The Choo Choo train at the tip of Argentina - Day 444
There is something magical about train journeys, especially if they are in steam trains. I remember taking our sons on some when they were small and seeing their little faces light up. And so today we went on the Choo Chii train at the tip of Argentina,
We arrived at the old former prison which used to host Argentina’s most notorious criminals and now hosts the somewhat touristy Southern Fuegian Railway, also known as the Train of the End of the World. The usual visitor’s shop had the usual tat, but Tim needed a new hat, he has, surprise surprise, lost his cap. I so wished he’d bought the one in the photo!
We climbed into the small carriage and “Choo Choo” went the train as we travelled along the track. The scenery was pretty with grassy riverbanks and mountains in the background. A group of children were walking and waving to us with a couple of them doing “The Floss” dance move. (Our nephew taught us this at our niece’s wedding).
We stopped off for a 15-minute break at the “Estación Cascada La Macarena” and climbed the steps to see the Macarena Waterfall. Ah, we have been thoroughly spoilt after seeing the Iguazu Falls. One of our lessons when travelling is not to compare places (I do, I know). We need to take each area as it is, see the beauty that is in front of us. From the top, there was a lovely view of the Pipo River Valley, named after Pipo, a prisoner who tried to escape but was found a couple of days later frozen in the river, now, weirdly, named after him. As we descended the children we saw earlier had arrived. They were collecting wildflowers, identifying them and sticking them into a worksheet. A great way to learn.
Our ride took us along the route that the convicts took to collect much-needed wood and we could see remnants of this with many stumps of trees that they cut down. We were informed that by looking at the height of the stump, we could tell if the tree was cut in the summer or the winter. The winter ones were higher due to the depth of the snow. These grey stumps dotted around the landscape did look sad, gradually rotting from their majestic former selves.
We reached the sign for the Tierra del Fuego National Park and skirted around forests of beech trees and peat bogs of sphagnum moss and grasses. A herd of horses were munching in the lower ground, but we didn’t see any other mammals. Apparently, rabbit and beaver have both been introduced into this area from settlers, which have caused significant damage to the environment. A species of red fox was brought in from Patagonia to eat the rabbits, but then it was found that they rarely eat these. Doh!
An hour later, the train arrived at the National Park Station. Of the packed train, only one other couple plus we left the station, with the rest remaining on the train to return back to Ushuaia. We had seen that there was a nice walk through the forest which we could do by the time the next train arrived in 3 hours. Tim had bought me some walking sticks ready for our Patagonian trip to help me up those mountains; this was their maiden voyage. Tim did give me a lesson on how to use them. Skiing down the road just didn’t quite work.
I had a sense that we had gone down the wrong way. Well, what do you expect with #grownuptravellers? How many times have we done this? I was right. We returned to the station and took the correct lane and eventually found the track for the forest.
The long lichen dangling off the many thin trees gave the place an eerie quality; it felt like one of the ghosts of an escaped prisoner was watching us. Ok, my imagination was getting creative. The trail was easy, with small yellow wooden posts to assure us we were going the right way. Thank goodness for that. We chatted away, and Tim shared about a video he had watched where the message was that we either do things based on force or by want. I didn’t agree, this was too simplistic and just seemed like a different way of explaining the metaphor “carrot and stick”. Our discussion was getting, not heated but definitely loud and luckily we then came across a notice that said something about being quiet in the forest. A good message and one that was needed at that moment. We enjoyed the rest of the walk in near enough silence apart from when I realised that we only had another 1.5 hours to go before the next train left and we seemed quite a bit off of halfway! Eek, we needed to up our pace. I’m glad I had my poles with me.
We finally arrived in plenty of time for the train, after a wonderful walk, seeing weird fungi, a few tiny woodland flowers, an area of petrified trees and snow-capped mountains rising up beyond the forest edge.
After another pleasant train ride, a lady at the station kindly booked a taxi for us. As we were waiting a young couple asked for cab, and we suggested they shared ours. They were thrilled. Noelle and Irwin come from Taiwan and were astonished that we had heard of their country. They said that many people, and even airlines, think Taiwan is part of China. In fact, China try and make out that it is part of their country! They were such a delightful couple, and Noelle passionately told us about some of the beautiful sights that Taiwan have to offer, including the Taroko Gorge, where she suggested that God put all the beauty in this one place. What a lovely thing to say. She seemed very proud of her home.
We said a warm farewell and got back to our Hotel. We had moved on from our lovely Airbnb as they only had availability for two nights. The hotel owner Rogerio was like a warm cuddly bear with such a friendly face. We had already decided to eat here in the evening, so had a quick nap (I put the alarm on as I was afraid we’d sleep until morning again), washed our face with cold water to wake us up and went down to dinner.
During our meal, I was joking with Tim that I had hoped he’d got me a birthday cake and would be very disappointed if I didn’t have one. I was ribbing him, and no way had I expected one. To my astonishment, after our main meal, Roderio appeared singing “Happy Birthday” with a chocolate brownie with fruits of the forest ice cream and a large “O” candle on the top. He also provided a small bottle of bubbly for us. Wow, what a fabulous ending to my birthday, and especially special chatting to both our sons and their lasses and my sisters, and the many birthday wishes I received. I felt incredibly blessed and grateful.