Thursday, 2 December 2010

... Patagonia: (Wo)Men Overboard!

When my shambolic seafaring legs hadn't improved by later the previous evening I figured there must be something more going on than me being a wuss on a boat. Sure enough I awoke in the middle of the night with a raging fever that I was convinced had me bound for Davy Jones' locker.

Surely I'd therefore spend the day in bed, right?

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego was Argentina's first coastal national park. Only a small part of it is actually open to the public however in a bid to protect the environment. Despite this, there is some beautiful scenery to take in. I guess this is what led me to be on a minibus with a day of canoeing and hiking in store despite my delicate disposition. Or may be there was a touch of insanity thrown in there too? I was actually feeling a lot better after a spot of breakfast even if that was served with a side of self-convincing.

There was a drive of about 20km west of Ushuaia with pick up of a few more adventurers and the canoes. Unfortunately you can't often choose whom you might want to spend a day with. One couple left us at our mini pit-stop at the visitor centre and by the time we were trying to sort through what became a total farce of canoe designation, the remainder of the group were all highly irritated by another couple. We were also running into extreme language difficulties with the tour operator, which concerned a bunch of us given the fact that we had limited experience in a canoe between the group. Safety instructions and even general instructions being given in Spanish was not well received. This led to frustration on all sides and it was getting hard to enjoy oneself. On top of that we then had to deal with the extremely rude and judgemental couple who decided to make the most absurd statements about whom they should be put in a boat with and their reasons why. Laughably it was to do with fitness although sadly there was a hint of bigotry & racism. Quite rightly and most eloquently, if I do say so myself, they were put in their place in true British bulldog style by a member of the group. Winston Churchill would be proud! Go Team Penguin!

The initial portion of the canoeing started at Lago Roca and alas it didn't start off well. One boat went off course and got stuck. Language difficulties and a extreme lack of experienced guides meant confusion and both occupants standing in the water after one yelled at the other to get out of the canoe. You can perhaps guess who the person yelling was despite my thinly-veiled attempt to remain diplomatic and neutral.Innocent But just to clarify, I was watching this unfurl from the safety of my own canoe in disbelief.

What could have possibly passed itself off as extreme black humour then turned into shock and horror when a boat capsized under a bridge in some rapids on Lapataia River. Survival mode in action and a bunch of us running to assist. I didn't envision a day trip dragging soaking wet freezing people off the outer frame of a bridge. Then again I doubt anyone did. The two medics were probably wondering if they were ever going to get any respite. Thankfully people were ok. Just very very cold and suffering the loss of electronics. One thing this company did do well was get them wrapped up with warm blankets and driven off to a place of warmth very quickly, although for one girl the incident led to the end of her day as she hadn't brought a change of clothing with her.

Human resilience is a wonderful thing. Once fed and defrosted, the remaining survivor not only wanted to stay but wanted to partake in the 3 hour hike with the rest of us. Of course two out of the 3 people who got wet were part of Team Penguin.

My main question, no doubt shared by everyone else, was why on earth did we only have one guide with us? Every time I have done something like this there has been at least two guides plus someone in a separate kayak whipping around between everyone telling them what to do.

It really was too bad because when you were out on the waters of the lake, the river and the Beagle Channel (vastly different conditions to the previous day) it was so spectacularly beautiful. The peace & tranquility was amazing. You were surrounded by snow-capped mountains and lush green forests that smelt so fresh. The hike, whilst somewhat tame compared to those previous, meandered along the coastline or through those forests of coihue, canelo and lenga. We even managed to finish it in under 2.5 hours. This was what we had no doubt all signed up for just minus the unnecessary drama I'm sure. I'm all for adventure but this was just a little extreme even by my standards.

I suspect that tomorrow's breakfast is going to be with a healthy dose of "take it easy" for my remaining few hours in Ushuaia before a flight back to Buenos Aires

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