After napping for much of the evening of Christmas Eve I re-packed my stuff and headed downstairs to the hostel’s common area to kill time until the early morning. I’d been told the bus leaves at 5 a.m. from a parking lot down on the waterfront – I had no idea where to buy a ticket so I figured the best plan was to just show up and hope to get on.
Sure enough there were a handful of tourists and locals waiting when I got down there, and even a bus with a placard of “Puntas Arenas”. Perfect, that’s exactly where I wanted to go. Talking to some of the tourists however, they seemed to believe that the 5:00 bus would be heading to Rio Gallegos, not PA. A second bus arrived shortly before 5 and they were right. I crossed the road to the gas station and asked the sole attendant on-duty whether he knew when the PA bus would be leaving – he wasn’t sure but he figured it’d be sometime around 6. No point wasting time in Rio Gallegos I thought, as I watched it roll off.
Six o’clock came and went and there were still no people waiting for Punta Arenas. Looks like another case bad intel. I returned to the hostel to fire my laptop up and do some searching and it turns out the PA bus leaves and 8. Returned back down at half past seven and it was full. Crap.
I could’ve returned to my hostel again but I’d had enough of that place. Too many jerkfaces there. I tried to find something a little more chill for a similar price and ended up in a small little family-run place on the main drag. Being right in the middle of everything I didn’t have high hopes but it was almost empty and cheap (by Ushuaia standards). I had a quick breakfast there and passed out for the remainder of the morning.
Later that day I did some asking around town about buses and didn’t have much luck – it seems like dozens if not hundreds of people were trying to get out as well, with not only the next bus sold out but the following one as well. I did manage to find one for the 30th with space and I grabbed one of the last available seats.
Four-plus days to burn. What to do?
A lot of walking around aimlessly, for one. I’d already exhausted many of the cultural options in the city and didn’t feel for springing for expensive penguins excursions and the like here when similar day trips would cost me half as much in Punta Arenas. I loaded up on podcasts and just walked.
One of the first things I found – and I have no idea how I’d walked right past this previously without noticing it – was a Malvinas/Falklands memorial. Centred with a flame and a wall of fallen soldiers in the style of the Vietnam Memorial, it was ringed with a few small statues, a wall with the profile of the Malvinas cut out, and displays of photography from the war with tri-lingual captions underneath.
He is alone and waits. He is accompanies by one anti-aircraft gun and a peculiar landscape. The bay is calm. The harrier will not be long.
In addition to walking I spent a fair amount of time over the next few days just hanging around the hostel’s common area. There weren’t many other guests but I had some extended discussions with an older woman working there, an artist and singer originally from Buenos Aires but in Ushuaia for almost twenty years. She wanted to practice her English and could (and did) talk for hours about Argentinian history and politics. I’m not sure whether everything she said was true – some of it seemed pretty outrageous – but it was interesting, regardless. While she was talking she’d also be baking and cooking incessantly, and I reaped the benefits of being near the kitchen by being a more-than-willing taste tester. Homemade chorizo, pie, cookies, biscuits, all fantastic. She also confirmed my suspicions that ships flying English flags aren’t allowed in the port of Ushuaia, since the Falklands/Malvinas. It was her opinion that people should just get over the war already and accept the loss of the islands. Plus, keeping English-flagged ships out of port means fewer cruise ships and less money coming into town.
Several cruise ships did land in town during the next few days, nonetheless. An influx of thousands of tourists is all the excuse I need to either stay inside or head to the hills. North of town, among the mountains, are a few small glaciers – one of them, the Martial Glacier, has paths that lead up to it. I decided to check it out.
The recommended way of getting to the glacier is to take a taxi from downtown up to the trailhead and save yourself a couple of hours. Time is something I had plenty of so I decided to walk it, first winding through some small residential neighbourhoods and then reaching the road that switchbacks up the mountainside. It was a great walk – rather than sticking to the road, nearly every switchback had a short-cut for people on foot. Some were overgrown and many were soupy and mucky but they were much quicker than sticking to the road.
Some of the trails were short while others seemed to veer off in strange directions. I decided to explore one of the latter. Some parts were well maintained but the trail split multiple times and before long I wasn’t really on much of a trail anymore.
At one point I was definitely not on any kind of discernible trail but I could see landmarks (like the glacier) through the trees so I wasn’t worried and kept pushing forward. My waterproof boots were nice but not terribly useful – in places I’d sunk down into the water and muck most of the way to my knees. I emerged back out onto a trail that turned out to be a cross-country skiing trail (apparent by some old signs) and the sky opened up. Not with rain though.
All those white streaks are hail. Getting the crap kicked out of me and wet up to my knees I couldn’t help but laugh and ask myself “What the fuck am I doing?” By this point I wasn’t even moving toward the glacier, I was just smashing through the woods aimlessly. I decided it was time to backtrack and work my way back to the road.
Some time later I got back to the road and hiked the rest of the way up to the trailhead, where there’s a chairlift and a small cafe. I had a small coffee and kept heading uphill. Passing the top of the chairlift, there’s another trail which crosses over a stream coming down from the glacier.
Another ten or fifteen minutes uphill and I reached a level spot with some interpretive signage, a view of the glacier and two signs indicating the beginnings of two trails. I got the time from someone and I’d been walking for about four hours already at this point and was kind of wiped. I decided to turn back and try again another day, minus the stupid excursion into the forest.
Two days later I returned and went straight up the hill, staying (mostly) out of the woods. One of the two paths seemed to lead to a vista while the other headed up to the glacier. I went toward the glacier.
The sign at the beginning of the trail rated it as “Difficult” but aside from a lot of loose rocks and one or two narrow spots it wasn’t so bad. Some hikers had veered off the trail to slide down well-used grooves in the snow on their butts. After a couple breaks I got to the end of the trail and a small lookout that jutted down toward the city.
I don’t know much about glaciers but this one didn’t seem like others I’d seen, it just looked like a big dirty snowbank. I wasn’t terribly impressed but the walk was nice and the view of the city was worth it.
The night before I was set to depart I decided that rather than sleeping, staying up, sipping wine and watching hockey would be a wiser thing to do. I was still a little bit drunk as a left the hostel in the early morning, with the lady on the front desk (I never did get her name), just starting her shift, giving me a hug and wishing me good luck as I left.