How fitting that in 2012, we should find ourselves in a place known as "the end of the world". Of course the world is not coming to an end, rather we are visiting the southernmost city on Earth, Ushuaia. (There are 2 other cities vying for this title, but since this is the one we are in, it wins). This stop marks an extreme of our journey, the farthest we will be away from home on the entire trip. It was also a highlight of our travels... we think you'll understand why!
We arrived on Friday (January 27) and settled into our accommodations at Aves del Sur, a lovely family-owned B&B with separate cabanas - ours had a nice living area, kitchenette, view of the mountains, and the coziest, most comfortable duvets we've slept in so far... particularly required for the chilly nights!
Saturday afternoon we took a bus ride to Estancia Harberton, an important historic location as it was the first to be founded (in 1886) on the island of Tierra del Fuego. From here a short zodiac trip on the Beagle Channel brought us to Isla Martillo (so named because it is shaped like a hammer), home
to Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. We were also lucky enough to see one King penguin, who swam all the way from Antarctica (a 1000 km journey)! Apparently he is "lost" or "on vacation" here... either way we certainly hope he finds his way home! The experience was amazing as we were literally walking amongst hundreds of penguins... and even interacting with some of them! As this is breeding season, there were molting youngsters and protective parents, as well as lots of little guys swimming and playing in the water and on the beach. There were two gentelemen there from ABC filming a short documentary - so if you happen to catch this piece on their news show in the near future, we were there! Anyway, our time on the island was over all too quickly, and we headed back to the shore, where we spent some time in the museum there, which houses an impressive collection of whale/dolphin/penguin skeletons and lots of interesting marine information. Our visit ended with a rainbow sighting (actually a double rainbow!) before heading back to Ushuaia.
Our dream of a separate journey to Antarctica quickly deteriorated upon researching the costs, and when we arrived
in Ushuaia the prices were no different... no last minute offers affordable enough to get us there! Taking that, and adding the celebration of Chris' birthday being away from home (and possibly Liz' too), our decision was to go on a helicopter ride while we were in one of the most remote places in the world... it was our birthday present to each other! And so 11:30am Sunday came around, the clouds provided some clearing, and the helicopter service picked us to head to the naval airport. We got some logistics out of the way, met our pilot and snapped a few shots before boarding the chopper. This single engine, two blade rotor, Robinson 44 helicopter lifted off with such smoothness and elegance... we were in for the ride of a lifetime! Climbing up to an altitude of just over 700 feet we first slowly passed over the city of Ushuaia, quite different viewed from above! Our next stop was to fly around the highest peak in Ushuaia, Mount Olivia. Standing at nearly 1500 meters above sea level the exhiliration of being merely meters away from the mountain made it hard for us to lift our bottom jaws... all I
Cerro le Cloche
On top of the (end of the) world! Do you think we were excited?
could think was I hope those blades don't hit the side of the mountain! On our other side was the mountain known as Cinquo Hermanos (five brothers), so named for its 5 distinct peaks, an iconic image of Ushuaia. Climbing a little higher we then flew over Lago Esmeralda - buried within three different mountains the aptly named lake clearly displayed its colours reminiscent of the gem! Mid-way through our flight our next stop was at the top of Cerro le Cloche and yes we actually landed on the top of the mountain! At 1000 meters above sea level we were now staring out into the Bay of Ushuaia and beyond, toward the further south... and at this point our emotions were beyond control! As we headed back toward the bay of Ushuaia we dropped to an altitude of about 150 feet off the ground (at times it felt like we were gonna brush the top of the treeline) and traversed through a 1/4 km wide valley between two mountains. Here we were exposed to the true mosaic of the Tierra del Fuego eco-systems... from the dense forests to the peated marsh land, to the glaciers and snow peaked mountain
View from the Helicopter
One of many amazing views during the helicopter ride!
tops... the beauty of this natural land cannot be characterized! Every which way we looked we were spoiled with unbelievably beautiful views, ones we surely would not have experienced through any other means, making our first helicopter ride one we will truly never forget!
As we returned from our flight, the adrenaline rush continued to surge through us and so we challenged oursleves to a yet another hike, this time to Glacier Martial! We opted to forego the chairlift, which provided only half the trip up the mountain. So we ascended, following the river/stream that flowed down from the glacier, and arrived at the first check point. Here we decided no challenge was too hard on this day and went for the trail labelled "dificil" and they were correct. It took a while to hike up the steep slope with large, loose rocks as the trail, but in the end we made it to Glacier Martial. And looking back onto the city with the glacier at our back we were rewarded with an amazing view of Ushuaia City, the bay, and the mountains beyond. After a significantly quicker hike down the hill, we made it to the cafe for
a hot drink before heading back for dinner.
This Argentine day would not be complete without a traditional parilla (BBQ). We went to the highly recommended La Estancia Parilla and we were not disappointed! An amazing, perfectly cooked 350 gram tenderloin steak with a side of french fries for Liz, two 350 gram sirloin steaks smothered in mushroom sauce and veggies for Chris, a mouth-watering chorizo sausage and bottle of Alamos Malbec shared by us both, made for two very satisfied travelers, especially for the minimal price (the price is right in Argentina). The perfect joint birthday celebration after a perfect day... and one of the best recorded to date!
On Monday, our last day in Ushuaia, we went to Tierra del Fuego National Park. Unfortunately the weather was not as nice as the previous days, and the overcast sky with intermittent rain made this small park seem a little underwhelming. We were also feeling the effects of the Martial Glacier hike in our sore and tired muscles, so we opted to take some easy trails through the park to see what we could see. In spite of the weather we saw many birds (including finches, swallows and
End of Route 3
That's it.. the farthest south you can drive in the world!
black-necked swans), several bunnies, and even a culpeo fox only a meter away, staring back at us! Along our way we also saw evidence of many busy beavers, with lots of fallen trees, spikey stumps and misconstrued dams mostly deserted because of the low water level. Our day in the park was complete once we made it to the end of Route 3, aka the end of the Pan-American Highway, which travels through 14 countries and is the world's longest "motorable road". After reaching this milestone, we headed back to pick up our bags and grab a taxi to the airport.
To make a long story short, our flight to Buenos Aires was cancelled due to "technical issues" with the plane. Obviously better to find out while still on the ground (rather than in the air), but still an inconvenience. Thankfully, however, we were somehow able to get on the very last flight out, which brought us to arrive back in the city at 2:30 am! However not even a cancelled flight and severely delayed make-up flight could put a damper on our experience to the "end of the world"!!!
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