wild) and while I was doing that I saw the passport stamps there and I just couldn't resist the temptation to have my passport stamped with 'You have been to the southernmost city of the World' (well...had to be done).

My penguin tour was booked for 3pm today. It was a hefty $70 for the 6 hour tour but in my eyes these kind of things have to be done...what other opportunity will I have to meet penguins up close.

In the meantime I got a bus to the locally famous chair lift that goes up towards the Glacier Grande. It was the slowest lift I've ever been on...ever (I saw worms overtaking me below) but beautiful views all around. Did a bit of hiking when I reached the top but when the skies opened up here in the freezing cold altitude so I headed back to go and see those penguins.

The tour started with a one and a half hour minibus ride. This is where I met Beate, a really cool German girl with the weirdest accent I've ever heard in my life. A strange mix of German, Australian and South African (quite shocking but funny to be fair). The it was onto a small boat to get to the penguin island.

Approaching the island was well exciting with a sea of penguins flopping and waddling about on the beach (it took all sorts of discipline from everyone not to jump out of the boat straight away). There was sadly a huge catamaran parked up next to us and with much envy its passengers had to watch us get off the boat and mingle with the Magallenic penguins (and another species I can't remember the name of which are slightly bigger with orange trim). The other passengers weren't allowed to disembark.

Got to say it was an amazing experience to walk among them and watch them up close. There were rules of course; no touching, keep as low as possible and a distance of 2 metres. We were of course allowed to sit down with them and the cheeky little blighters would sometimes waddle up to you and start flapping their little wings and peck at you (not too hard...but apparently it can be pretty dangerous).

This was their malting time so a lot of them looked like scruffy little street urchins with rough jackets of feathers on. An attempt was made by me to integrate myself into one of the penguin groups. I walked the walk...but just couldn't talk the talk so resigned myself to just sitting there and watching the action. I could have stayed there for days but sadly after an hour it was time to head back. During the trip back we stopped off at a famous windblown tree that looked very odd.

Later on met a friendly Scouse fella called Paul at the hostel. Boy, did this 54 year Scouse traveller have stories to tell (he is also obsessed with finding a cheap way to Antarctica..I don't blame him...but he may be here for a while). Me, Paul a Polish girl and Beate had a slap up dinner and way too many beers at the local 'Irish Pub' (Guinness in cans and German tourist posters on the walls...so Irish). A very good day and night was had all round.

March 1st - Ushuaia

Rotten hangover this morning and a group of Swiss backpackers in the dorm decided to wake up early and shout, holler, open the windows and generally making a nuisance of themselves (hostels have no mercy on the hangover victims of beer).

Went back to the chairlift this morning with Paul, my new Scouse pal. While I was waiting for the bus there I on a whim checked the date on my watch and nearly had a heart attack. It said 2nd March and my bus to Buenos Aires was due to leave at 7am on 2nd. Thankfully it was just my watch at fault so I didn't lose my $110 ticket (phew..nothing better to cure a rotten hangover than a shock and a half day of hiking in the crisp cold air).

Paul was great company for hiking telling me some good yarns and providing a few good laughs when slipping in the mud (unhurt of course). The views from the Glacier Martial were really good today and especially of the last bit of land mass before the end of the world.

Very early 5am rise tomorrow so took it nice and easy and had an early night.

March 2nd - Ushuaia
As of 5am I am aiming to break my personal best bus journey time. The treat in store for me over the next few days is 50 hours (3,500 km) on a bus (with one change after 14 hours). Not a record breaking I'm looking forward to but I have to get to Buenos Aires to then start heading north and, well, I just love BA to bits (sadly a meeting with my old Amazon buddies Meera and Dijle in BA won't happen just yet as they are now heading south). Then after a few days more of BA life I head to Salta to see if I can catch up with Surekha Krina.

The bus journey started well enough and armed with a fully charged laptop and MP3 player I was up for it. At the bus terminal during the change of bus I met and chatted to an Orthodox Jewish fella (poor bloke's having a tough time backpacking because he can't travel on his holy day...every Saturday).

Also sat and chatted with Meika (the wild eyed crazy but nice German girl from the El Calefate hostel). Is it just me or are all Psychology students a few beers short of a crate?

The journey so far has been pretty good. I've got a whole two seats to myself so a good kip tonight I think and hope. Any newbie's getting on the bus get a good stare from me (just to put them off...I even thought of taking my socks off and laying them on the seat next to me as a deterrent...a step too far I think).

The meals provided on the bus were the usual mixed bag of unhealthy stuff; breakfast was a soft biscuit and coffee, lunch a steak with mash (quite good but most of it fell on the floor as I was trying to cut the steak with a plastic knife in a foil box) and dinner was a Wiener Schnitzel with mash. In between you get water and soft drinks too.

My current listening favourites on this trip are Lou Reed's Satellite of Love (off one of my all time favourite albums..Transformer), Oasis's Married with Children (love it) and the Bravery's Time Won't Let me Go (currently my favourite tune...got to thank Krina for letting me nick it off her iPod of goodness).

March 3rd - Bus, Ushuaia to BA

Slept pretty well considering I've lost all feeling (nowhere in particular...just lost all feeling). Safe in the knowledge that I have another full day and night ahead of me I settled myself and put my brain into neutral. The usual meals and drinks were served and then horror of horrors at 3pm during one of my many sleep attempts an old lady sat down next to me (I was obviously off guard so couldn't try the sock trick). She was no ordinary old lady..she was a chatterbox. She seemed very nice but after an hour of trying to work out what she was talking about in her rapido Spanish I made my excuses and slept.

In the evening after dinner I thought Christmas had come early when the bus fella pulled out a bingo set and announced a round to be played (real proof of how dull the journey was for me). Of course chatterbox next to me won in the end (I only had one number to get ) and she won the generous prize of a cheap bottle of plonk and a car windscreen sun shield.

The films shown on board were actually bloody good; Blood Diamond, Oceans 13, Harry Potty 1,2 and 3 and Little Man (all in English...woohoo). Ok, so the bus trip sounds kind of luxurious; food, drink, bingo and films...but shit...it really is dull.

March 4th - Buenos Aires

So, 7am and I'm back in Buenos Aires again and strangely it feels like I'm coming home. Yep, I really like Buenos Aires...allot. Knowing the metro system inside out by now I headed back to good old Hostal Tita. As is usual after long bus trips I crashed out in a normal bed to get a sense of normality.

Refreshed and raring to go I headed out for a walk in my favourite city (well..it's a close one with Rio). In hindsight I wish I'd taken more pics of the city but in general I don't like carrying the camera around unless I'm aiming for somewhere (I'll have to change this for the future I think).

Tried to hunt down Will (another El Misti mate) but he was nowhere to be found. Back at the hostel it was pretty quiet but chatted to a group of Spanish girls (also back in BA for a second time..saw them first time too). Also had a drink with the oddest mix of couple I've met; he was a white Bermudan and she was a white Malawian...never did ask how they met. Apart from supping on a few beers the rest of the night I did some boring stuff and backed up all my photos online (ready for my oncoming trip to Bolivia).

March 5th
Good and proper kip last night apart from an incident of hostel horror at 4am. Our dorm room of 3 bunk beds and six people was awoken by a loud 'Oh...fuck' and then a manly scream. Looking across to the beds opposite mine I saw carnage. The top bunk had dropped and collapsed onto the poor sleeping fella on the bottom bunk. Remembering that the base of the beds are wood with sharp corners we all jumped out of bed and pulled him free. Luckily he came out of it unscathed..so we had a good laugh about it all. Everyone went back to sleep (maybe a bit more aware of top bunks this time) and by morning the guy who's bed collapsed had disappeared (he was a tad weird anyway...slept with a teddy bear).

This being my last day in BA I walked around town a bit (with a slight mournful air I might add). I had a bus to catch at 9pm tonight so after packing my bag I chilled out with the Spanish gang (also leaving today).

Adios Buenos Aires (I will most definitely be back again) as I boarded my night bus to Salta. Sitting there pondering my two visits to BA I realised I was sitting next to the biggest chatterbox on the bus (why me!!?) who kept nudging me every 5 minutes. She was nice enough though and kept plying me with biscuits saying I needed fattening. During these first few hours I was reminded of the early scene of Planes, Trains and Automobiles...she was a female John Candy.

March 6th
The rest of the day was simply about watching the view (it's getting steadily more mountainous and drier) and getting nudged by Joanna Candy next to me. One of the benefits of these long rides apart from listening to good music, watching some wonderful scenery and meeting great people is a chance to ponder the next stage of the travels and study it in the book (plus from the many tips and notes from fellow travellers).

Arrived in Salta at 4pm and checked into a hostel with a pool (nice). Going from the bus terminal to the hostel noticed the place is looking more dusty and outbacky and the people are darker in skin tone.

During my chill around the pool I got chatting to a group of German girls and a pair of lads from Yorkshire (Ivan and Chris). Had a few bevies and settled down. Booked myself a tour to a place called Cachi (apparently a very beautiful driver through mountains and ending in a very rural Gaucho village).

Went for a marathon walk with Ivan and Chris climbing the famous 1,200 steps to the top of the cities hill. Pretty amazing views but our hope of catching a good sunset was scuppered when the skies opened up (I'm seeing a kind of pattern with me and the weather emerging here...bloody rains).

After showering at the hostel went back to my room and was accosted by a group of American girls screeching in their loud voices (yep, I was alone in a room of screeching Yanks...God take me now). I was forced to show them the contents of my mystical small pack. One of them even did a mini video diary of me explaining what each thing was for...erm, this is a T-shirt and I have 4 of them...and so on..exhilarating stuff). After the video diary had a few beers and had my first try of the famous Coca leaf with the two northern monkeys (Ivan and Chris). Played loads of pool and won a few games (blimey).

The plan for the next week is spend a day here then head to the Bolivian border. From there head to the famous Salt Lakes and do a long tour exploring the amazing landscapes. Oh...and the penguin photos and videos are accidentally in week 30.
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