A National Park & A 4×4 Adventure

We absolutely did not set out to have such an epic day. I’ve not been so tired since I took a load of seasickness tablets during a trip to Antarctica. Did I mention we went to Antarctica? Oh yes, it’s going to be like this for a while now, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to work this into any conversation I have for the rest of my life.
“Bit cold today isn’t it? Not as cold as when I was in Antarctica…”
“Oh I love your wedding dress, so white just like an iceberg, which reminds me of the time I went to Antarctica…” Yeah nah, I do not expect to retain many friends.

We couldn’t get to Port Lockroy (y’know, in Antarctica) so here’s the next most southern post office. We didn’t post anything. It’s actually cheaper to post stuff from Antarctica than it is from Argentina.

Aaaanyway… we’re back on the South American continent and now we’re not trying to avoid Covid like the literal plague we thought we’d get out and do some stuff, starting with a gentle hike around the Tierra Del Fuego National Park. We were out of practice and we’d pretty much spent the last ten days eating obnoxious quantities of excellent food. I could barely fasten my trousers, I certainly had to unbutton them to sit down, and a fourth chin had snuck into the party somewhere along the line. Yes, some gentle strolling was needed to remind my legs they still had work to do beyond carrying me to the dining room and back.

It’s a piece of piss to get there from Ushuaia. The car park that serves as the bus terminal has a little ticket stand and you can pop there to grab your shuttle ticket on the day. We bought ours the day before because we wanted to be on the first one and that works just as well. You’re loaded into a minivan, driven to the National Park ticket office where you pay your entrance fee, then it’s up to you which stop you get off at, and that depends on which trails you want to do.

The map below has pin drops for trailheads, bus stops etc. We only explored the southern section of the national park but I’ve added other pin drops to the best of my knowledge. Maps.ME has all the trails marked and is offline so will be your best bet for navigation in the park. There’s no phone signal at all there.

The Senda Costera comes highly recommended as having some cracking views and it’s not too brutal which my knees were very grateful for, so we figured we’d do that then see how we felt because there were plenty of other smaller trails that you could join together and walk all the way to the other end to the last bus stop. Sounded good. Let’s do that. We jumped off the bus at the first stop and took the obligatory photos of the Fin Del Mundo post office because tourists gonna tourist, then made our way to the trailhead.

They weren’t lying about the eyehole fodder either, it’s a stunner. The trailhead marker said it would take four hours to do eight kilometres and the only way I could think it would take so fucking long is if you were stopping every ten metres to drool a bit. This was feasible. You have to force yourself to rip your eyeballs away from the scenery and focus on what your feet are doing or you’ll stack it over a tree root or inconveniently placed rock.

It is actually a lovely, mostly easy trail with plenty of viewpoints and loads of woodland walking. Gods it was good to get out again, we’d both really missed hiking. We definitely needed a break from it, both physically and mentally, but we were keen to get back into it. Nothing multi-day just yet, Tarrant still hasn’t been able to get her ankles to behave since The Bottom Half, but a few day hikes here and there sounded great. The Senda Costera does get a bit lumpy as you approach the west end and one hill is so bastard steep it does have you wondering if you’ve veered off course, but eventually you emerge onto a road. Head straight ahead for the Alakush Visitor Centre, or head left for other trails.

RN3 runs through the park to its southern terminus, it’s unsealed and dusty as fuck so it’s ideal to stay off it as much as possible. We swung a left onto Senda Paseo De La Isla which took us a gorgeous route before depositing us back on the road. A couple of there-and-back trails to viewpoints we wanted to do were closed so we just meandered through a network of smaller trails to a place where you could see beavers. Not a euphemism.

Okay so these cute little fuckers are actually a huge problem here. They were introduced in 1946 for their pelt, only 25 breeding pairs, and with no natural predators they’ve proceeded to spread all over Tierra Del Fuego, building dams to create reservoirs and destroying huge amounts of native forest in the process. Obviously we still wanted to see them which involved a lot of intense staring at the water. We did spot a couple of them, or rather a very excited bloke who’d been waiting for forty minutes to see one spotted them and we rode on the back of his glory. They were too far away to get a photo though.

I may have fixated on this hill…

It wasn’t far from there to Lapataia carpark where we were well in time to catch the 3pm bus back to Ushuaia. There are loads more trails to enjoy but we were content and even a little bit stiff after a mere 14 kilometres. We weren’t even carrying much. I think if we attempted the distances we were doing back in April to July last year with fully kitted out backpacks we’d die. Die I tell you!

Beaver dam. All those trees died because the beavers fucked up the environment.

We had our little hearts set on doing a 4WD tour up to Fagnano Lake. It’s advertised all over town for AR$33000 per person, we’d recced it before we left for the cruise, and we went to book it for the following morning but the woman in the tour agency had other ideas. She was hell bent on getting us on the trip leaving that evening.
“There are only two seats left and the others speak English!” she told us. But we were tired and hungry and out of snacks. Tomorrow morning would be fine.
“If you go in the evening you can see beavers!” she tried. Well that would be nice but we saw beavers today. Then she pulled out her best card;
“Okay so it’s AR$33000 each, but if you go tonight I’ll only charge you AR$28000 each. That’s a saving of ten thousand.”

We were told this guy was a chimango. There were a couple of them just chilling on the trail, no fucks given. They didn’t even flinch when we walked past them.

Oh. Oh she’s good. If there’s one thing we liked it was a deal. Appeal to our wallets and you have us. We had an hour to kill so we went and got tea and things with a sugar content so I didn’t start trying to chew the limbs off our fellow tourists then waited outside Ushuaia Extremo. A 4WD emblazoned with the company logo pulled up full of two Aussie women, two women from Buenos Aires, and our driver, Freddy. And off we fucked for what turned out to be a very late evening.

First stop was to put these mountains in our eyeholes.

It’s quite a fun tour and we enjoyed it a lot but I don’t think it’s AR$28000 worth of tour. A lot of it is on asphalt but we did get to pull over for some lovely views, mostly of lakes, but the tour is called Lago 4×4 so you’d pretty much expect that. What lakes though! My gosh, my eyeholes didn’t know what to do with themselves today, so many treats.

Lago Escondido, Hidden Lake. We went to two viewpoints but this was the best.

Dinner was included so we swung by a little restaurant in the middle of nowhere which potentially only exists to feed people on these kind of tours to choose what we wanted later on. It was already 7pm, I was ravenous and the delicious smells spilling from the kitchen weren’t helping. I feel like my stomach was plotting ways to escape my abdomen and make a break for it, absorbing everything in its path, beelining for the steak, leaving a trail of acid and devastation in its wake.

La Casona 2. I’ll see you soon, my pretty.

But before I could appease the beast we had the offroad section of the tour to do. We were bundled back into a car and we headed off as I gazed forlornly back at the restaurant. It was worth it though. Freddy is a skilled driver and he maneuvered down the track, sometimes easing the car up the bank so it tilted precariously to the side.
“It’s not necessary,” he told us, “but it’s fun!” Tell that to poor Nicky, one of the Australian women, who had visions of tipping face first into the road. It was a good laugh though.

Violetta, the dog at the restaurant. She was a lot more interested in us later on when we had food.

He pointed out a large fungus we’d seen a lot of in the national park this morning, we saw plenty of a moss he called old man’s beard, then we pulled over to go and stare at a dam in search of beavers. What a dam though, it was an absolute work of art. The information in the national park described beavers as excellent engineers who build their work in the wrong place. Freddy told it like it is; they’re a plague. You can see the devastation they’ve caused in the photos and these trees take a very long time to grow.

This photo was taken in the national park but we didn’t know what it was until Freddy told us. Apparently the tree doesn’t fare well once it’s infected.

We sat down and had coffee and medialunas which was nice because now I wasn’t at risk of launching myself teeth first at a beaver. The Argentinian women shared their mate which was nice. It was quite weak which worked for me. Keryn, the other Aussie, gamely gave it a go but pulled a face which said it all. We spoke in low voices and watched the strong wind make beautiful patterns over the surface of the reservoir the beavers had made but there was no sign of the furry little fuckers. Eventually Freddy said we weren’t lucky today but literally as we turned to leave he spotted one in the water!

It’s actually a work of art. Shame about the devastation.

Then there was another, then another, and we stood and watched them as they swam across the water and dived under the surface. Again, we were too far for my camera to get a decent photo so it’s one for the eyeholes only but it was great to see. I know they’re destructive little fuckers but I’ve never seen one in real life so I can’t help but get excited.

This is Nicky’s photo, you can actually tell it’s a beaver unlike my photos.

It was absolutely bastard freezing by this point and we’d nothing else to put on to keep warm because we’d not been home to grab layers so we were happy to head back to the van to regain feeling in our faces. A bit more offroading took us to the shore of Fagnano Lake, I think Freddy said it was the forth biggest lake in Argentina and it’s certainly a big bugger. It even had waves, it was hard to equate it with being a lake and not the sea. A few photos later and we were heading towards the restaurant and sweet, sweet food.

Lago Fagnano

This is good because usually on a tour you get what you’re given and tough titties if you didn’t like it but every dietary requirement is catered for. We opted for empanadas for a starter and steak for mains, and my dessert was a pancake with dulce de leche and Tarrant went for pear poached in red wine. That sorted us right out but it was nearly 10pm by the time we ate and we really can’t get used to the Argentine food timings. The women from Buenos Aires said that couldn’t understand how we could eat so early. Fair enough, it’s cultural.

Ive been waiting for you my whole life / since lunchtime.

So like I say, it’s a fun tour if you don’t mind splashing out. At the time of writing, AR$28000 is about GB£70 with the rate we got at Western Union. We really enjoyed the company too though. Keryn is a very interesting woman who organises tours to Africa, usually for safaris. She showed me an itinerary she put together for Ethiopia though, focusing on the local tribes and oh my gosh, I’m so bloody tempted. I doubt we could get the money together in time to go with her though and she’s only doing it once but oh wow, what an adventure.

New friends.

Nicky is so lovely too, she’s really easy to get on with. And the Argentine women were also great to chat to. They really made the tour for us I reckon. Aside from the random woman who hit Tarrant with a stick yesterday we’ve been really lucky with the other humans we’ve encountered so far in 2023. It was gone midnight by the time we were deposited outside our flat. We could barely keep our eyes open. Definitely having a nice lie in tomorrow.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego, Ushuaia, Argentina

Stayed at: Un Nuevo Despertar, Ushuaia

Un Nuevo Despertar. A studio flat a couple of kilometres from the centre of Ushuaia with cracking views. The flat itself is lovely, ideal for a few days, but the kitchen was a bit under equipped. We could have done with a few things like a tea towel, cloth to wipe surfaces, cleaning stuff etc. A spare bog roll would have been nice. Probably a bit pricey for what it is but everything is at the expensive end in Ushuaia.

Useful shit to know…

  • There’s a ticket office for the shuttles in the carpark that passes for Ushuaia’s bus terminal.
  • Prices change regularly due to season and inflation but at the time of writing it was AR$6000 per person return, or about GB£15 at the Blue Dollar rate we got from Western Union.
  • You can pay cash or card but I think they charge more for card.
Look for this ticket booth in the corner of the car park by the road. You’ll see the mini buses lined up.
  • Shuttles leave every hour on the hour from 9am until I think about 2pm.
  • Return shuttles are 3pm, 5pm and 7pm.
  • They start filling up at the Lapataia carpark and it was quite full by the time we got to the Zaratiegui carpark which is where we started.
  • I counted five bus stops through the park. I’ve pin dropped them in yellow on the map above.
  • Eight companies run this route and you have to use the same company to get back as you came with. Just show every driver that shows up your ticket and they’ll tell you if they’re your bus or not.
  • At the time of writing park entry was AR$5500 (£25 official rate, £14 at Western Union rate) for foreigners for one day and they also offered a two day ticket for AR$8250 which essentially gives you a 50% discount on the following day.
  • You can only pay by cash at the national park.
  • If you want to do the Cerro Guanaco trail it is mandatory to register at the Alakush Visitor Centre which is where the bus stops anyway.
  • If you want to do the Senda Costera, get off at Zaratiegui carpark which is also where the Fin Del Mundo post office is.

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