Sunshine at Last!

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Chile  ,
Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Following another unusually calm passage across the Drake Passage from Antarctica, the MV Marco Polo arrived early in the morning at Ushuaia. This Argentinian port nestles in a protected bay on the southern edge of Tierra del Fuego - a large island that is shared between Argentina and Chile. And yes, you've guessed it....brilliant sunshine to end the cruise!! This southernmost city bills itself as "World's End" and is beautifully situated between the Beagle Channel and a panorama of snow-capped peaks. Once a desolate and isolated penal colony, the city has now become a favourite destination for travellers and tourists alike who are seeking adventure in the frozen south, or just want to be able to say that they've travelled to the very end of the road!

A four-hour hike in the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park might have started the process of shedding some of the pounds gained during the cruise. Instead, we couldn't resist the comfortable coach tour as the final luxury service provided as part of the cruise - we'll be back to our usual spartan conditions soon enough! Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) was apparently originally named after the fires of the indigenous Yamaná people that were spotted by the early European explorers, but now might be more appropriate to the natural gas flares of the recently developed oilfields. Those same European explorers brought with them several diseases that were deadly to the Yamaná people, so that by the late 19th century they were almost extinct. Back on the bus, our friendly tour guide pointed out many of the interesting features of Argentina's first coastal national park, including the native southern beech forest, mistletoe and 'Indian Bread' fungus, waterfalls, peat bogs and beaver dams........yes, those pesky beavers really were imported from Canada!!

One more night on board, and then we had to pack up and say goodbye to the staff who had looked after us so well on the Marco Polo. We had hoped to get some good aerial views of the spectacular glaciers and snow peaks on our flight back up through southern Chile, but thick cloud covered everything except for occasional tantalizing glimpses. En route back to Valparaiso to pick up our van, we decided to stop over in Santiago for a couple of days. Unfortunately, the inevitable cruise 'virus' had already made it's appearance, leaving us both with sore throats and runny noses. This definitely clouded our enjoyment of Chile's capital, as we found it little more than 'just another large European city', and not a very interesting one at that. The guide books talk of 'stately boulevards, neoclassical architecture and swanky high-rise suburbs', so maybe we were just staying in the wrong part of town!

We thought that a few days at a quiet beach side campsite in Reñaca, would provide the opportunity to get over our colds and 'recover' from the non-stop pampering during the cruise. However, it seemed that besides being under the weather, we also had a bad case of 'post-cruise blues', so a few days turned into ten rather dismal days. We had no physical or mental energy for travel and exploration, and preferred to seek out comfort foods while hunkered down in our van, reading books. Simultaneously, we were once again plunged into an immense, black cloud of grief. Perhaps it was simply the re-adjustment after a very active two weeks on the Marco Polo, and especially now being without our friends, Adrian and Tanja. The one thing that still brought smiles to our faces were the continuing e-mail messages from them and other friends (ours and Mike's) from all over the world.......and then, our laptop crashed!!

Actually, we only had a very slight computer problem, but thought it best to seek out a technician before it escalated. Two technicians and two days later we were left with a HUGE problem. Rather than having to stay over the weekend before being able to resume our frustrating search for a competent 'techie', we finally decided to break out of our lethargy to resume our southward journey - a great decision. A pleasant day's drive took us through the wonderfully fertile Colchagua Valley - an area rich in all manner of fruit trees, vegetable crops, and some of Chile's finest vineyards. We were able to forget our technical problems and enjoy a tranquil night, camped beside Laguna Esmeralda under a star-studded sky.

Next day, a long and dusty road seemed a small price to pay for the promised luxuriant vegetation and stunning views in the 'Reserva Nacional Radal Siete Tazas'. This area marks the transition from the semi-arid Mediterranean climate of central Chile to the lush forests of the south. A short hike though the beech groves led directly to the siete tazas (seven cups) - an impressive series of cascading waterfalls that have carved their way through black basalt rock, forming several pools in the deep, narrow gorge. The natural beauty of the area was somewhat marred by the throngs of weekend holiday makers - all more interested in their loud cars and ghetto-blasters, and busily preparing for the inevitable all-night party. Not to worry, we managed to find ourselves a very quiet and 'unofficial' campsite way off the beaten track - a perfect spot tucked away under a large shade tree at the far end of a sheep pasture.

Monday morning we pressed on to Talca - now a bustling commercial centre in this rich agricultural region, but originally famous as the site of the signing of Chile's Declaration of Independence in 1818. Here we have not only located a very competent computer technician who fixed our laptop problems without losing any of our files, but also got a tune-up for the van, fixed our troublesome muffler brackets (for the fourth time!), and filled our propane tanks without any problem. Yesterday we spent a couple of hours cleaning the van of the accumulated dust of several trips on rather rough back roads, and getting stocked up with provisions.

We now seem to be recovering from our colds somewhat, and getting back into a more positive frame of mind after a discouraging couple of weeks. So, as soon as we get this TravelPod entry posted, and catch up on our backlog of e-mails, we feel we'll be in good shape to 'hit the road again'!

Another beautiful poem. This one was suggested by our friends Audrey and Glenn Montgomery of Kinburn in the Ottawa Valley. We were struck by some of the similarities to "Breaths" - the Nigerian poem we posted on December 19th.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!

(Mary Frye, 1932)
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