Sunday, 20 April 2014


1st - 4th Apr 2014
El 'Tren del Fin del Mundo'. Camila
Ushuaia became home to a penal colony at the end of the 19th century. A large jail housed up to 800 of the most notorious convicts and political prisoners. It was built and operated on much the same lines as Port Arthur in Tasmania (Australia). The convicts played a large part in building the town and to do that they needed timber. A narrow-gauge railway was built to take them up into the forests to fell trees and bring back the logs and ran as such until the jail closed in 1947.

It now operates as a popular tourist attraction. There are five small locomotives, two diesel and three steam in current use. One of the steam locomotives, called Camila (at top), was built in Daventry (England) in 1995 and was the one pulling the train on which I travelled.
The (now) home station is 20 mins taxi ride west of the town. I imagine the original one was actually in the town itself. There were 5 carriages and we certainly didn't go very fast. The journey is uphill for about 10 miles at fast running pace, and then back again. The whole trip, including stops, takes 2.5 hours.

The train stopped halfway at a little station called Macarena where we disembarked to wander up a path to view the Macarena waterfall (left).
There is a recorded commentary broadcast into the carriages in both Spanish and English (fortunately). Quite educational but sometimes difficult to hear.

Right: On the other side of the tracks was a reconstruction of three Yámana Indian 'huts'. Rather flimsy affairs if you ask me, especially considering the Yámana didn't wear too many clothes (see previous blog). You would have thought with so much wood around they could have done a bit better. DIY was obviously not their strong point.

Left: We crossed the Rio Pipo which looks a promising little trout stream....

Right: ....and on up into the national park area where several pax got off to go hiking, or pig-sticking or whatever you do in a national park.

Left: At the top end there is a parked carriage devoted entirely to loos.

Right: There are still large areas consisting of grass and  tree stumps; the result of the convicts' labours.

Quite an amusing little journey I thought.

The old jail is in what is now the Naval HQ complex and is predominantly a maritime and natural history museum, as well as a museum of the prison itself (plan right). It features much detail and many models of ships from the past, and very extensive, maritime history of the region. Just about any sea captain and explorer of note from the earliest days onwards visited this place. Lots of tales of disaster, and much success, rounding Cape Horn.

Left: The front door; the original prison entry.

Right: I'm not sure how Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson fitted into the picture as I'm sure Trafalgar is quite some way away, but this poster was prominently displayed.  Perhaps he called in due to some erratic navigation.

Left: A model ship, of which there were many. This one is of the 'Beagle' in which Fitzroy and Darwin sailed in 1833.

Right: One of the prison wings. Most of the cells contained a display of some kind. One floor of cells was entirely devoted to modern art featuring, almost exclusively, penguins.

Left: A typical cell with a typical convict carrying a typical (stolen) Waitrose carrier bag.

...and giving the naughty man a jolly good talking to. Their uniforms remind me of someone's racing colours. Can't remember whose.

As mentioned, decorative penguins featured to a large degree throughout this museum. Can't think why because I don't think there are any live penguins on the main island. I never saw one. I suspect there are some colonies on outlying islands, including the Falklands, before you get to the main bunch in Antarctica.

Right: A convict penguin. Female?

...and another bloody penguin.

I had arranged to go fishing the next day. This part of the world is the Mecca for trout fishing enthusiasts, especially in the rivers around Rio Grande to the north, where there are, reputedly, enormous brown, rainbow and sea trout. Anglers come from all over the world to fish for them. It is, admittedly, coming to the end of the season which finishes on 30th April.
I met my guide/ghilly, Juan-Carlos, and his boss, Serge, at 9.30am outside a fishing shop in town. They had arrived in a large 4X4 pickup with a quad bike stowed on the back. Unfortunately Juan-Carlos did not speak much English, and Serge absolutely none. This was to prove a bit tedious as I was rather left out of the conversations and 'plans'. I had imagined we would be tootling over to one of the many rivers near the town. Wrong! It was a two hour, 150km drive, stopping for coffee en-route, north up towards Rio Grande and the river Ewan which is, by all accounts, a renowned trout river. It was in fact quite an interesting journey not seen previously as on my arrival into Ushuaia it had been dark. The scenery over the mountain passes was impressive and I was interested to notice several ski-lifts and cable cars. Apparently the skiing here (June to September) is excellent. Also many attractive lakes further on.
After parking the 4X4 by the side of the main road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, they off-loaded the quad-bike. Self and Juan-Carlos then set off for a 40 minute (I thought it would never end) jolting cross-country ride across rough tracks, streams and steep hillocks until we eventually reached the confluence of the North and South Ewan rivers near the coast. Serge was following us on a bicycle!

Left: Self and Serge at the roadside 'Start Point'.

This river, being tidal, was slow running with incredibly slippery slimy banks. It was quite difficult to remain upright. We started fishing at 1.00pm just upstream from the river junction. "Perfecto!" said Juan-Carlos. Where have I heard that before?
We thrashed the water for about two hours, up and down, and not a nibble. It was at this point that Serge joined us, on foot. His bicycle had broken. Then, three of us, back on the quad for another long trek across the prairie to an inland stretch of the river. Perfecto again, I was told.

The three of us fished on, and on, with several changes of fly and location, until about 6.00pm with absolutely no result.

It was then decided to go back (phew, I was getting a bit saddle sore by now and my waders had leaked), to the place where we started, but not without bogging the quad in a deep muddy ditch on the way which involved much pushing, heaving, cursing and getting covered in muck. I had visions of a very long squelchy walk.

Left: A bunch of guanaco amused by our efforts

A couple of others were fishing here by now as dusk was setting in. One of them had caught a decent sea-trout which encouraged Juan-Carlos on to greater efforts and, at about 7.30pm, he duly hooked and played a fine sea-trout himself. Perfecto! He didn't have a landing net and so, as I held his rod, he slithered down to the water to lift out the, by now, tired fish. The tide was out and there was a lot of very gluey and slippery mud to cross. In lifting the fish from the water he slipped, dropped it and the hook came out. Mr Trout swam away flicking a few V signs as he went. Oh dear! I don't think I was entirely to blame and J-C was remarkably sanguine about it. I know you won't believe me when I tell you we reckoned it weighed about 15lbs.
It was now pitch dark and, quite thankfully, they decided to call it a day. Navigating by the stars, as far as I could tell, it was back across rough tufted grass, ditches and sage brush (only a couple of back-tracks) with three of us on the quad to a 'lone tree' where Serge had dumped his broken bike. With that hoiked on board the going was even slower and more uncomfortable. We eventually got back to the main road at about 9.30pm. My legs were very wet; my waders had leaked badly and my dry socks were in the pick-up. Then, guess what? Serge discovered that he had lost the car keys! After much searching and unpacking of bags they were eventually found. Dry socks on and quad loaded, off we set for the long drive home. We did at least have some coffee and sandwiches (cheese and ham of course) on board which were very welcome. It was to be made an even longer journey after Serge got a telephone message to say that one of his other clients had had a road accident somewhere to the west and would need collecting. We stopped at a cafe where a replacement car (after only 30 minutes fortunately) arrived to take myself and Juan-Carlos onwards. With much difficulty in translation I gathered that he is a ski instructor in the ski resorts around here during their winter. He has also instructed skiing in Andora. We arrived back in Ushuaia shortly after midnight.
Despite the language difficulty my guides were remarkably cheerful and amusing company and probably rather disappointed that we had had such a long and 'fishless' day. I was just a bit knackered.  To be honest, I begin to think I am to trout what green kryptonite is to Superman. The fact that it was the tail end of the season probably didn't help either.
Most fortunately the Dublin Bar was still in full swing and I had a decent steak with a reviving tincture or two. That was indeed Perfecto!

The next day, back to Buenos Aires. I had decided, against all my principles, to fly this leg due partially to time constraints and also the fact that the east coast road does not look particularly interesting (although it might have been amusing to spot the Yakkyda community around Puerto Madryn and Trelew).

Left: Leaving Ushuaia.

The expensive flight, in an Aerolineas Argentinas Airbus 340, to Buenos Aires was well up to expectations. A long wait at the airport  and during the 3.5hr flight only one measly cup of tepid coffee/tea was served together with a  little cardboard box containing two sweet biscuits and a small bag of things with the consistency and taste  of  blotting paper. No alcoholic drinks were available (I would have loved a beer) and despite only 72 of the 300 seats being occupied (I counted), the cabin service was perfunctory to say the least. That's air transport (tourist class) for you.

We landed at 1630hrs and I rushed off downtown to the central bus terminal for the next leg of my journey. This is to be up to the north-eastern corner of the country on the borders with Paraguay and Brazil to the town of Puerto Iguazú and the famous waterfalls nearby. It will be quite a contrast in weather and scenery to Tierra del Fuego I expect. I don't think I'll bother with the fishing up there.

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