Tuesday, January 18, 2011

El Calafate & Ushuaia (Patagonia)

So it took 25 hours to get there. But boy, was it worth it. El Calafate is a small town in Patagonia that has grown from a population of 5,000 in the year 2000, to approx 20,000 now. And its growing at an alarming rate. One can only wonder at what the town will look like in 10 years. It is so remote that the “fresh” vegetables travel 3,000 kms from the north. Little wonder that you would struggle being a vegetarian here. Definitely someplace that you have to get used to not having your vegetables.

But for now, it's a very charming little town. Yes, touristy, but that's how they manage to survive, on tourism. And let's face it, Calafate is home to one of the world's greatest natural tourist attractions, Glaciar Perito Moreno. Situated in Parque Nacional Los Glaciers, the glaciar is 35kms long and 5kms wide. A breathtaking sight. All you can do is stare. And stare. And stare. And the glacier can move up to 2 meters per day which often causes large chunks of ice to break off. And when these chunks fall off you know about it. They literally crash off to a sound that's like gun fire. Standing there, watching this, is quite a moment.

I really like the feel of Calafate, so reminiscent to me of the towns on the west coast of New Zealand, places like Queenstown, Franz Josef and Westport. Rugged, remote, lakes, mountains. Beautiful. There is one main street, crammed with little boutiques, outdoor camping stores, great restaurants and quirky little cafes. If you ever find yourself here, hunt down Viva la Pepa cafe. Fantastic coffee and sandwiches that you will struggle to finish. Top marks!

So, my time was up, and I headed to the Fin del Mundo. Ushuaia, the end of the world. I flew from Calafate in to Ushuaia, a short 1 hour hop, rather than the 17 hour journey had I done it by bus, and I was soon at my accommodation, Hostal Los Calafate, more of a guesthouse than a hostel. But such a friendly owner who for the next 4 days insisted on speaking Spanish to me and calling me Frank. I did have a chuckle to myself.

Ushuaia is as far south as the roads go in the world. I've literally reached the end of the road for what could prove to be a cathartic experience.

The first night in Ushuaia I had an experience I will never forget. My first spit roasted Patagonian lamb. With the first taste I almost had tears of joy streaming down my face. Pure ecstasy. It is a Patagonian speciality with the lambs being split in two down the middle and hung over a pit fire/bbq. I ordered the lamb and a piece was taken fresh from the BBQ, and chopped off the main lamb by the chap who does the open fire cooking. So what you get to your plate is as fresh as it comes. And the taste.....heavenly.

When the waiter saw that I had finished he said “more lamb”, but in Spanish. Now, as this lamb was not cheap, and me being a backpacker, I politely declined. However, the waiter was having none of it. Claiming that I had only had a piccolo (small) portion he insisted, and I say insisted that I have some more. In rudimentary Spanish I asked if it was included in the price. I got a pat on the shoulder and in 2 mins, another full plate full of lamb. Thankfully, when the bill arrived, it was indeed complimentary, so I waddled home a very full, very happy man.

The backdrop to Ushuaia is nothing short of dramatic. It is nestled amongst 1500m Fuegan Andes peaks. A photo opportunity at every turn. And located on the shores of the Beagle Channel a boat trip is a must do experience. I went out on a trip around the Beagle, out past the lighthouse which has become something of a legendary Ushuaia landmark.

We also got the opportunity to visit a sea lion colony and several bird colonies, including cormorants. Sailing with Argentina on your left and the gleaming, snow capped Chilean Andes on your right was amazing

I'm going to wrap up today's blog dispelling the myth that I have steak and red wine every night........as you can see below, some nights I have steak baguette and beer!!

Until the next time chicos!

No comments:

Post a Comment