“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…
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.
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.
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.
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!!!