Published: October 22nd 2009October 14th 2009
Oct 9, 2009
Traveling from Punta Arenas, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina is much more difficult than we predicted. The distance between the two depicted on a map looks like one could just ferry over a short channel - its only about a millimeter! Well that observation is not quite accurate. First off, like described before, obtaining a bus is not easy. A few companies leave on specific days and they fill up quickly. Additionally, the cost is high - 60USD per person. Furthermore, the bus ride takes 12 hours. You drive N in Chile until almost the top of the small inlet, then ferry across the water, pass through a lengthy immigration process, have a short layover in Rio Grande, then take a small shuttle the last 300km to Ushuaia. If you’re lucky like us, you will get to hang out for over an hour after transferring to your shuttle for no apparent reason. Despite the difficult trip, we saw ostriches very close to the road and many pink flamengos in roadside lakes.
We are not getting lazy, but we have found that if you don’t book a hostel, most of the time you can find a cheaper better deal
upon arrival. Fortunately, we did find a great hostel, Patagonia Pais. We met people from Holland, England, Brazil, and our roommates were Spaniards from Bilboa. The hostel recommended Martinika Parilla, a cheap BBQ place, for a fantastic dinner. We had salad, chicken, sausage, and pizza with meat as the crust (Great Concept!).
We were exhausted as usual so we crashed early that night. Rumi took the top bunk because the air temperature was literally 10-20 degrees warmer up there. Unfortunately she smelled propane from the heater all night. I enjoyed the propaneless cold air on the bottom!
Oct 10, 2009
We woke up relatively early, but Rumi wasn’t feeling well. We had some time in Ushuaia, so we decided to take it easy that day. She stayed in the hostel to rest while I went to do some research.
The main activity we wanted to do was hanging out with the sled dogs. We had read about Valle de los Lobos, a winter camp in Southern South America that trained sled dogs. Just like Punta Arenas, we were discouraged to hear it wasn’t possible because there wasn’t enough snow. We figured we couldn’t ride on the sleds,
but we just wanted to see the dogs. I really thought I could find a way to do it, so I went to find some tourist information.
As with our entire trip thus far, all of the tours/excursions were extremely expensive (especially as you add them all together!). We try to always rely on public transportation and doing things on our own.
We had also talked about visiting the Tierra del Fuego National Park and a local glacier. To do all of these activities, the public transit for two people was going to be very pricey. One travel person recommended renting a car because it would actually be cheaper. I later found out we could visit the Sled dog camp. After piecing everything together, I happened to come across a car rental and rented a VW Gol economy car. Even better, on the way home a local pharmacy gave me some prescription cough drops for Rumi.
Our friends from England and Holland decided they would like to join us on our car ride the next day, so we ended up splitting the cost of the car - very good.
On my walk to find the travel information I
explored Maipu street by the water and found a memorial to Evita (Eva Peron) and the port to Antarctica. The Antarctica cruises start from around $5,000 a person (not cheap!).
When I returned to the hostel, Rumi was feeling better so we decided to go to lunch. We went back to the tourist box to ask some follow up questions and found out we could receive passport stamps for the End of the World. We were excited, but they filled up an entire page with stamps. Then we went to lunch at a nice café that served great fresh banana juice. After our lunch we walked down the main streets and visited the water front to take some pictures and “dream” about the Antarctica expeditions. We went to one last chocolate shop in Argentina to utilize some free coupons that I received at the car rental place. We got some great hot chocolate, then we proceeded to buy even more chocolate to continue our daily chocolate eating spree. Continuing our lazy day, we decided to cook and save some money. We went to the local market and bought some Argentina steak, stir fry vegetables, and bread.
We thought it
best to make it a short day and prepare for the next day, so we cooked a great dinner, mapped at our drive for the next day, and called it a night.
Oct 11, 2009
Driving in Argentina at the end of the world is muy divertido/tanoshikatta (fun!). I drove us in a little high-powered VW manual hatchback. The roads were a mixture of speedbump-ridden potholed paved roads and dirt/gravel roads. Driving through the twisty mountain roads through snowcapped peaks reminded me of rally racing. But the road conditions and the shear feeling of the car falling apart kept me conservative. Regardless, the car gave us the freedom to do what we wanted and when we wanted to do it (a luxury we have not always had on this trip).
Before going up to the winter stations, we had to go through one of the many police/military checkpoints in AR. Up to now, our buses or tours took care of dealing with the checkpoints. Fortunately, the guards were nice and understood my Spanglish. We proceeded up through the mountains for some fantastic views.
We really wanted to visit the sled dog camp, Valle de los
Lobos, which we had researched beforehand on the internet. It turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip so far. The camp was setup for tourists regardless of the snow not being abundant enough for sled pulls. We watched a short video about the history of El Gato, the owner and man who started sled dog training in that part of the world. He has raced all over the world and trained with the great Alaskan sled dog camps. Unfortunately, he was in Buenos Aires so we couldn’t meet him.
After the video Rumi tried on some gloves used by the racers. They were made from Canadian Beaver fur. Then our guide, who claimed no English but miraculously became fluent by the end of the day, showed us to the dogs.
They have three different breeds, all good for different types of racing. Several years ago they actually had a full-blood wolf to breed with the dogs. We met the son and grandson, but the wolf died a few years back. Apparently he was kept isolated in a cage.
All of the dogs were chained to the own little space of land with
a barrel to sleep in. They were very tame and friendly (except one that tried to attack Rumi and another that hid from her). Some of them had one bright blue eye and one brown eye, evidence of mixed breeding.
The dogs pull sleds in races that range through 1800 km all over the world (Alaska, Canada, Italy, etc). El Gato is trying to arrange a race for Tierra Del Fuego. During the race the dogs will run for six hours, then sleep six hours, then repeat. During their rest the human will feed them and massage their feet for four hours. So that means the human will only sleep two hours every twelve hours. Apparently it’s a pretty taxing ordeal. Most people don’t even finish the races, including El Gato.
We played with the dogs for a long time. We convinced the guide to allow us to see some puppies they have isolated and don’t advertise. She was reluctant, but gave us about 10 min to see them in the barn. Very cool.
Afterwards we played with some of the dogs that had prime real estate in the forest (small plots of land for each dog
but they were chained to trees). Some of them were very happy for the attention, including one that wanted to grapple with me.
We stayed at the camp for about two hours before getting our tourist photos on the sleds and heading back towards town. We decided to skip the glacier and head to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park. The park is 12 km on the other side of town, so we got to travel the 18 km back through the winter stations to the city and onwards to the National Park.
We passed the “Train to the end of the world” on our way through the park to the trails we wanted to walk. Originally we wanted to ride the old train, but at about 30USD per person, we opted to not. The park was very nice, with scenic drives everywhere to camp grounds and trails.
When we got out of the car to eat lunch, the chill from the air and wind off the nearby lake sent us running back to the car. In our little economy car built for 2 + 2, we had full grown adults from England, Holland, Canada, and the
USA… but we didn’t care because it was cold.
After lunch, we set off for one of the only trails “open” because of falling trees??? We never really understood why the other trails were closed. But the 7 km trail we walked went along side the lake and ended at another border between Argentina and Chile. There were many fallen trees “creaking” with strain with the trees they had fallen and rested upon. The forest was a temperate forest, similar to home, so there wasn’t much exotic wildlife. However, we did see a huge horse skeleton on the crest of the lake. The border to Chile had lots of signs for no trespassing, but no one was around to monitor. Maybe this would be a good place to enter/exit and avoid the 131USD entrance fee! (just kidding to any travel bloggers reading…it’s probably not possible)
When we got back, the weather started to clear up. We went to another trail and saw the biggest beaver dam (but saw no beavers) and 2 el mirador (lookout points) over Laguna Verde and a beautiful island in a gigantic lake. Went back into town in search of dinner and dropped our
friends, Nico and Gary, at the airport (they were going to Buenos Aires as well).
Later we went back to our favorite cheap parrilla/asado restaurant, Martinika (*correction parrilla is the full montage of meat and organs and asado is just the meat, so we like asado better now!). Unfortunately the place was closed so we wondered around the cold for another affordable alternative. We found a café serving soup, spaghetti and chicken katsu. It was just what we needed and were surprised to watch one of our favorite shows, the Amazing Race (well, it was the Latin America version). Afterwards we set our clocks for an early departure for Buenos Aires!
There are more photos below