We left rainy, windy and very cold for snowy, windy and even colder. We were heading for Ushuaia, the self-promoted "Southernmost City in the World" and it felt more like we were driving to the northernmost. As the Andes mountains disappear into the ocean off of South America's tip, they become lower and lower until their submergence. Even though we only had to ascend through a relatively low pass, it snowed as though we were passing through the top of the Andes - wait, we were at the top of the Andes!
Cindy did fine and her new tires definitely were appreciated. Fortunately, as we dropped down a few hundred meters back to sea level and into Ushuaia, the snow ceased and we were met with a sunny, white-cloud day. However, after an hour or so in Cindy, we stepped out onto a peppering of snow in our campsite located appropriately enough, at the base of a ski mountain.
As we planned, we met up again with Larry and Marylyn and after a brief and chilly exchange of the past few days' stories, we each ducked back into our respective mobile hovels and warmed ourselves by our artificial fires (IE: heaters). Larry and Marylyn had the worst of the couple of days of travel. Due to high winds coming into Rio Grande, their awning (built into the side of their camper), decided to stay in Rio Grande and blew off in a blustery gust. They were lucky no worse happened to their camper and they remain somewhat water-tight.
I took a wonderful hike along the ridge of the ski area and fell into a winter wonderland. Carefully prodding ahead with my walking stick, I discovered several patches of thin ice fragilely covering pockets of ponds and small streams. The only sounds that disturbed my quiet was the snow dropping from the branches of the nearby trees and the occasional chirp of the flitting birds. Not much one can say; however, I will steal from a famous REM song: "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I'm doing fine".
Taking advantage of the glorious day, we stepped on down to the harbor and hired a tour boat to take an excursion around part of the Beagle Channel. The channel was named for the boat used by Fitz Roy (remember Chalten) and Charles Darwin during his maiden voyage to study the unique Patagonia fauna and flora. As you can imagine, we were graced with beautiful landscapes and quite a few barking sea lions.
During our boat ride, we had the fortune to come upon many young female sea lions frolicking in the water. Girls just wanna have fun!
We finished off the day with the famous Patagonian style of bar-b-que called "Parrillada". What distinguishes this style of cooking is that they take the lamb and spread-eagle the body over an open pit fire. Many other meats are also roasted and sliced to your plate upon request. Not as good as the Brazlian style of bar-b-que, but very good indeed!
Still enjoying the good weather, we had a lazy morning and decided to walk into town and visit the museum. The museum has a bit of everything of the history of the area as well as a well-preserved history of its penitentiary (as Ushuaia originally was a penal colony). To see so many fantastic pictures of Ushuaia and the ships that graced the waters some 100 - 125 years ago was very interesting.
Back at our campsite, we made use of the refugio that has a small kitchen and a wood-burning stove for warmth. Gerson concocted a wonderful pasta and chicken soup and next thing we know, we have three other campers adding their dinner to the mix. Many stories were exchanged and thanks to Marylyn's plateful of dulces (sweets), we ended the evening on a cheerful note.
We decided to take advantage of a nice morning to make our way out of Ushuaia and over the snowy pass. All was clear and colorful as Fall was upon the landscape. No one tree had its own color but rather, the countryside looked like a mad painter splattered bright yellow, bold orange, blood red, soft pink, dark green, rust brown, lime green and mustard yellow paint in some dazed and crazed haphazard fashion. If you appreciated a particular tree too long, you started to get dizzy when attempting to discern the individual colors that graced any one branch.
Seeing as Ushuaia has virtually only one way in and one way out (over land, that is), we traveled back to Rio Grande for the night before heading back across the border to Chile (and then across to Argentina - you cannot go from Rio Grande, Argentina to Buenos Aires without going through Chile - go figure!). We again stayed with the Bomberos Volunterios (volunteer firemen) and we enjoyed looking through their scrap book that dated from 1997 that included all the well-wishes from travelers past. Quite an amazing book and of course, we accorded our words.
We cleared the borders and found ourselves relieved to be back in Argentina. I am sorry Patagonian Chile, when we make the comparison with Patagonian Argentina, it is Argentina that is exceptional. The people, the food, the roads, the services,...hence, we were happy to be in Argentina again.
We pushed a bit to get through Rio Gallegos for a quick sleep-over and restock of our food and then onto Puerto San Julian, a small coastal town that is rich in history.