When people think of Ireland, they might think of Guinness, music or even Leprechauns, but did you know that Ireland has a King?
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A 280-mile solo hike across Ireland.

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Book Excerpts
Excerpt - The End of the World

A very cold wind cut right through us as we shuffled on to the boat that would take us across the Strait of Magellan. This is what separates Tierra del Fuego from mainland South America. The channel is 560 kilometres long and between 3 and 24 wide. It was discovered by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, and subsequently named after him. We passed the two-hour crossing in the shelter of the cabin compartment. Another smaller bus met us at the other end. When the tiny compartments underneath were full luggage was loaded along the back seats, forcing three people to stand in the aisle. The driver thoughtfully stopped at a nearby house and managed to obtain three stools for them. With that we headed out of town and bounced our way south along the gravel road.

Once through immigration we soon arrived in Río Grande. It's not much of a town and I was glad to be just changing buses. Río Grande and Ushuaia are the principle towns in Argentinean Tierra del Fuego. Ushuaia is the largest with a population of 42,000. It also holds the title of southernmost city in the world (in case you're interested). While we waited to change buses Dana and I went for a bite to eat in the service station across the road.

The wind was blowing a gale outside and it was cold. I couldn't believe I was really here. I had journeyed to the end of the world. I'd dreamed of this place for years. I first read about it in a book. A James A. Michener book if my memory serves me correct. Considering the remoteness of the island and its situation in one of the world's roughest seas, getting here had been considerably easier than anticipated. As for what it looked like, well so far just like the rest of Patagonia. I guess time would tell what the people were like.

One thing for sure, they were a lot more emphatic on the Falklands belonging to Argentina. As the bus had pulled into town I had noticed large signs bearing the words:

Las Malvinas son Argentinas
(The Falklands are Argentinean)

Up until now I had managed to avoid conversations on that topic. The only time I came close was when I stumbled home at three in the morning after a late night drinking session at the aptly named Lunaticos bar in Punta Arenas. A group of Argentinean guys decided that they wanted to discuss British rock music and the Falklands with me. I was far too drunk and tired, and politely excused myself.

So anyway here I was at the first focal point of my trip. It certainly had all the ingredients for the end of the world: bad weather, bleak, barren landscape, a wind-beaten town by a grey sea with an apparently small population. And Leo Sayer's When I Need You playing on the radio; the latter adding a sense of nostalgia to the moment.

Isla Redonda

I got up around nine the next morning. The air outside was brisk and clean. I left Dana talking to a group of Israelis and went for a walk. Although Ushuaia was the largest city on the island, it still contained all the charm of a small town. Its situation on the coast, surrounded by large snow-capped mountains certainly helped add to that charm. It was almost like an Alpine village - not that I've ever been to one you understand, but I've seen pictures. Two decades ago this was just a tiny village. Now it's a thriving town that is a key naval base for Argentina. It's main industries are fishing, tourism, forestry and, oddly enough, electronics assembly. I figured I could quite like it here.

Ushuaia was also the embarkation point for trips to Antarctica. The German ship, The Bremen, ran 14-day tours to the Antarctic Peninsula, along with the Falklands and many other islands. Everything was provided for the trip, at a price of $6000 US. However, we had discovered, on the backpacker grapevine, that if you showed up last minute that price could be slashed to $2000. One woman had got on for $1500. The best option, it seemed, was to turn up at the ship one or two hours before it was due to sail. If there was a space, the price was very negotiable. I was tempted. So were Nick and Kirsten. But in the end we had unanimously decided to leave it until another day.

After a trip to the local supermarket in order to stock up on supplies for four days of camping, we slumped off to meet the bus that would take us the short distance to the national park. Much of our stuff had been left back at the hostel. In the minibus were a couple of American guys, and a very lovely Argentinean girl. She told me that she didn't care about the Falklands and had no problem with English people. Nice girl.

The bus dropped the four of us at the pier where boats left for Isla Redonda. We had each bought a ticket that would take us to the island and then on to the campsite at Laguna Verde. Unfortunately the boat wasn't running and we were taken out to the island by Zodiac, but it wasn't big enough for the journey to the campsite, and therefore would be taking us back to the pier.

Isla Redonda contains the southernmost post office in the world. In fact that's just about all it contains, other than an abundance of wildlife. No one lived on this tiny island, so I failed to see the logic in having a post office. The only apparent reason for it being here was to provide visiting tourists with a stamp in their passport to prove they had been to the southernmost post office in the world. And of course to send a postcard.

'Can you send post from here then?' I asked the old man who had just filled two pages of everyone's passport with stamps - except mine because I had left it in my bag on the mainland. It seemed he didn't get to use these stamps much, and was therefore taking advantage of the opportunity.

'Of course,' he replied, 'it's a post office!'

This confirmed in my mind that we really were in the company of a madman.

We each selected a card, wrote our messages and put them in brown envelopes, which the old man ceremoniously covered in stamps.

'¡Hay mas (there's more)!' he exclaimed proudly after each stamping.

We then headed back outside.

The island lies just off the coast in what is known as the Beagle Channel. Surrounding Tierra del Fuego is a huge archipelago. Many of the neighbouring islands belong to Chile. It felt strange to be stood on a hilltop in Argentina and be looking at Chile. I expect it would be difficult to ascertain which islands belonged to whom, had it not been for the many Argentinean flags dotted around the pier. The two neighbouring countries are not the best of friends. The fact that General Pinochet allowed the British to use Chile as a base during the Falklands War probably didn't help matters much. They are also locked in a battle for land. The island of Tierra del Fuego is unequally divided between the two, giving Chile the largest chunk. However it seemed to me that Argentina has the most beautiful section. The main island is 76,000 square kilometres in size,
and two thirds is owned by Chile. However, the southern half is abundant with scenic lakes, glaciers, rivers and mountains, while the north is dry, flat and wind-beaten. And anyway, don't they have enough land? I mean look at the size of it compared to Chile or the UK. Honestly, some people are just so greedy!

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