Friday, January 3, 2014

Patagonia Part III: The End of the World, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

DAYS SEVEN, EIGHT and NINE: El Fin del Mundo

Sitting in the airport in El Calafate waiting for our flight, I feel bad about myself. There are a group of five kids who don't know each other next to us talking about how it's been a dream of theirs to go to Ushuaia. I'd never even heard of Ushuaia until planning this trip, and just learned how to pronounce it about a month ago. And, the main reason we are going there (besides bragging rights)?

It's where the Walking with the Penguins tour is! 

We originally had three full days of activities, but just before we left I received an email from Say Hueque, our travel agency, saying our flight on New Year's Eve had changed to an earlier time. So they kindly changed our outings so we could still do everything we planned. Which meant that on Sunday we had TWO tours, the morning Beagle Channel Tour and then 45 minutes later we needed to be on a bus to see the penguins. Glad they had that all figured out.

Upon our arrival in Ushuaia late afternoon we just wandered around a bit.
View from our hotel room. . . not bad

Cute Ushuaia tour bus. Towns so small, you don't really need it, though. 

What we did until 2 am, at Bar Ideal, Dublin, and El Viejo Bar (go there and meet Nach, he's a good kid!)
Sunday morning had us off and running for our Beagle Channel Tour with Patagonia Adventures. We initially had talked of skipping this trip while planning our tour, but so glad we did it. Can you say SEA LIONS!?!? So cute, if not a bit smelly.
Ushuaia is the jumping off point for those on Antarctic cruises, and today the National Geographic Explorer just rolled back into town

Leaving port into the Beagle Channel

First vantage point, Cormorant Island. Note: that discoloration? Is only sort of natural. . . nature's paint. LOL

Next stop is the Island of Sea Lions. That's the Big Daddy

You just can't take enough pictures of Sea Lions

Big Yawn!

Sea Lion cuddle

The Faro (lighthouse), the most iconic landmark in Ushuaia

Sea Lions and Cormorants

Sea Lion Lovin'

So important, I had to show you twice.

Quick, cold trek on Island H, where we got an overview of the Yamana People, the original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego

Razorback Mountain looming over Ushuaia


Cold but pretty, looking toward Chile

An alternative to Fin del Mundo. . . 
Arrive back in port with 45 minutes to find something for lunch and get on the bus with Piratours. Quick hamburgers and fries and we're full-up and ready to head out to Harberton Ranch, the oldest estancia (farm) in Tierra del Fuego. Martillo Island, a part of the ranch, has been a natural rookery for penguins since the 1960's, and the penguin population has thrived. With no natural enemies on the island, the survival rate is HUGE. They estimate there are 3000 pairs of Magellanic Penguins and 16 pairs of Gentoo Penguins, but I swear we saw more than that. Plus, we were lucky enough to see a pair of King Penguins who had stopped by from somewhere! 

The only tour company allowed to schedule walks with the penguins is Piratours, in collaboration with Harberton and the appropriate government agencies. Only 80 visitors are allowed per day in groups of 20 each. Half our bus goes to the island while the other half visits the "museum". Then you switch. Of course, we went to the museum first, which I thought would be a drag, but actually turned out to be very interesting. There is quite an interesting story here about an Ohio woman named Natalie (Prosser) Goodall who traveled to Venezuela 50 years ago to teach, and ended up married to the grandson of the founder of this very ranch. Who then, with donations from Total Oil and National Geographic, opened and runs the world's most comprehensive museum of marine mammals of the Tierra del Fuego region. 

She was inspired to travel to Tierra del Fuego based on the book The Uttermost Part of the Earth, which unfortunately is not available for Kindle. I really want to read this book! We were lucky enough to MEET her and she told us the abbreviated story of her life. A very shy and soft spoken woman born in 1940, she has quite the tale to tell.

The museum houses over 2700 skeletons of local marine life
We didn't see all of them, but it kinda felt like it

Finally, it's our turn to jump on the boat and head to the Island and see the penguins. We are fortunate to be here in summer, just after hatchling season, so most of the baby penguins we will see today are between 14 and 30 days old, still retaining their brown, fluffy feathers. We hit the beach after about a 15 minute cruise and are surrounded by penguins! Enjoy the gratuitous shots, people! It was a tremendous experience! It was also VERY windy and cold. I think even the penguins were affected by the weather, as most of them were braced with their backs to the wind! 

Not a penguin. In fact, eats baby penguins.

The Gentoo penguins have the orange beaks and feet

The Kings have the yellow cheeks, are larger, and more gray

As tempting as it was, I did not smuggle one home. There were no bag checks when we left, however. . . :-)
Now it looks like the African veldt out here
We arrived back in Ushuaia around 9:30 pm, just two hours before sunset. . . We were pretty cold and tired, so grabbed a pizza at Andino's, which like most of the food we've been eating since we left BA, was not that great. But, it filled the pit!

Monday was our tour through the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Sun was out when we got on the bus and headed to the park, so our tour guides flipped the 6 km trek and the rafting around so we could "raft in the sun without the wind". HA. It was SLEETING when we put the boats in the water and the wind was whipping. An hour on the water was enough for us.
Quick raft trip in the SLEET.

The end of the PanAmerican Highway
Got de-outfitted and headed for a nice, hot lunch in a tent with wine and coffee to warm us up. Then it was time for the trek. And more rain. I will admit, FM and I (and about six out of 15 others) opted out of walking through the forest in the rain and hung out in the heated museum, complete with cafeteria and bathrooms, and enjoyed a bottle of wine and good conversation for three hours. We were JUST about dry when it was time to return to Ushuaia. Call us wimps, but this was the day we had just had TOO much wet and cold weather. The wine was fine. . .
Our view from the museum
Jumped back in the bus and collected the wet and muddy trekkers at the trail end, right in front of this gem!
Southern most post office in the world, in Tierra del Fuego National Park
Returned to Ushuaia and treated ourselves to more wine and a very gourmet meal at Maria Lola's (without reservations, we had to sit at the bar, but hey - we're very comfortable there!). Great meal of fresh King Crab, Merluza Negra (local fish) and Trout. Watched the sunset from our room. 
Sunset (at 11:30PM) over the harbor from our room
New Year's Eve day we were back on a flight to Buenos Aires (and the heat!). It was a wonderful, and very full, trip through Patagonia. One I would recommend to anyone!

1 comment:

Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans said...

Amazing pics, Rachelle! I would love to visit Patagonia. And I definitely would've smuggled one of those cute penguins.