Again we pack up our tents in the dark and hit the road. Long boring Patagonian roads of windswept nothingness. We drive until we reach Cabo Dos Bahias, a penguin colony. Penguins are cool! Okay, so they don't actually do that much on land, but they're really cool to watch. For the most part they look back at you, twisting their heads to view you from different angles. And when they waddle around the shore or to the sea... fantastic! They occasionally squawk and have a go at each other. Fight, fight, fight! But it doesn't last long, they soon give up. The other truckers, having spent all day yesterday watching penguins and sea lions get bored and soon head back. That left Nick and I gazing at these amusing creatures for longer than the others wanted. Penguin time was over when the truck started honking its horn. Boo. The best part about Cabo Dos Bahias is that it's off the beaten track, so apart from an old German couple we were the only people there.
I can't move on without mentioning Armadillos! I've seen real wild Armadillos! (Okay, so they didn't do much either, but still...)
On the way to the campsite I sit and chat with Safari Steve about Rally driving, Oil rigs and working in Amsterdam (which now grabs me as a really good idea). The "Party Truck" falls asleep as usual so I entertain myself by clambering around the truck and taking photos of dead people from obscure angles.
On arrival to the campsite a couple of people talk about climbing the hill next to us. I eagerly wait for the climb to begin but interest soon wains amongst the lethargic party people. Frustrated, I take it upon myself to peg it up the mountain on my own before it gets too dark, as the sun was already setting. There was a lot of scrambling on all fours to get up the sandy hill-side - but that just made it all the more fun to run back down! My photos from the top proved I still reined supreme. I rule, I rule! But no-one (in particular, the girls) were that impressed.
Woke up around Midday not wanting to spend another whole day on the Internet so I decided to take a little boat trip around the Beagle Channel to see some wildlife. I book myself on the Barracuda, Ushuaia's first tourist boat. 80 pesos for a 3 hour round trip. She's some 50 years old and looks quite beautiful as her interior retains many of the original fixtures and fittings. We set sail with just 5 other passengers - a Spanish couple and 3 Israelis who just happened to be the other occupants of my dorm room. They had just moved in and recognised me as the person they disturbed getting up that morning.
I chat to Elaina, Ella and Mark until we get to our first Island (Alicia Island) and see South American Sea Lions - Roar! Large lumps of blubber so called because the older males have big shaggy manes. Each male has his own harem of ladies that are usually strewn on and around him. The ladies in one group were all so comfortable with their master that they didn't bat an eyelid when he let loose a big mushy pile of chocolate moose right from under him (and them) and emptied his bladder at the same time. Now you try doing that at home in bed with your missus and see what happens! We also saw lots of King Cormorant birds too with bright shiny, deep blue backs.
It became obvious at this point that the island is a big tourist attraction because various other large and ugly tourist catamarans were bobbing about near us. But none got anywhere as near to land as our vessel whose bow practically skimmed the island as it floated past under slight motor control. A very skilled captain indeed. We then motored to the next Island, Isla de los Lobos. We were passed by a couple of the other modern cats, not that we cared - out boat was so cool we wanted to take our time and spend as much time on it as we could. Next stop, Fur Seals. These were smaller and more playful than Sea Lions. Much cuter.
We pass a small rocky outcrop. It is told that in 1930 the German captain of the German passenger ship Monte Cervantes made a couple of grave errors on a perfectly clear sailing day and grounded, and subsequently sank his ship. The museum says the captain was the only casualty as he decided to go down with his ship. Our guide continues, "Which is just romantic Bullshit for tourists as the ship remained grounded for some 25 years. What actually happened was the captain made excuses to return to the ship to retrieve some documents and such was his shame, he put a gun to his head and shot his brains out." She was a nice girl, our guide.
Later I phone Australis about their cruise tomorrow. It's all booked up but I could hang around tomorrow afternoon and see if there are any cancellations. Bugger. I had planned to leave Ushuaia tomorrow morning when all the buses leave but I'm persuaded to stay an extra day on the off chance of getting on the mini-cruise.
Rockafore Cod & Salad for dinner (the best!) followed by Internet at my favourite place until 02:00 watching American Werewolf in Paris. "It's all true!" shrieks Ezekiel again. Strange boy.
Up at 06:30 to wait for the penguin taxi at 06:50. 06:55 and no taxi and no-one at reception. Fearing I'll miss the boat (as I don't know the set up) I have to ring the doorbell to wake someone up! "It'll be here in 5 minutes," he says as phones his Bro to come pick me up. When it does, it drives 2 blocks down the street and drops me off! I could have walked that in 3 minutes! I'm bundled into a mini-bus with others and it's only then do I ask where everyone is going. "To see the penguins!" is the right answer I was looking for. After ¾ hour we stop off at a jetty in the middle of nowhere - no civilisation, just road, this jetty and and a really cool, wicked looking space rocket of a boat moored to it! Yeah baby, yeah! And yes, it is the one we board too - Awesome!
On the way to Magdalena Island (where the penguin colony is) we all took it in turns to sit through the front hatch whilst we were bombing along. Magdalena Island is bigger than I expected - more than just a rock and it has a rope path leading you to a lighthouse and back. All the while you're surrounded by Penguinos! (I love that Spanish word!) The wind is ferocious and I realise that if the upcoming Tour of Pain (trek around Torres del Paine) is going to be anything similar then I'll need a hat and gloves. We only get 1 hour on the island (½ hour less than normal) due to impending bad weather.
We motor over to an island of Sea Lions but stay on board and watch them from the boat. Then we undertake one of the coolest and most exciting boat rides I've ever been exposed too. And for 1½ hours back to the jetty too! The bad weather came, the swells and waves rose and I should have figured something was up when the crew donned waterproof seal skins and goggles! This boat can fly! And fly it did as it constantly lept from the crest of one wave to the crest of another, giving back breaking jarring thuds on every impact. My stomach constantly felt as if it was on a roller coaster ride. The blokes all loved it, the girls wished it would stop and all the while there was this fat midget sat at the back of the boat laughing non-stop. It was like a really bad horror film! Bizarre! But like all good things it had to come to an end.
When I got dropped off back in town I went in search of, and bought some cheap fleecy gloves and a beany hat. Required. I buy a bus ticket off the hostel to Puerto Natales for 6,000 pesos (£6). It left at 15:00, took 3 hours and was un-exciting.
An email from the Israelis tell me they're at Juans Hostel. I try to get a taxi there, only the driver had to make several phone calls before finding it (bare in mind Puerto Natales is very small). This hostel place has no signs, a locked front door and when I go in to ask where I am, nobody would tell me - it's all hush hush. Until someone pipes up, "Oh, you're the English guy that Elaina said was turning up!" Then it's all, "Friend this," and "Friend that," and "Come in friend, you're welcome." (Everyone is called "Friend" here.) It turns out I'm in a Israeli Commune for Jewish people. I'm not Israeli and I'm not Jewish but it all seems okay once they know this outsider has been vetted by someone who is. I think I'm the first non-Israeli Jew to stay there. People don't seem entirely comfortable with it, I stick out like a sore thumb. They all stare at me and call me that, "English guy." All the signs and posters are in Hebrew. (Like I have enough trouble with Spanish!) They have Israeli flags on the walls. I feel like I've penetrated some strange religious cult. Still, I'm in a twin room for 3,000 pesos (£3) a night!
The Israelis (Mark and the girls) plan to start a 4 night camping W trek tomorrow - it's too soon for me. I need to acquire a tent and food and the shops are beginning to close already. I Internet for trek details but all the guided tours (usually foreign) cost around $1,500 US - Woah! That's like, really expensive! My room mate, Guy, has just come back from doing most of the "The Circuit" with a few others. He says you camp at designated campsites and the trails / paths are in good condition and well marked. The Circuit as a whole takes some 10 days. The more he talks about it (like it's only $100 US for food and tent hire) the more I get a really stupid idea in my head!