Published: November 1st 2011October 31st 2011
Day 19 – Sunday 30th October
Slept in a little because we figured that being Sunday not much would be open…and we were right. After our breakfast we walked once more down the hill into the centre of town and the streets were near deserted. The day was a little overcast but we figured it would still be a good day to head up the mountain to the Martial Glacier. Found the spot where we could catch the bus from and the ticket seller explained with his very best English that the Ski lift that gets you half way up the mountain wasn’t working and that the last section of the walk was off limits due to lots of snow. Shelley had left the room this morning without her gloves and coat so the thought of trudging through snow immediately cancelled the day’s activities.
Instead we thought we would have a short walk around the harbour and maybe book a cruise for this afternoon. On this walk we discovered the wreck of an old tugboat that had been deliberately run aground as an attraction and the towns glistening new casino. We always seem shocked when we see these large casinos in
small towns but then Australia has a small one in every single pub.
After walking for an hour we went onto the area that contained all the kiosks selling tickets for the harbour cruises. We had spoken to two others a couple of days ago to get an idea of what they had to offer and costs, and today we had a chat to a guy at Rumba Sur. He offered us a 5 and half hour cruise down the Beagle Channel seeing all the sights for $300 pesos each. Was about the best deal so far but Shelley managed to quickly haggle him down to $250 pesos (AU$55) each. Despite Shelley struggling with the Spanish she can still beat people down in price…..maybe we should go looking for a used car.
It was now 1.30 and the boat wasn’t going to leave till 3.30 and it then wouldn’t get back till nearly 9 so we decided to have some lunch before we went. On the way back up to our hotel there is a take away food joint called Prontos, where we had got some Empanadas on our first night so we thought we would get some more today
for lunch. The woman running it comes across as a bit of a hard case but appears to have unlimited reserves of patience with our bad Spanish. I think she was happy to see us back and helped us through the ordering process. Got a bag of freshly cooked Empanadas with some papa fritas (chips) and a coke and took it back to our room where we could sit around our table and make pigs of ourselves.
At 3 we wandered once again down that bloody hill, and down to the port. Had to pay a $7 peso port tax before we could get on the wharf to our boat, which we have encountered on other cruises and I often wonder why this isn’t just done when you buy the ticket…another one of life’s little mysteries.
Our boat the “Ushuaia explorer” is perhaps the biggest boat doing the cruises down the channel but because of Shelley’s motion sickness, I figured big is better. We initially sat inside but once we got underway we made our way up to the roof where we had a better view. The first sight on our cruise was “Isla de los Lobos” which is nothing
more than a large outcrop in the middle of the channel that is covered in sea lions. The boat was able to get right up to the island so we could get a great view of the ugly beasts. From what we could make out there appeared to be a few different species, and although most were a motley brown colour there were a couple jet black ones. Most of them were snoozing peacefully but we did see more than a few arguments, sort of reminded me of the Australian Parliament.
The boat carefully coasted around the western end of the island for about twenty minutes before moving on. It wasn’t till we cruised downwind of the island did we appreciate the absolute putrid stench of the sea lions, and it had people running indoors to get away from it.
Next stop was Isla de los Pajaros, where we got a great view of the nesting Cormorants. These birds build large mud nests that cover the top of what is a rather small rock outcrop. Thankfully the birds didn’t stink as bad as the Sea lions, so it was a little more pleasant when we moved on to our next
stop which was the Eclaireurs Lighthouse. The lighthouse is rather small and really not much of a sight but it is regarded as a symbol of Ushuaia and does make a great postcard shot.
From there we headed down the Beagle Channel for another hour passing the Chilean town of Port Williams, which although not as large as Ushuaia should rightfully hold the honour of being the most southerly town in the world. We had contemplated spending a day here for bragging rights, but it is expensive to get the boat here and we were just happy to see it. At around 6 we reached our final destination which was Isla Martillo Pinguinera….or in tourist speak “the penguin Island”.
We slowly made our way around the island to the little penguins came into view and then the boat silently glided in and ran aground right on the beach in front of the penguins. I can’t say that this was environmentally sound or that it would be the kind of thing they would allow in Australia, and we kind of felt guilty to be part of it, but that wasn’t going to stop us trying to get some good shots. To
give the operators their due, they did come in silently, and they landed away from where some were swimming. They had also advised everyone to remain quiet and surprisingly most people did. The penguins seemed completely unperturbed by this large boat full of people landing on their beach but I guess they get it all the time and have grown to accept it. The boat sat on the beach for a good half an hour which gave everyone ample time to get perhaps once in a lifetime photos of these amazing creatures. Down the beach from the boat a whole group were diving in and out of the water, which kind of looked like “bath time”. While we sat there others came swimming in beneath the water and they were moving so swiftly they looked more like a blur till they suddenly leapt from the water and landed on the sand. They would sit there for a brief second and then pop up on their feet and waddle off in such an awkward fashion that you could barely believe they had been that same underwater flash.
Shelley was in seventh heaven and was grinning from ear to ear as she
snapped away with her camera. The extent of her happiness is in the proof that today she took 347 photos, but don’t panic we won’t post them all nor will we be having a slide night on our return. By the time the boat slowly drifted off the beach and we started back, the sun was sinking and being replaced by dark clouds and our hands were frozen stiff. Rather than stand on the roof for our return we took the wise choice of sitting in the warmth of inside the boat. Because Shelley had saved us some money on the ticket we splurged on a great coffee and a slice of lemon meringue pie from the café inside the boat.
We headed straight back to Ushuaia at full speed and only paused once as we cruised past the wreck of a great old ship that had a magnificent old cliper bow. While i was photographing the guide mentioned something in Spanish that said that the ship had sunk here in 1912 but other than that we knew no more. We arrived back at Ushuaia around 9, just as the town was starting to light up for the night. We
made our way back into town and had dinner once again at Tarte Sara. Like the other night the place was packed and the food sensational, and tonight we both enjoyed a great feed of pasta washed down with locally brewed beer. When planning this trip, I always thought that doing this cruise was going to be a must and was going to be sensational, and thankfully it exceeded all our expectations.
Day 20 – Monday 31st October
We had decided come rain hail or shine today we would finally get up that bloody mountain behind Ushuaia and see the glacier. We got up early and had our usual feed of toast for breakfast. Shelley was a bit disappointed because they didn’t have any bananas and had to make do with an apple, but at least she can get tea here.
Before we could head off to the glacier we had some chores to complete, and first was to look into getting a ticket out of town. Only 2 companies run buses out of here and we had already got a quote off one so we checked out the other and found out they don’t run buses on Thursday, so
that sort of narrowed our choices. Even if they had run buses on Thursday they were the same price and left at the same god forsaken time of 5.00am, so there was no avoiding stumbling out of town before day break. We moved onto the Post Office to post a card and discovered a line that stretched out the door, so we resolved to come back maybe at another time….you will get your birthday card eventually Dad.
Final stop was the tourist information bureau where we wanted to get some details on getting to the Glacier. The guy was able to give us a map and advise us that we couldn’t walk all the way to the glacier because of heavy snow cover, and also told us that we were best to just get a taxi there and back as it was the same cost of the bus.
We are always apprehensive about getting taxis as they are never quite as cheap as people say they are but to our great surprise this one was even cheaper. The taxi up cost AR$30.50 and the taxi driver was happy with us not only not giving him a tip but only charging
us the AR$30. This was the second time we got a discount off a taxi in Argentina….who said all taxi drivers are mongrels?
We were dropped up in the mountains behind town at the foot of the non-functioning ski lift, and I cursed the operators all the way up for forcing us to walk. The path up was along the dry ski run that was nothing more than a very steep wide gravel road interspersed with large boulders and mud patches. It was hard going but we finally made it to the top of the ski lifts which was at the point where the ground started being covered with snow. A sign warned not to proceed unless properly equipped to deal with icy and slippery paths….who reads signs?
The path was mainly dry gravel but there were heavy patches of snow and lots of muddy bog holes to sink in. We followed a stream further up the mountain till it disappeared beneath the snow cover, and not far past this we hit the sign that said we couldn’t walk any further. I was sort of keen to get up on the thick snow and keep going as you could see
the foot prints of others that had done it. The thing that stopped me was the knowledge that somewhere beneath all that snow was a very cold stream of water, and the last thing I wanted was for one of us to end up in it. We spent some time taking in the view and where we were in the world before heading back. We spotted a bridge across the stream that had a path leading up to a landing with seats so we took the detour. On the clear landing was a sign that explained the names of the mountains we were looking at and also showed us that the very small snow drift we saw on the peak of the mountain in front of us wasn’t a snow drift but was actually the last remnants of the Martial Glacier. We had been under the assumption that I was just around the bend of the mountain from where we had stopped and that we had missed our chance of seeing our first Andean Glacier, but there it was hanging above us all that time.
We were so glad the walk up was great and the scenery sublime because if
all there was to the walk was seeing a “spludge“ of snow on the side of a mountain we would have been pretty upset. I wonder if anyone has thought of challenging them in court as to their definition of “Glacier”. There may well have been a glacier here but we had missed it by about 10,000 years. In a bid to get a better view down to Ushuaia I took Shelley across soggy marsh land and then up a steep snow bank till she couldn’t feel her toes and we turned back.
On the walk back we had in front of us the wide expanse of the Beagle Channel, heading east, and held captive by snow peaked mountains on both sides. We took photos as we constantly do but they never seem to capture the moment. It had been well worth the expense and walk up, it just wasn’t what we had expected. Finally got back down to where the taxi had dropped us off and thankfully another was waiting. Got the taxi back down to our hotel for AR$31, so that getting a taxi there and back had only cost us 1 peso more than a bus.
rest of the afternoon was taken up by blogging and sorting through the photos to put on our blog page. At around 6 we headed out for dinner and decided to have a couple of beers at an Irish pub before getting a feed. We would generally rather put our head in a lions mouth than turn up at an Irish pub whilst travelling, but Argentina has yet to catch on to the idea of “pubs” so it was a chance to have a quiet beer before eating. Unfortunately it wasn’t open when we walked past and when I peered into the darkness through the glass doors I spotted a life size replica of the most Irish of symbols, a R2D2 robot. It made complete sense to me to spot that in an Irish pub in Ushuaia???
We just decided to push onto the restaurant where the bar staff greeted us like locals, which is probably the universal sign we have been in the town too long.
There are more photos below