I’ll Love You to the End of the World

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It’s a cheeky play on words I know, but I’m sure you noticed that I substituted ‘to’ for ‘till’.

But the end of the world does exist, and you can find it in Ushuaia, South America.

Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, and is commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world. It is bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel.

The End of the World is at the southern end of the Pan American Highway which is a network of roads that originates in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and runs 19,000 miles to just south of Ushuaia — with only a 60 mile interruption in Panama.

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Ushuaia

When we booked our South American holiday one excursion stood out more than most. A visit to the End of the World. We booked our places on the tour and early one morning boarded the coach for the drive to our destination.

It was a wonderful sunny day, and there was an almost cloudless sky. It might have something to do with being so far south but cloudless sunny days like those have a slight dream like quality far from the mists and haze of the big cities to the North. The mountains just seem to grab you from afar, the colours are a lot brighter and the air tingles with expectation.

It was a pleasant day, neither warm nor cold. It was also a public holiday and as we drove along the winding roads through the Patagonian Forest there were picnickers and families gathered around their barbecues, probably preparing their Asadas while their children skipped and played on the grass.

Our guide was in good spirits because of the weather. It rains a lot around Ushuaia, on average there are over 146 days of precipitation a year, with many cloudy and foggy days, averaging 206 cloudy days a year. So he reminded us of our good fortune, while informing us of the ravages caused by wildlife introduced only decades ago that were destroying the forests. From just a few pairs, for example, beavers had bred and multiplied with disastrous damage to the trees in Patagonia.

We stopped at a Visitor’s Centre on the shores of a lake and it was a golden opportunity for me to leave our party behind and head off along the trail to take some photos so I left the others and made my way along the shore until I was alone. The conditions were ideal for taking some great shots. They would have been even better in early morning or late afternoon but at least the sun didn’t flatten the panorama, and as I mentioned earlier, the air was exceptionally clean and crisp. I could almost imagine a smile on my camera as I tried to find the most appealing points of view.

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I could have stayed for hours watching the sparkles on the water and listening to the sound of the waves on the shore but it was time to pursue our trip — to the end of the world.

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We got back into the coach for another few miles and finally arrived at our destination. Many of our fellow passengers headed to the last Post Office but my wife and I headed along a winding footpath a short distance from the shores of a lake.

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We left everybody behind and just walked. I wanted to get back to the shore further along the lake, but the footpath just winded toward the woods and after a few hundred yards or so I decided to leave the path and head across to the lake.

We held hands as we crossed the grass, making sure that we were safe under foot. You can never be too careful of what the grass might be hiding. Eventually we came to a clearing on the shores of the lake. Our own private heaven on earth, far from the crowds, just the two of us. Although it started off as just another adventure it became a special romantic moment that I will always treasure and I am certain that she feels exactly the same way.

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There we were, the two of us, alone but not alone, at the End of the World.

I took you in my arms,  and kissed you, sealing those precious moments of togetherness in my heart.

That is why, my darling wife, that I’ll love you to the end of the world and for the rest of my days.

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This is the tenth in a series of travel tales

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World

 

It Takes Two to Tango

It Takes Two to Tango

My wife and I had always wanted to visit South America, and at the top of our list was Macchu Pichu and Lake Titicaca. We hadn’t heard about the Iguazú Falls or the Hand on the beach of Punta del Este and Ushuaïa was, for us, the end of the World only seen in documentaries and made popular in France by Nicolas Hulot, a French Television presenter.

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Some of our destinations retained a dream-like almost unreal quality as I thought they would always be memories of images and sounds from television programmes rather than my own personal souvenirs.

I was very excited to finally have the chance to visit these places and experience them with my own eyes and ears.

Our South American voyage started in Lima and while in Peru we flew to Cusco and visited Macchu Pichu. Nothing could have prepared me for my first glimpse, after the short but tiring trek up the mountain. Tiring because any movement takes more out of you at 10,000 feet.

Reality met the romanced discovery I’d imagined, and the images that I’d seen in magazines and in films corresponded precisely to what I got. It’s quite amazing and I really felt like pinching myself just to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming.

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The rest of that day was, of course, an anticlimax. How can you just go on with your day when you’ve seen something like that?

The images will stay permanently engraved in my souvenirs.

After Peru, we flew to Santiago de Chile and boarded our cruise ship in Valparaiso and sailed for Puerto Mont and Punta Arenas before arriving at Ushuaïa our first Argentinian Port

Arriving in the port of Ushuaïa, the air was so crisp and the sky so blue, I could have sliced it all up and put it into a box marked  ‘End of the World’ . As it happens it’s so far South that there really is a destination called ‘The End of the World’ but I’ll write about that in another story.

From Ushuaïa we navigated further south to Cape Horn, where it was so stormy that I was obliged to  hold of the handrails while taking photos of Cape Horn itself and the wind and waves battered the ship with such an intensity that although we came right up to it our Captain wisely decided not to circumnavigate it.

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I mention this because I have a certificate that states that I have circumnavigated Cape Horn but now you know that that is not strictly true.

From Cape Horn, the ship rounded the Southern tip of South America crossing into the South Atlantic Ocean and headed towards the Falkland Islands, Puerto Madryn and a day in the port of Montevideo and the chance of a visit to Punta del Este where I saw the famous hand on the beach.

Then, finally we disembarked the ship in Buenos Aires and spent the night before travelling the next day to Iguazú to spend a few days visiting the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the Iguazú falls.

I don’t think anything can really prepare you for this visit. Whereas Macchu Pichu is iconic for its architecture, culture and history, Iguazú is an assault of nature on all your senses at once. The sheer size of the waterfall and the power and roar of the water as it plunges over the sides defy your imagination.

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So after Iguazú, the flight back to Buenos Aires gave me the opportunity of reflecting on the sights I’d seen because two days later I was due to fly back home to the UK.

In my mind, the journey was almost over.

Thankfully this was far from being true.

On the last night of our voyage, we attended a Tango Show. I didn’t really have high expectations. I’ve never really been keen on the tango as a dance. I prefer the quickstep, the foxtrot and the waltz . Although I enjoy the skill of the dancers it is a little too postured for my liking.

The restaurant and theatre were tastefully decorated, the waiters were charming and the service was danced to perfection. Almost before we had started we were already finishing the dessert and a few glasses of wine later I was feeling much merrier.

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The house lights dimmed, and the curtains opened. There was a five-piece orchestra high up over the stage that started playing and then the dancers entered.

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They were remarkable. Beautifully precise rhythmic dance steps, with Argentinian attitude, postures and abrupt pauses. The female dancers wore colourful costumes and the male dancers were slicked back, elegant and macho.

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As the Tango originated in Buenos Aires; what better place to appreciate it.

It was a wonderful climax to our voyage and I was disappointed when the curtains closed after the last encore. Although they dance night after night, each dance was fresh and lively.

In conclusion, it takes more than two to tango. The couple dancing the tango and an audience to appreciate them.

They won me over. Now I love the tango.


This is the seventh part of a series of travel tales.

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World

my500words : day 27 : Breakdown in Peru

Breakdown in Peru

I was slowly getting acclimatised to the altitude on our trip to Peru. We had been based in Cusco which is at 11,000 feet for a few days and my chest wasn’t as tight as it was on arriving and I was no longer struggling to catch my breath.

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I remember the first evening when we arrived in Cusco from Lima. Our guide had recommended a restaurant just a few minutes from the hotel. We were promised a buffet and a local show.

My wife and I set off on foot because we were told it was only a few blocks away. Walking even short distances at eleven thousand feet, when you are not used to it, is arduous and it took us much longer than expected to walk to the restaurant. Although it was on a fairly gentle incline, we were exhausted when we walked into the restaurant, well before we ate from the buffet and watched the show.

We had a great evening but even walking downhill to the hotel was difficult and I felt like an old man in slow motion, walking slowly and often gasping for breath between steps.

But two days later the frequent headaches had subsided and I felt a lot better.

The next day we had a very early breakfast before six am. It was still dark when we climbed into the coach and set off. We climbed a steep hill through the favelas of urban Cusco on our way to the Sacred Valley, a few hours drive away. It was far too early for conversation so we half awake as the coach trundled through the countryside.

When dawn broke I was surprised to see many villagers in national costume. In other countries that I’ve visited, national costume is worn mostly either for special occasions or for the tourists. In Peru, however, national costume is still worn quite naturally, every day of the year.

Our destination, that day, was Ollantaytambo an Inca archaeological site, in the Urubamba Province, some 60 kilometres or so from Cusco. Along the way, we stopped off at a mountain village to see how the baby alpaca wool was dyed with plants and minerals and had the opportunity, of course, of making a few purchases.

I seized a photo opportunity and left everyone to appreciate the show while I took my camera and headed along a path, just outside of the village.

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When I travel in a group, I strive to be the first or the last member, so that I can seize photo opportunities that don’t include people in the photos.

I love taking portraits, but landscape photos are marred, in my opinion, when there are people in the shot.

The air was crisp, and the early morning sun pale as I walked along the path, immersing myself in the countryside. As usual, I was searching for interesting angles. Photography is one of my favourite ways of discovering. It encourages me to be inquisitive and attentive to my surroundings. The actual photos are often unremarkable, but I get a lot of enjoyment from taking them.

I took a few photos and had a few memorable moments before rejoining the party in the village. I even bought a baby Alpaca scarf from a smiling woman on a market stall and she let me take a portrait or two. It was magic.

Then we headed to Ollantaytambo and were able to enjoy our plastic ponchos in the rain as we visited the archaeological site.

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Ollantaytambo is only at 9,500 feet but we were still suffering a little from altitude sickness and decided not to climb all the way to the top of the hill for a view of the village and enjoyed it from half way up.

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We all met up in the coach after the visit for the two-hour trip back to Cusco.

We were exhausted.

As we climbed the mountain pass that separates Ollantaytambo from Cusco the sun was setting and the light was slowly fading.

Just after the summit, we heard a loud thud and the coach lurched and leant over to the side. The driver turned the engine off and we all looked out of the window to see if it had collided with another vehicle. There wasn’t another vehicle in site.

The driver and the guide talked for a minute or two before they announced that the back axle had broken and the coach couldn’t pursue its route.

We were stranded in the middle of Peru at 12,500 feet. The highest we had ever been in Peru.

Thinking back to that incident now, I had made a tandem jump the previous summer from 10,000 feet and there we were, 2,500 feet higher.

I asked the guide if I could seize the opportunity and take some photos a short walk from the coach and he said that it wouldn’t be a problem because he had a few calls to make.

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I set off, very slowly over the road and into the fields to take some late afternoon photos. Most of the other passengers stayed in the coach.

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When I had finished taking photos I returned to the coach. A few people had been able to jump onto another tour bus back to Cusco and the guide informed us that a replacement coach was on its way from Cusco to pick us up.

Within the hour, we were back in another small coach, on our way back to the hotel. As it was smaller it was able to take a few short cuts along the mountain roads and we all arrived just behind the other coach.

After an excellent meal, we retired to bed, ready for another excursion the next day.

A visit to Machu Picchu, the chance of a lifetime.

(967 words)


This is the sixth in a ten-part series of travel tales.

  1. How I went to Brazil

2. Flight over Table Mountain

3. The Tracey Arm Surprise

4. The Lone Piper

5. My Vanuatu Swim

6. Breakdown in Peru

7. It Takes Two to Tango

8. The Bali Run

9. Almost the Northern Lights

10. I’ll Love You To the End of the World

A Photo a Week Challenge : Phone-tography

The challenge in the A Photo a Week Challenge is to provide a photo taken with a mobile phone.

These four images were taken with an iPhone 6s plus and illustrate how mobile phones cope well in two situations, low light photos (Lincolnshire sunsets) and photos from an airplane (flight over Peru and the Andes).

I call these four photos my Fire and Ice set ; a vague reference to Game of Thrones