Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ushuaia, Part 1

If I had stayed in a hostel, my time in Ushuaia still would have been awesome. But wow, the family I stayed with made it such an amazing & unique experience.

Ushuaia is set at the foot of a series of mountains, with the houses rising up into it. There are a bunch of different peaks you can see from everywhere in town. It is also set on the Beagle straight, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific. On the other side of the straight, you can see a mountain range and a large island, the last piece of land before the ocean begins, belonging to Chile. While I was there, all the mountains were capped with snow, the trees were in full fall colors…reds, yellows, and oranges. It feels like a ski resort town, in fact, there is some decent skiing there. It is indeed the southernmost ‘city’ in the world. There is a settlement of about 2,000 people across the straight, called Puerto Williams, but they get most of their services from Ushuaia. I was surprised by the climate. It was about 50 degrees most of the time I was there. Typically, all year it never goes above about 60 or 65, but the winter didn’t seem as chill as Chicago’s, for example. For being so close to Antarctica, I was surprised at how pleasant it was.

Anyways, because of the couchsurfing family I stayed with there, my experience was incredibly fantastic and unique. The family had a full blown woodworked house, pressed up in the absolute last row of houses against the mountains. They moved there in 1984 from Cordoba, and built it when their street did not even exist. At that time, Ushuaia had about 17,000 people, whereas now there are about 80,000 people. They had no running water or electricity, and used natural gas tanks. It felt like a ski lodge to me…they left a lot of the wood beams within the house with the bark on them, and it was full of homely things. The house had a view of all of Ushuaia & the Beagle straight in the front, and of course the mountains were basically in the backyard. They had large windows all throughout to allow the most natural light in, and of course view the spectactular sunrises & sunsets.

Part of the view from the front window:

The house:

I got in after a 12 hour bus ride from Punta Arenas at about 7pm, and took a short taxi ride to their place. Cecilia greeted me outside, and I met the dad and one of their sons, and we shared some tea. Cecilia was like the kindest person you could ever meet, the dad (Carlos) was really friendly too. She is a phsychiatrist, he an architect (his business is booming now). I think she was the kindest host I’ve ever had haha, I felt like she was treating me like a son (well, she was 55 or 56, so….). Things like making sure I had gloves for my boat trip, enough change for the bus when I landed in Buenos Aires, etc, were really nice. I talked a lot with the dad about sports and buildings, but he also liked to talk about travelling.

Anyways, Cecilia loved telling me stories about Ushuaia. About how they had to buy the land they built their house on from the government years after they built the house (and the disputes between the two), how they essentially developed their neighborhood from when there was only 2 or 3 other houses, watched electricity and lights go up, and saw their neighbors build a wall next to their house that obstructed their view of the glacier (she said she cried for 2 years after this).

So the first night they cooked a nice meal at the typical hour of 1030pm. The second night, I volunteered to cook and again made Chili. As in Bariloche, they had no clue what it was. Admittedly, my chili sucks, but they don’t know the difference between good and bad chili…I mean, mine tastes decent (albeit lacking spices), but is NOTHING special. I’m talking ground beef, red/green peppers, onion, canned beans and tomatoes, garlic, and whatever spices I could find in their house. I made 2 batches, because the son is a vegetarian.

The fourth night, I helped Cecilia cook dinner, which was great because I learned a few things here and there. She threw a shank of lamb in a saute and cooked it with onions, pretty basic. Then, I was amazed at this eggplant sauce she made… with just a little garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and blender. She threw the whole eggplant on top of the stove burner for like 20 minutes, until the juices spilled out after it was cooked….scooped all the meat out, and blended it up with everything else. I’m definitely going to make this when I get back. We put it on the lamb and sandwiches. The she made sliced potatoes in the oven, which admittedly, were really crisp, not sure if that’s what she was going for….Of course, we enjoyed all this with some nice Argentinian wine.

Cooking an eggplant sauce. New way to cook an eggplant, haha.

For lunch the day I left, I helped make empanadas. So now, I am officially a professional at this. I’ll definitely be making them when I get back. This time, we fried them in grasa (oil)… as opposed to using the oven in Bariloche…delicious.

Let’s see, the second day I went with a walk with Cecilia in the woods behind their house. It was cool because she pointed out all these different berries and we ate some… I’m proud to report I am still alive. She was a nature type person so she was pointing out all the plants and different types of forests. We also walked through some neighborhoods, and she pointed out who lived in which houses, and gave me a lot of history of Ushuaia. The next day, in the afternoon, we took a mega hike up to the glacier. She was like superwoman in her 50s, threw on her hiking boots, jackets, and trudged up the 45 degree hill few hours with me, explaining stuff about the glacier and forests the whole time.

They also showed me videos of their other son, who is a trekking guide. He went to Antarctica as a porter with a Spanish television show, and the footage was pretty amazing. Trips to Antarctica start at around $4,000 if you are considering it…

That’s my novel about my hosts. I’ll do something on Ushuaia later.

The family at dinner:

The eggplant is ready. Yum.

1 comment:

  1. I really loved reading through your descriptions! Thank you so much. After looking through many posts at various travel blogs around the internet, it was terrific to find yours and read from a simple layout and great first-person stories.

    I'm interested to read that you stayed with a couchsurfing host in Ushuaia. We are trying to scope out whether or not it's possible to visit Patagonia on our budget when we go to S.America in 2012. I'd absolutely love to experience the grandeur of Tierra del Fuego, and I think it would be excellent to get down farther south than the Lakes District... Your post gives me helpful insight.

    Thanks again!


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