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The end of the world in Tierra del Fuego

In the morning we said goodbye to our friendly hosts in El Calafate and before continuing our journey we went in search of an electrician. The turning lights of the Gaucha had surprisingly stopped working, so we needed some help from a specialist. After many attempts in other garages, we found a competent electrician who was finally able to help us with our problem. He took his time to inspect the Gaucha's fuse box and quickly found the burnt one. With some luck, a new fuse was enough to solve the problem. With that fixed, we set off on our journey to Rio Gallegos, 300 km away in the far south of Santa Cruz province. Four hours of driving through the wild Patagonian steppe were on the program, on which numerous guanacos were our only travel companions. In the early evening we arrived at our hotel and decided to eat our remaining food supplies in the hotel room, since we would cross the border into Chile the next day and it was forbidden to cross with fresh food, so we had sandwiches and fruit for dinner. Well rested and after breakfast, we started the long drive to Ushuaia: 580 kilometers south, two times over the Argentinean and Chilean border, including a ferry crossing. Soon after leaving, our turn signal light went out again, and with it the fuel and engine temperature gauges. The new fuse was damaged again, a clear indication that there must have been another problem with the electrical system. Well that could be fun! Since we had just refueled and knew that the Gaucha with a full tank comes barely 800 km far, we relied on our experience and started the tour anyway. After an hour of driving in the pouring rain, we reached the border at the Monte Aymond pass, where we first had to have ourselves and the Gaucha stamped out of Argentina and a few kilometers later into Chile. In addition, the Gaucha was still personally screened by a border guard when entering Chile. Except for a banana to be declared, which he kindly took from us, there was nothing to complain about. Fortunately, there was little activity at the borders so we completed the formalities quickly. We received a transit ticket, which allowed us the approx. 200 km long passage to the Argentine province Tierra del Fuego - but not the further stay in Chile. Another hour later, the road suddenly ended in water. An arm of the Atlantic Ocean had to be crossed to reach the island of Tierra del Fuego. To do this, all commuters had to rely on the services of two car ferries that ran every half hour. We used the waiting time for lunch and we chatted with other waiting passengers. Then it was time for the Gaucha to board and we enjoyed the crossing on the deck of the ferry. To our great joy we even got to see dolphins! One hour later we rolled off the boat again and covered another 200 kilometers on Chilean territory before arriving again at the border, at the San Sebastian pass. Here the same game was waiting for us: stamping in and out - and we were back in Argentina. With the new stamps in the passport, Christian's residence visa was automatically extended by 90 more days. On the other side of the border, to our surprise, the cars jammed for several kilometers to leave the country. After all, it was the last Friday before Christmas and apparently many residents of Tierra del Fuego wanted to spend the holidays with their families in the Argentine provinces on the mainland. The remaining 250 km we approached very relaxed, knowing that we had already survived the trickiest part. We first rolled past the town of Rio Grande and were suddenly stopped in the middle of the road by a man next to a fully occupied parked car. Completely worried, he explained to us that he had an engine breakdown and asked us for help, as he had his wife and three small children on board. We saved the number of his friend and promised to contact him as soon as we had reception. Half an hour later we were able to send the call for help and the friend immediately set off to pick them up. In the small village of Tolhuin we made another stop and actually wanted to visit the famous bakery of the village. Unfortunately, however, this had recently burned down completely and was just rebuilding. Nevertheless, we had a snack and drove into the dusk into the increasingly mountainous Tierra del Fuego. The last kilometers were again steep uphill and downhill, passing the world famous ski resort of Ushuaia, where the European winter sports teams regularly train in summer under excellent conditions, and several large and small lakes, some with fantastic views, until we finally saw the lights of Ushuaia: What a sensational sight! It was already 23 o'clock when we passed the gates of the city and only now it was getting dark - this happens when we are in a very southern location. We reached our Hosteria only at night and were glad after the check in that we found a nearby pizzeria where we had a last bite before going to bed. Then we went to bed, tired after a long trip.

The next day promised to be spectacular in terms of weather! Sun, blue sky, little wind and around 20 degrees - that is the absolute exception in Ushuaia. After a great breakfast of homemade cakes and cupcakes at our hosteria, run by three very nice brothers, we packed our things and headed off towards Tierra del Fuego National Park. On the way we rattled off some electricians, but since it was Saturday, most were closed or had no time. On our last try we were lucky though and Alberto took half an hour to look at our electronics problem after we finally found him and his small workshop after several calls and misleading instructions. He replaced another fuse and asked us to use all the electronics functions for the next few days, paying close attention to when something failed. Then on Monday he would take a closer look at the problem. With that problem half solved we drove into the national park and only 20 min later we were already standing at the entrance gate. To our surprise, the park ranger informed us that our plan to climb the peak "Cerro Guanaco" would unfortunately no longer be possible, since its ascent had to be started by 12:00 noon for safety reasons. We wasted a lot of time looking for an electrician in the morning, and it was already half past twelve and we considered several times back and forth what we should do. Finally, we decided to tackle the climb anyway, especially since we both already knew the path, we had caught a beautiful day and we could simply turn back at any time. The path first meandered for a few kilometers along Lago Roca before the climb began. Right at the beginning we were surprised by wild horses passing by, which were obviously just as surprised by us. Through dense forest, the path led slowly but steadily uphill in narrow switchbacks, past several rivers, until we reached the tree line and stopped for a drink. The view from here was already phenomenal, but we both knew that it would be topped again by the summit. A swampy plateau followed, where we had to watch carefully where we stepped so as not to end up in a water or mud hole. We also mastered this challenge withno problems, so only the last part was waiting for us. Here we went the last two kilometers directly up the rocky mountain. Then finally the time had come: After almost two and a half hours we stood at the top and enjoyed the outstanding view of Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and the surrounding snow-covered mountains - sensational! We both had already climbed Cerro Guanaco alone, but now - some years later - to stand up here together felt very special. We celebrated this great moment with empanadas - we were as always well prepared =) After a little summit siesta in the sun, we went downhill again and once we reached the bottom, we put our feet into the ice-cold water of Lago Roca to cool down before we went back to Ushuaia for dinner. The next two days, the weather changed completely into cold and rain, so we used them to organize and plan our further trip. On Monday we took the Gaucha to the electrician again, but unfortunately he was not ready until shortly before midnight. Since we would fly to Buenos Aires early the next morning for the holidays and wanted to leave the Gaucha with friends, it got exciting again in the middle of the night. Alberto thought he could get the Gaucha ready the next day - we had firmly assumed that we would pick it up on Monday evening. Apparently it was a misunderstanding, which ended in us picking up the Gaucha half-finished in the middle of the night from the workshop and leaving it with Marina's friends, who then drove us back to the Hosteria. What an unnecessary stress on the last day, but that could not be changed now. With a slightly uneasy feeling we left the Gaucha the next day and after seven sensational weeks on tour we boarded the plane to Buenos Aires, where we spent Christmas with Marina's family: Feliz navidad!

10 days later we came back to Ushuaia and brought some company: our friends Seán and Mariana from Germany had come to visit and traveled on together with us for the next two weeks! After 10 days in Buenos Aires in almost 40 degrees heat, the temperature shock when getting off the plane and a scant 10 degrees in Ushuaia was as big as expected. Fortunately, we had already equipped ourselves with long pants and jackets on the plane, so the short cab ride to the Hosteria was no problem. After check-in at our tranquil Hosteria with a view of the Beagle Channel, we explored the city, its tourist center and the harbor together, where a large cruise ship with almost 3000 tourists on board left just in time for our arrival. This was just right for us, because it was then at least for a short time a little quieter. Ushuaia is generally a very popular destination for cruise ships that arrive here from faraway Buenos Aires, Uruguay or Brazil and usually anchor for only a few days. Likewise, some sailing ships are constantly in port, taking advantage of the fierce winds for the long journey. At the same time, Ushuaia is also the starting point for the Antarctic expeditions, which set out from here to the eternal ice. As the "southernmost city in the world", there is a very special atmosphere here all year round with its special, very isolated location on the island of Tierra del Fuego, cut off from the South American continent. The people who live here permanently love their city and have made friends with the very harsh climate. In summer, temperatures reach around 15 degrees and in winter they remain just below 0. In addition, a strong wind blows constantly and sun, clouds and rain alternate here really every hour. The tourists are a mixture of adventurers, cruisers, expedition participants and aged people from Buenos Aires - accordingly, the city and the impressive nature surrounding it offer something for everyone. Once upon a time, the legendary ship "Beagle", under the English flag of Captain Fitz Roy and with a young Charles Darwin on board, crossed the Beagle Channel, now christened after her, which connects the Atlantic with the Pacific. Our little city tour ended at the restaurant Maria Lola, where Marina's friend organized us a great table overlooking the water and we enjoyed fish and pasta. Definitely a tasty alternative to the meat-heavy food in Buenos Aires in previous days. The Gaucha was also ready and so we picked it up from Alberto and brought Marina's friends a small thank-you gift from Buenos Aires. The joy of seeing the Gaucha again was of course enormous and we were correspondingly happy to find her unharmed. So we definitely had one worry less =)

New Year's Eve was just around the corner! Sadly Marina did not feel so well in time for the turn of the year and spent the day in bed to be on the safe side. The rest of the crew left early to visit the penguins. These nest on the offshore island Martillo in an arm of the Beagle Channel and can be visited gently. Especially for our friend Mariana, this was the highlight of her trip right at the beginning - she is a huge penguin fan and could hardly wait to see them live. Already at 08.00 o'clock we roared in our small travel group with the Sprinter in the direction of north and listened to our guide with her explanations to the origin, to the flora and fauna of the Tierra del Fuego island. After an hour and a half drive we arrived at Estancia Harberton, which was built in 1886, making it the first and oldest on Tierra del Fuego Island, and nowadays has opened its doors to tourists. However, we changed directly to the rubber zodiac and jetted over the water for half an hour until we reached Penguin Island. From now on, strict rules applied, as we entered the living space of the animals and were guests with them. Quietness, slow movements and distance to them were very important. Already at our arrival at the beach the sweet Penguins greeted us in flocks and let us watch them splashing around. Our little walk took us across the island, past their breeding grounds. Luckily for us, the little ones were born a few weeks before and were in fact no longer small at all. They had almost reached the size of their adult parents, but were clearly distinguishable from them by their brown plumage. The penguins that nest here in the summer belong to the species of Magellanic penguins and spend the winter months entirely in the warm waters of Brazil or Uruguay. A wild chattering resounds over the whole island and one really immediately takes the cute friends to the heart. We took some photos, we watched, marveled at and paid close attention to every step not to accidentally step into a nest. But we tourists are not the only danger. Over the island hungry condors and other birds turn permanently their rounds. But the pingus have no other natural enemies here, which is why they feel so comfortable. They show this by many hugs and cuddles among themselves. Besides the Magellanic penguins, with a little luck you can also see the larger gentoo penguins on Martillo Island. We were lucky enough to see a small colony of gentoo penguins, and even an outstanding king penguinwith the typical yellow markings on his head. The king penguins normally nest on the Antarctic penínsulas further south. Finally, we joined our animal friends on the beach and as we kept very quiet, they lost their shyness and accepted us near them - a great feeling to be the guests in their living room! After that it was time to say goodbye and we made our way back across the water. Here we made another stop at an estancia, where a hot "mountain coffee" and sweet snacks were served. This combination made everyone sleep on the bus on the way back, so our guide woke us up after our arrival in Ushuaia and we returned with many great impressions back to our Hosteria, where we prepared for the upcoming New Year's Eve. After a siesta, we went to the restaurant Paso Garibaldi in the evening, where we were served an excellent New Year's Eve menu with a delicious vino. There was a choice of lamb and fish - and we chose something from both and had each course explained to us in detail. At 0 o'clock we toasted with all guests together at the campfire: Feliz año nuevo! As it turned out during the chat, we were not the only tourists. An Austrian family was also there and so we swung back and forth between English, Spanish and Viennese - not so easy at a late hour =) Afterwards the girls went to bed and the guys went out for a first beer in the new year and toasted to the further journey: Here's to a great 2022!

We took a relaxed approach to the first day of the new year. First we had breakfast, then we called home to wish a happy new year, before we packed our daypacks to visit the national park, a nice way to start the new year. A short time later we drove along the gravel road to the national park, parked near the entrance and set off on the 8 km long trail along the Beagle Channel. Our friend Seán, a native of Ireland and thus having grown up with a special relationship to the sea, had a very special plan today, but he wanted to put it into action only after we had returned from our little hike. So we walked off in cloudy weather, but with no rain. The path led us through the nature of the Tierra del Fuego National Park, always along the water. Sometimes it went a little uphill, then downhill again. So we passed numerous small bays, met wild horses and used the fresh air and the light breeze to get rid of the hangover from New Year's Eve. After just under three hours and with a slight onset of rain, we reached the visitor center of the park, from where we had two options: either walk the same way back again, or organize seats in one of the mini-buses. Since we already had plans for the evening in Ushuaia and the rain was rather more than less, we took the second option and after a short ride we were back at the Gaucha. Right: Seán's plan was still on! But the number of tourists had increased compared to the morning so he had plenty of audience for his mission: Jump into the Beagle channel! The warmly wrapped Argentinean tourists were astonished when he made his way into the water in swimming trunks and dived in sportily like Flipper once did. Numerous cameras recorded the spectacle and he probably was in some conversatThe Gaucha quickly warmed him up on the return trip and back in Ushuaia we stopped at Ramos' well-known "Almacen" - a traditional restaurant at the harbor. Strengthened with a hot, delicious meal we came back to the Hosteria and packed our things together for the upcoming departure the next day: It should go in the Gaucha back to the Argentine mainland, through the Chilean transit area, to Rio Gallegos - Vamonos!


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