Friday 18 February

(magnify) Chalten and Mount Fitz Roy

Breakfast – more crunchy toast and coffee. We’ve elected to drive straight to the airport in Calafate, so we don’t need to leave until 9.30 am, which gives me time for a final valedictory view of Mount Fitz Roy. Don is very keen to tell me about his dawn shot of the peak this morning – the golden orange light and crystal sky. I ignore him.

We drive back through the dusty desert, stopping for an early lunch (just a coffee and empanada) at La Leona. The river is very high today and almost over the bank. I make a dismal show at the ring and hook game, but Steve, with a remarkable display of patient persistence manages the double.

Reach the airport abruptly without warning and I am left struggling to squeeze my sandals into my rucksack outside on the concourse while Luqui waits to check us in.

(magnify) From left to right: Helen, Celia, David, Ron, Steve, Pam, Luqui, Don, Ian, Lawrence, David, John, and me.

Ron, Don, Celia, Ian, Steve, David, and I are continuing on to Ushuaia. Pam, Helen, tall Steve, Lawrence, and John are heading tonight for Buenos Aires and then early tomorrow back to Heathrow. We say our fond farewells, then they leave to spend a few hours in Calafate while we wait here for boarding.

We finally get off the ground almost an hour late. (There are no announcements.) It is a short flight. A sandwich and juice/coffee are served and cleared away almost before I bolt down my final mouthful.

Descend through low cloud into Ushuaia. It’s a modern airport of glass and polished wooden beams, somewhat nordic in character. We are met by our new guide, who may have been called Arnie or Aaron. It’s cold with a slight drizzle in the air.

Arnie gives us a quick run-down of the itinerary in almost impenetrable English as we drive through the suburbs to our hotel, the Los Ñires.

(magnify) Ushuaia suburbs

Our hotel is a smart building on the edge of town with spacious rooms done up to look like homely wooden cabins. There is a green nylon carpet that electrifies everything that touches it and a large window looking out over the rapidly expanding suburbs and the mountains behind. The peaks are still obscured by cloud. As in Chalten, the roads are all unmade. We have established that both Ron and I paid the single supplement (in my case unwillingly) when we booked, so I have elected to share with Don and reclaim the supplement on my return.

As it is already quite late and the hotel is quite a distance from the town centre, we eat in this evening. The hotel’s restaurant is situated in a large round room near to the sea with a bar at one end and large windows giving a panoramic view over the Beagle Channel. Evil-looking black clouds hover over the bay as the evening light fades.