Ushuaia (19-21 Oct 2010)

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December 14th 2010
Published: December 14th 2010
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Tuesday 19th October 2010

Our 06.15 alarm roared to life for our 06:45 taxi to the airport. Packing quickly & quietly we headed downstairs to be told it was only 05:30 - Bummer! Making the most of it we headed to the airport earlier grabbing some much needed sustenance. Our taxi was waiting for us when we reached Ushuaia - It was nice seeing our names on cardboard and not having to lug our bags too far for a change. Arriving at a very basic looking house we wondered if we’d been taken to the wrong place. Inside it was nice, but there was no separate living quarters from the owner and this made it feel a little like we were intruding in her home (not helped over the next few days by the fact she kept barking at us every time we did something “wrong”, like getting up too early or baking our pizza on the wrong tray!). Time to talk tours, it was all quite simple – a museum & a couple of boat tours – but she repeated herself so many times, that by the time she finished we’d missed all the tours. We rushed around the Presido (prison) museum with just an hour to go before closing and then had homemade pizza for dinner, with Frodo the resident blind dog resting his head on Joanne’s knee.

Wednesday 20th October 2010
Weather reports are notoriously inaccurate in Patagonia... the general advice we were given while in Ushuaia was look up, if it looks ok, go out before it changes... this was exactly what we did today. After breakfast we headed to the port to pick up a boat for the channel tour. It left at 9.30 and we caught it by the skin of our teeth running all the way to the harbour, which was extra hot in all our thermals! Stepping onto a very grand boat, we were led across to the other side where we descended onto a much smaller boat which was ours. Our guide, Daniella, introduced herself & we set off up the Beagle Channel. Our 1st stop, hosting hundreds of sea lions, was Alice Island. We were literally yards away from them, howling & hopping around from rock to rock (the sea-lions – not us).

Our next stop was Les Eclaireurs lighthouse, which is pictured in most tourist images of Ushuaia (& on one of the stamps for the postcards we’ve sent home if they ever arrived?). We met Two guys on a motorbike tour who had travelled all the way down from La Paz . One had been blown clean off his bike crossing the desert on the way down. After a short history on the Argentine / Chilean border, local area & indigenous population (Yamana’s) we reached Bird Island, where you could see little rock through the mass of black & white birds. Finally we headed for Bridge Island where we disembarked & hiked with our guide to see historic dwelling locations of Yamana’s, local wildlife, as well as take in the spectacular panoramas with the snow capped mountain range in the background, channel in the foreground & Ushuaia in the middle. Our guide told us the highest visible peak was Olivia at 1480m & also reluctantly that it wasn’t the highest in the area, which was in Chile standing at 2488m, although you couldn’t see it through the clouds in that direction. We saw divers here who must have been wearing dry suits as the temperature only reaches 8⁰C in summer! Heading back to the harbour we read an itinerary for an Antarctic cruise although they don’t start until November, so we were out of luck, however it would have been a budget buster regardless!

At the end of our tour, the weather was still good so we purchased tickets for an afternoon penguin tour (accepting that our daily budget chart wasn’t going to tally up to well today). There were two choices for tours to the Penguin Island, a Catamaran tour who have a nice journey up the channel but have to merely watch & take photos once they arrive from afar, and our tour – boy did we make the right choice!!! At 3pm we boarded the minibus to find some more of the bikers had joined us. Ousting our guide Sito & commandeering the front seats the 1½ hour journey went quickly. A 10min wet & windy RIB crossing & wow! We were met by hundreds of penguins on the beach, but very strict rules to keep to the carefully marked paths. There were 2 types of penguins on the island which is located where a rich supply of fish arrives from the Atlantic. Separated spatially by different styles of nest - the small black & white striped Magellan penguins build burrows underground & larger “Z” penguins with bright orange beaks, feet & big white chests’ build little rockeries above – they seemed to tolerate, although not interact with each other. We were led around the island in a controlled manner, but were occasionally split up by penguins crossing our path. It was really amazing being so close to these funny little birds and watching them waddle so inelegantly with their outstretched wings held out behind them. An hour, and a million photos later, it was time to leave these precious creatures in peace and head home after a long but wonderful day with nature.

Back at the hostel another couple had arrived from Brazil, which meant they were getting our hosts full attention, lucky for us! She had been overbearing already. We chatted with the other couple Antonio & Adrianna (who was studying English but too shy to practice on us) & then hit the sack.

Thursday 21st October 2010
Rising early to give ourselves time to purchase minibus tickets for the following morning & catch the 9am bus to the Tierra del Fuego national park. We were downstairs by 7:30 only to be shouted at because it wasn’t 8am, how dare we go downstairs ahead of breakfast commencement time! We think our host would have suited the Nazi regime. On our way into town we were approached by a friendly minibus driver who asked if we were going to the national park, we said yes but needed to do other chores first, so Pedro ferried us around town & then to the national park at a discounted rate giving us his number for the return. We paid our entrance & were given a very basic map. Pedro dropped us at the start of route #2 & we were off jumping in front of a few guided tours. The trail hugged the large lake with lots of beautiful scenery & a few wild horses on route. We finished in about 2½ hrs ahead of the suggested 3 hrs & referred to our map for the next best hike. Our map turned out to be worst than useless not even displaying all the rivers & lakes, so you certainly couldn’t take a shortcut! We found the start of route #3 nothing like where the map said & off we trod. It led to a great view overlooking another lake & then down to route #6, which led through an old beaver colony that resembled a tree graveyard. Everywhere you looked there were grey rotting trees, let’s hope they never make their way to the Amazon! A bit tired we decided to call Pedro only to discover there was no reception! Our ticket wouldn’t cover the official bus so now we were stuck, or potentially out of pocket. Returning to the main junction via route #3 we hailed a sorry looking minibus, who to our relief accepted our return tickets. Back to the hostel via the chocolate shop for a free hot chocolate (which was very bitter & needed extra hot milk & sugar!) and this time we were told off for apparently doing our laundry in the shower, which in fact was just a wet bathroom floor due to a bad design with the shower curtain! Richard cooked dinner whilst Frodo walked into him & then rested his head on our laps during dinner (his sense of smell still works!) & off to bed for an early pick up.


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