“On the loose to climb a mountain, on the loose where I am free. On the loose to live my life, the way I think my life should be. For I’ve only got a moment, and a whole world yet to see, And I’ll be searching for tomorrow, from sea to shining in sea.”
Ushuaia is known to be the southernmost city in the world with only 1,000km separating it from Antarctica. It’s a place I’ve always dreamed about visiting, well not Ushuaia in particular, but Patagonia in general which is what this amazing mountainous expanse of land at the very bottom of Chile and Argentina is referred to. I couldn’t imagine a place more suited to Kevin and I as we have been told that we will find vast spaces of nothingness, some of the best rivers for fly fishing, and of course, mountains upon mountains to cycle through! Needless to say we are extremely excited and honored to begin our year long expedition throughout the Andes here at the bottom of the world.
The Selk’nam Indians (Ona) arrived in Tierra del Fuego 10,000 years ago, an area which was first fully described by Europeans when Ferdinand Magellan and his crew arrived in 1520. This voyage led to the naming of “Tierra Del Fuego” when Magellan spotted many campfires along the coast, and “Patagonia,” which could have been named for the Tehuelche people he met and described as Patagons, or giants, as they were much taller than Europeans. In the 1870’s English missionaries began for arrive and decimate the local population with the diseases they brought along with them. Ushuaia then became a prison in 1896 (all over town today there are drawings and sculptors of people behind bars) until 1947 when it was closed due to abuse and safety issues. Besides a difficult escape for the prisoners, the Argentinean government wanted the prison in Ushuaia in order to increase the population and thus assert their claim over the land. Now, Ushuaia is a huge touristic destination which use to attract backpackers, but now is popular amongst the more wealthy as its the setting off point for tours to Antarctica (which you can get at last minute prices for about 5,000$ a head for a ten day tour, or for four times that price of you have the money), and for the wonderful skiing it boasts throughout the winter.
We arrived here in Ushuaia after over fifty hours of straight travel and set up our bicycles in the airport.
We then cycled to our first ever couchsurfing host (we have stayed with people we met on Facebook and warmshowers, just never through couchsurfing) where we felt immediately at home with an wonderful Colombian/Argentinean couple who are chefs here in the city. We were very lucky for a few reason; a) a dorm room in the cheapest hostel costs 20$ each which we were not looking forward to forking out, b) since Ushuaia is such a popular (and expensive place), hosts who have couchsurfing profiles get 5-10 requests per day in the summer, meaning we were extremely lucky to receive a yes, especially since we have no references, and c) because we ended up with an awesome couple who we had a really fun time getting to know. Though the girl had to work, we got to go hiking, cycling, and fishing with the guy. I also realized that when we stay with locals (and meet other locals through them) we end up having such a different experience than when I was here the first time doing the whole backpacking/bus/hostel thing, and I’ll forever be grateful to my bicycle for showing me this way of life and travel!
A beautiful hike to the glacier near Ushuaia:
And one evening we went fishing with our hosts kinesiologist and his friends which was a wonderful evening!
Some random observations:
-The craziest thing so far here is the fact that it only gets dark after 10 pm, even though the sun still rises at 4am (and it’s never fully dark, there is always a bit of a glow on the horizon). Coming from Turkey, where it was dark by 4h30 every evening this is a pleasant yet unsettling change as we are always in for a shock when we look at the time at 9pm only to discover it’s not the afternoon like we thought! This also means that we stay up way later than we are use to, often out fishing or walking until even pm just because that’s how it works here.
-It’s extremely expensive here, for the combined reasons of tourism and the fact that we are so far away from everything, so long gone are our days of eating at restaurants and occasionally paying for a bed. We also figured out that everything is even more expsnsive if you don’t use the black market to squire your money, but more about that in tomorrow’s post.
-I love, and I mean LOVE, being in a country where I actually speak the language! It’s so much nicer to be able to communicate with the locals and understand what’s going on, even if I’m a bit rusty. I also enjoy the fact that I no longer have to force everyone else to learn my language as is so often the case with native English speakers, instead, I can truly learn theirs.
-It’s so much cleaner here (no trash in the streets) which is a bonus to being in a developed country. Though there are things I love about those parts of the world, I could never get use to the whole “throw your trash out the window and into the stream” thing so I’m glad we no longer have to deal with it.
-Another perk about being in a developed country is that we are no longer seen as a walking dollar bill, meaning we are treated like everyone else, a relief I have no words to describe.
-In five days here I’ve gotten to know more locals than in months during my last trip to South America when I was backpacking. Not only has cycling provided us an in with locals through home stays and such, but it’s also changed what I want and therefore get out of travel. I can already tell that I’m going to see such a different and more in depth view of these countries, even countries such as Bolivia and Peru where I spent months traveling before, and I can’t wait to see how it all is.
And the winds, oh my goodness, I can’t forget to mention the winds for the first of what is sure to be thousands of times. We had heard they are so strong down here in Patagonia that they can knock you off your bike or squash your tent in three seconds, and we now see that no one was exaggerating! We have heard of people cycling at seven kilometers an hour for days on end as its simply impossible to push any harder against the force of the wind, and we now realize that will probably us in a few days once we get back on our bikes!
And for those of you who don’t know where Ushuaia is, here is a map drawn by yours truly which should give you a bit of an idea.
As we will be out in the middle of nowhere quite a lot during the next few months, I can’t promise that there will be posts every two days as there have been, but when we do get wifi, you can be sure that they will be filled with amazing mountains, and fun (or maybe scary if the wind gets the best of us) camping, so don’t worry, the wait will be worth it! During the next two weeks we plan to cross a border (by walking across a river) in the middle of nowhere, and hopefully, sleep next to some gigantic penguins! Until then, check out our Facebook page for a photo of the day (which will happen even when we don’t have wifi as its preset), or our Instagram at @awanderingphoto!