This picture was taken as I entered Las Vegas on a Greyhound bus on an August night. It was 5pm, I was coming from Flagstaff, Arizona. The bus had briefly stopped in a squallid McDonald around 2am. I had slept very little during the journey, nonetheless I was awake in excitement as we entereed into town. I was going to spend 19 more sleepless hours in Sin City and I knew it. Despite the early hour, the city wasn’t sleeping either.
Lately, this sort of questionnaire is popular among travel blogs: a Travel ABC, where a travel-related question is asked for each letter of the alphabet. I’ve been nominated by my fellow blogger Stephen at Monk Bought Lunch, so here’s my go at it!
A: Age you went on your first international trip
The very, very first time, was to Chamonix, France, with my parents, when I was about 10. It was actually only a few hours as we were spending a week holiday on the Alps in the north-western region of Italy, Valle d’Aosta. The indelible memory of those few hours (and also the only one) is my father speaking French to someone from the car window.
B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where
Beers are really pretty bad where I come from, so this leaves me plenty of choice abroad. One of the nicest beers I have ever tried is a Belgian beer called “Zinne Bier”. It has some very unique taste to it, it’s not too heavy and, cherry on the cake, “Zinne” means “boobs” in Italian.
C: Cuisine (favorite)
(Bias alert!) Is there another possible answer to this question than Italian? Too often, Italian cuisine is very badly represented abroad. I regularly stumble across stuff I have never heard of back in my home country, or recipes that are too much adapted to the local taste. Italian cuisine is much, much beyond what everyone thinks it is. Any town, any little village has its own thing, delicious in a different way than anywhere else in the country. Oh God, don’t even get me started. (Bias alert finished.)
We spent the last days in Ushuaia, Argentina, in outdoor activities and a few “in-pub” nights. During the last day we also found out the most peculiar story about nature down here. That is, the devastating effects of… a few peaceful beavers. But, first things first.
Even though the second day was strangely sunny, Guido had to stay in and work on his laptop, so I hiked to the to local glacier with the two Dutch & Austrian travel mates I talked about in the previous post. The day was bizarrely sunny, and the hike was short but very steep. The glacier itself wasn’t anything spectacular (not after the one we had seen in Torres del Paine), but the true reward was an outstanding view on Ushuaia and its bay.
On the descent back to town, we had a funny little off-piste adventure. Despite my grumbles, we agreed on walking all the way back. We began taking shortcuts through the hairpin bends, which worked out great until that very one. Our shortcut never made it back to the road. We kept following a sort of path through the trees, beautiful indeed but which made us land in a private property, an area full of junk with nobody but dogs barking at us! We trotted down the hillside and soon barbed wire blocked our way to the adjacent property. We sneaked through, only to walk a few more steps and meet the actual owners! We began to explain our situation but they were already smiling and pointing us to the right way to town. I suspect we were not the first ones landing in their backyard.
That night we enjoyed more Tenedor Libre stuff and drank in some local pub. The next day, Guido and I decided that our mission was to explore the Tierra del Fuego National Park. But we would do it differently this time… by bike!
We spent the entire day pedaling, and I kid you not, I realized for the first time in my life what gears are there for. That day we cycled some 50 kilometers of ups and downs, which left our bodies pretty darn sore at night. It’s kinda shameful to say, but I never really went up steep hills with my bike. You all know that I live in the Netherlands, do you?
To get to the park, we cycled on the last 12 km of the renowned Route 3 which goes from Alaska to, well, here. Nobody can deny that 12 kilometers out of 17.848 are still worth showing off.
The park was beautiful as expected and treated us with the usual majestic sceneries. This one was just a few hundred meters away from the sign in the pic above.
The most peculiar thing that we learned that day was the tremendous impact that 50 beavers can have on a whole ecosystem. They were introduced here from Canada in the 40ies with a view to generate a fur industry. Unfortunately, fur went soon out of fashion and the rodents prodigiously multiplied to the staggering amount of 100.000 (some say 250.000) due to the absence of predators. They literally stormed the environment, destroying thousands of acres of trees and modifying the water network so heavily that the original wildlife is seriously endangered. Differently than the Northern American trees, these ones don’t grow back from their roots, leaving a land of dead stumps. Here’s an image, I had never seen a beaver-made dyke and I have to say it’s impressive.
Even shy, cute, ingenious herbivores can become a huge problem. You can trust no-one these days. To face the ever expanding menace, what they call the largest eradication plan in history has been planned. I feel Hitler’s one might have been a tad worse, but never mind.
I have taken a short hiatus from writing, and took this time to improve the blog itself a bit. The last time we met, Guido and I were about to reach The End of the World.
Back from Torres del Paine, we spent one night at a campsite in Puerto Natales and the next morning we were back to Punta Arenas. From here, we decided to cross the border to Argengina, going ahead south until the road would end. That is how we reached Ushuaia. There are some settlements further south, but they are so small that they can barely considered villages. With a population of nearly 100.000, Ushuaia deservedly qualifies as the southernmost city in the world. Windswept, blueswept (Argentinians can’t contain their love for the national color), cold and gloomy. La Fin del Mundo, as they call it.
On the (long) way there we met a funny duo, Gitty and Linda. While Guido and I didn’t have any arrangment for the night, the two already had something booked. We went thus on the usual accomodation quest, and we agreed to meet them for dinner at their hostel. We were lucky enough to find two beds in the cheaper place in the surroundings, but upon retourning to theirs we noticed that things were not going as smoothly for them. Appaerently, their hostel was really bad: small, dirty and expensive. We told them about ours and they decided to switch… but they had made bricks without straw.
The owners of their place turned out to be the nastiest one ever. They didn’t want to let them go unless they had paid for the four nights they had booked! Initially they were just rude (they kicked Guido and me out in the cold, to start with), but at some point they shut the door and refused to let them out! The owner girl stood in front of the door blocking the exit, screaming “fuck you” to her own customers!
Gitty promptly threatened to call the police, and after some more screaming they were let go. I had never seen such a situation. This horrible thing happened at a place called Cruz del Sur (they don’t even deserve the link). Please avoid it, should you go there – unless you are eager to receive a genuine Argentinian middle finger.
After that we spent some time together to find a place for them. Our hostel had no more space, and it was getting dark. Fortunately, we entered a somewhat expensive hotel to ask for help and the dude called straight away other cheap hostels in town till he found one with two beds available.
We were finally set for dinner, and that very night we discovered something we’d quickly become fond of: the Argentinian ‘all you can eat’ buffet, called “Tenedor Libre” (free fork). Beside the usual stuff, the main attraction here is the barbecue. A massive fire in the middle of the room, with entire animals on it! Pork, chicken, beef, just name one. Although I have some vegetarian tendencies, meat felt mandatory and oh, did we fulfil our duties. This burning area is shielded by a glass, you must approach the window and ask the cook what you want. He will chop the meat with two heavy cleavers, his blows to be heard blocks away! Such a place is an absolute must-go if you travel to Argentina.
The next day we went on a boat to explore Ushuaia’s stretched bay. We were not so far from Cape Horn. The wind was sharp and the sceneries were once again sublime to the extreme.
Particularty scenic was the ‘lighthouse at the end of the world’. It’s actually a replica of the original, but I guess the feel must be the same. Once upon a time, the Panama Canal was just a dream, and ships had to circumnavigate the entire continent. One imagines what such a lighthouse must have meant to sailors arriving from the European coasts. A light to tell them that an outpost was near, that they had survived the most perilous tract. And I guess that the sky that you can see in the picture must have been the best one they could hope for.