El Fin del Mundo

“El Fin del Mundo,” the end of the world! That’s where we’ve been this week! Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, or so Argentina says. Chile has a small outpost that is a little further south, but that does’t really seem to count! Ushuaia is also the jumping off point for Antarctic expeditions and is home to the magnificent Tierra del Fuego National Park.

The city is set at the base of majestic snow-covered mountains facing the famed Beagle Channel, where explorers have sailed for centuries. Despite the remote location, the city has numerous great restaurants, museums, and of course active adventures.

On our first full day in Ushuaia we took the bus to Tierra del Fuego National Park. The park is full of well-marked trails along the coast and in the mountains. Because it began as a cloudy day we took the coastal trail and it was spectacular. Along the way we had great views of the channel and the bay and even ran across several colorful, chatty Magellanic Woodpeckers who were very happy to put on a show for us. The 5+ mile hike was a perfect way to spend the afternoon and it was going perfect until…

1.1487498868.two-magellenic-woodpeckers

Magellanic Woodpeckers

The trail includes a number of footbridges to take you safely across muddy or boggy areas. With only about a half a kilometer to go, Marnie stepped off one of the bridges the wrong way and ate it big time! The resulting sprained ankle curtailed the activity for much of the remainder of the week, which was tough because this place is so beautiful. Luckily the owners of our B&B, Guillermo and Maria Cristina were more than helpful with ice, a wrap, and pain relievers.

1.1487498868.it-s-just-a-sprain

Ouch!

Since we were looking for low impact activities we signed up for an eight hour Beagle Channel boat tour. At first eight hours sounded like a very long day on a boat, but we were pleasantly surprised by the outcome. First we boarded a comfortable catamaran and travelled east on the channel past islands covered with cormorants and sea lions. The Faro de Les Eclaireurs (Ushuaia lighthouse) is a highlight of the tour, marking the entrance into the city’s large bay. Another highlight of the cruise is a lengthy stop on the shores of Isla Martillo, which is home to a large colony of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. Our first penguin encounter!!! It was fun to watch the birds swim, surf, and waddle just like we’ve seen on countless National Geographic documentaries. Now we’re even more excited to get to Antarctica to see even more species of these cute little guys.

1.1487498868.old-washing-machine-at-harberton

Harberton relics

After a few hours of touring by water we landed at the Harberton Estancia. Harberton is the oldest estancia (farm) in Tierra del Fuego founded in the late 1880s and is managed by the great-grandson of the founder. Originally operating with sheep for wool and cattle for meat, the estancia is now open for tourism during the summer season. We had a personalized tour of the property which included the boat house, the sheering barn, and the family cemetery. After touring the property we visited the on-site marine mammal and bird museum and laboratory which studies the basic biology of the mammals and birds of the southern tip of South America. The museum is the result of over 34 years of scientific research by its founder, Natalie Goodall, the late wife of Harberton’s manager, the founder’s great-grandson. The museum’s collection contains skeletons of over 2700 marine mammals (mainly dolphins) and 2300 birds.

Our full day was capped off with a comfortable one hour drive back to Ushuaia with stops to view some of the many beaver dams along the way, as well as the area’s beautiful lakes. Considering Marnie’s limited mobility, it was a very full and fun day!

The rest of our week in Ushuaia was been spent preparing for our expedition to Antarctica, which begins on Friday. Steve’s gotten in some long runs, got a haircut, and shaved! Marnie has been tending to her swollen ankle. Each day we take a walk around town and we’ve enjoyed some good meals of local seafood and lamb.

1.1487498868.fun-in-ushuaia

Ushuaia fun

On our final full day in Ushuaia we moved from our simple Bed and Breakfast to the “five star” Las Hayas Resort. The hotel is not quite what we would expect from a five star resort, but it’s where we begin our Antarctic adventure. Our exact cruise itinerary on the MS Fram is weather-dependent but looks roughly like this:

Feb 24 Ushuaia, Argentina
Feb 25-26 Drake Passage
Feb 27- Mar 1 Antarctica
Mar 2-3 At Sea
Mar 4-5 South Georgia
Mar 6-7 At Sea
Mar 8-10 Falkland Islands
Mar 11-13 Drake Passage
Mar 14 Montevideo, Uruguay

It will probably be a few weeks before we post another update as we won’t have Internet while on the ship to Antarctica. You can count on several postings about that big adventure as soon as we are back online in mid-March. Stay tuned!!!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

El Chalten: The Hiking Capital of Argentina

El Chalten, Argentina is considered the trekking and climbing capital of Argentina, and it is now officially one of our favorite places on earth! The town was established in1985 to secure the disputed border with Chile. Now it is the access point to the northern sector of Los Glaciares National Park, at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains. Both mountains are famous with climbers, and the area is a popular base for hiking the numerous trails.

The hiking trails are accessible right from the town and all are well marked and easy to navigate. On our first evening here we braved the strong winds and rain to tackle two overlooks above the town: Mirador de los Condores and Mirador de los Aguilas. These trails were a good warm up to the big one: Laguna de los Tres. The Laguna del los Tres trail is a little over 10K, or about 7 miles one way, and it leads to a beautiful lake at the base of Mount Fitz Roy. If you’ve ever seen the beautiful snow-covered granite spires on your screen saver, then you’ve seen Fitz Roy. 1.1486976773.mirador-de-fitz-royWe’ve now seen it from our bedroom window at all hours of the day and night and up close from Laguna del los Tres. Our hike was long and at times grueling, but totally worth it! The final kilometer was a steep 400 meter climb up rocks and scree in a pretty fierce wind. But, once you got to the top, you forgot about the challenge of the climb. Seeing Fitz Roy up close is why we travel so far.

The second major hike from El Chalten is to Laguna Torre, which is a the base of the other large spire, Cerro Torre. Steve went to the top of this 15 mile climb on our second day here while Marnie went to the spa! We both climbed to the overlook the following day to catch a glimpse of the mountain. Again, words can’t describe the majestic nature of this landscape, even on a cloudy day.

Steve celebrated his birthday here in El Chalten, and we marked the big day with a trip down the Rio de las Vueltas on a rafting trip. Our guide, Lolli is a member of Argentina’s EcoChallenge team, and he’s competed in the adventure race in Morocco, Borneo, Argentina, and Ireland. This guy knew how to navigate a raft through the rapids! After we put on dry suits, our group of six plus Lolli boarded our inflatable raft and began to float quickly down the river.

1.1486976773.taking-a-swim-in-the-dry-suit

Steve testing out the dry suit

Through class 3 and 4 rapids, we paddled like crazy to stay upright. Two of our fellow rafters were thrown out of the raft in a particularly rough part of the river, but no one was hurt, and we remained on top of the raft the entire time. Steve did take the opportunity to try out the dry suit at the end of the trip and jumped into the river. All in all it was an adrenaline-filled morning that we would do again in a heartbeat.

Our time in El Chalten finished with two days of rain, with the mountains obscured by the clouds. Even in the rain we did a few small hikes in the area…good rain gear is essential here. 1.1486976773.chorillo-de-salto-on-a-rainy-dayIt was a bummer but at least we had a few good days of hiking with great views. Many hikers come for just a day or two and never see the mountaintops. Our advice: come and stay for awhile! This little mountain town is peaceful, slow-paced, and very cool.

Now we are moving south to the “end of the world,” Ushuaia, Argentina, where we will explore for a few days before boarding the ship to Antarctica. Hope you enjoy the pictures of El Chalten!

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Day of Rest

Bariloche, Argentina
There’s not much to report from today because we did almost nothing today. After a leisurely breakfast, reading, lunch, massages, and more reading, it was time for cocktails and dinner. Steve did manage to listen to the Husker game on the internet and they won, so life is good.

It was a good day to stay in, as it rained and was cold all day. When the clouds cleared in the evening, the mountains around us were dusted in fresh snow. While most of the guests here still enjoyed the activities of the estancia, it was a bit chilly for us desert dwellers.

In the morning we head to the airport for our 24 hour plus journey home. Bariloche to Buenos Aires, change airports, layover, Dallas, layover, Phoenix. We hope to be back in the desert by noon on Friday.

What a fantastic adventure we’ve had in Argentina. We are already thinking about our next visit, probably to the southern part of Patagonia and Chile.

Thanks for reading the blog and for following along on our adventure!