Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Hasta pronto, Argentina

This is me standing on the hill behind Ushuaia, with a view down onto the city and the Beagle Channel behind. I am just about to walk onto the Martial Glacier, which you can´t see in the photo.

Tierra del Fuego´s lakes and mountains lead to inevitable comparisons with Switzerland, and here is my opinion on the matter: in Switzerland, the mountains are closer, taller and younger, meaning they are more sharp and jagged, and in general the scenery is more breathtaking. However, one thing that always struck me about Swiss mountains is that every nook and cranny of them have been explored and conquered: you hike for hours only to arrive at a restaurant serving beer and ice cream, and then take a public bus home. Here you get the feeling that the wilderness is more "wild". Sometimes the hiking trails are just narrow dirt paths, and you have to climb over roots and duck under fallen trees to get where you´re going. To get to this glacier at one point the trail seemed to disappear and we had to climb over rocks and try to find footholds to get up to it; yet this is supposedly one of the top tourist attractions of Ushuaia. Which is not to say that the Tierra del Fuego is totally isolated. In fact, new hotels and tourist shops are going up all the time and the business of taking tourists to explore, hike, bike, trek and camp is booming. In fact, this morning before leaving some friends and I explored some more of the beautiful scenery on horseback...which is sure to have me walking funny for a couple of days.

Anyway, I caught an afternoon flight and am now in Puerto Natales, Chile, getting ready to do several days of trekking (aka hiking) in Torres del Paine National Park. Unfortunately, the park suffered a massive forest fire last week which damaged a huge part of the park. Firefighters and ecologists are still trying to assess the damage and loss of plant and animal life.