Here are two inspirational moments, from a journey packed full of them.
Day 6: Six of us set off on a challenging climb up Cerro de los Cristales, with only grazing horses and noisy parakeets to keep us company. Rewarded on the way with stunning views of Argentina’s famous Moreno Glacier and of endless stretches of icy-cold crystal-clear mountain water spreading out in all directions, we pushed our way up over dangerous scree and through swirling grey, menacing, clouds to reach the summit - triumphant but exhausted. Then we slid down from the top: that was scary and exhilarating too. By the time we reached half way, the clouds had cleared to reveal an autumnal landscape bathed in the warmth of a late afternoon sun. And, way down below, nestling near the water among majestic-looking trees, we could see the estancia – Nibepo Aike – where a delicious meal – home-produced meat and home-grown salad – hosted by the ranch owners and their gaucho sons awaited us. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.
On day 11, we were in Ushuaia, at the foot of the Andes. We had finally reached the “end of the world” and in front of us lay the Beagle Channel, just waiting to be explored. As the sun rose spectacularly over the bay, I took off on my own to catch the super-smooth, twin-hulled, catamaran which would take me out onto the water in search of the fantastic array of wildlife for which this part of the world – thanks to Darwin - is so famous. I was not disappointed. I saw velvety-brown-coated South American sea-lions, some lolling on the rocks, others craning their necks in play, while the far more numerous but smaller imperial cormorants, whose space on Bird Island the sea-lions were occupying, looked sulkily on. Out in the Channel, masses of southern giant petrols bobbed up and down, happily feeding, until the catamaran approached and sent them skimming across the water to get away. A little further from the boat, I caught sight of the tell-tale signs of a school of whales – great columns of water rising and falling in quick succession, like a magnificent firework display. Then, the boat arrived at Penguin Island, its last port of call. Here, Magellan penguins – thousands of them – waddled, slithered and belly-flopped around the island, seemingly oblivious to their more majestic King penguin cousins who strutted their stuff along the shoreline, just inches away the boat, to the sheer delight of me and all others on the boat who looked on.
While Exodus literature says people can travel independently to the start of the trip in Buenos Aires, potential travellers should be made aware that Exodus’s UK operation is not always able to ensure that this is a relatively straightforward and “trouble free” process and that, should travel problems occur, the “full Exodus service” appears to be available only to those travelling on the group flight to the start of the journey.
Potential travellers should also be warned that what Exodus calls in its literature its “emergency telephone number” does not always operate as such since response times can be very slow.
Finally, potential travellers who take out the travel insurance policy, which is promoted by Exodus and bears its name, is issued by a separate organisation whose quality of service has proved to be deficient in a number of respects.