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OK. So it is mad that it has taken me over a year to write up my 3 weeks of wandering in Patagonia, but as I am shortly to set off on this year’s big wander – the West Highland Way – I thought I ought to finally sign off with my final instalment – finally!  If you’ve read my earlier posts, you will realise that we are slowly heading south. In fact, so south that you can’t go any further unless you go on a boat. And I don’t mean Ushuaia – fabulous frontier town – and Argentina’s self-titled Fin del Monde (End of the World).  Which, by the way, is definitely worth a visit.  Unless you are British.  Because the Marianas are still a sticking point, as per this sign on the Naval Docks:

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‘No entry to British pirates’ (roughly translated!)

That aside – Ushuaia, at the very tip of Argentina, is the main port of call for all those Antarctic cruise ships heading south for iceberg adventures, and it definitely has the feel of a pioneer town – the Government attracts people to live here with massive tax breaks to compensate for its isolation. You can easily spend a few days here, though it is pretty expensive, wandering the shops, and up and down the hills (great for the walking legs and lungs!). A hire car will take you out and about to the national parks, lakes, the penguin island (in part 3), and the End of the World narrow gauge tourist train (which travels at less than walking pace, so it’s a good place to take in the National Park it travels through and zen out, but not a good place if you are in a hurry). My tip: try to avoid the first couple of trains of the day when in season, as you will be competing for your narrow gauge seat with the bussed out cruise ship folk on day trips.

We were soon headed for our main goal – a cross-border zodiac crossing of the Beagle Channel (weather dependent) to make landfall on Chile’s Isle de Navarino – the southernmost-inhabited chunk of land in the world, unless you are aiming for an Antarctic base station: and the focus of much argy-bargy between the Argentinians and the Chileans – the good pope had to intervene at one stage to calm things down a little.  Once we got through an unenthusiastic passport control at the port, the zodiac was a hoot – full up with a hoary sea-captain and 9 random travellers & hikers (including a couple of intrepid cyclists), and even though the weather was clear and still, the waves were impressive. Arriving on the island itself was surreal and beautiful – we were handed off and wandered over a dodgy gang plank to the only buildings we could see, and all hung about somewhat awkwardly amongst the cow pats, waiting for something to happen.  After almost an hour, a minibus came roaring up the dirt road, and out jumped Mr Customs, who proceeded to check our backpacks most diligently, then pile us (and the bikes) into the minivan for a 40 minute drive to the tiny naval township of Puerto Williams. Another stop where we all handed over our passports and watched them disappear into a nondescript building, only to emerge faithfully another 30 minutes later, and we had officially arrived in Chile.

We loved Puerto Williams and the Isle with a passion – it really is a tiny, quirky frontier place with an absulutely fascinating indigenous history, and a fantastic museum. The most southerly trek in the world is also here – the Dientes del (teeth of) Navarino – a week long, rugged, self supporting circuit, of which we did part – climbing up to the top of the mountain about the port, to see the cheekily wagging flag aimed pointedly across the Channel towards Argentina. There are very few people here, and very few facilities beyond the – you guessed it – most southerly yacht club in the world, which services the ocean going yachts about to head around the Cape of Good Horn – you can buy a ride on one or sometimes even pick up some work if you have good sea legs and some serious skills (and a very sturdy stomach!).  Staying here was a total treat because we got to stay as the first customers at the magnificent Errante Eco-Lodge, quietly sitting in the landscape a few miles from town, looking across teh Beagle Channel, built by two passionate and incredible young Chileans, Constanze and Jorge, who make you never want to leave – or determined to come back. What a way to end a trip. x

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Looking NORTH, towards the end of the world – Argentina’s ‘Fin del Mundo’, from ‘Beyond the End of the World’ – Isle de Navarino, Chile – it’s a sore point!

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Canalside homes in AmsterdamI haven’t been to Amsterdam for 20 years, when I was all eyes and ears as a young back packer. And here I am, still all eyes and ears, for a weekend with a great buddy. Amsterdam is an immensely strollable city – small enough to get lost in, gorgeous cafes and bars to pass the time, and a cacophony of sights and sounds for the senses. `And when your feet get sore or your nerves too jangled from avoiding the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet cyclists who own the city, you can just jump on a canal bus and see the city from water’s level. Even in the water it’s more than a slightly mad pace – hundreds of boats – pleasure cruisers, working barges, pedalos, private tubs, sleek little numbers carrying a couple of friends and more than a couple of drinks, even dinghies shaped like yellow clogs (I kid you not), and house boats lining every canal – all seem to mostly avoid collisions as they weave under the low bridges, and while there doesn’t seem much order to it all, it somehow works!

Organised chaos on the Princes Canal in Amsterdam

Organised chaos on the Princes Canal in Amsterdam

Tomorrow is Kings Day, so all the houseboats have put out buoyant floating barriers, to help prevent damage from the hundred of boats fuelled by fun and the colour orange, who will bump along the canals tomorrow as the town goes mad.  Can’t wait!

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