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Day 28 and 30 – we lost day 29 in transit

Day 28 and 30 – we lost day 29 in transit

Our last day in South America was supposed to have an early start. However all these late night dinners are messing with my early morning wake up and we didn’t hit the streets until after 8. A quick march through town, with a short stop for brekkie and we were at the ecological reserve.

I thought it would have a few more vistas than it did, but the cyclist and runners clearly enjoy it. By reputation it used to be a bit of a beat, but they now have security cameras around the place.

At the ocean side we saw the shore and it was a bit sad to see how much junk, plastic bottles and the like, washed up.

My most exciting sight was a tiny humming bird. No pictures as it didn’t hang round, but from tip to tail it was smaller than my thumb. Dark in colour and I have no idea what species, but oh so delicate and sweet. Also black bees, for which I had the wrong lens (2nd theme of this holiday is always having the wrong lens on for whatever presents itself. 1st world problems).

The best photo op was on the boardwalk outside the reserve where the red capped cardinals hang out. Truly stunning little birds.
Next was the Cabildo museum where we jagged a English speaking guide who was just lovely. 
The building was the first jail in Buenos Aires and the site where autonomous rule under the kingship of Spain was first established in 1810 on May 25. The May revolution was not a revolution of independence, but of self rule under the Spanish King. 

The Cabildo building has changed its look,  shape and size since it Was built in the 1700’s. It was originally Spanish colonial, then revamped to have Italian features when BA tried to become the Paris of South America. It had a tower, then no tower, then a bigger tower, and so on. Arches were removed from one side to make way for a new boulevard, and then from the other side for another street. Many contemporary buildings have been demolished so it was great to see this one, and the photographic history of its transformations over time.
We learned that the British tried to take BA twice, holding it for 6 days in 1806 I think. The locals put up arms and defeated them on both occasions.
The local government, junta, was established in 1810 as a self governing body within the rule of the Spanish King, and that all relates back to what Napoleon was doing back in Europe where he had invaded Spain a few years before. News traveled little slowly in those days.
A petition was presented by some of the high ranking citizens of the town to form a government that did not include the Spanish viceroy and that was debated and accepted on May 25 1810. Most citizens were illiterate and two of the petitions wrote above their signatures that they represents up to 600 others.

Independence came some years later following a civil war ending in July 1816. They will be celebrating their bicentenary this year. The original Argentina did not include the indigenous territory in which Ushuaia now sits, or the regions where Iguazu Falls is.

Our guide was keen to tell us about one of the nine men of the new government had some pretty radical ideas including rights for women and slaves. Sadly I have forgotten the name so will have to do more research to figure out which one. Either way, there was concern around the place that women were openly discussing politics and that was something he encouraged.

Another devised the new flag, using the blue that was the colour representing the Spanish royal family.
A quick lunch then back to the hotel where we had arranged a late check out for 400 pesos. That meant a shower, clean traveling clothes and a short nap for Kingsley. We had a remise booked to the airport for 500 pesos plus, as it turned out, tolls of 72 pesos.
You can’t change Argentine pesos back to USD so the last remaining went on the worlds soggier the sandwich and a couple of drinks.
Checking in for our flight took ages as there were two open counters, one taken up by a family with five enormous bags, one large screen, three small children and a dog. I was just glad not to be them. One of the small children did a runner into a secured area  and dad had to go racing off after him.
The other count had two Aussie guys and about ten bags and boxes. Clearly video or photographic gear of some sort.
Being us we were there with time to spare so we just chilled out and watched the entertainment.
We are flying LAN again and expected to get the traditional snack box containing 5 stale crackers, an soft lemon cream biscuit and a chocolate. I was going to take a picture as we are both thoroughly bored on the same snack on all of our internal flights during the trip. However we have just been served a bland cheese roll and a chocolate Bon Bon.

The flight to Chile is only two hours, then  we waited until around until midnight for a longest leg of the trip home.  At the Santiago airport we had the nicest feed we’d had in ages, a big dish of fresh guacamole, tomato salsa and corn chips. It was lovely to have some spice. Overall my experience of Argentine food, including ship side, was meh. We did find while eating out on our return to BA that cold rice, potato, peas and carrots is considered a salad, so I may have judged the food on the Ushuaia harshly by not knowing the local cuisine well enough.  It’s a bit weird though.

Kingsley managed to attract a weird collection of neighbours on these flights. The first was a very nervous guy who clearly had some kind of travel induced OCD. He kept going taking things in and out of his bag.

The second was a Brazilian guy who after much maneuvering shrouded himself head to foot in the travel blanket provided tent style, went to sleep and didn’t emerge until the announcement about our descent came over the speakers. The downside of this was there was no way either of us were getting out to go to the toilet on that leg.

The third was very broad Maori man.  He wasn’t odd, but between the two of then there wasn’t a lot of shoulder room on our set of seats.

I don’t know how many hours it took us form leaving the hotel in BA to arriving in Perth, but it was at least 24 and we lost a day in transit due to the direction of travel.  All in all everything went smoothly. We managed to find the QANTAS shuttle between international and domestic terminals in Sydney which no meant lugging bags on trains.

Our experiences with LAN was very good throughout the trip. The in flight entertainment system on the flight from Santiago to Sydney (via Aukland) was the best we’ve seen on any airline. Instead of a pull down blind on the windows, you press a button and the window darkens. Very cool. The stop over in Aukland was bit of a pain, I’ll be making sure we travel direct if ever going that way again.

In the 16 hours since getting home Kingsley has had the leaf blower out to tidy the back yard and vacuumed the house, his usual way of acclimatizing. We managed to stay up until 7:30, after a dinner of 2 minute noodles, and slept nearly a full night so fingers and toes crossed we can limit the impact of jet lag.

The dogs we delivered home to us yesterday, and were only a bit excited to see us and much more interested in going for a sniff around the back yard.  That’s a good thing I suppose, but everyone likes to think they will be missed. A bot of gate surgery to get us through until we get a new gate installed to prevent Sausage making any more visits to neighbours. We’ll be dropping off  boxes of chocolates to some of her new friends over the next few days for us I think. So thankful there are both happy and healthy.

Day 25, 26 and 27 – Return to Ushuaia, visiting more penguins and returning to Buenos Aires

Day 25, 26 and 27 – Return to Ushuaia, visiting more penguins and returning to Buenos Aires

Walking around Ushuaia over the last few days has that awkward feeling of running into the same people over and over again in the supermarket. Sitting her at the airport we are next to a lovely German couple who shared our coldest day of the trip on the Pira tour to visit the Magellanic penguins. More about that to follow.

Lots of hugs with the crew as we left the Ushuaia. As everyone disembarked the must reach the polar circle at all costs American couple, you’ll hear more about them in later posts, were sitting down with a staff members from on shore to document their complainants. I felt a bit sorry for them as thy had managed to ruin their. One holiday by hanging on to expectations which were contingent on things beyond any one’s control.

The expedition staff did all they could to make the journey as full of experiences as possible and I think they did a great job. Angry Ken and Sulky Barbie did not share that view. As I frequently remind a certain someone, name calling is unhelpful, but in this case I’m making an exception.

We zipped up to the hotel is a convoy of taxis for $5 each. As we were early we couldn’t check in, so just dumped our suitcases and ran off with our dirty clothes to the lavadero. Only to find it closed. Even with Linda’s translations we weren’t able to figure that out much with the guy who happened to be there, but after carting our gear back to the hotel we asked at reception to discover that everything would be closed, and we were going to have to ration our clean clothes until we got home.

It turned out we arrived back in Ushuaia on the 3rd day of Carnival. Which meant that everything was shut.  Are you picking up on a theme for our holiday yet? Luckily Antarctica was open while we were there, but because of no internet there, and stupidly slow internet at our hotel you still have to wait to hear about all of that.

Back at the hotel I connected to wireless and had a slight (possibly not so slight) panic when the first message I got was from someone in our street saying our dog Sausage had wandered into their house and that they would hold onto her until they heard from us. The message was dated Jan 30, over a week ago. A number of frantic messages, emails and phone calls later we were assured that both dogs were alive, well, and relocated to their aunts house. The gate had been damaged in a storm and despite the best efforts by our gallant house sitter alternative accommodation was required.

Once that drama was resolved we decided our sea legs weren’t bad enough to prevent us from pottering around the even more-closed-than-usual downtown of Ushuaia. We booked ourselves on a tour to Isla Martillo for the following day, grabbed a bite to eat and then checked in and napped. 

Although we had napped through the main part of Carnival, when we ventured down the many steps to town at about 7 there were some folk still celebrating in the streets. For the mobs of kids and teenagers this amounted to chasing each other with cans of fake snow. Empty cans were discarded on the ground without any concern. I was amazed to see how little mess there was when I was walking around the following morning. The lovely poppies I had intended to photograph wee a little worse for wear sadly.  The cleanup crew must have worked through the night. Apparently whatever it was is non toxic as it was spayed into people’s faces.

A little spooked we headed uphill for yet another dinner in Ushuaia. Over our time here I think we have managed to eat at every eatery in the main street. And yet, nothing exciting, just pasta, pizza, salad, steak and potato. Ushuaia is not a foodies paradise.

The next day, Tuesday, most of our fellow expeditioners were leaving town, either for home, or for further adventures in South America. We missed saying goodbye to some, but met up with others over breakfast in the hotel. I
left Kingsley at the hotel to chill while I took my well traveled and little used macro lens out on the town.

Instead of flowers I found cat street, the street that runs parallel to the main drag. I met one exceptionally smoochy cat who seemed keen to walk along with me. He also had a friend, and a kitten in the background.  I’m allergic to cats, but this little one even got a tummy rub out of me. I spent the walk back to the hotel reminding myself not to touch my face with that hand. After that encounter I seemed to run into a cat on every block, none of whom were as friendly as the first.

Pub lunch at the Irish Pub with a friendly waitress, a rarity in Ushuaia, and then down to the port to get on our bus for our afternoon tour.

This started with being loaded on a bus (we were told there was a limit of 20 on the tour so at this stage I was a little confused by the size of the coach we were on) . This was soon explained and the green lanyards would be going first, while the blue lanyards visited the museum, and then the reverse.

The guide ran through the rules for walking with penguins, but it was a little difficult to hear over the noise of the other passengers and the bus. We were old hands at the right of way, but from Fiona’s review form the previous day many of her group didn’t pay much attention to this.
The bus ride took us through some lovely scenery and lasted about 1 hour 45 minutes. I will admit to snoozing through part of the journey, and I think most of our fellow travelers did likewise.
On arrival it was starting to drizzle , which expanded to full on rain by the time the first group were on the island. The museum was more of a research station. They let us have a little look at the areas they use to clean the bones of the animals that come to them, all non chemical to allow them to extract DNA and take samples of heavy metals etc. The guide was very informative, and covered much of the same material we’d been told in lectures aboard the Ushuaia.
On the shore of the Beagle Channel stood The Bone House. A quaint little shack where they do the final processing of the skulls, which is apparently quite stinky. A bit macabre, but quite pretty from a distance.

Once we’d finished in the museum it was nice and sunny and we thought we were in the clear.

Next  was a quick trip to the cafeteria to extract more funds from the tourists. We sat with a lovely couple from Germany who were visiting South America to hear the Rolling Stones play. They had seen them play in Russia and a number of other countries, including a trip to Australia where the show was cancelled. As good a way as any to decide where to go next I suppose. They are now retired with 5 grand children to keep them busy between Rolling Stones concerts.  Despite their five languages they didn’t speak Spanish. The europeans really put us Aussies to shame. All you parents out there, get your kids to study a language. Spanish is a good choose I think.
After a cup of what passes for coffee in most of the places we’ve visited in Argentina we were filed onto a large covered zodiac and warned that it might be a bit bumpy. Bone jarring would be a fitting description as we zipped out into the Beagle Channel towards the island that the Magellanic penguins call home at this time of year. There are 70,000 of these birds on the island along with some Gentoo penguins and itinerant and confused handful of King penguins. King penguins aren’t supposed to live in this area, but the island frequently has between 1 and 6 of these very handsome creatures. 
We were lucky enough to see four of them. The weather was not going to make it easy to photograph them however. With a heads up form Fiona I had brought the long lens with me. The wind decided that would be fun to play with and even with Kingsley trying to act as wind break it was blowing all over the shop.

And was it cold! The coldest we have felt in the whole trip, and that includes being snowed on. I was lucky in that I had donned thermals top and bottom, brought gloves, a hat and my buff as well as the Gortex the jacket and polar fleece. Kingsley hadn’t read the brochure and was less padded. I think the cold got to him as he ended up having a bit of stumble on the way up the hill and put a nice dirty mark on his last pair of clean pants. 
The guide hustled us up the marked trail as the rain started to fall. It wasn’t too heavy, but enough to collect the chill from the Antarctic wind and add to the sense that this was the coldest place on earth.
The Magellanic penguins are more like our little penguins in Australia in that they like nice cosy burrows to next in rather than nests made of pebbles. The island looks like a bit rabbit warren actually. On a different day we would have hung around on the top of the hill taking photos for ages. With a gale force wind bearing down on us ( this may include some poetic license) we couldn’t get down the hill fast enough. 

The King penguins were right in the middle of the colony on the beach, but we were able to snap a few shots from the boat.
The Magellanic penguins make a very odd braying sound so if you closed your eyes ( and managed not to fall over beau case you don’t have your land legs yet) you could be forgiven for thinking you were surrounded by donkeys. I will henceforth refer to them as Eeyore penguins.  There is a lot less penguin poop in these colonies too.  I think the chin strap have the market cornered on easily excavated guano. Except for it all being in the Antarctic I suppose. Maybe they were just the stinkiest. And good for them, it’s clearly working out ok.

After waiting for some green lanyard stragglers we were back on the nicely heated bus for the long drive back to town. As Kingsley said, a very expensive bus ride at about $150 ach, but I can add two more penguin species to my list which is quiet exciting.
By the time we got back I was about 9:15pm and time for dinner. Yes, that’s right. I was not only still awake, but in a restaurant ordering tea. Luckily this is Argentina and eating at that time of day is more norm than exception so we had no trouble getting some pasta and a nice malbec to go with it. Then a walk home, uphill, in the rain.
It is worth noting that I did not take the aquatech camera gear on the trip and everything survived the elements fine, including us. Kinglsey did have to put his boots in front of the overly enthusiastic radiator at the hotel, but it was nice to give it a purpose for a change.

Our flight out of Ushuaia was at a respectable hour so there was no mad rush in the morning. That gave us ample time  to slosh coffee all over the table multiple times on the poorly designed, wobbly, easily knockable tables. I couldn’t face more cake for breakfast so stuck with fruit  ( the hotel offers some fruit, some toast, frosted cereal and the most extensive range of tarts, pies, muffins, cakes and sweet pasties you can imagine. It’s like they are trying to promote diabetes. But I digress)

The internet at the airport is free, and significantly faster than the hotel to the point of being ridiculous. The view from the airport is also very impressive when compared to the hotel. If you’re designing windows in a room where people are going to be seated, don’t start the windows at shoulder height. Just saying.

 Our southern adventure has been very satisfying and it will be a while  before we put our cold weather gear to use again based on the weather back in Perth.

Now back in Buenos Aires it is warm, but not hot. I’m pleased to discover I still have clean warm weather clothes so should make it back to Perth without attracting too many nasty looks from strangers.

Day 14–Ushuaia to MV Ushuaia

Day 14–Ushuaia to MV Ushuaia

We had a late breakfast at the hotel before checking out of the hotel, preparing to board our boat, the MV Ushuaia at about 4pm.

Alex had kindly arranged transport down the hill to the port for all our gear so we were relatively unburdened for our walk about town.

The first view of the day was out little boat being dwarfed by some of the big cruise ships in town. Ours is the little blue one on the left being dwarfed by the massive cruise ship behind. From their private balconies we could just see the passengers peering down at us.


The MV Ushuaia was formerly a research vessel, and at some stage in its life a spy vessel for the US government. It’s relatively small size will allow us much greater access once we’re down in the Antarctic peninsular. Some of the big boats aren’t even allowed into those waters, and some of the medium sized ships only offer on or two landings during their 10 day cruises. We’re very happy with our choice, and that was not diminished by looking up at the men and women in their robes sitting on their private balconies.

After being quite smug about our vessel we walked up the hill to the ‘just about everything museum’. It is housed in the former prison. One wing has been left largely as was, small cells which were roughly the size of our cabin aboard.  They did not share a bathroom between two cabins however. At the end of the hall there was a large shower room that looked to be inspired by concentration camps, and toilets, no door of any kind.

The wing was fairly cold, even on a balmy summers day in Ushuaia (17 degrees C). The form of heating used while it was operational appeared to be two wood burning stoves in the corridor that runs between the cells, I imagine winters would not have been all that comfortable.

Ushuaia also used to have an art and craft workshop to help rehabilitate child inmates who arrived here. The first convicts to be sent to Ushuaia were hand picked because of the skills they could bring to develop the town. During the wars political prisoners were also housed here.

The museum wing has a guided tour, but only in Spanish.  It appeared to involve a lot of standing around and being spoken at so I don’t think we missed out. There are audio guides for hire at 50 pesos.  We didn’t both with that either, and most exhibits had both Spanish and English signs.

A significant part of the museum had photos of comparative prisons around the world. There were a number of Australian mentions, including Port Aurther and Fremantle.

The maritime section has number of model ships and a plethora of dioramas. We learnt that the first tourist ship to visit Antarctica went in 1958, called Liberato, and from the picture it looks like it was larger than the one we are on now.

For 200 pesos each ($20) it was interesting enough, and good to be supporting the community. Kingsley thought the unused wing would make a great backpackers and has it in his head we should find a disused prison somewhere to convert.

After being served paella by a very tall man in a touristy sort of restaurant that seems to cater for the big cruise ships coming into town, we had two objectives. The first was to find a spare lens cloth just in case, and the second to find coffee and cake. Despite there being three camera shops and two optometrists in town none had a cloth for me.  And we wandered through town looking for an open coffee shop and failed to find what we were after.

Also notable is that most shops close down for the period between 1 and 3:30. Another oddity for a tourist town.  They also make it hard for you to spend money here. If you want to use a credit card you’ll need to swipe / insert your card, use your pin, sign and provide ID(drivers license or passport). Using an ATM to get cash is even harder. There is a limit of wither 1000 or 2000 peso for each bank, And 4 out of 5 ATMs I tried to use keep telling me I had entered an invalid amount, even though I selected from the menu. We do have USD with us and most places will accept those, after some checking with supervisor.

3 o’clock came around and we met up with the rest of the group at the port. We were warmly welcomed aboard the boat by the crew and they have been the nicest, smiliest people we have encountered in Argentina so far. Frederico and Valentine being the exceptions to prove the rule of course.

The MV Ushuaia was formerly a research vessel, and at some stage in its life a spy vessel for the US government. It’s relatively small size will allow us much greater access once we’re down in the Antarctic peninsular. Some of the big boats aren’t even allowed into those waters, and some of the medium sized ships only offer on or two landings during their 10 day cruises. We’re very happy with our choice, and that was not diminished by looking up at the men and women in their robes sitting on their private balconies.

Having been warned of the dangers of sea sickness over DrakesPassage, most of the group opted to use patches.Some experienced a bit of spaceyness and dry mouth.  So far Kingsley and I have possibly been a little vaguer than usual but that’s it.

Once aboard we needed to listen to a safety induction by our expedition leader, Monika, with a focus on heavy doors and keeping you fingers out of door jams, and a life boat drill.  All very organised. There are three biologists aboard who will be giving lectures and coming along on landings.
The food is not very adventurous, but I guess a lot of people they may not be eating much over the next few days.

Day 13 – Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego

Day 13 – Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego

Breakfast at the hotel is a bit sparse, but seeing as we managed to turn down the heat in our room I’m happy. Internet speed is still woeful. First world problems. I know. The air fresher that attacks in the hallways is also a mild irritant.
Happily we were out and about today on a tour of Tierra del Fuego with Canal Fun tours, organised by co-traveler, animal rescuer and fellow bird lover, Fiona.

Our guide, Valentine, and canoe specialist Frederico, were very entertaining, informative, funny and accommodating. Couldn’t ask for a better introduction to Patagonia. Some of what I report here may be false however as Valentine tried to convince us that horse poo came from the Antarctic Mosquito (or something to that effect). Blame him for anything here that isn’t completely factual.

I can say with certainty that today was the perfect weather for a canoe / raft ride and a hike through the serene national park. It was about 17 degrees, with a breeze and a few sprinkles of rain. With layers that went on and off like a strobe light we were very comfortable.

While others were using the ‘organised toilet’, Kingsley, Nicole and I were lucky enough to see a Condor circling overhead. I have a few photos which are really just black specs so verifying them as a condor might be tricky, but Valentine said it was (see disclaimer above).

Other wildlife spotted included two types of falcon, the ash headed and the Upland ducks (both with chicks), an endemic red fox, miscellaneous small song/bush birds and black necked swans (sort of a like a top deck style swan). Dave saw a beaver, but our boat was too busy paddling around in 360 degree circles to see that one. We all looked rather special in our waterproof pants though.

We learnt a little bit about the history of Ushuaia, which I hope to consolidate with a trip to the maritime museum tomorrow. You all know how I love a good maritime museum. Like many parts of Australia, Ushuaia has some of its relatively recent roots as a prison colony.  Keeping prisoners geographically separate to the general population always helps to hide all the atrocities you might like to inflict on them after all (seems to work for equally well where people have committed no crimes and it is merely convenient to shut them away for no good reason but I’ll resist the urge to get too political here and now). Islands are especially popular for this.

The Europeans also manged to wipe out the local indigenous, Yamana,  population by introducing diseases. Again, a sadly familiar story to back home.

We did learn that Patagonia stems from the term big foot, related to the indigenous population who were not only tall, with big feet, but who wrapped them in skins as shoes, making their footprints seem even larger. And that aia translates to bay from the Yamana language to English.

The first part of our tour involved a paddle in an inflatable boat.  Call it a raft or canoe as it suits you best. The very best of the ‘’rapids’ we went over meant that we didn’t have to paddle to move, so no risk of toppling over as long as no one stood up. No one did. We could have benefited form a bit more paddling and steering practice but we got where we needed to be in the time allotted, without falling in, and allowing appropriate time for photographs along the way so well done us I say.

We have a  number of vegetarians on our trip, and this was specified when the tour was booked. One way or another that message didn’t get through to catering so there was a bit of rearrangement at lunch.  I think that the staff ended up eating the chicken dinner while our vege travelers ate their lunch.  I can’t be certain.

We got to see some of the damage I had read about  by beavers introduced to south america form north america. In the wisdom that has been repeated worldwide some enterprising soul thought that setting up a fur trade (yes, not a good plan even if it had worked out) in south america was a good idea. So they brought 25 mating pairs of beaver from Canada and deposited them in South America.
The chronicles of Narnia and a trip to Canada as a child leaves me predisposed to like beavers, but everything has its place, and the beaver does not belong here.

Beaver gnawed tree
devastation caused by cute little beavers

Not only is the climate so different to where they come from that the fur they produced was worthless, but there are no natural predators so the beavers set to work terraforming the environment, cutting down some trees and drowning others with their dams. Clever critters, in totally the wrong place. There is a now a program in place to eradicate them. Sucks to be a beaver in the wrong place, but that applies equally to rabbits, cane toads and the long, long list of our other F&*^ ups.

And less that 20 years ago, when people really should have known better, salmon were introduced to the rivers and now have to be eliminated as they out compete everything here.  For a very clever species we are dumb as rocks.

On our hike we saw a couple of different orchids.  I know Jon would have stopped there and we would have had to send Pepe out looking for him. The vegetation is a mixture of forest and meadow land. The tree line finishes at roughly 700m (that’s from memory so don’t go basing a thesis on it). We were well, well under that, but looking up at mountains on both the Chile and Argentinian side. Because of the climate everything takes much longer to break down.

It was lovely to get to know some of the people were will be traveling with over the next 11 days or so. There is the off chance some of them will be reading this, but I can genuinely say they are a great bunch of folk and I’ll looking forward to getting to know them better. Given my normal aversion to people that’s saying a lot.

I’m not much of a landscape photographer.  Landscape really is about planning to be at the right spot, at the right time of day, at the right time of year, while scratching your right ear with a four leaf lover, well you get the idea. My challenge today was remembering to switch back from landscape setting when I saw something interesting (ie birds). There were a few occasions that were a massive fail, but at least I learnt that today and hopefully will manage not to repeat this when I’m on the next continent.

And tomorrow is the day we set off. That means no more posts will be published until we’re back here. I will endeavor to write them up every day though.

Other fun facts.

Ushuaia is the world’s southernmost city.

Argentina legalised same sex marriage in 2010 (come on Australia, get out of the dark ages already) and that the first Latin American marriage was conducted here in Ushuaia.

Tierre del Fuego National Park is approx 68,000 hectares in size and home to roughly 50 horses as well as a range of endemic wildlife and introduced pests.

The average temperature year round in 5 degrees C. It has an average winter temperature of 0 degrees, moderated by the proximity to the ocean.

Day 12 – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

Day 12 – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

Up early for a morning flight. Quick taxi ride to the Areoparque and an eventless flight south to the little town of Ushuaia. The airport here is like I’ve never seen before. The interior in all exposed pine, reminiscent of our place in Sussex street, but with cleaner edges, higher ceilings and a lovely sense of light. Quite charming really.

The town makes me think of all the little tourist towns supporting skiing and surfing. Every third shop is for branded gear or clothing, very second a bar or eatery, mainly pizza and pasta. The view over the bay at 9 pm, when it is just starting to become dusk, has the most gorgeous reflection on the glassy water. Hard to imagine that not that far from here Drakes Passage awaits.

The supermarket has a very odd system for queuing ( thanks for the heads up Alex) and the man at the express queue seems thoroughly depressed, despite having a chair so he can sit down while he works.
The hotel we are staying in is the Las Lengos, in the middle of the hill / mountain the town Is situated on. This time we are on the first level so no elevator woes as we had at the Sheraton, and no beeping elevators like the Bristol. We do have a construction site outside our window, between us and the view,   But we are working on the assumption they’ll stop by the time we go to bed. As with many cooler places the rooms are overheated (for our tastes) but we turned on natures air conditioning by opening the window.
Up the hill Angela and Lorri are staying in a fancy place where you can set your alarm, and instead of an annoying noise, the blinds slide up and the curtains gently open to reveal a view of the bay.  Now that is style. I look forward to Kingsley implementing this for me at home on our return.
Fun fact leant from Di and Dave, there actually are monkeys at Iguazu and the sign off the balcony door warning you to keep it closed so they don’t steal your things has merit. 
And you’ll be delighted to know we found a laundry service just around the corner so we dropped off all our stinginess and should no not be shunned on the boat. At least not for being stinky.
It’s funny walking around a strange new town and running into people you know. The other members of the group we are travelling with have been arriving here over the last few days so there were a few chance encounters as we wandered into town for lunch.
We also had a lovely dinner with the bulk of the group. We are very lucky to have the talented Bridgid (sp?) along as she speak fluent Spanish and was able to liaise with the waiter on a number of issues. 
Serving sizes here are big. Far bigger than I can ever manage. I nearly insulted the waiter by passing my dish over to Kingsley to finish. I never thought I’d say this but I can do without anything with cheese in for for some time. 
Not much else to report today. We’re off into Tierra del Fuego tomorrow at the very civilised hour of 8:40. Internet here is sooo slow so no pictures today.
Day 11 – Buenos Aires

Day 11 – Buenos Aires

Today is brought to you by the number 3 and the letter C. The number 3 is for the number of dachshunds spotted today, all short haired, two minis and one standard. The letter C is for Closed on Mondays, which summarizes most museums  and the ecological reserve.


It would be fair to say we probably should have availed ourselves of the hopping element of yesterday’s hop-on, hop-off bus tour to visit these things when they were open. We choose to see the silver lining that our tramping about today with nowhere in particular to go helps our match fitness for clambering in and out of zodiacs and up icy embankments in the weeks to come.

We did mange to see the cemetery, get a closer look at the UNESCO listed ugly skyscraper, which from street level isn’t nearly as ugly as I thought it was yesterday, have a stroll along the front edge of the ecological reserve, not get our laundry done AGAIN by being disorganised, had a leisurely lunch and evaded  a second round of sunburn. We also managed to get lost on our way to join a walking tour (missing it entirely) and have a cheap eat with cheap beer in the antiques end of town.


With a little Prior Planning and Preparation we might have maximized our time here a little better, but we have nearly a full day here on our return journey so will be visiting the history museum and the ecological reserve on our way through then. Possibly dinner and a tango show depending on how deplorable the budget is looking by then. Apart from seeing a multitude of statues and Evita Peron’s  tomb I have sadly learnt very little about how Argentina came to be the place it is, which leaves me feeling like a very bad tourist. I could google it and pretend I’ve learnt it here, but that would be cheating. What I did learn is that an awful lot of the art and some of the gardens have been donated to Argentina by other countries. I wonder which government department sits down each year with a gift list for other counties of the world. Do they all have a calendar of significant dates like a birthday list (foundation, independence etc)? I’m sure there is a committee for that.

I should note that the people of Buenos Aires have clearly been reading about the coming zombie apocalypse. Nearly every mausoleum / crypt is bolted, padlocked and chained shut to slow the rising dead from attacking the city when it all starts. Now that is thinking ahead. However, some appear to have tried to make a break for it already with a number of broken hinges, glass and general disrepair. In all seriousness, wandering around cemeteries is another one of those weird religious type tourism things that leave me a bit iffy. The best bits were the cats who are apparently there to keep the rats in check, although the one I saw was more interested in eyeing off a pigeon snack, and the statue of the lady and her dog which had a Tim Burton kind of aesthetic. When I go, burn me and and feed my ashes to a tree. Failing that, the dog statue was nice.


I expect Buenos Aires is much better suited to night owls than to we morning people. We went out for a quick breakfast this morning and ended up at a cafe run by Surly and Grumpy I(clearly not morning folk). What I initially out done to a bad case of mondayitis may in fact have been blue market blues. In December the newly elected president of Argentina freed up the currency exchange, which has none some damage to the so called blue market. That is the exchange of US dollars for peso and vice versa. There used to be a big difference between the official exchange rate that offered on the blue market. Now it is just one or 2 %. The cafe was still doing some trade while we were there, but I assume it is not as profitable as it was just two months ago.

After a bad currency exchange experience in my youth in Bali I’m a bit of a sucker for a more official exchange, so paid the lazy tax and changed our cash at the hotel. You pay a premium for peace of mind, but not that much of one in this instance. Kingsley and I have also come to an understanding that perhaps it is best if I look after the money side of things as dividing by 10 and dividing by 100 seem to be interchangeable for him when it is getting late in the day, and adding 10% to things can also be problematic. Play to your strengths is the key. He talks to strangers and I dole out the cash. And don’t ask me the difference between left and right. 


I’ve also realised that I struggle much more with navigation in cities where the ocean lies on the wrong side (east) like BA than those white the water is where it ought to be on the west like Santiago. Go figure.

We’ve found BA to be reasonably affordable if you want it to be. I think we have been surprised by the lack of diversity in the food between here and home. Mainly grills joints (parrillas) serving enormous quantities of meat, salads and potato dishes, Italian pasta and pizza joints and general cafes with sandwiches and the norm. Nothing seems to stand out as something we haven’t tried before, but perhaps we have been looking in all the wrong places. Serving sizes are big, so an american thing not just a north american thing. I have read about some amazing closed door restaurants, but they are a bit above our price range for this trip and a,lso require the 3 P’s. Always leave them wanting more as they say in the classics I suppose.

Having carted my camera bag all over town for two days for no very good reason I’ve come to the conclusion that most days I should just leave it at the hotel and use my phone for the obligatory travel snaps. If I have the time I can always go back to a particular spot at the right time of day for anything more serious. I’m also working very hard to stick to my normal workflow rather than taking shortcuts and regretting it later. it is a bit frustrating when trying to get blog photos done quickly, but I know, deep, deep down, that I’ll kick myself  if I don’t and bugger it up and end up losing shots I want to keep. Other notes to self while I’m on  that subject (bear with me for those others of you who are actually reading this), before my next trip I need to get a light weight laptop not this hulking boat anchor, and bring a usb hub so I’m not having to switch between mouse, camera or card reader, iphone and primary and backup external hard drive. you would think I’d know better.

My last observation is that platform shoes are back. Can anyone explain that to me? We are going around in sensible shoes and have had about five near misses on rolled ankles so goodness only knows how these girls manage it. Especially when you’re dodging the drips form the multitude of air conditioners retrofitted to every classic building in town ( I can hear the numerous architects whose names I have forgotten from yesterday rolling in their graves, or crypts or mausoleums or ashes beneath trees or whatever) . I can only imagine what life must have been like in the days when effluent was tossed out of Windows. I’m not sure that ever happened here.

We fly out to Ushuaia tomorrow morning, so a few more days in Argentina before we get on board our boat. Our first job on arrival is to get our blooming laundry done finally or we are going to be the most unpopular people aboard.

PS : I know I still owe you day 8. I am now thinking I might schedule it to publish some random day when I’m out of contact to see if you’re paying attention. There is a cute, giant, ponderous rat in that post.  I know, I know, a rat I like.  Who knew?

Day 10 – Buenos Aires

Day 10 – Buenos Aires

We’re staying in a sweet little hotel in the middle of town. It has a brass revolving door at the entrance and lifts that you swing open on the outside by hand and an automatic inner door.

We did manage to get out and about for dinner last night, muddling our way through the menu and ordering with a little help from our waitress.
Knowing that we have to stay up again tonight we slept in, not leaving the hotel until after 9. Unheard of. To get a feel for the city we opted for the hop-on, hop-off bus tour, complete with audio guide in several different languages. Apparently it also comes with a bottle of wine. You’re not allowed to drink it on the bus. That was fine, it was 10:30 in the morning.
This is a pretty big city, full of a variety of impressive buildings, including the first concrete skyscraper that has been heritage listed by UNESCO. It is very, very ugly.
If you’re into architecture then this tour will likely mean more to you than it did to me.  I don’t really know my French provincial from my neoclassical. Gothic I can probably pick at a pinch. There are also a seemingly huge number of art museums, but I didn’t hear them m etiolated one for history, which interests me more. The history museum won’t be open tomorrow so that’s on the list for the return journey.
The audio guide does give a little bit of history as you go along, but each bit of the guide is tagged to a particular location it seems, which means when there is no traffic and you move quickly it cuts off part way through the commentary. I may never know why the zoo was ground breaking in the late 20th century. 
The headsets they you give you are a bit average. Luckily Kingsley had his own ear phones in his bag so we used those and could hear what was going on. It’s a double decker bus which is open to the elements so sunscreen is a must. Take care to apply it all over, failure to do so will leave you with sunburn, right Kings? A hat that won’t blow off in the wind is also required. I think both of those points serve for anything you do here in daylight hours. It is hot out there.
There is a little stop ‘for lunch’ at a cafe that gives a mini tango show. Great to see and the charming gent gave the girls on the bus a quick lesson and photo op. A black coat and fedora made all the girls look the part and the ladies look great with intense eye contact with their instructor. One girl was more excited than most, I’m not sure what her story is. Maybe doesn’t get out much or was raised with the Armish? That’s not fair, she wasn’t quite that excited. Nearly but not quite.  I’m sorry to say I think I have forgotten everything I ever learned in tango class, and  I didn’t bring my dancing shoes on the trip so declined the opportunity. Kingsley was the invited up. Probably just as well. The lady dancer was drop dead gorgeous and I may have had to continue to Antarctica alone.
Lots of things are closed on a Sunday, not least laundry services. Not even the hotel offers laundry on a Sunday. With an 11 day boat trip ahead we we hoping to get washed and pressed here, but it may be a rush around in Ushuaia instead.
Buenos Aires isn’t quite as pedestrian focused as Santiago but we are yet to have to walk on the road which sets it apart from most places we’ve visited in Asia. There are a lot of statues, monuments, fountains, parks and museums. It makes me hungry to know more about what they represent.
We’re back at the hotel for a nap as the restaurants don’t even open until 8 so I’ll need some z’s. 
Day 9 – Iguazu to Buenos Aires

Day 9 – Iguazu to Buenos Aires

Before you start, I am well aware I’ve missed a day. It was a great day, and I have started to write it up, but the lack of Internet in our room at the Sheraton in Iguazu Falls just made things harder than it needed to be, so this is going to be out of order.

Today was a travel day. Or at least that was what I was expecting. What I didn’t take into account is that they eat late here. Like after I’m normally tucked up in bed late. So I might have to tough this one out and stay up past 9pm… We shall see.
We had a nice lazy start to the day with breakfast at the hotel. I felt obligated to dig out the macro lens I brought with me around the gardens for little effect, and then Sergei, our driver from yesterday, who you don’t know about yet, picked us up and drove us the 15 minutes or so to the airport. Check in was easy and we got extra leg room in the emergency exit row for no charge. Might be to do with the split demographic. Either partners with children or the elderly with strength or movement impairment. We are both safely in middle age with no kids we were a good fit. It didn’t stop Kings sticking his feet into my space though. 
We ran into a NZ couple at the airport who are traveling with an annoying Australian. Who knew they were out there 🙂 they are off to some cricket to in Buenos Aires. I’m glad I’m not traveling with them.
Uneventful flight. We ended up spending more time in line to exchange USD to pesos than in the air. That may be a slight exaggeration but not by a lot. The baggage carousel advertised was not the one our baggage was actually on, but following a man shouting randomly in Spanish we found our bags. Kingsley’s was missing his luggage lock which was interesting…
The taxi ride into the city and the Hotel Bristol on the main drag took about 15 minutes and cost about 150 peso. I felt significantly safer in the car with Sergei than this taxi driver. I guess there are also fewer speed bumps in Buenos Aires. The music in the radio was a 80’s mixup so strange flash backs.
It is definitely cooler here than it was at Iguazu. Again the air conditioning in the hotel works. For those of you who don’t know our friend Craig you may not understand why I keep mentioning this. We walked in to our room at his ‘happy place’ temperature of 17 degrees. The view is not quite the same as our last hotel, looking into a back alley this time, but the room is cozy and the location is great.
Stuck between lunch (which we missed) and dinner (which is at a crazy-person hour here) we popped down to the local supermarket for some cheese, crackers, beer and medicine (some may know that as wine). Very thankful ro the lady behind is in line who explained what the girl at the checkout was trying to tell us about returning beer bottle for a Refund, like in Vietnam only less hand waving. Must study more (aka some) Spanish before coming back to South America.
The hotel we are staying in is just south of ‘the obelisk’. This part of the trip I have delegated to Kingsley to organise for good or ill. I recall when I took some tango classes with a very dear friend 12 or so years ago the most important lesson I learned was how important it is to allow someone else to lead. I will be dredging up that lesson over the next two days. I don’t know that I’ve been a very good student over the last decade so wish me luck.
First impressions are that this is much busier, less pedestian focused than Santiago was, and a lot more smokers. Might be my low blood sugar though. We shall see when it gets cooler and we head out.
Day 8 – Iguazu Argentina to Iguassu Brasil and back again

Day 8 – Iguazu Argentina to Iguassu Brasil and back again

Here is the picture of the giant, ponderous rat I promised you. Capibara by name and super cute by nature.

On Day 8 we spent the day being driven around by the lovely Sergei so we could see the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls.. He made the trip quick, simple and fun.

He picked us up at the hotel at 7:30 as requested, which turned out to be ideal timing both for setting out and for our later return as all the traffic was going the other way.

Our itinerary for the day was the Brazilian side of the falls, a helicopter ride over said falls for Kingsley in a Bell Jet Ranger (the same model of helicopter that we had sitting in our driveway for a month or so), the bird park and finally a tour of Guira Ora, the wildlife rescue centre back here in Argentina.

This final destination was the most interesting. Our guide spoke both English and Spanish so commentated the walk in both. We we the only English speakers but felt included the whole way round.

It was fascinating to hear that they get animals and birds in not only from road accidents and general misadventure, but also surrendered animals from people who have taken native animals as pets but have discovered that the little things that was cute as a wee thing is now trying to savage them (now illegal here) , from seizure or confiscation by authorities and as a result of injury from trapping or hunting.

These included some native cats, porcupines, toucans with missing wings or legs, monkeys and the biggest otter I have ever seen in my life.

The birds and animals that form the tour for visitors are those that have no prospect of re-release. Those that are blind, have had feet or wings amputated or have been kept in captivity as pets and would not know how to fend for themselves in the wild. The animals that will be rehabilitated are kept away from the public which is as it should be.

We learnt that the largest of the toucans is like a pelican in that it can be car versus, devouring the chicks of other birds. That sweet and open demeanor is just a cover. Beware birds bearing large beaks.

In contrast I felt a bit iffy about the bird park in Brasil. Most of the enclosures were relatively roomy and full of stimulation, but I didn’t get the feeling that it was about conservation as much as tourism. The butterfly house was lovely, but they don’t stay still any longer the than in the jungle.

The border crossing, as I mentioned yesterday (well of day 7 seeing as I’ve posting this very late), was the first I’d done on land. As I’m sure all of you already know that me at first going through Argentinian immigration (very slick) and then Brazilian ( looks like it was slick once but now not so much). Sergei took care of it all for us. At the Argentinian border then is a fast lane for tourists and you pass your passport over form the car. We had to slide open the door so the guy in the booth could see us, but it all took about 3 minutes and we were on our way.

On the Brazilian side Sergei just took or passports into a little office then about 15 minutes returned with them stamped and processed. If you recall we had our visas sorted in advance. The return journey worked the same way, except that we needed to show our reciprocity tax receipts at both.
The rain gear came in handy again as we did the other side of Garanta del Diablo.

The other side of the falls is more panoramic. You arrive at the visitor centre then jump on a bus that takes you out to where the water is. This is one we wouldn’t have wanted to walk because it is too far, not all that interesting and there is no pathway. The bus is a double decker so you can look at the rain forest from up high. E most interesting thing to watch on the bus was the very sweet little girl and her loving dad on the the seat in front of us. She was loving the ride and the most beautiful smile. It was a reminder to enjoy the simple things like the feeling of wind on your finger tips.

I may expand on this if I have time, but we check out of the hotel with the very slow internet very soon and I want to get this done, so here are some pictures of the beautiful creatures who live in this part of the world, and one of Kingsley. We did see wild toucans while at the hotel and they look pretty silly when flying.

Day 7 – Iguazu Falls National Park

Day 7 – Iguazu Falls National Park

I’m looking at the window as I write and I am struck by just how green everything is here.  From our window we can see Brazil. Our family has always lived on islands. England, Guernsey, Australia. This whole being able to see another country from your window thing, let alone drive to it takes some getting used to. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve traveled before, but all my border crossings have been through airports or ferry terminals. Tomorrow will be a first for me, transiting to a new country by road.  It is very weird to think I’ve lived this long and have never done that before.  And not because I’ve stayed home for all of my 40+ years. But I am getting ahead of myself, that’s tomorrow.
Unlike our Santiago apartment the airconditioning here works.  Too well in fact.  Craig would love it.  It’s set to 24 degrees, but I’m sitting in the room with my polar fleece on…
Outside it’s another lovely day with blue, cloudless skies (which sucks for sunsets but you can’t have everything).  You do get sweaty after walking a hundred metres, but there is a nice breeze and you can always go and stand in the spray of one of the waterfalls to cool off. Now that we’ve got our bearings the park is very easy to navigate. You’re restricted to the main paths, but given the importance of the site that’s fair enough. It does mean we are unlikely to see any significant wildlife apart form birds and butterflies, but we’re planning to head to the local wildlife refuge tomorrow which helps to rehabilitate critters that run afoul of vehicles etc. Reviews suggest they do good work.
Like yesterday I hit the lower circuit first thing and had it pretty much to myself for a good hour. I was trying out the polarizing filter for pictures of the waterfalls.  It’s one of those cases where what is in front of you is so amazing that photos just can’t do it proper justice.  Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
There are an amazing array of butterflies in the park.  Upwards of 500 species apparently. Very few stay still for any length of time. I saw one which was about the size of my hand, beautiful sky blue and black wings. No photo sadly, but I love that thrill you get when you see a beautiful creature in its natural environment.  My heart always beats faster.
About 10 o’clock we walked up to Devil’s Throat at the north end of the park.  There is a train you can catch, but that requires lining up with gaggles of tourists, so we legged it. The walk took us about 40 minutes each way, mostly in shade but you’ll need water and sunscreen. The track is flat but a bit rocky. Decent walking shoes a must. Butterflies everywhere along the way and a misc lizard of some sort.
On arrival there is a long boardwalk that takes you, and the hundreds of other tourists, out to the top of the waterfall. In retrospect we should have come out here first thing, but you live and learn.
A side note on tourists. The paths and boardwalks here are wide enough to accommodate people walking single file in both directions with room to spare.  However, most of the people here seem to think they own the joint and can spread out across the whole path, stop and block up traffic in both directions to take a selfie and generally think of no one but themselves. And at the cafes, despite the multitude of signs around the park about the Coaties (the biting and the scratching and the stealing little rug ruts that stalk anyone who might have food) we see people either feeding them, squealing at them, or taking their small and very bitable children up to point at them. Apart from that everyone seems lovely lovely…
A side not of coaties. Even with their fearsome reputation the coaties are very cute, and very quick. And like to hang out where the light is dappled.  All of which are my excuses for not having managed to get a decent photograph. First you have to dodge the tourists who are doing all the wrong things, and position yourself so you don’t actually get savaged yourself, or do any of the stupid things I mentioned above, and then you have to wait for one of them to stay still long enough in a spot with enough light.  Well you get the picture, and I didn’t.  At least not yet.
Back to the Devil’s throat.
The view at the end is spectacular and well worth braving the crowds for. There was a lot of spray, so today I got to try out the wet weather camera gear. The aquatech rain cover worked really well, but you really do need to know how to work all your camera controls without being able to see them ( changing ISO, aperture, focus points etc). A simple rain cover over the backpack worked out too, All good stuff to have tried out before Antarctica.

Lunch was buffet style at one of the restaurants at the park.  They had a great range of salads etc which was exactly what I was craving. About $30 AUD each including a couple of beers. They take USD and credit cards which is handy.
The up side of staying at the Sheraton is that the temptation of room service is removed from you because we can’t figure out how to get the phone to work. All round Kingsley has been having a frustrating time extracting information out of the guest services staff at the hotel. Simple things like how to get laundry done, what’s involved in getting a car to take us across to the Brazilian side of the park tomorrow and some other odds and sods. I’m just glad he’s taking care of it and not me.
An afternoon walk around the park revealed that it is much quieter than it was in the middle of the day. I saw a stunning rainbow, double in places, and whatever passes for a crocodile in these parts. Also lots of men wandering about with no shirts on, which did NOT improve the view.
We may meander down to the pool a little later to warm up – yes you read that right and those of you paying attention will know that the pool (bath temperature) is warmer than our room (arctic). Actually, now I think about it this room might be good conditioning for the later stage of the trip…
We are off to Brazil for the day tomorrow. Bird park, National park, a helicopter flight for the K man and the animal refuge on our way home. At least, that’s the plan…