After years of planning, we are at the end of the world, in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, on the way to visit happy feet in Antarctica.
Buenos Aires has been kind, sending us off with sunshine. Well, she would have, but the shipping line conveniently forgot us, so we found ourselves dumped onto a 4am flight. Who flies at that ungodly hour? Whatever happened to airport curfew?
The locals think it is normal, rather a late start to a trip. Poor old Aussies slept for five hours, dragged themselves on to the streets with the rest of those still out on a Sunday night, jumped into a taxi with a driver who just managed to keep his eyes open as he deftly wove his way through one-way back streets.
We managed to almost get the Latino thing right. We still woke up at 7am, but with careful dithering and time-wasting, it was possible not to leave the apartment or hotel until almost 9am.
Knowing that an early coffee meant just after 11am, we brewed our own — which somehow managed to end up covering a kitchen bench, half the floor and providing two tablespoons of the precious liquid into the base of a cup.
Taking almost an hour, one would have thought the liquid gold for a tired body would have been sensational. Sadly, not even the partly pasteurised, partially homogenised, semi UHT milk could make the stuff drinkable.
Miserable, tired and looking gorgeous, we hit the streets in search of the required caffeine fix.
The barista was hot. So was the coffee — burnt beyond recognition in milk that ulcerated everything behind your front teeth to your tonsils.
Keeping fit on holidays is always a challenge. Walking 400 kms to find a decent lunch venue is one way to ensure you can see your toes when you look down. Another is to drink lots of local water in the hope of starting a spontaneous colonoscopy. Not pretty, but effective.
The best way of all is to select three ‘must do’ locations in the same city and visit them on foot or by bike in a single day. It works best when using a Portuguese map, but a Spanish alternative will suffice.
On arrival in Ushuaia, a trek up the local glacier will do the trick just as well. It has the added advantage of providing a spectacular view of the Beagle Channel, and a chairlift to lull you into a sense of ‘Hey this is not so bad!’ to start the trip is just perfect.
The wind chill factor of -10C was not comfortable, but there was the threat of sunshine above Martial Glacier.
The sun struck with a vengeance as we trekked over slabs of slippery slate from which the snow had recently melted. This was a true glute and ankle workout. Stepping gingerly onto the spongy moss seemed like heaven until a misplaced foot became a slimy mud covering to the loin.
Ever on and up, I was rewarded with breathtaking views. I mean breathtaking as the wind snatched the tears from my eyes and the drops from my nose.
The homeward journey was so much more pleasant, sitting on the spring snow, flinging my legs in the air and screaming my lungs out as I sped towards the icy water trickling into the valley 200 metres below.
By WALLY SALINGER