Golf in Ushuaia, Southenrmost city of the world
I knew it was not going to be great – I had to be up for a 2.30 transfer to the airport and then there would be the inevitable chaos at Check in etc. There was. Although we got to the airport at 3.45 the check in staff did not! They wandered in at 4.25. And then when we were through check in the security staff had not turned up so yet another wait. I am lucky that I can use the time to make notes in the Smythson of Bond Street notebook that Essie bought me for my travels. The plane took off an hour late and we flew for 3 hours more or less due south over the pampas, the South Atlantic and then the deserts of Patagonia. Tierra del Fuego from the air is quite special – snow covered peaks, forests and rivers all melting in to the fiords and channels separating the islands. I couldn’t check in to the hotel immediately so it was straight off to Uahuaia Golf Club, the southernmost golf course in the world at 54 deg south.
It is 9 holes in the plane of the valley with a trout river running through the middle. And it is windy!!!. I was playing in a light breeze of about 30 mph! Apparently one of my drives went for 4 km. It landed in the river and nothing stops the ball until it hits the sea! The fairways are rough but the greens surprisingly good but so small you have to be a brilliant chipper – not quite my style! I was taken round by the local pro – Guillermo Gomez who was extremely helpful. They have 120 members including 8 women and host the Tierra del Fuego Open in March each year. They are about to try to carve out a second nine.
The course is under ice for 4 months and Guillermo then makes his living giving indoor lessons to locals and the visiting skiers. He tells me he makes a good living, as do most locals – there is virtually full employment.
I walked around Ushuaia in the afternoon and went to the maritime museum, which is in the former prison. Although Magallanes first saw the islands in 1520 and named them Tierra del Fuego, because of the numerous smoky fires the locals used for cooking and warmth, the island was not actually colonised until the hardy pioneers of 1869. Few people wanted to come to somewhere so desolate and it was ideal for the use that expanded the whole population – as a prison. The Argentineans sent you to Tierra del Fuego not Australia. The prison was established in 1897 and lasted through to 1947. Some of the photos show a little of what it was like. The closure of the prison decimated the local economy so the government introduced a law that guaranteed earnings of three times the amount for the same job on the mainland – three for one. They also gave tax breaks for companies but these were withdrawn and the economy was very fragile. I am told that the answer was to give the unemployed jobs in the ‘civil service and local government’ but there is no work – it is just a way of buying votes. They are also given houses rent free but do have to pay local taxes. After they have been in occupation for some 20 years they are given the houses. That keeps the voters in place for quite a long time! These ‘council houses’ look absolutely dreadful but then so does most of the rest of the architecture. It is not a city of beauty.
Tourism has done the rest. Not only is it a place of historic significance it has many natural wonders with glaciers, fiords, peaks, penguins, sea-lions, whales etc etc. And it also boasts some of the finest trout fishing in the world. I am told tha the Rio Grande is one of the most well known rivers for fly fishing trouts, you can catch brown trout up to 14 kg! Big!! In the winter it is also a ski resort (Cerrro Castor) – the best powder available in the region they say, and the airport has every device known to man to get the planes in and out. It has become Argentina’s 4th biggest tourist destination.
Nicolas arranged for me to go fishing on Wednesday. The season has just started – on November 1st. There are two main fishing opportunities – the Rio Grande where you get sea trout up to 14 Kg and it costs about $5000 per day or lake fishing which is much more reasonable. I went for the latter and was picked up at 9 am by ‘Micky’. Not only is he quite good looking and a fishing guru but also he is a ski instructor (here and at Vail), a PADI diving instructor and he represented Argentina in one of the dingy sailing classes at the Sydney Olympics!! We were joined by Gerardo from Comodoro Rivadavia. He spoke little English but w e did establish that he was a rugby player and had just been playing in the Golden Oldies tournament in Buenos Aires. We bonded and have arranged to meet at the opening match at the world cup in Paris on Friday 7th September – France v Argentina!
The route to the hidden lake took us past the ski area and across many of the rivers and then over the southernmost section of the Andes (where they run East / West) and down to our lake, which was some 20 kms long. Many of the trees in the area by the rivers and lakes are dying. Why? The answer is Beavers! They were introduced in the 20’s and have no natural predators although foxes will take the weak and old. They mostly die a horrible death – when they are too old to bite the trees their teeth grow in a big curve into their own necks! There were lodges everywhere.
A quick transfer from 4 x 4 to RIB got us on to the lake and off to the Southern end by some disused beaver lodges. On the fourth cast Gerado struck and fought and eventually landed a 2 Kg silver trout. We dutifully cast on and on and by lunchtime we had three trout, two trees, one twig and quite a lot of weed. Gerardo caught the fish.
I know I am not meant to write about food any more but…we went up the Eastern side of the lake and landed using a dead tree as a jetty, walked up the hill and Micky uncovered hidden utensils for an ‘asado’ (BBQ). We all gathered dead wood and in no time we had a roaring ‘parrilla’ (fire). While the wood was burning we had the inevitable starter of various cheeses and salami followed by ‘chorizo’ cooked on the parrilla in toasted bread with ’chirrichurri’ sauce. And the main event – the fillet of beef was being prepared on top of the grill. The Argentines take great pride in their beef and certainly never add any flavouring other than salt. Any beef with a dressing must be of an inferior quality– it is for ‘gringos’. There was a little red wine to wash it down. The pictures show the idyllic setting. Before we cleared up we had one more treat. Micky had left one bit of Chorizo and put it on a fallen tree a few metres from us. A very hungry ‘chimango’ – a type of hawk came and inspected it and then plucked up the courage to swoop in for the treat – and I managed to get a photo!
Back to fishing and at last I did manage to land a 2.5 Kg brown trout. Does it matter that Gerardo actually hooked it? Not to me.
Instead of taking the regular route home Micky took us up the old track road in the 4 x 4 and boy did we need every bit of grip it had. I am not sure it would have been Beverley’s cup of tea (or Alex Holmes for that matter). Back over the Andes to Ushuaia only to find it had been raining all afternoon. Shame – we had had beautiful weather! Lots of places talk about having four seasons in one day – George, Ballybunion etc. but Ushuaia genuinely does.
The flight back was unusual for one reason – it took off on time but it was typical for a few others. The Argentineans always seem to load the slowest passengers first; everybody in the line to board shouts to others in their group at least 4 metres away and they carry on conversations with people 3 aisles away. They also fart a lot and fight over hand luggage space. It was also half an hour late landing and I cleared baggage 1.5 hours after the scheduled landing. Poor Agustin had to wait for some time!!
The final morning I was picked up by Gonzalo – 5 minutes early, as he would be! The check in with Daniela seemed remarkably efficient with and I am checked through to Quito. Will my luggage get there? The Priority lounge is empty and welcoming – thanks Bev.